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Did the 2005 Defense Really Compare with the 1997 Defense?

More by Ed Fulda
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Several weeks ago, Defensive Coordinator Gunther Cunningham made a point of telling his players that they compared favorably with the 1997 defense. I, being the dubious sort, immediately laughed off Cunningham's comments as an attempt to massage the frail egos of his beleaguered charges. My opinion did not change after witnessing the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants dissect the Chiefs "D." Nor did my opinion change after watching the defense stop the San Diego Chargers. After all, that was a game played on a muddy field and in the rain. After the Bengals' game, however, I began to think that I was possibly being a bit harsh. In the interest of being fair to Cunningham, some statistical comparisons are in order to determine whether he was right or I was.

First off, let's look at the statistics where the two defenses were just about even:

Rushing First Downs allowed per game: 5.88 (1997) and 5.25 (2005)
Total First Downs allowed per game: 17.38 (1997) and 18.25 (2005)
Takeaways (total): 34 (1997) and 31 (2005)
Net Rushing yards allowed per game: 101.31 (1997) and 98.06 (2005)

Hmmm, maybe Gunther was onto something. And then again, maybe he wasn't. In other areas the comparisons weren't anywhere close to even:

Net Passing Yards allowed per game: 203.69 (1997) and 231.69 (2005)
Total net yards allowed per game: 305.00 (1997) and 329.75 (2005)
Sacks: 54 for 359 yards (1997) and 28 for 182 yards (2005)
Points allowed (total): 232 (1997) and 325 (2005)
TDs allowed (total): 23 (1997) and 38 (2005)
TDs allowed (passing): 15 (1997) and 25 (2005)
Interceptions: 21 for 432 yards and 4 TDs (1997) and 16 for 231 yards and 1 TD (2005)

Behind the raw statistics, there are indicators that reflect a stark difference between the two defenses:

1. Even though the total number or takeaways were just about even, the 34 chalked up by the 1997 team led the AFC.

2. Of the 54 sacks recorded by the 1997 team (another category where the Chiefs led the AFC), 24.5 (45.4%) were recorded by the defensive line, 24 (44.4%) by the linebackers, and 5.5 (10.2%) by the defensive backs. The 28 recorded by the 2005 squad break out as 18.5 (66.1%) by the linemen, 4.5 (16.1) by the linebackers, and 5 (17.8%) by the defensive backs. Only two players recorded as many as 3.5 sacks in 2005 while 7 players had at least that many in 1997. The top two sackers in 1997 recorded 37% of the team total while the top two in 2005 recorded 51.8% of the team total. The top sacker in 1997 (Dan Williams with 10.5) was responsible for just 19.4% of the team total while Jared Allen (11.0 sacks) was responsible for a whopping 39.3% of the 2005 total.

3. The 1997 squad allowed only 6 TDs that went over 30 yards while the 2005 squad allowed 11. The 1997 squad allowed 8 TDs of over 20 yards and the 2005 allowed 16.

4. Opposing offenses had to gain an average of 21.03 yards for every point they scored in 1997. In 2005, the yards-per-point figure was 16.23 yards.

Cunningham's assessment of the 2005 squad, therefore, appears to be off-the-mark - and not by just a smidgen. While there was major improvement in the 2005 statistics over what the 2004 defense accomplished, there is still a long way to go before the "D" can lay claim to being the equal of the 1997 squad. If Gunther can find another stud for the defensive line and he can correct the defense's nasty habit of getting burned on misdirection plays, then the 2006 defense should improve on this year's performance.

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