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KC is 5-2 on road, but the defense is even worse away from Arrowhead

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NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs are headed to Seattle this weekend to face the Seahawks on Sunday night football. The Chiefs need to win to assure they stay ahead of the LA Chargers in the AFC West and playoff picture, while the Seahawks could lock in their wild card berth, as long as Washington loses earlier in the day. (And even if they don’t, Seattle is virtually assured a spot if they beat KC.) The Chiefs are 11-3 this season and have the best offense in the NFL by almost every measure, but their defense has been notably bad, especially away from the home crowd.

This season, the Chiefs have allowed 28 touchdowns on the road, the second-most in the NFL behind the 33 given up by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Of those 28, seven came in a 54-51 loss to the LA Rams. That includes four touchdown throws by Jared Goff, one touchdown run by Goff, and two defensive scores. Their next road game came in Oakland, where they gave up four offensive touchdowns to the Raiders, including three by Derek Carr. Overall, the Chiefs have outscored opponents 275-239 on the road, the second-most points allowed away from home.

Working backwards, this is what Kansas City has done on the road:

  • A 40-33 win over the 3-11 Raiders. At home, Oakland has lost by 20 to the Rams, beat the Hue Jackson Cleveland Browns in OT, 45-42, (lost to the Seahawks, but in London), lost by 14 points to the Indianapolis Colts, lost by 14 to the LA Chargers, and actually beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-24 the week after losing to the Chiefs. KC held a 33-16 lead going into the fourth quarter, but the Raiders cut it to 33-30 midway through the final period. An onside penalty extended KC’s ensuing drive, which allowed them to continue on and go up 40-30. It could have swung in a different direction.
  • The 54-51 game in LA. While this was back and forth in the fourth quarter, the Chiefs really played from behind for most of the night. The Seahawks don’t have an offense like the Rams do though, so a shootout seems unlikely, but we can’t say for sure.
  • A 37-21 win over the Browns. This was maybe KC’s best road game of the season. An otherwise surging Cleveland team saw Baker Mayfield and Nick Chubb contained, while the Browns’ defense didn’t have enough answers for Patrick Mahomes, Kareem Hunt, or Travis Kelce.
  • A 43-40 loss to the New England Patriots. The Pats led 24-9 at half, then briefly lost the lead in the fourth quarter before 10 unanswered, then getting a game-winning field goal as time expired. Tom Brady was efficient, Sony Michel had 24 carries for 106 yards, Rob Gronkowski had 97 yards.
  • A 27-23 win over the Denver Broncos. Despite Denver leading 23-13 in the fourth quarter, the Broncos lost after giving up two touchdowns in the final seven minutes. Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman combined for 136 yards on 20 carries, but don’t have a very capable offense en total with Case Keenum at quarterback so they couldn’t finish necessary drives at the end of the game. They went 3-and-out on the second-to-last drive, then had 1st-and-10 at the KC 28 but gained no yards from there and lost.
  • A 42-37 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Chiefs had a 21-0 lead but the game was tied by halftime. They built a 14-point lead again and came up with a big sack in the fourth quarter to force a punt soon after. The Steelers couldn’t stop the KC defense when they needed it and lost by five.
  • And in Week 1, the Chiefs beat the Chargers 38-28. KC was up 31-12 at one point, so they had the game in the bag for most of it. Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler did have 20 carries for 103 yards and Gordon had 102 receiving yards while Ekeler had 87. That’s a combined 292 yards from LA’s backs.

