Another week, another Kansas City Chiefs victory in the immaculate 2017 season. In week five, the Chiefs trends came full circle in a dominating 42-34 victory over the Houston Texans. The defining point in the victory was control as Alex Smith possessed the ball for 38 minutes of the game, destroying opportunities for Deshaun Watson to gash the defense. Combine that control with 56 percent third-down conversions, only one sack, no turnovers, and the Chiefs offense rolled. The scary point regarding the Chiefs is not only that they are winning, but they are controlling the flow of the game. Reflective of Andy Reid’s schematic attack, he has a fine-tuned system where each player is concisely fitting into their own trend of statistical success. The Chiefs week five stats and trends are providing context for a team winning as they play for one another, and that is a trend that ought to scare the NFL world.
Kansas City Chiefs Week Five Stats and Charts – Precision and the Peripherals
NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas may not be Arrowhead, but it delivers a raucous and passionate crowd in its own right. At minimum, Watson would be comfortable at home, and defenders such as J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus could get the crowd on their side to force discomfort in the pocket. Hence, the entire first quarter chaos was in control of the Texans. They had a chance to get back in the game early.
The molding of the Chiefs first quarter, and first half by extension, was a methodical approach to the game. Against a dynamic defense, Reid had a plan and he stuck with his plan of attack. The Chiefs controlled their first drive for eight minutes, their second for 6:26, and their third for five minutes.
Juxtaposed to past first halves where there was a defining moment of derived chaos, the Chiefs simply controlled the ball. The first defining moment where the graph spiraled well into the Chiefs hands was when D’onta Foreman fumbled thanks to Chris Jones demolishing him.
Yet, the Texans took chaos back into control and scored a touchdown on their next drive. The Chiefs weakness, quick explosive plays (to be discussed on later) led to the quick two-minute score. Those explosive plays also showed the potential held by a dynamic player like Watson. Quarterbacks who can hit home runs carry larger potential to swing and thus control chaos.
But as all mathematical and analytical models go, they cannot account for mentality and on-field demeanor. Immediately after the Texans scored, the Chiefs showed they truly controlled the defense as Charcandrick West caught a pass from Smith to put the Chiefs up 23-7 at half.
A mix of the Texans losing Watt and Mercilus on the first drive, losing energy, and Watson being totally controlled by the defense gave the Chiefs almost complete control at half time.
The 42-34 scoreline showed that the Texans fought to get back in it, but all those factors above let the Chiefs control the tempo. The late-game scoring from Watson does have some concerning principles for the Chiefs defense, but the entire modus operandi of the Texans was a reflection forced by the Chiefs schematic alignment.
The sole fact it took three quarters for the high-powered Texans offense to find a hole shows the Chiefs are a defense to be warranted as frustrating. Moving forward, when chaotic opportunities don’t show absolute mathematical control, the Chiefs will psychologically impose their will on the opponent.
Detailed and Precise Control
Through five weeks Smith has seen more onus on his passing than ever before. And through those five games, Smith has looked like an MVP candidate for the first time. Considering both Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and Mitch Morse were out on the offensive line, Smith was sacked only once on his way to completing 29 of 37 passes and averaging 8.8 yards per pass.
Is he flashy? At times, but only when necessary. Is he electric with powerful mechanics? Mechanics are there, electricity is there in the huddle, but not on television. Watching Smith is not like watching Russell Wilson work, instead akin to watching an accountant go about his business with excellency. Balancing accounts and delving through data pages is not glorious, but when all is said and done, both Smith and the accountant walk away from their job smiling and pleased after another day at the office.
Through those five games, Smith is leading the NFL in passer rating (125.8) and yards per attempt (8.8) while having the seventh most sack yards attributed (101) and only attempting the 15th most passes (158). Topping it all off, he doesn’t rely on explosive plays for success, ranking 20th in the league, while facing the seventh and sixth ranked pass defenses in the NFL.
The upcoming game will pit the Chiefs pass attack against the fourth best pass defense in the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Chiefs scheme is starting to show up on passing charts in a tangible form. They don’t attack the secondary directly, instead relying on the physicality of Travis Kelce and the speed of Albert Wilson and Tyreek Hill.
The offensive playbook puts Smith in the zone to succeed and takes advantage of precise passing in the short zone. Only 19 passes on the season have fallen in the deep cones of the field. One of the more nuanced stats on the season comes on first down. In the deep right cone of the field, Smith has five attempts on first down, with four completions all for touchdowns.
In the short cones of the field, Smith has a rating of 108, 116, and 101 from left to right. The lesson at hand is this: Coach Reid and coordinator Matt Nagy know where and when to attack defenses. Those four first-down touchdowns are not flukes, that shows Reid is planning exactly when to attack. The offense is built around precise attacks, not random flukes. The Chiefs are scouting and schematically wiser than ever before.
Scouting and schematics flow directly into performance of the run game. Kareem Hunt had another 107-yard game, but it took him 29 attempts to get there. While his running may not have been innately explosive, Hunt showed another key talent against good run defenses: he grinds over the tenure of a game. Reid knew that if he kept plugging away at the run game, the implications would be success over time and control. There is a trust in the direction the offense is taking.
