Stuckey’s Super Bowl Deep Dive: Has the Chiefs’ Defense Really Improved That Much Since the Bye Week?
David Eulitt/Getty Images. Pictured: Terrell Suggs, Steve Spagnuolo
One of the primary narratives we’ve been hearing over the past month and especially during the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl pertains to the improved Chiefs’ defense since the bye week. Plenty of pundits have pointed to a material bump in production over Kansas City’s past seven games.
And on the surface, the numbers actually back up that claim. In the 11 games prior to the bye week, the Chiefs allowed 23.3 points per game and 5.7 yards per play. In the seven games since, including the postseason, they’ve allowed eight fewer points per game (15.5) and 0.8 less yards per play (4.9).
When I remove all junk-time drives (i.e. end of half with time about to expire, three-possession game in the fourth quarter), Kansas City allowed only 1.3 points per drive after the bye compared to 2.3 prior. And that’s with almost an identical turnovers per drive number of right around 0.15.
These numbers all seem to suggest that this is a significantly improved unit. Maybe, but it deserves a deeper dive to really discern if this much-maligned defense is actually much better than it was in the first half of the season.
Let’s take a closer look at the splits between the two different periods by examining a few key areas.
Prior to the bye, 7% of passing plays against Kansas City went for at least 15 yards. After the bye, just 2% of passing plays went for at least 15 yards. In other words, it looks like the Chiefs improved their passing defense dramatically.
Stopping pass explosiveness is a huge deal against the 49ers, as San Francisco had the most explosive passing offense in the NFL this season. The 49ers don’t throw it downfield often but when they do, they connect for explosive plays at as high of a clip as any team in the league. But should you trust the numbers?
After digging into each of Kansas City’s final seven games, I remain skeptical that this defense is as good as the numbers suggest. Just take a look at who the Chiefs played over their final five regular season games: