The Kansas City Chiefs are a very good football team. They are disciplined and rarely beat themselves. They run the ball well, rarely turn the ball over, generate turnovers on defense, and usually win the battle for field position. It isn't easy beating the Chiefs, as their 11-5 record in 2015 can attest.
Shutting down the Chiefs' passing attack doesn't really work too well. The Chiefs do just fine without passing much. In fact, the Chiefs reeled off five consecutive wins last year in which they never passed for more than 179 yards. Shutting down the running game works a bit better, but is difficult to do. The Chiefs had less than 100 yards rushing only five times in the 2015 and 2016 seasons. Even when opponents did manage to shut down the run, the Chiefs still won three of those five games. Winning the turnover battle is always a popular road to victory. Unfortunately against the Chiefs that is very difficult to pull off. In 2015 and 2016, over the last 18 regular season games the Chiefs have lost the turnover battle just six times. The Chiefs simply rarely turn the ball over. Still, if you can pull off the difficult feat of winning the turnover battle, your chances of victory are good; the Chiefs were 2-4 in the six games they lost the turnover battle.
So how do you beat the Chiefs? The best answer might be with stellar defensive line play. That brings us to the stat of the week. I'm going to cheat a little bit here and use two stats, but they're both about the pass rush and the play of the defensive line, so sue me.
In their last 18 games spanning the 2015 and 2016 regular seasons, the Chiefs have a 12-6 record. In the six games the Chiefs lost, opponents have registered 26 sacks, or 4.3 per game. In the 12 Chiefs wins opponents have registered 27 sacks, or 2.3 per game. Quarterback pressure beats the Chiefs. But there's more than just sacks. Alex Smith is a pretty effective runner. In two of the three years he's been with Kansas City Smith has run for more than 400 yards. Flush Smith out of the pocket and he can beat you with his legs. Which brings us to the second part of our stat of the week.
In the Chiefs' six losses over the last 18 regular season games Alex Smith has run just 21 times for 106 yards, an average of 17.7 yards per game. In the Chiefs' 12 wins, Smith has run 69 times for 409 yards, an average of 34 yards per game. The magic formula seems to be sack Smith like crazy while keeping him from breaking containment and running effectively.
That is a rather tall order. A jail break pass rush often results in mobile quarterbacks breaking out of the pocket and making big plays on the run. On the other hand, focusing on keeping the quarterback in the pocket can often reduce sack totals as the priority is on containment rather than penetration.
We saw this effect in the first two games of the season for the New York Jets. Against a less mobile quarterback in Andy Dalton the Jets could afford to not worry much about Dalton running and focus on the pass rush. The result: seven sacks and a ton of pressure. Against the Bills Tyrod Taylor is most dangerous when flushed from the pocket. As a result the Jets focused on keeping him in the pocket, resulting in zero sacks but limiting the damage Taylor did on the run.
Alex Smith is somewhere in between Taylor and Dalton. He's more dangerous on the run than Dalton, less than Taylor. Smith is more dangerous in the pocket than Taylor, less than Dalton. This calls for the defensive line to do two things at once. The Jets need to get tremendous pressure on Smith while limiting his running. It is a tall order for any line, but if any line is suited for the task, it should be the Jets. The Jets are a team built around an enormous investment in top defensive line talent. This talent may be the best in the NFL along the defensive front. The game against the Chiefs offers the Jets line an opportunity to justify the Jets' investment in them with a dominant performance. The Jets' cause should only be helped by the fact that the Chiefs' offensive line is likely to be missing some starters on Sunday. If the Jets' defensive line dominates and harasses Smith all day the Jets should have a good chance of getting out of Kansas City with a victory. Time for the front four to sack and pillage and take no prisoners.