Sam Mellinger

Chiefs’ defense isn’t only fueling undefeated start, it could be record-breaking

Updated: 2013-10-17T15:39:51Z

By Sam Mellinger

The Kansas City Star

Look, there are a dozen reasons this whole thing will be as outdated as a flip-phone soon enough, but while the numbers line up we might as well say it out loud:

This Chiefs’ defense has a chance to go down as one of the best in recent NFL memory.

Honest.

Now, we’re all adults here. We all know the Chiefs’ first six opponents included the Jaguars and maybe two playoff teams (the Titans and someone from the awful NFC East), while their next 10 opponents include five currently in the top five in offense (starting this week against the Texans, and peaking with two games against the Broncos).

So what the Chiefs are doing at the moment is a bit like leading a marathon at mile six, but, well, after years of throwing up in the sponsors’ tent by this point, it’s worth taking a moment to recognize that this defense isn’t just fueling a 6-0 start, it’s playing at a historic pace.

On Wednesday, Tamba Hali was announced as the AFC’s defensive player of the week. That means that, between Hali and fellow linebacker Justin Houston, the Chiefs have won the award three of a possible six times. And Houston was chosen defensive player of the month for September.

The turnaround is nothing short of astonishing, the combination of a strengthened secondary and a major shift in philosophy toward organized chaos. Hali often talks of a specific change: from poring over film a year ago for better understanding of opponents, to a new aggressiveness that forces offenses to do the reacting.

The best way to illustrate the change might be to point out that the defense has given up seven touchdowns and five field goals while scoring four touchdowns of their own and forcing turnovers that gave the offense the ball in plus-territory 11 other times.

Think of it like this: Opponents have been 50 percent more likely to turn the ball over than to manage even a field goal against the Chiefs, regardless of field position.

But the easiest place to start — the place most people like to start — is with the pass rush. The Chiefs lead the NFL with 30 sacks, which is not only more than they had all of last year but also on a pace (82.7) to eclipse the 1984 Bears’ NFL record of 72.

Ten different Chiefs have sacked the quarterback compared with six all of last year. Houston, Hali and Dontari Poe form perhaps the best trio in the NFL: Houston leads the league in sacks, Hali is fifth, and only one interior lineman has more sacks than Poe.

Any talk about the Chiefs’ success to this point includes the caveat of their remarkably easy schedule, but it’s also true that of their six opponents, four have scored their fewest points of the season against the Chiefs. The exceptions are the Giants (seven against Kansas City) and Titans (17). The Eagles and Cowboys each rank in the league’s top five in points scored and were a combined 25 points under their season averages against the Chiefs.

The statistical case is overwhelming. The Chiefs are giving up just 10.8 points per game and are on pace for 48 takeaways. Both marks would be the best since the famous 2000 Ravens, who gave up 10.3 points per game, forced 49 turnovers and won Super Bowl XXXV.

NFL people talk all the time about the increased importance of the passing game, right? Well, the Chiefs are giving up a scant 4.4 yards per pass attempt, which would be the lowest average since the 2008 Super Bowl champion Steelers. The Chiefs are allowing opposing quarterbacks a meager 59.8 passer rating, which would be the lowest mark the league has seen since the 2009 Jets defense that dragged Mark Sanchez to the AFC championship game.

It’s not all the schedule, either. Football Outsiderss has a metric that takes into account strength of opponents. The Chiefs have the best score in the NFL, better than the Seahawks. In fact, the Chiefs are on pace for the best mark in the six-year history of Pro Football Focus’ measurement.

Again, the games that will define the Chiefs’ season are still to come. They haven’t faced offenses as good as the ones that remain on the schedule.

Thing is, none of those teams has faced a defense that’s playing as well as the Chiefs, either.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365, send email to smellinger@kcstar.com or follow him at Twitter.com/mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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