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06-21-2005, 12:23 PM
Going Long in Kansas City

by Mike Tanier
Stats compiled by Jim Armstrong

Kansas City hasnít had an NBA franchise since the Kings left town in the mid-1980ís. Of course, they havenít needed one: They have the Chiefs.

With an exciting, balanced offense and an often-incompetent defense, Chiefs games often have final scores that would look right at home on the basketball section of the sports page. They are always winning 45-25 or 49-38, except when they are losing 38-31 or 34-31.

There are many stats that exemplify both the quality of the Chiefs offense and the futility of their defense, but the most telling figures may be the teamís performance on long scoring drives, both for and against. Jim Armstrongís study of drives during the 2004 season reveals some interesting facts.

The Chiefs had more scoring drives of 80 or more yards than any other team in the league. When they got the ball at or inside their own 20-yard line, they scored 22 times in 67 attempts (32.8%). Twenty-one of those drives resulted in touchdowns (31.3%). Only the Colts had a scoring rate over 30%; no team had a touchdown rate over 30%.

Meanwhile, on defense, the Chiefs allowed 11 scoring drives of 80+ yards. Several teams allowed more, but with only 43 opposing drives starting at or inside the 20-yard line, the Chiefs allowed the worst percentage of long drives in the NFL (25.6%). Ten of those drives resulted in touchdowns, again yielding a league-worst 23.3% success rate on long drives.

To continue the basketball analogy, an 80-yard drive is like taking an inbounds pass, dribbling the length of the floor, driving and scoring on a lay-up. Itís offensive dominance and defensive frustration in its purest form: starting at the 20 and methodically moving down the field. And it was a common occurrence in most Chiefs games.

Take the teamís 34-31 loss to the Buccaneers in Week 9. The Chiefs took the opening kickoff and marched 77 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown (77-yard drives arenít part of this study, but they certainly fit the "long drive" description). The Bucs responded with a 73-yard touchdown drive. Later in the quarter, the Bucs recovered a fumble and traveled 71 yards for a touchdown. At the start of the third quarter, the Bucs went 80 yards in two plays: one of them a 78-yard catch and run by Michael Pittman for a touchdown. The Chiefs answered later in the quarter with an eight-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. Unfortunately, the Bucs took the next kickoff and drove 80 yards for a touchdown that ultimately won the game.

Why were the Chiefs so successful at long drives and so inept at stopping them? The prosaic answer is that their offense was good and their defense was bad. A more detailed answer can be found in the specific strengths and weakness of the Chiefs. To be able to consistently sustain long drives, an offense has to:

1) Avoid third downs. Only the Colts and Giants attempted fewer third down conversions than the Chiefs last season. In their 49-38 win over the Titans, the Chiefs attempted just nine third down conversions, despite the fact that they had the ball on 13 separate drives (not counting a "kneel to end the half" drive).

2) Convert the third downs you do attempt. The Chiefs were also third in the NFL in third down conversions (47.2%). In their Week 13 win over the Raiders, the Chiefs executed touchdown drives 86, 80, and 88 yards in the second half. The Chiefs were 8-of-12 on third down conversions in that game.

3) Gain yards in bunches. The Chiefs were fourth in the NFL in 20+ yard pass plays (60), tied for seventh in 40+ yard pass plays (10), and tied for tenth in 20+ yard running plays (10). Itís hard to drive 80 yards in six-yard increments. Someone has to make a big play.

Letís use a drive from that Raiders game to illustrate these points. The Chiefs started the third quarter on their own 16-yard line. Their first two plays netted first downs (avoiding third down). One of those plays was a 21-yard pass from Trent Green to Eddie Kennison (yards in bunches). On 2nd-and-7 later in the drive, Green and Larry Johnson connected on a 29-yard catch-and-run (yards in bunches, avoiding third downs). When the Chiefs faced 3rd-and-4 at the Raiders 11, Green hit Kennison for six yards (converting the third downs you do attempt). Johnson punched it in on the next play. Repeat ad infinitum.

Of course, turn these principles around and you have a blueprint for a defense that canít keep opponents from crisscrossing the field:

1) Rarely force third downs: Chiefs opponents attempted just 185 third downs, the lowest figure in the league. The teams at the bottom of the list are a mixture of poor defenses (Titans, Chiefs, Vikings) and great defenses that allowed very few drives (Steelers, Falcons). The Buccaneers only attempted nine third downs in their 34-31 win.

2) Allow opponents to convert the third downs they do attempt. The Chiefs were below average in third down conversions allowed at 38.4% (20th in the NFL).

3) Give up yards in bunches. Of course, this is the biggest problem for the Chiefs defense. The Chiefs allowed 77 pass plays of 20 or more yards, with 22 of those netting 40 or more yards. Both figures were worst in the league by far: no other team gave up more than 13 passing plays of over 40 yards.

Again, letís see these principles in action. In the season opener against the Broncos, the Chiefs trailed by three with 9:22 to play. The Broncos started a drive at their own 14-yard line. Quentin Griffin gained 11 yards on the first play. The Broncos would convert 2nd-and-8 and 2nd-and-4 situations (avoiding third down). A pass and another Griffin run would yield 18 and 19 yards (yards in bunches, though not an extreme example for the Chiefs). The Broncos would reach the Chiefs 25 yard line before they have to convert a third down, and they do so on a Jake Plummer draw (converting the third downs they do attempt). The drive takes so much time that the Chiefs are forced to burn timeouts, but itís all for naught when the Broncos score a game-icing touchdown to cap an improbable 86-yard drive.

There are other lessons to be learned from the Chiefs. Their running game, and their inability to stop the run, contributed to many of those long drives. The Chiefs are very good at using running backs in the passing game, and they were very bad at stopping opposing running backs from catching the ball (opposing RBs gained 836 receiving yards against the Chiefs, the third highest total in the NFL).

But the real moral of the story: When you are going to Arrowhead Stadium, try to get a seat courtside.

posted 6-21-2005 at 11:01 AM by Mike Tanier || Stat Analysis


06-21-2005, 12:58 PM
I had a flashback when I read that. Every male in my family has had the old "go long" joke played on them. For the uninitiated, here's how it goes.

You take someone young enough to still think you're super-human. You grab a football. You tell them to go long. They'll run for a bit and turn around. You yell "longer". Repeat until they can barely hear you then yell "Now come back, I can't throw it that far."

06-21-2005, 01:00 PM
My hope is that the speed added to the LB corp will help the defense stop those long drives. Meanwhile it should be another exciting season with the rest of the AFC west ready to try our defense.

Dr. Johnny Fever
06-21-2005, 01:45 PM
Have you ever noticed that if there is a football in the room and at least two guys, it's only a matter of seconds before one of two lines are spoken...

"go long"


"dude, I'm open"

Every time, no exceptions.