Has the Kansas City Chiefs defense improved one year later?

With the rematch of the AFC championship game coming up this weekend, many are probably wondering if the Kansas City Chiefs defense have made any improvement under new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

Remember last year, it seemed as if Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense had to score on nearly every possession to win games against teams with good offenses. And it was never more glaring than in the AFC championship game last year vs the New England Patriots. They only managed to force the Patriots to punt one time in that game.

So I decided to do the research to see if the Chiefs defense improved and by how much. For simplicity, I used sacks per game and interceptions per game instead of totals for each since the Chiefs have played 12 out of 16 games thus far.

  • Total Yards Per Game: 2018 – 405.5 yards (31st), 2019 – 372.1 yards (25th)
  • Yards Per Play: 2018 – 5.9 yards/play (24th), 2019 – 5.6 yards/play (21st)
  • Rushing Yards Per Game: 2018 – 132.1 (27th), 2019 – 141.3 (30th)
  • Passing Yards Per Game: 2018 – 273.4 (31st), 2019 – 230.8 (17th)
  • Points Per Game: 2018 – 26.3 ppg (24th), 2019 – 22.1 ppg (16th)
  • 3rd Down Percentage: – 42 % (25th), 2019 – 37% (14th)
  • 4th Down Percentage: – 67% (28th), 2019 – 67% (29th)
  • Sacks Per Game: 2018 – 3.25 per game (1st), 2019 – 2.83 per game (11th)
  • Interceptions Per Game: 2018 – 0.94 per game (9th), 2019 – 1.0 per game (5th)

Overall, the Chiefs defense has made some improvements under new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Although their sack totals are down a little, their pass defense has made the biggest improvement ranking 17th in the NFL overall. Their scoring average is down. They are giving up 4 points per game less which equates to allowing a field goal in place of a touchdown. They are making more stops per game, ranking 14th in the NFL in 3rd down percentage.

Ultimately, defense is really about keeping opposing offenses out of the end zone. A team who has a lead late will give up yardage and time vs the quick score. So another measure to look at is Opponent Red Zone Scoring Percentage (TD only). According to Teamrankings.com, the Chiefs are 12th in this category this year when they were 29th last year. See: https://www.teamrankings.com/nfl/stat/opponent-red-zone-scoring-pct

Perhaps the best measuring stick of how much the Chiefs defense has improved will come this Sunday.

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