Remember the AFC Championship game of 2018? Too soon? Interception, flag, offsides. Kansas City defence can’t stop the Patriots in overtime. If only we had a defence that was average, people said. Give Patrick Mahomes a platform to win games and not continually having to come from behind.
Well, say hello to the 2020 Chiefs defence. After 8 weeks they are ranked 13th in DVOA, slightly above league average.
They’ve only conceded over 20 points once all season. The offence has scored more than 23 points in 45 of Patrick Mahomes 46 starts. That’s a winning combination right there. So which players are making an impact and who needs to step up their game? Let’s have a look.
Somebody far more intelligent than me came up with a way of scraping the NFL Stats to calculate the defensive players impacts on the game. If you’ve read any of the previous articles I’ve written you’ll be familiar with
Expected Points Added (EPA) – How many more or less points your team is likely to score based on the outcome of the last play.
Win Probability Added (WPA) – How much more or less likely your team is to win the game based on the outcome of the last play.
EPA measure how much a player potentially influences the scoreboard but it doesn’t take into account context of the game. WPA does.
When a player makes a play that puts his team in a much better position to win, he adds lots of win probability.
A five-yard run on 1st-and-10 from a team’s own 20-yard line in the first quarter doesn’t add much WP. A five-yard run on 4th-and-4 in the red zone in the fourth quarter when the team’s down by six adds a whole heck of a lot. Over the course of a season, WPA tells us who’s doing the most to help his team win.
The defensive version of this is +EPA and +WPA. +EPA and +WPA add up the value of every sack, interception, pass defense, forced fumble or recovery, and every tackle or assist that results in a setback for the offense. What these stats measure is “playmaking” ability and it’s broken down between rushing and passing plays.
No great surprise that the key players here are the front 7. Frank Clark with 5 tackles for loss leads the way in stopping the run closely followed by two of the team’s leading tacklers in Wilson and Hitchens. A little bit surprising to see Chris Jones down in 5th place, maybe his reputation as not being quite disciplined on run plays is justified after all? Tip of the hat to rookies Wharton and Gay, both having an effect in there too.
Is anyone surprised to see the Honey Badger top of the list with 3 pass defences and a pair of interceptions including a pick 6? Dirty Dan Sorenson crops up frequently with the big plays, most recently a forced fumble and pick 6. Often an end of season candidate to be cut to save a few million in cap space, he keeps coming up with the goods. Chris Jones again features here, 4.5 sacks for the season makes him the top lineman featuring on this list. Another rookie features in Sneed, the sooner he comes back from injury the better! Taco Charlton rounds out the top 10, Brett Veach continues to find value in other teams castoffs.
WIN PROBABILITY ADDED
So, EPA looks at playmaking influence on the scoreboard, but it lacks game context. Win Probability Added takes game situation into account. A sack to take the opposition out of field goal range when you are up by 2 in the 4th means a lot more than one in their own half in the 1st quarter.
There’s good reason Chris Jones was given a $60m extension. He makes plays, but he also makes them when it matters too, leading the team in WPA. Dan Sorenson giving the value for money at crunch time. I was most surprised to see Hitchens up there, but he has made plays in the pass and run game and he is on the field a significant amount of the time. Honey Badger and Frank Clark round out the top 5 overall playmakers.
One thing is for sure, Brett Veach has invested big contracts but the players he’s given them to are living up to them. This is crucial in the years to come when Mahomes contract starts to get bigger. Paying big contracts is fine, but you need to pay the right players to be successful and the Chiefs are doing just that. The mix of big money players and bargain basement contracts here is just about perfect. The Kansas City Chiefs are in good hands.