A Tale Of Two Halves

Here's a question to stump your friends with. If you take three-fourths of sixteen, divide it by half, and then subtract two, what do you get?

The answer: Tyler Thigpen.

That's a strange result for a math problem, I realize. But hang on and I'll explain.

You see, the Chiefs have now played 12 games this season. That puts them three-fourths of the way through the 16-game NFL schedule. And you can take those 12 games and split them into two halves – the first six and the last six.

Interestingly enough, the biggest turning point of the Chiefs' season came after their sixth game. That was the matchup against Tennessee that saw both Brodie Croyle and Damon Huard suffer injuries that ended their 2008 campaigns. So in essence, after six games, the Chiefs subtracted two – two quarterbacks, that is.

Who took over for the team afterwards? Thigpen did, of course. So that's how he ends up as the answer to our little brain-teaser. Just to double-check our work, let's go back to our formula.

¾ of 16 = 12

½ of 12 = 6

6 - 2 = 4

Mathematically, the answer is four. And what number does Thigpen wear on his jersey? Why, the number four. Isn't that something? It's practically kismet.

All of that was just a roundabout way to point out that Sunday's win over Oakland marked Thigpen's sixth consecutive game since taking over as the Chiefs' starter. And since the team has played 12 games, we can basically break the season down into two chunks: the pre-Thigpen first half and the second half that saw the dawning of the Thigpen era. Then we can analyze the difference.

We know that for the first half of the season, the Chiefs were ranked near the bottom of the NFL in nearly every possible category. But to get specific about their first six games, here's how it shook out.

Offensively, on a per-game basis, the Chiefs averaged 12.5 points, 257.3 total yards, 107.8 rushing yards, and 149.5 passing yards. Defensively, they allowed 27.5 points, 402.2 total yards, 207.2 rushing yards, and 195 passing yards.

Now we'll look at the most recent six games, beginning with Thigpen's start against the Jets.

Offensively, the Chiefs have averaged 23.5 points, 357.6 yards, 127.8 rushing yards, and 229.8 passing yards. Defensively, they've allowed 29.2 points, 387.8 yards, 120.2 rushing yards, and 267.6 passing yards.

Looking over those numbers, the big difference that stands out is the vast improvement in the offense. Over the last six games, the Chiefs are scoring 11 more points and gaining 100 more yards in each game.

After the first six contests of the year, Kansas City's offense was an embarrassment. But if you just take their numbers over the last six games, once the team adopted the spread with Thigpen, do you know where those 357.6 yards per game would have the Chiefs' offense ranked?

Seventh. If those numbers were representative of the entire season, the Chiefs would actually have the seventh best offense in the NFL right now. How crazy is that?

The numbers are interesting on the defensive side, too. For a long time we heard about how the defense was suffering because the terrible offense was putting them on the field too much. Well, the offense isn't that bad anymore, and the defense still isn't doing its part. So much for that theory.

But there have been small signs of improvement. One glaring stat is that while the offense has improved, the scoring defense has actually gotten worse, going from 27.5 to 29.2 points a game. But it appears that increase is due entirely to the 54 points given up against Buffalo last week, 20 of which came off the Chiefs' many offensive turnovers.

If you remove those 20 turnover-caused points from the equation, the team's scoring defense would have dropped from 27.5 to 25.8 over the last six games. It's an extremely modest gain, but hey, we'll take signs of life wherever we can find ‘em.

Likewise, the total yardage given up has dropped from 402.2 to 387.8. Not a huge amount by any means – in fact, if those 387.8 yards were the Chiefs' totals for the full season, it would merely be the difference between having the NFL's worst defense and having the NFL's second-worst defense. Still, it is an improvement.

The most surprising number reflected in the defensive statistics is the Chiefs' improvement against the run. They've went from surrendering 207.2 rushing yards a game to just 120.2. But a good chunk of the difference can be found in the gains against the secondary, as the Chiefs are now giving up over 70 more yards in the air than they were at the beginning of the season.

Has the run defense really improved that much? Or with the Chiefs now playing in competitive games more often, have other teams simply needed to throw the ball more? I think it falls somewhere in between. The run defense has improved in the sense that we're aren't seeing those long, embarrassing touchdown runs anymore. But the Chiefs haven't exactly become run stoppers either.

Overall, I'd say this team isn't that much better against the run, they're just not giving up the big play. And that – once again – is progress, small though it may be.

The important thing to keep in mind about the defensive stats over the last six games is the amount of injuries the team has dealt with over that span. Even with a lot of backups having to play key roles, there have still been modest gains.

Could those improvements have been even larger if the team had been able to stay healthy? Or as I touched on last week, is it possible that the defense has actually played better with the backups? The last four games of the season should help us answer those questions.

To sum all of this up, in the second half of the Chiefs' season thus far, we've seen major improvement on the offensive side of the ball, and some minor defensive improvements. We can spend the rest of the season pointing out who we should credit, who we shouldn't credit, and who we should blame for the improvements not coming faster.

But for the moment, let's just enjoy the fact that – barring a collapse down the season's final stretch – the Chiefs will undoubtedly finish the year as a better team than they started.

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