The Kansas City Chiefs aren't exciting. But they win. A lot.
They've won 38 games since the start of the 2013 season, Andy Reid's first as their head coach. Three teams — the Broncos, Patriots and Seahawks — have won more. The Bucs, who play Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday (1 p.m. FOX-WTVT), have lost 41 games in that span.
You might wonder how the Chiefs win in a pass-happy league when they employ Alex Smith, the quarterback equivalent to a Honda Accord. Reliable. Affordable. Practical. Smith isn't a dynamic playmaker like Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger or Russell Wilson. Kansas City doesn't need him to be.
Reid's Chiefs play complementary football better than most of their peers. No one unit carries the team, unlike in Atlanta, where the Falcons offense must compensate for the defense. Kansas City's units rely on one another to create favorable situations.
The Chiefs' brand of complementary football comprises three principles: secure favorable field position, win the turnover battle and score on defense. In the second half of a 20-17 win at Carolina last Sunday, Kansas City succeeded in each of those areas to overcome a 17-3 deficit.
• • •
Secure favorable field position
On their first possession of the third quarter, the Chiefs didn't score, but they picked up 27 yards to flip the field. When the drive stalled, Dustin Colquitt's 47-yard punt pinned the Panthers at their 9-yard line.
Carolina embarked on what looked to be a clinching drive, but Kansas City clamped down in the red zone. It forced Cam Newton out of bounds for a 1-yard loss on first down, then sacked him on the next two, sending the Panthers back to the 40 and out of field-goal range.
Without the 27 yards the Chiefs gained to start the half, Colquitt's punt doesn't land inside the 20. If his punt doesn't land inside the 20, the Panthers' drive might have ended in a field goal instead of a punt.
There's a reason Colquitt is among the league's highest-paid punters: He routinely forces opponents to field punts inside the 20. Until recently, the Bucs struggled to do so with any kind of regularity.
Punts inside the 20
|2013||Colquitt: 35 (tied for first)||Koenen: 19 (tied for 29th)|
|2014||Colquitt: 31 (tied for fourth)||Koenen: 17 (31st)|
|2015||Colquitt: 37 (third)||Schum: 15 (tied for 31st)|
|2016||Colquitt: 21 (tied for third)||Anger: 21 (tied for third)|
Colquitt and the Chiefs' ball-control offense give the Chiefs' defense a significant advantage before it steps on the field. In recent seasons, Kansas City's opponents often have had to sustain longer drives to score. Tampa Bay's opponents haven't faced nearly as steep of a challenge.
Opponent average starting field position
|2013||23.2 (first)||30.7 (28th)|
|2014||27.7 (19th)||31.2 (30th)|
|2015||24.6 (third)||30.2 (31st)|
|2016||27.3 (13th)||29.3 (24th)|
The Chiefs' defense not only limits opponents' scoring but also gives its offense short fields. Reid's Kansas City teams have finished no worse than eighth in average starting field position. Tampa Bay? No better than 23rd.
Average starting field position
|2013||33.4 (first)||26.8 (24th)|
|2014||29.3 (eighth)||26.6 (23rd)|
|2015||31.3 (first)||26.2 (25th)|
|2016||31.5 (third)||27.3 (23rd)|
Don't have an offense that can rack up yards in a hurry? Ask the defense to move the starting line.
• • •
Win the turnover battle and score on defense
Through the first 48 minutes against the Panthers, the Chiefs struggled to score anything other than field goals. Down 17-6 with about 12 minutes left, they needed a splash play.
The defense delivered when safety Eric Berry intercepted a pass that Newton, facing a Chiefs blitz, tried to force to tight end Greg Olsen. Berry dodged multiple tackles, crossed the field and returned the pick 42 yards. The touchdown and two-point conversion cut the Panthers' lead to three.
Berry's return was the Chiefs' fourth defensive score of the season, tied with the Chargers for most in the league. That feat is no fluke. Kansas City's defense scored six touchdowns last season (tied with the Cardinals for most) and seven in 2013 (most). Its 18 touchdowns since 2013 lead the NFL.
The Chiefs secured one more takeaway late against the Panthers, and it was a stunner. With 29 seconds left and the game tied, Newton completed a 14-yard pass to Kelvin Benjamin. As he and safety Marcus Peters collided at the Carolina 33, Peters pulled the ball from Benjamin's grasp. Kansas City's league-best 22nd takeaway set up the game-winning field goal.
There's often a lot of variance in turnover margin from one season to the next. The Chiefs, however, have been among the top two teams three of the past four seasons. The Bucs? No better than 18th in the past three seasons.
|2013||+19 (second)||10 (seventh)|
|2014||-3 (21st)||-8 (27th)|
|2015||+14 (second)||-5 (26th)|
|2016||+14 (first)||0 (18th)|
Since 2013, Kansas City's plus-44 margin is the best in the NFL. Tampa Bay's minus-3 margin ranks 17th.
• • •
What does all of this add up to for Sunday? For the Bucs to win, they'll have to out-Chiefs the Chiefs. This means no turnovers, few three-and-outs and perhaps a defensive touchdown. One giveaway will be too much against a team that has turned the ball over once in its past five games.
Statistics in this report are from Pro Football Focus and Pro Football Reference. Contact Thomas Bassinger at [email protected] Follow @tometrics.