More on that:

The Chiefs have the 32nd ranked run defense in the NFL by DVOA and are 32nd in yards per carry allowed. Overall, opposing teams have rushed for 1,777 yards and 17 touchdowns on 5.0 yards per carry against Kansas City, which seems notable at a time when most teams besides the Seahawks and Baltimore Ravens choose not to run. Here is what the Chiefs have done against teams ranked in the top 13 by rush DVOA (this cutoff point might be arbitrary, but I’m doing my best to just include all the “good” rushing teams they’ve faced and the Cincinnati Bengals are 13th):

  • The Rams are 1st in rush DVOA and won that game 54-51. They rushed for just 76 yards that night, however, as there was no reason for Goff to stop passing.
  • The Broncos are 5th in rush DVOA and the Chiefs have beaten them 27-23 and 30-23. Denver rushed for 159 yards in one game and 189 in the other. Overall, Denver kept it close despite a wide disparity in passing talent because they have a great defense and did enough on the ground. This is also why the Broncos will miss the playoffs and will still be searching for a QB in the offseason, putting them in a similar position to where they were in 2011 following the Tim Tebow thing.
  • The Chargers are sixth in rush DVOA and they split the season series, losing 38-28 in Week 1 and winning 29-28 last Thursday. They rushed for 123 yards in the loss and 119 yards in the win, but were without both Gordon and Ekeler last week. It didn’t seem to matter.
  • (The Seahawks are 7th in rush DVOA)
  • The Patriots are 10th in rush DVOA and won 43-40.
  • The Steelers are 11th in rush DVOA and lost 42-37.
  • The Ravens are 12th in rush DVOA and lost 27-24 in OT. It’s worth noting the asterisk of Lamar Jackson: Baltimore has rushed for 1,152 yards in the last five games, the most rushing yards over a 5-game span by any team since at least 1980. The Ravens had a 24-17 lead with four minutes remaining and KC needed a 4th-and-9 conversion to get into position for the tying score with seconds on the clock. Jackson couldn’t pass Baltimore into field goal range and the Chiefs, after a missed field goal in regulation, pulled out a win in OT.
  • The Bengals are 13th in rush DVOA and lost 45-10 with 65 rushing yards. Cincinnati is not a good team.

Overall, it’s worth noting some potential clues for advantages to Seattle’s side this Sunday night. Specifically that when facing a top-10 rushing team on the road, the Chiefs are 3-2, and when facing a good rushing team at all, they,’re 5-3, but needed some magic to beat the Ravens. (No, I didn’t include the Bengals because ... they’re just so bad.) Look at teams like the Broncos and Ravens, who are similar to Seattle in rushing prowess and defensive quality but the Seahawks have Russell Wilson instead of Keenum and Jackson. That’s important.

On one hand, Seattle is 6th in passing DVOA, compared to 22nd for Denver and 18th for Baltimore. On the other hand, Seattle is now just 19th on defense, compared to 2nd for the Ravens and 4th for the Broncos. The Seahawks defense hasn’t been as dominant without players like Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman, but they still have allowed the third-fewest points at home this season. At that point, it’s a balancing act of variables.

The Chiefs defense is bad, but it’s even worse on the road.

The Seahawks defense is average, but they’ve gotten the job done at home.

The Chiefs have the best road passer rating in the NFL at 124.2.

The Seahawks are allowing an average rating of 92.6 at home, but look at a few of the worst teams at home against the pass: Steelers are 32nd at 109.3, Raiders are 31st at 105.6, Rams are 29th at 104.7. All of those teams faced KC at home. Does that mean Pat is going to ruin Seattle’s home defense numbers or that Pat’s road passing numbers are inflated by playing those three defenses? That’s another answer we won’t have a clearer picture of until the game is played.

The Seahawks are averaging 168.6 rushing yards per game at home, most in the NFL. The Chiefs have allowed 4.95 YPC and 10 rushing touchdowns in seven road games.

But variables go way beyond statistics. D.J. Fluker is questionable and Jordan Simmons is out this week, potentially giving Seattle continued problems at right guard. How will they answer to KC defensive tackle Chris Jones, who has 14 sacks? How much does the return of safety Eric Berry, who made his 2018 debut last week, change the Chiefs defense? Will this be the Seahawks’ end-of-season statement game at home in primetime or will the result too closely mirror the 25-18 (more like 25-10 until the final minutes) loss to the Chargers at home?

I expect the game to be close. A lot closer than it would be if it were in Kansas City.