For the past two years, no defense in the AFC has been better at forcing turnovers than the Kansas City Chiefs.
On the flip side, only two AFC offenses have been better at not turning the ball over in that time.
To put this kind of ball control domination into perspective, Kansas City has a combined turnover margin of plus 30 since 2015, while no other team in the NFL has a turnover margin higher than 19.
To gauge how important having a dominant turnover margin is for this year’s Chiefs, look no further than the 2014 Chiefs.
Kansas City was good enough to beat the likes of New England and Seattle in the regular season, but right now goes down as the only Chiefs team to not make the playoffs under Andy Reid.
Five of the 2014 team’s seven losses came within one score, with the lack of turnovers a driving factor. The team finished tied for last in the NFL with only 13 takeaways and totaled 17 turnovers on their own. The negative four turnover margin ranked 21st in the NFL.
These stats are important because it shows that Kansas City has such a slim margin of error on both sides of the ball.
Quarterback Alex Smith and the offense are not as capable of overcoming mistakes as other top offenses, and the defense is not stout enough between the 20’s to consistently force short drives in the absence of turnovers.
The defense should remain one of the best red zone teams, and the offense should figure to place in the top half of the NFL for points scored, but excelling in turnovers elevates the team from a nine-win team to that of a division champion and top seed in the AFC.
It’s not by chance that seven of the top 10 turnover margin teams made the playoffs in 2016, and the good news for Chiefs fans is that most of the team’s defensive playmakers are back in red in 2017.
Eric Berry enters the season with a new 6-year, 78-million-dollar contract after his best season as a Chief. The Pro Bowl safety was always a force inside the box throughout his career, but what elevated his play in 2016 was his knack for the ball. Berry’s four interceptions and two pick-sixes tied career highs and arguably won the Chiefs two games.
This marks Berry’s eighth professional season, and as other defensive weapons like Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali age out of their prime, it’s crucial that Berry continue to lead the defense both inside the locker room and when it comes to turnovers.
It’s impossible to talk about defensive playmakers in the NFL without bringing up Marcus Peters, and the Chiefs’ cornerback is still just 24 years old. The 14 interceptions for the 2015 first round pick is more than any other corner in the league in that time. Peters also expanded his game past interceptions last year, with three fumble recoveries and one key forced fumble against Carolina.
Kansas City’s ability to force turnovers almost rests solely on Berry and Peters, but if the Chiefs hope to finish as the league’s best yet again, the team will still need occasional big plays from role players.
Safety Daniel Sorenson’s three interceptions, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and one pick-six was a huge boost for the defense, along with interceptions from Ron Parker, Phillip Gaines, D.J. White and Ramik Wilson. Steven Nelson didn’t log an interception, but his 16 passes defensed ranked second on the team.
Every one of these options is back for 2017, and everyone but Parker is under the age of 30. How these role players improve could take some pressure off Berry and Peters, or take the defensive to even new heights.
With Smith at quarterback, it’s crucial to have a top defense. While he’s shown as a Chief the ability to lead come from behind wins, engineer two-minute drives and win high-scoring shootouts, he’s still not at the level of Brady, who the Chiefs are looking to dethrone. Having a wrecking crew defense is the best recipe for topping the Patriots, and consistently winning the turnover battle is the only way Kansas City can achieve that status.
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