The Numbers Game At Mid-Season

It’s late August. You have been courted through the Chiefs first training camp near Kansas City in nearly two decades.

Right then, would you have taken a 5-3 record at the midway point of the season? Remember at that time you had been courted by expectations, but not yet seduced by a 3-0 start. There were many who would have put the over-under for the season at five wins – let alone at the halfway point.

Two of Chiefs coach Todd Haley’s quarters are gone if you want to break the season down the way he does. The Chiefs won the first 3-1 and tied the second 2-2. The numbers show the offensive production improved appreciably in the second quarter from the first. The defense has tailed off after an outstanding start.

We’ll break down the numbers the same way Haley does, first quarter and second quarter. You can make up your own mind about whether the offense, defense or special teams are on the rise.

Quarter by quarter

The offense has definitely improved, marked by the single most important stat: points. It scored a full touchdown more in the second quarter than the first.

It notched more first downs per game in the second quarter than the first. The third-down conversion rate was up more than 10 percent. Total yardage was up by more than 100 yards per game. The rushing attack was up by more than 60 yards per game. The passing attack has gained more yards and red-zone scoring was improved.

In each of the Chiefs first eight games, they were able to dictate the terms of how their offense was going to play. They never fell so far behind they had to abandon the running game. Even in the losses, when stats frequently get skewed toward passing as a team tries to rally, the Chiefs were not forced to abandon their game plan.

So let’s talk fourth downs. I have issues with some of Haley’s decisions, but only because of how precious I believe points are for a team with a small margin of error. By and large, however, I buy into his philosophy. And I especially buy into his decision-making process.

When the offense gets into four-down territory, he lets offensive coordinator Charlie Weis know on first down. So Weis has the luxury of knowing he has four plays to get the first. They let quarterback Matt Cassel know immediately they are in four-down territory and he lets the offense know. That tells me it is part of a well-thought-out, strategic plan.

Offense

Average Per Game

First 4 games

Second 4 games

Points scored

19.25

26.5

First downs

15.5

23.75

Rushing

6.75

10.5

Passing

8.25

10.5

Penalty

0.5

2.75

3rd down conversion

28 percent

38.6 percent

4th down conversion

50 percent

50 percent

Yards

283.25

390.25

Average per play  

5.68

Rushing yards

148.75

210.5

Yards per carry

4.58

5.29

Passing yards

158.0

179.75

Yards per attempt

5.9

6.66

Red zone scoring

50 percent

62 percent

Goal-to-go scoring

83 percent

66 percent

-    

Defensively the Chiefs have taken a step backward, again judged by the single most important stat – points allowed. After giving up just 11.75 points per game in the first quarter of the season, they gave up twice as many points per game in the second quarter.

Haley won’t publicly pinpoint any single segment of his team. We aren’t under the same constraints. A winning defense does not let a two-touchdown lead slip away in the second half as it did in Houston. When the offense fails to gain enough for a first down with two minutes left against the Raiders, the defense has to make a stop.

Statistically the defense didn’t fall off as much as the offense improved, giving up just 22 more yards per game than in the first quarter of the season. But in the most important defensive stat (on the Kent meter) the Chiefs are giving up 35 more yards per game rushing in the second quarter than the first. That translates into more than a yard per attempt. On average, the Chiefs were winning the rush defense (runs of less than 4 yards) in the first four games and losing in the next four.

Defense

Average Per Game

First 4 games

Second 4 games

Points allowed

11.75

22.0

First downs

16.75

20.5

Rushing

4.25

6

Passing

11.25

12.5

Penalty

0.75

2

3rd down conversion

32 percent

38.19 percent

4th down conversion

42 percent

60 percent

Yardage allowed

320

342.5

Average per play

4.85

5.21

Rushing yards allowed

80.5

116.25

Yards per carry allowed

3.19

4.4

Passing yardage allowed

239.5

226.25

Yards per attempt

6.14

6.07

Red zone scoring allowed

57 percent

66 percent

Goal-to-go scoring allowed

40 percent

75 percent

-    

Special teams also fell off in the second quarter, a significant change for a team that has a small margin of error. One needs to look no further than a punt-return for touchdown that was nullified against the Raiders on Sunday and the kickoff return for touchdown that the special teams group allowed.

