Running the Ball and Stopping the Run: How Important is it for the Chiefs?

Running the Ball and Stopping the Run: How Important is it for the Chiefs?

By: Cory Anderson

We’ve talked about the weaknesses of this Chiefs team all season, and have generally come to two conclusions: they don’t run the ball well, and they don’t stop the run well. The statistics bear that out as well, as the Chiefs currently sit at 23rd in the NFL, rushing for just 93.8 yards per game, and on defense, they give up 129.5 yards per game, 26th in the NFL. The question is, do either of those stats matter in relation to teams that have won the Super Bowl? The chart below shows what Super Bowl winners over the last 18 years (the Patriots first Super Bowl win) have done running the ball and stopping the run.

Year Super Bowl Winner Offense Rush Yds/Gm NFL Rank Defense Rush Yds/Gm NFL Rank
2018 Patriots 127.3 5 112.7 11
2017 Eagles 132.2 3 79.2 1
2016 Patriots 117 7 88.6 3
2015 Broncos 107.4 17 83.6 3
2014 Patriots 107.9 18 104.3 9
2013 Seahawks 136.8 4 101.6 7
2012 Ravens 118.8 11 122.8 20
2011 Giants 89.2 32 121.2 19
2010 Packers 100.4 24 114.9 18
2009 Saints 131.6 6 122.2 21
2008 Steelers 105.6 23 80.2 2
2007 Giants 134.2 4 97.7 8
2006 Colts 110.1 18 173 32
2005 Steelers 138.9 5 86 3
2004 Patriots 133.4 7 98.2 6
2003 Patriots 100.4 27 89.6 4
2002 Bucs 97.3 27 97.1 5
2001 Patriots 112.1 13 115.9 19

As previously mentioned and for comparison, the Chiefs numbers: Offense 93.8 yds/gm (23rd), Defense 129.5 yds/gm (26th). 

What you’ll notice in looking at the past Super Bowl winners, running the ball is a nice luxury, but not at all a necessity. The top rushing team in the NFL hasn’t won any of the past 18 Super Bowls (sorry Ravens, bad news for you), but there have been 8 of 18 winners ranked in the top 10, with 5 of those 8 ranked in the top 5. From the Chiefs perspective, though, there have been 5 of the past 18 ranked 23rd or worse, which is currently where the Chiefs sit. So what was it about those teams that allowed them to overcome their lack of a great run game? The 2002 Buccaneers had an elite defense, so their entire offense was bailed out regularly by that defense (Brad Johnson was their QB, I mean come on.) The 2003 Patriots had Tom Brady, a future Hall of Famer (and Bill Belichick). The 2008 Steelers had Ben Roethlisberger, a future Hall of Famer. The 2010 Packers had Aaron Rodgers, a future Hall of Famer. The 2011 Giants, which are kind of the outlier, had Eli Manning. While he’s not at the same level as the others, he’s a future Hall of Famer. Their defense was also a wrecking crew in the playoffs, particularly against the Patriots, and helped carry Eli to that title. My point is, these teams had something else that carried them through despite a lackluster running game, and 4 of those 5 somethings were Hall of Fame quarterbacks. While he isn’t a lock by any means, Patrick Mahomes should be on his way to Canton as well. The Chiefs have that “something” that can overcome deficiencies, just like those other teams did. It’s not something we’ve been able to say in this city since Joe Montana, but Mahomes is finally that guy. 

What about on defense? The Chiefs, currently 26th in the NFL defending the run, have only 1 team the last 18 years that’s won the Super Bowl with a worse run defense. That was the 2006 Colts, who were dead last in the NFL giving up 173 yards per game. But they had Peyton Manning. A quarterback who could overcome the lack of run defense. Once again, Patrick Mahomes to the rescue. It’s a lot to put on the shoulders of a 24-year-old, but such is the burden of the best quarterbacks in the game. 

That being said about Mahomes, you can’t ignore the fact that 11 of the last 18 Super Bowl champions have been ranked in the top 10 defending the run. Stopping the run clearly has a higher correlation with winning it all than being able to run the ball. That’s why it’s so important that the Chiefs have played the run much better in their current 5-game winning streak. Over the past 5 games, the Chiefs have given up just 92.4 yards per game. That number would put them 4th in the NFL this season. I realize that’s cherry-picking the best Chiefs stretch of the year, but hopefully, it’s a sign of what this defense is becoming and not just a result of the teams they’ve played.