The Chiefs owe much of their success this season to a strange-but-true brew of things that don’t add up. At least not traditionally.
And maybe one element of that is the most counter-intuitive — and telling — of all.
Just one NFL team, the sputtering New York Giants, is more generous when it comes to yards a carry it surrenders (4.9) than the Chiefs (4.8).
Twenty-four NFL teams, almost everyone else, really, are stingier in rushing yards a game than the middling 124.4 the Chiefs yield.
None of which is all that relevant, it turns out.
But it makes confounding and compelling the most revealing statistic of all about a defense that is second in the NFL in points allowed (17.1 a game) entering tonight’s game at winless Oakland:
No team has rushed for a touchdown against the Chiefs, who have scored 16 TDs on the ground themselves.
“How do I explain that?” defensive end Allen Bailey said, smiling. “I don’t know, man. It’s hard.”
Hard to believe, because it’s virtually unheard of: So much so that no NFL team ever has carried that out for a full season.
Hard to understand in this case, too, considering the Chiefs’ disposition towards porousness on much of the field.
Unless the oft-repeated mantra of defensive coordinator Bob Sutton suddenly is conferring some mystical powers.
“Our mindset is,” defensive end Kevin Vickerson said, “they’re not in until they’re in.”
Several players used the same term, a variation of the ol’ bend but don’t break concept, to try to explain the phenomenon.
Simply put, they’ve found a way to bristle when they must.
Chances are that feeds off itself some.
“The guys obviously take a lot of pride in that,” coach Andy Reid said.
Of course, most teams think that way and have buzz-terms for it and scream in goal-line huddles that no one is going to run over them, etc.
It just about never has played out like this before.
The significance of the syndrome never was more evident than in the Chiefs’ 24-20 victory Sunday over Seattle.
The Seahawks are the best running team in football, and they finished the game rushing for 204 yards and averaging 5.5 yards a carry.
But on the most crucial play of the game, fourth and goal at the Chiefs’ 2 in the fourth quarter, the Seahawks relegated themselves to a feeble fade pass that failed.
To them, though, that apparently was a higher-percentage play than running monstrous Marshawn Lynch, who had been smothered for a two-yard gain the play before.
“One of the top running teams in the league, they try to run the ball and don’t have success, and you make ’em throw a fade pass on a fourth and (two)?” linebacker Josh Martin said. “That’s a big deal.”
Vickerson lit up at the reference to that stand and said, “A little oomph, huh? Coach (Sutton) used the word ‘grit’ with us a lot, and that’s what we’ve got to show.”
Now, the Chiefs are 7-3, tied with Denver atop the AFC West and winners of seven of their last eight games, for a lot of obvious reasons: the wily Reid, Jamaal Charles, Alex Smith’s mastery of the offense, Justin Houston, special-teams play, rare penalties (45, second-fewest in the league) and more.
They also are doing this despite some traits, or at least markers, that aren’t normally conducive to winning football.
They’re losing the turnover battle (10-8).
No wide receiver has caught a touchdown pass.
Smith has yet to throw for 300 yards in a game or complete a pass of longer than 34 yards.
And Charles has rushed for more than 100 yards just once.
If they weren’t winning week-in and week-out, a lot of those matters would be scrutinized as the reasons.
But suddenly they’re doing nothing but winning, practically customizing the way they’re doing it … with a major boost from not granting any touchdowns by land.
That’s not just a peculiar tidbit.
It may well be unprecedented.
Three teams hold the NFL record (two) for the fewest rushing touchdowns allowed in a season: the 1934 Detroit Lions, the 1968 Dallas Cowboys and the 1971 Minnesota Vikings.
Each had given up one by now: Detroit in its ninth game, Dallas in its sixth and Minnesota in its fifth.
Now, even this late in the season, it seems implausible that the Chiefs can get through the rest of their schedule unscathed in that category.
One way or another, after all, fortune is part of this.
Look back no farther than the game against Buffalo on Nov. 9, when the Bills’ Bryce Brown was on his way into the end zone … only for the Chiefs’ Ron Parker to tomahawk the ball loose.
But if there is some quirkiness to this unique streak, it can’t be dismissed as a mere fluke, either.
And the main thing is this:
Chiefs defenders know this isn’t so much about preserving perfection as it is striving to maintain the mentality from which it has been a byproduct, including the fact that the longest run of the season against them is 27 yards.
In fact, to hear those Chiefs defenders tell it, they’re barely aware of the trend and don’t discuss keeping it going.
“We don’t get into the stats too much,” defensive tackle Vance Walker said. “It just turns out that way (because of) what we’re doing.”
At least what they’re doing in preventing the long runs and once they’re in danger in the red zone.
“It’s a sense of urgency when you’re in the red zone; it kicks in,” Bailey said. “They’re not in until they’re in, so we’re going to play every snap.”
Even if that doesn’t fully explain it, particularly the difference in handling the run otherwise, it’s still part of a formula that makes these Chiefs to date different than any about any other team in NFL history.