The coverage teams, in particular have faltered in the second quarter of the season – whether it is a mortar kick that put Houston in good field position or just the average of giving away almost 10 yards more in kickoff coverage than in the first quarter of the year.

Special Teams

Average per play

First 4 games

Second 4 games

Punt return

15.4

8.1

Punt return allowed

4.2

12.1

Kickoff return

21.0

21.8

Kickoff return allowed

14.1

24.6

-    

The running game

At the halfway point of the season, Jamaal Charles leads the Chiefs in rushing with 719 yards in 113 carries. That’s a 6.4-yard per carry average. Thomas Jones has carried 24 more times (137 carries for 570 yards) than Charles and is averaging 4.2 yards per carry. Both are on course to gain 1,000 yards.

In the second quarter of the season the Chiefs also showed how effective Dexter McCluster could be running the ball. He is truly a weapon. But he was injured and missed games No. 7 and 8, reinforcing the plan that he must be used judiciously as a runner.

Running back

First 4 games

Second 4 games

Charles carries

50

63

Charles winning runs

28

41

Jones carries

60

77

Jones winning runs

30

39

-    

Winning runs gain 4 or more yards or result in a first down or touchdown.

The passing game

Although he has detractors, Matt Cassel continues to impress me. He seems to be continuing to develop, and until the costly interception he threw at the end of the first half against Oakland had been very protective of the ball.

In the second four games he completed a significantly higher percentage of his passes (62 percent to 54.7 percent) for more yards, more touchdowns and fewer interceptions.

It also appears that he is gaining more confidence that receivers are getting where they are supposed to be. In the first four games he seemed to be more tentative, holding on to the ball while waiting to see whether receivers would run the route he expected. In the second four games he seemed to throw more passes in rhythm.

Even though there have been several mix-ups when he has unleashed a deep ball to a receiver that broke off his route that (to me) is not necessarily a bad sign. Still, none of the Chiefs receivers are in the top 20 in the league for yards after catch.

Matt Cassel

First 4 games

Second 4 games

Attempts

106

108

Completions

58

67

Completion percentage

54.7 %

62 %

Passing yards

650

762

Touchdown passes

4

8

Interceptions

3

1

Yards per attempt

6.13

7.06

Rating

74.02

104.01

-    

Dwayne Bowe has been Cassel’s favorite target, getting 31 throws in his direction in the second four games of the season. But he has caught just one more pass. He continues to be somewhat inconsistent, dropping catchable passes (4 drops and tied for 17th in the NFL). What we tend to remember are the drops at important times (touchdown vs. Colts, third down vs. Raiders). But 20 of his 26 receptions have been good for a first down. That’s tied for 13th in the league.

Tight end Tony Moeaki continues to be Cassel’s more reliable target, catching 15 of the 19 passes thrown his direction in the second four games. Both McCluster and Charles are heavily into the mix, and they provide the best chance of a big catch-and-run play.

First four games

Receiver

Target

Catches

Moeaki

23

15

Bowe

23

9

Chambers

16

7

McCluster

14

7

Charles

11

8

Castille

7

6

Jones

5

2

Copper

3

2

Pope

2

1

-    

Second four games

Receiver

Target

Catches

Bowe

31

17

Moeaki

19

15

Charles

17

13

McCluster

9

8

Copper

7

4

Pope

7

3

Tucker

4

1

Chambers

3

1

Jones

3

2

Cox

2

2

Vrabel

1

1

Horne

1

0

-    

2 Responses to “The Numbers Game At Mid-Season”

  • November 10, 2010  - Gerardo says:

    I was watching nfl network’s replay and in the OT serie, cassel threw to castille well covered and two yards behind the 1st down mark, having charles open to the left, moeaki on the 1st down marker. He never took the eyes off that side of the field! Someone has to teach him to confuse the oposing defense or to at least look at all of the receivers


  • November 11, 2010  - Justin says:

    Kent,

    Really outstanding effort here. Let’s hope the D gets back on track and the O and Cassel really start clicking.




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