The Chiefs are going ‘Freaky Friday’ mode with defense saving the offense

The Kansas City Chiefs are having a “Freaky Friday” kind of 2023.

Allow me to explain: last year, the Chiefs offense was one of the most efficient offenses we’ve seen in the NFL—ever. If we’re judging by Total Expected Points Added on each drive, the Chiefs were one of the 10 most efficient offenses the NFL has seen since 2002. QB Patrick Mahomes and company turned from a deep ball or no ball offense into a buzzsaw, dicing teams up in the short to intermediate areas of the field.

The 2022 Chiefs defense, however … well it took a little bit of time. Due to the youth in the secondary and the inconsistencies that come with playing a bunch of young guys, the Chiefs struggled early on. Through the first eight weeks of the season in 2022, Kansas City’s defensive EPA allowed per play put them at 22nd in the entire NFL, per RBSDM. However, as the young guys got healthier and got more playing time, the Chiefs’ defense took a major turn towards the top of the league. From weeks nine through the end of the regular season, Kansas City’s defense jumped to tenth in the same metric, helping to balance the Chiefs out en route to another Super Bowl victory.

In 2023, the roles are reversed. That same young secondary that had to grow up in the fire? Yeah, they’re one of the best groups in the league. Per Sumer Sports, the Chiefs’ defense is fifth in the NFL in EPA/play and third in EPA allowed per pass and is coming off another stellar performance in Germany against the Miami Dolphins’ superpowered offense. DC Steve Spagnuolo is designing creative and fun pressures, while DT Chris Jones remains awesome. In a year where defenses seem to be taking back the reins from an offense-driven league, the Chiefs are near the top.

The offense, well … it’s taking a little bit of time. Sure, their offensive EPA/play is seventh in the entire league, but by Chiefs standards, something has just been off about this year’s offense. Travis Kelce has been good when healthy, but the young receiver core has left a lot to be desired through the first half of the season. Per Sports Information Solutions, on all targets to wide receivers only, the Chiefs are 25th in Yards per Route Run and 21st in EPA/target. If we compare it to the Chiefs’ receiving core from last year, the 2023 Chiefs’ wideouts have cut their EPA/target by over a third, and have 13 drops compared to six through this point last year. However, you can start to somewhat see the wheels turning for this young receiver group, especially wideout Rashee Rice. The group struggled against Miami, but Rice is beginning to catch his stride in the offense.

As the Kansas City offense tries to find what works, it’ll be on the defense to keep them afloat. So far, it’s worked like a charm. The Chiefs are 7-2 and hold sole possession of first place in the AFC once again. Going forward, Kansas City is going to have to find some ways to make this offense work for the receiver group. What’s been interesting is that the Chiefs have only seen man coverage on 79 of their dropbacks this season, 16th most in the NFL (they’re sixth in Total EPA on those attempts by the way). However, when teams play zone coverage (specifically MOFO coverages like Cover 2, 4 and 6), the Chiefs’ total EPA drops to 18th in the NFL. Chiefs’ receivers against those coverages have an EPA/target that puts them in the range of the Packers and Cardinals. Travis Kelce can find those soft spots in zones because he has a rapport with Mahomes that’s been set over countless reps. Can’t exactly say the same for guys like Kadarius Toney. The Chiefs receiver group needs time to get right within the offense and work with their QB to find those soft spots in zones, something that won’t happen instantly with new players.

Sounds a lot like the 2022 Chiefs’ defense, right? If the 2022 season is any indication of how this will go, Kansas City will be just fine. However, in this “Freaky Friday” year, it’ll have to be the defense that takes the lead while the offense grows over time.

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