Monday Night Preview: Can the Kansas City Chiefs Stay Unbeaten?
On this week's edition of Monday Night Football, Washington travels to Arrowhead Stadium to take on an undefeated Kansas City squad. So far in 2017, both of these teams have performed well. Currently, the Chiefs stand as the only remaining undefeated, while Washington sits at 2-1, behind only the Eagles in their division
With each of these teams slotting in near the top of our rankings, we should be in for a good game. Here are a few positional breakdowns likely to influence the outcome of this contest.
Beginning with the Chiefs, Alex Smith has shocked the football community with his impressive numbers. To start the season, he has accounted for 774 passing yards, 7 touchdowns, and no interceptions. He did this while taking down Tom Brady and the Patriots on the road in Week 1, and he bested two formidable defenses in the Eagles and Chargers.
Based on our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, Smith has a Passing NEP per drop back of 0.25 on the season. This comes in well-above the league average of 0.10. Among 21 quarterbacks with at least 95 drop backs, Smith ranks third in Passing NEP per drop back. Additionally, Smith is also performing at an elite level according to Passing Success Rate (the percentage of drop backs that contribute to a positive NEP), sporting a Success Rate of 52.08%, which is second among passers with at least 95 drop backs.
On the other sideline, Kirk Cousins has been equally impressive, recording 784 passing yards, 5 touchdowns, and 1 interception.
According to our metrics, Cousins has a Passing NEP per drop back of 0.14, slightly above the league average and eighth among passers who have at least 95 drop backs. Cousins also ranks eighth in Passing Success Rate with a clip of 48.08%.
Quarterback play figures to be crucial in tonight's contest, and a mistake on either side could sway the game.
Running Back Breakdown
The running back position has been a position of strength to start the season for each of these teams. Following a season-ending injury to Spencer Ware, Kareem Hunt has exploded onto the scene with 401 rushing yards and adding another 137 through the air, scoring 6 total touchdowns.
Looking at NEP, Hunt has played just as well as the counting stats indicate. Hunt has a Rushing NEP per attempt of 0.42. For context, this is far above the league average of -0.05 (yes, the average is negative, because rushing is far less efficient than passing). Additionally, among 28 running backs with at least 30 carries on the season, Hunt ranks second in Rushing Success Rate with 53.19%.
Within this backfield, Thompson has provided the biggest edge on the ground game, despite a limited role. On the season, he only has 14 carries, but he leads the team with a Rushing NEP per carry of 0.51. On top of this, Thompson excels in the receiving game, hauling in 231 receiving yards on the year. Although he has been their best runner, Washington coach Jay Gruden indicated he doesn't play on expanding Thompson's work load going forward.
To complement Thompson, Kelley started the year as the early-down back, but he was injured in Week 2. Due to that injury, he has only 22 carries on the year but has earned Rushing NEP per rush of 0.09 along with a Rushing Success Rate of 45.45%. Kelley missed Week 3, but he appears to be on track to play tonight, officially listed as questionable.
In Kelley's absence, Perine has gotten more work, and he owns a Rushing NEP per carry of -0.27 on 40 carries. In addition, he has a Rushing Success Rate of 25.00%, which ranks dead last among all running backs with 30 carries.
With Hunt performing so well, the Chiefs have the edge in the backfield, but Thompson has certainly been one of the early breakout stars this season and is among the game's premier pass-catching backs.
While both of these teams have excelled in 2017, neither team has performed as expected on the defensive side of the ball, which isn't to say both defenses have struggled.
In fact, Washington's D has been very good. Per our schedule-adjusted per-play metrics, Washington slots in as the fifth-best defense overall, while the Chiefs check in all the way at 18th. This is a bit unexpected after the Chiefs were one of the league's more formidable defenses entering the season, and Washington is dealing with the loss of Chris Baker in free agency.
Examining Washington, their rush defense has done incredibly well, ranking first in Adjusted Defense Rushing NEP per play. Their Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play comes in a little lower at 11th overall. Kansas City is 15th in pass defense and 20th in rush defense, per our metrics.
With the Chiefs' offense humming, it'll be a great matchup Alex Smith and company go up against Washington's improved defense.
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