The Irrational Exuberance of the 2013 Kansas City Chiefs
By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts sober voice of reason (@footballfacts)
The NFL preseason is a time of hopes, dreams and wildly unrealistic expectations.
And one team alone stands as the early 2013 King of Unrealistic Expectations as we enter the first full slate of full-priced NFL exhibition games this week.
And that team falsely filled with lofty hopes and dreams is your defending 1969 Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.
Kansas City went just 2-14 last year, pairing the worst offense in franchise history with the worst pass defense in franchise history.
And those are just two of the gale-forced statistical headwinds new coach Andy Reid and the Kansas City organization must overcome to compete here in 2013. The complete and ugly statistical weather report is below.
Yet despite these issues, many members of the Pigskin Public believe the Chiefs are poised to make a run at respectability in 2013.
The over-under on Kansas City’s win total in 2013 is a shocking 7½ games – the same expectations for 2012 playoff contender Minnesota Vikings, who went 10-6.
Kansas City fans such as Football Nation contributor Tim Gorman sees the Chiefs breaking out of the gate at 5-1 on their way to an 11-5 season.
The Associated Press panel of NFL experts puts the Chiefs at No. 19 in its pre-season power rankings.
And Omar Ruiz of the NFL Network reported of the Chiefs this summer: “they’re not afraid to talk about winning big and winning big right now. In fact, they broke the final team huddle today by shouting ‘championships!’”
Former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan had a phrase for these kind of over-inflated, empirically unfounded and unrealistic expectations. He famously called it “irrational exuberance.”
It’s the same type of baseless reasoning that spawned the tech bubble of the late 1990s. And it’s the same type of baseless reasoning that's spawned the lofty Chiefs expectations bubble of 2013.
Chiefs supporters cite a long list of reasons for optimism:
- new coach Reid, a proven winner in Philadelphia
- new quarterback Alex Smith, the former No. 1 overall pick who pieced together two great seasons in San Francisco in 2011 and 2012
- 2013 No. 1 overall draft pick Eric Fisher, expected to anchor the Chiefs OL for years to come
- a remade roster top to bottom that will look little like the one on the field in 2012
- and the historic explosiveness of running back, Jamaal Charles, who boasts the highest average per rush attempt in NFL history (5.79 YPA)
Nice assets, sure. But hardly enough to make the Chiefs a .500 team in 2013, let alone a playoff contender. Folks like to say that "stranger things have happened." But rarely has something stranger happened than a team as bad as the Chiefs turning around so quickly to become a contender in the space of one season.
The only antidote for this kind of irrational exuberance is an injection of sobering Cold, Hard Football Facts deep into the cerebral cortex.
Trust us, Chiefs fans. This is one shot that is definitely going to hurt.
First, keep in mind, the Chiefs must do something a little more significant than just improve on offense. In reality, they must rebuild the worst offense in the entire mixed 53-year history of the Kansas City Chiefs franchise.
The Chiefs scored just 13.2 PPG in 2012 (211 total), dead last in the NFL. The previous franchise record for offensive futility was set by the 2011 Chiefs, who scored 212 points. That’s just 423 points in their last 32 games.
For a little perspective, the Patriots led the NFL last year with 557 points. The Chiefs have scored only 546 points since Week 12 of 2010 – a period of 38 games.
For a little more perspective, the previous franchise record for offensive futility was set by the 2-12 Chiefs in 1977 – the rock-bottom of the NFL’s Dead Ball Era and the lowest scoring season in modern NFL history. Even those dreadful Chiefs scored 225 points in 14 games (16.1 PPG).
But Kansas City’s problems in 2012 extended far beyond just the worst offense in franchise history. The team was riddled with problems in every single phase of the game.
Here's a look at the ugly statistical profile of the 2-14 Chiefs of 2012, which provides a sobering look at the work ahead of Reid, Smith, Fisher, Charles and the rest of the Chiefs organization in 2013.
The Chiefs do enjoy one noble quality: a great ground that averaged nearly 5.0 yards per attempt behind the most explosive ball carrier in the history of football, Jamaal Charles.
Their average of 4.78 YPA on the ground was No. 6 in the NFL in 2012.
But, taken as a whole, Kansas City’s offensive line was still among the worst in football, as measured by our Offensive Hog Index. Still, at No. 25 league-wide, the OL passed as a strength on a team that was dismally weak in every phase of the game.
You already know Kansas City fielded a bad defense in 2012, allowing 26.6 PPG (25th). But it was not just bad, it was brittle and inefficient, surrendering 13.8 Yards Per Point Allowed.
The Bendability Index is our measure of defensive efficiency. It quantifies the bend-but-don’t-break phenomenon. It tells us who made opponents work hard for points and who didn’t. And Kansas City in 2012 gave up a lot of cheap points.
The Chiefs struggled on the OL. But they were even worse on the defense front, as measured by our all-important Defensive Hog Index.
