Saturday’s showdown against the Indianapolis Colts will go a long way toward determining whether Arrowhead Stadiums serves as a legitimate house of horrors for opposing teams, or merely a house of cards set to come cascading down around the AFC’s top-seeded team, a young phenom at quarterback and a historically productive Chiefs offense.
The X-factor for the Chiefs, particularly in Kansas City, is a defense that has shown a knack for being disruptive, ball-hawking and relatively stingy. At least that’s what a surface-level examination of the statistics would indicate.
But it’s not that cut and dried.
Defensively, the Chiefs gave up an NFL-record 419 first downs and ranked near the bottom of the league during the regular season in yards allowed per game (405.5, 31st), yards per play (5.9, 24th) and points allowed (26.3, 24th).
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“Oh, it’s a whole different story when you come to Arrowhead,” rookie defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi said. “I notice it now that I’m here. Just the atmosphere here is a whole different personality when it comes to this building that a lot of people don’t realize when they play the Chiefs.”
Arrowhead Stadium and a raucous home crowd certainly seemed to cure those ills during the regular season.
Not only did opponents score fewer points per game at Arrowhead (18, compared to 34.6 on the road), but the Chiefs’ defense held quarterbacks to a significantly lower passer rating (74.0, compared to 104.9 on the road) and allowed fewer yards per play and collected more sacks and more interceptions. Three of their four defensive touchdowns also came at home this season.
“I think you could make that argument for every team that plays at home, especially on the defense,” Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen said. “The crowd is a factor for the offense to handle, especially in Arrowhead.”
Sorensen, who returned an interception for a touchdown in the regular-season finale in Kansas City against the Raiders, acknowledged that the defense’s ability to feed off of the home crowd plays a factor in any game.
“Football is a very emotional sport — there’s a lot of energy, and you kind of see that in the statistics and things,” Sorensen said.
While energy and emotion can’t be easily quantified, the variable of the NFL schedule does make a big difference. The Chiefs played significantly better teams on the road as opposed to at home this season.
The Chiefs’ non-division road opponents posted a combined record of 50-28-2 this season, while the non-division opponents who paid a visit to Arrowhead posted an overall record of 28-52.
Three division opponents played the Chiefs both on the road and at home. The Los Angeles Chargers and Denver Broncos had similar offensive output in both games, right down to the scoring being separated by one point in the Chargers games and identical in each of the Broncos games.
The Chiefs’ seven-point win against the Raiders in Oakland and 35-3 blowout of the Raiders in Kansas City skew those numbers.
One constant, even in the division games? The Chiefs’ defense succeeded in ratcheting up the pressure and sacking the quarterback more in Arrowhead than on the road.
“I haven’t really studied it like that, but we’ve had some good games here, defensively,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said of his defense seemingly performing better at home. “I think the obvious thing is — from a defensive standpoint — the home crowd here is a huge advantage, especially from a pass-rush standpoint because (opponents have) to operate on a silent count on offense. You don’t have the cadence as much of a weapon as you normally do.”
Outside linebacker Dee Ford expressed similar sentiments and noted that a key advantage opposing offensive linemen typically enjoy — knowing the snap count — is eliminated amidst crowd noise. Ford also said that overall confidence is higher for the Chiefs at home.
Arrowhead Stadium holds the world record for the loudest crowd at a sports stadium, and that noise evens the playing field for the Chiefs’ pass rushers at the line of scrimmage. The Chiefs finished the regular season tied for the NFL lead in sacks (52).
“We were fortunate enough to put ourselves in this position,” defensive lineman Chris Jones said. “I know Arrowhead fans (are) going to bring it.”