The Kansas City Chiefs might have led the NFL in total sacks, but their run defense dragged down their final front seven grade at Pro Football Focus.
When you’re not entirely sure what to do with something, it’s typical behavior to just stuff it somewhere. That’s exactly what the analysts at Pro Football Focus have done with the front seven of the Kansas City Chiefs defense.
Like an old childhood keepsake stuffed inside a box or a receipt kept at the bottom of a purse, the folks at PFF decided to shove the Chiefs front seven into the middle of their annual front seven rankings. It’s human nature when you’re not sure where exactly something goes.
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PFF doesn’t shy away from their inability to rank the Chiefs front seven. In fact, they admit it’s a rare scale held in the middle by two opposing forces:
The Chiefs’ front seven ranking depends almost solely on how you weigh each aspect. Judging by run defense and coverage they’d be at the bottom. Judging by the pass rush, they’d be right near the top. As such, they fall at 17.
Chiefs fans have been frustrated by this porous run defense all season. The team had serious issues in 2017 with the run defense, and the coaching staff and front office threw the blame on the players in this instance.
If you think back, the offseason mantra was about getting younger and tougher. Brett Veach made big statements about bringing in physical players who could play tough for all four quarters. It sounded good after watching the Chiefs allow another postseason lead slip away—this time to the Tennessee Titans.
In response, the Chiefs waved goodbye to Derrick Johnson and replaced him in the middle with Reggie Ragland and a high ticket free agent in Anthony Hitchens. They drafted Dorian O’Daniel in the third round. They brought in Bennie Logan and, when that didn’t work, they replaced him with a one-two of Derrick Nnadi and Xavier Williams along the defensive line.
Unfortunately, the results were largely the same. Only five teams allowed more rushing yards per game, and the Chiefs are allowing 9 more rushing yards than last year.
On the flip side, the team’s pass rush finally came together with a healthy season for all parties involved. Not only did Dee Ford stay healthy in a contract year after missing most of the previous season with back spasms, but he finally broke through with the production (13 sacks) to match the potential he flashed at Auburn which caused John Dorsey to invest a first-round pick back in 2014.
Speaking of breaking through, Chris Jones made a prediction in the team’s preseason that he would lead the league in sacks and he finished among the leaders in the category. After a slow start, Jones finished with 15.5 sacks and set an NFL record for most consecutive games with a sack. Justin Houston also came on particularly strong down the stretch and ended the year with nine. Allen Bailey added a career high of 6 in a contract year as well.
The Chiefs ended the year tied for the league lead in sacks with the Pittsburgh Steelers as their pass rushing core came on strong and never stopped. Opposing quarterbacks felt a constant pressure against the Chiefs front seven, which should have made them one of the most celebrated units in football. Then again those run defense numbers paint an entirely different picture altogether.
In 2018, the story written about the Chiefs defense will be just what Pro Football Focus did with them—an odd mix of high production and embarrassing results.