In fact, the longest run Hunt had in the first half did not come until 7:51 in the second quarter when Hunt run around Mitchell Schwartz for 12 yards. Hunt’s two longest runs, both 23 yards, did not occur until the fourth quarter. Yet, had the Chiefs dismissed the run in the first-half, despite little tangential success, they would have lost the emphatic control in the second half.
Observe the play calling. Hunt’s running sets up concepts and play action passes. The opening play call was three straight runs, followed by two quick passes to Kelce and Demarcus Robinson. A short pass to either West or Hunt is essentially a run play in Reid’s offense, the goal is to get the ball to an explosive player in an open zone just a bit further downfield. Take notice of a drive where the play call goes run, dump pass, then deep right.
The takeaway from week five is this; the play calling and personnel are in a precise rhythm, a notion carrying over to the direct statistical and trend lines.
Of other mention, Chris Conley is going to be missed from the Chiefs team after tearing his Achilles. While he does not put up overtly flashy statistical lines, he has stepped up as a sneaky possession receiver. Conley was targeted three times before his injury, and caught all three. On the season, Conley was averaging 9.5 yards per target, and is tied with Wilson as the second most successful receiver when targeted (66 percent, behind Hunt at 77 percent). He may not have been a big stat receiver, but if targeted, good things would happen. In short, Conley’s security will be missed.
Containing the Peripheral
Looking at the box score, Watson’s five passing touchdowns, 119.8 rating, and a score of 34 points would typically raise defensive questions. Yet, analyzing the trend line over the first three quarters, the Chiefs defense contained the peripheral edge before again crumbling to explosive plays.
Teams cannot grind on the Chiefs. They need to hit home runs. The Chiefs defense is a great pop-fly bull pen that tempts fate in the eighth inning by being effectively wild. And in being effectively wild, they can get into the heads of the offenses they face.
The Texans first drive began with a Lamar Miller nine-yard jaunt. Texans head coach Bill O’Brien then failed to capitalize on the run game, opted to pass, and the secondary clamped down. They attempted to attack the middle, where linebackers have been weak in coverage, and the Chiefs were prepared to provide assistance in coverage.
Multiple times the run was used to set up the pass. But the passing in the first half was putrid. Watson completed only four passes on 13 attempts the entire first half. The one pass completion that resulted in a touchdown came only after six consecutive runs that pounded the ball down the middle, and put the Chiefs on their heels.
The implication is that the Chiefs put the correct pressure on Watson, did not let him escape, and turned him into a singular function quarterback. Watson’s five touchdown passes were set up by explosive run plays.
Which brings up the elephant in the room; the Chiefs gave up six explosive runs in this game. Granted, they were facing a quarterback who can break free from the box. No matter, those six runs were costly due to the perceptual value they add, and are part of a larger and more dangerous trend on the season.
In the second half, Watson’s 48-yard home run touchdown pass was set up by two run plays of 16 yards and four yards. As safeties begin to move up in the box, Watson then had more room to show off his arm. The second touchdown drive, occurring in the fourth quarter, was another deep pass, this time to DeAndre Hopkins. The last fourth-quarter touchdown was set up by Stephen Anderson receiving two deep passes.
Whatever the core of the issue is, the Chiefs need to improve their defense late in games. Had the Chiefs offense floundered in the first half, the late-game tendency to give up scores could prove detrimental. This is a ticking time bomb problem.
In an oddly specific statistic, once the Chiefs line has trended above 40 percent win probability (142 snaps, 73 pass attempts), they have one sack. Of the 13 touchdowns the defense has given up, eight have been in the second half.
Finishing on a positive twist, the Chiefs are no doubt missing Eric Berry. However, Ron Parker and Daniel Sorensen have been resilient replacements, not only average fill-ins. Against the Texans, Parker came up with eight tackles, and Sorensen with six, including an assisted sack.
Sorensen has stepped up to become a flying missile in the run game and in blitzes. As observed against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sorensen will literally fly at quarterbacks. He knows how to defend the run as well, finishing with three rush tackles.
Parker does not come in on blitzes as much, as he is a nuanced center fielder. Yet, his physicality can be felt. He had four tackles in pass defense, all coming short right. Observe the tape, and it will show Parker flying to the football and nailing his victims. Parker rounded his day off by playing up in the box. His four rush tackles came both at the line of scrimmage, and as touchdown-saving tackles.
While the Chiefs definitely have some pressing issues on defense, they also have players stepping up. Justin Houston had six pressures on Watson, 21 on the season, and another two sacks. The Sorensen and Parker combination have combined for 49 physical tackles. No one gets past the second-level. Even Frank Zombo, stepping in for the injured Dee Ford, finished with five tackles and an assisted sack.
Point being, the Chiefs defense is deep and full of capable players who can step into the role. The trend lines for the defense, much like the offense, show a unit that trusts in the system and their respective roles.