The Kansas City Chiefs' Offense Is Humming Right Now
One of the biggest shocks to start the 2017 NFL regular season was the Kansas City Chiefs upsetting the New England Patriots. It wasnâ€™t just that it happened, though -- it was how it happened.
The Chiefs broke out option-heavy principles that allowed Kareem Hunt, Tyreek Hill, Alex Smith, and even Travis Kelce to succeed on the ground. This strategy also opened up downfield shots that Smith didnâ€™t just take, but saw some big results from.
Kansas City then had to face the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 2, who have a defense that's performed much better than the Patriots so far this year, but even they couldn't slow down this offense enough.
Through two weeks, the Chiefs have the best offense in the league by Adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) per play. Theyâ€™re fifth in Adjusted Passing NEP per play and first in Adjusted Rushing NEP per play. For a team that has long been guided by defense, the offense has now taken the lead.
Kansas Cityâ€™s biggest impact so far has been on the ground with Hunt. The rookie running back leads the league in rushing by 30 yards over C.J. Anderson despite having 15 fewer carries than the Denver Broncos back. Hunt is averaging 114.5 yards per game and 7.6 yards per carry, and while those types of numbers are unsustainable over a full season, they show the rusher's upside. Among 54 backs with at least 10 carries this season, Hunt is currently fourth in Rushing NEP per attempt with a mark of 0.30.
Heâ€™s also been an impact player in the passing game -- Hunt leads all running backs in Reception NEP (9.78), and among 37 backs who have been targeted at least five times, his 1.22 Reception NEP per target is also the best.
One way Hunt has been so productive is his ability to create space for himself. Heâ€™s forced missed tackles and created more yards on plays that probably shouldnâ€™t allow either, like this play-action pass against the Eagles that featured four missed tackles.
Of course, getting Hunt room to run is almost assuredly a big play, like the hole he had on his 53-yard touchdown run in Week 2.
Hunt has also been one of the leagueâ€™s most efficient runners behind the line of scrimmage -- per the NFLâ€™s Next-Gen Stats, he's traveled the second-fewest yards per yard gained on the ground. So, heâ€™s hitting holes and going through them without any hesitation in the backfield (for the opposite, imagine a back who runs laterally behind the line of scrimmage before turning up the field for no gain). Huntâ€™s efficiency there is even more impressive since just under half of his runs (14) have come up the middle.
Kansas City also got Hunt on the field more in Week 2 (74 percent of snaps) than in the opening week (57 percent), so his playing time still has the potential to grow along with the production.
Airing It Out
So far this season, quarterback Alex Smith ranks fifth at the position with a 0.35 Passing NEP per drop back, and he moves up to fourth if we narrow the sample to signal-callers who have played two games (which knocks out Sam Bradford).
While it appears as if Smith is being more aggressive with his attempts, that's only been true to an extent. His volume of deep passes (15 or more yards down the field) is only slightly higher right now (15.9 percent) than it was in 2016 (13.7 percent), which is still below the league average. Itâ€™s not like the Chiefs have turned into some Air Raid attack -- Smith has just been better at converting on those deep passes. Last year, his success rate on deep attempts was just 38.8 percent, but heâ€™s been successful on half of those throws so far in 2017.
Hill is going to get some of the credit here, and even though they produced a 75-yard touchdown together against New England, they've only connected that one time on three targets. There was also the 78-yard touchdown to Hunt in the same game, but perhaps the most optimistic throws have been to Chris Conley.
On a 2nd and 11 against Philadelphia, Kansas City came out in a three tight end set with Kelce and Conley to the right. Against that heavy formation, the Eagles went with a single safety outside the opposite hash-mark. Smith knew heâ€™d have one-on-one coverage on the outside and let it rip for a 35-yard gain.
This probably isnâ€™t the type of throw Smith would be making in the past. Thatâ€™s where the new aggressiveness comes from.
Itâ€™s smart aggressiveness -- not throwing the ball deep for the sake of throwing it deep. This is also a plus for Conley, who caught just 5 of 14 deep targets last season. Heâ€™s already 2-of-3 for a 1.65 Reception NEP per target. Those types of throws mixed in with the typical shorter staples from Kansas City and shovel passes to Kelce are what can take them to another level offensively.
Through two weeks, the Chiefs have played like one of the NFL's best teams, but so have the other squads in their division. Both the Broncos and Oakland Raiders are 2-0, which doesnâ€™t give any team much breathing room in the AFC West. Even the Los Angeles Chargers have been a really good 0-2, if that can be a thing.
Our numbers currently give Kansas City a 61.6 percent chance of making the playoffs, which is below Denverâ€™s 68.6 percent but above Oaklandâ€™s 49.5 percent. If head coach Andy Reid wants his team to stay on pace, theyâ€™ll have to keep this type of offensive production going.
Unlike some Chiefs teams of the past, this one might be able to do it.