The Chiefs couldn’t stop the run, couldn’t get after the passer and couldn’t get off the field on third down.
Other than that, it was a great year for the Kansas City defensive line.
Quality Standings – 29th
The Chiefs played six Quality Opponents last year, went 0-6 in those games, and lost by an average score of 25-10.
We’re not linguistic experts, but we would define that record as mildly uncompetitive.
Most fans know the Chiefs had a pathetic passing game in 2012. More of the dismal news on that front, below.
But its pass defense was just as bad. The Chiefs were gashed for 7.2 yards every time an opposing quarterback dropped back to pass in 2012. Remember, REAL Passing YPA includes the impact of sacks. If we look only at actual pass attempts, the Chiefs were shredded for 7.96 yards per toss – among the worst pass defenses in history.
The Chiefs produced just 5.28 yards per drop back in 2012. Only the Cardinals were worse.
That dismal number made the 2012 Chiefs one of the rare teams in history that was better off handing the ball its best ball carrier. After all, Jamaal Charles averaged 5.29 yards per rush attempt in 2012.
Elite quarterbacks these days produce about three touchdowns for every turnover. The 2012 Chiefs set football back 35 years with just one touchdown for every three turnovers. Kansas City produced 9 total touchdowns (8 passing) out of the QB position against 27 turnovers in 2012.
It was one of the more embarrassing statistical storylines of the 2012 season. Hell, even Butt Fumble Sanchez and the Jets gave us 14 QB TDs against 28 turnovers. That’s a 1:2 ratio, for those of you keeping score at home.
The Chiefs also ranked No. 31 in Offensive Passer Rating (63.8).
We do expect the passing game to improve with Alex Smith at the helm of the offense. But just how much remains a question.
Keep in mind that it was only under San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh that Smith blossomed for the 49ers. Harbaugh, meanwhile, is now 2 for 2 turning questionable NFL quarterbacks into winners, between Smith and Kaepernick.
How Smith will click in Andy Reid's system certaiinly remains to be seen.
So, yes, the Chiefs passing game, as measured by Real QB Rating, was brutal. But its pass defense was even worse.
Sad. Hard to believe. But oh so true.
Kansas City was dead last in Defensive Real QB Rating (95.54), with numbers even more shocking than those on offense: the Chiefs were torched for 31 touchdowns (29 TD tosses) by opposing QBs in 2012, while forcing just 7 turnovers.
Let’s put it this way, folks: the Chiefs were -22 in touchdowns last year merely at the quarterback position; and -20 in turnovers, also at the QB position alone.
The Chiefs also ranked dead last in Defensive Passer Rating (99.9), the worst in franchise history.
The best pass defense in franchise history? Absolutely no coincidence in belonged to the team’s lone Super Bowl champion: the 1969 Chiefs posted a 42.1 DPR.
We call Passer Rating Differential the “Mother of All Stats” because it so routinely provides the statistical signature of champions (36% of all NFL champions since 1940 finished No. 1 in PRD).
Conversely, it also provides the statistical signature of losers. And nobody lost last year as badly as the Kansas City Chiefs.
They lost for the same reason all teams throughout history lose: because they were dominated through the air. The Chiefs were a dismal -36.1 in Passer Rating Differential.
Only two teams in recent history were worse: the 0-16 Lions of 2008 (-39.6) and the 2-14 Lions of 2009 (-48.9).
To quote classic rocker Paul Rodgers, that’s Bad, Bad Company.
The Chiefs not only fielded a poor offense in 2012, scoring just 2011 points (also dead last in the NFL). They also fielded a frustratingly inefficient offense in 2012. Kansas City required 24.21 Yards Per Point Scored, or the equivalent of 169.5 yards just to score the equivalent of a touchdown and extra points. That a whole lot of effort for very little result.
For the sake of comparison, the highly-efficient, high-powered, top-ranked Patriots offense required just 12.29 Yards Per Point Scored – or just 86.03 yards for every touchdown and extra point.
Put another way: Kansas City expended twice as much offensive energy for half the results. That’s a formula for losing football.
The Chiefs were outscored by an average of -14.07 PPG relative to the average performance of their opponents last season. Put another way, the Chiefs week in and week out were two touchdowns worse than mediocrity.
The Quality Stats Power Ranking are our way of sizing up every team across the board in all our indicators, in all of our Quality Stats each of which has a direct correlation to winning football games.
And no team in 2012 was worse across the board, top to bottom, front to back, left to right, than the Kansas City Chiefs.
Andy Reid has proven himself a great NFL coach. The Chiefs will improve, or at least should improve, because it's the NFL and because they have nowhere to go but to get better.
Still, those are some gale-force statistical headwinds the Chiefs must overcome to be competitive in 2013.
We wouldn't count on it happening, no matter how exuberant the Chiefs marketplace might be here on the eve of the pre-season.
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