What might have been regarded as the Kansas City Chiefs' strongest position group heading into the unusual 2020 season has unexpectedly turned into the team's biggest deficiency.
The Chiefs pass rush on the defensive line, and specifically at defensive end, has been underwhelming. Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark's production has been particularly disappointing. Something needs to change before playoff football comes to Arrowhead Stadium.
It's been no secret that Clark has been less than stellar this season. In 12 games this year, he has recorded 24 tackles, 20 pressures, 11 quarterback hits, six tackles for loss, four sacks and two passes defended.
By his 12th game last season, Clark had registered 34 tackles, 23 pressures, 11 quarterback hits, 10 tackles for loss, six sacks and three forced fumbles — all while dealing with a pinched nerve in his neck.
While Clark isn't too far off from his 2019 statistical totals, it's his recent rut that is most concerning.
On top of the numbers, Clark's overall Pro Football Focus grade sits at a career-low 52.4 heading into Week 14. His overall grade has fallen 10.9 points since last season.
While Clark ranks second on the team in pressures, 16 of his 20 pressures were logged in the first six games of the season. Since the first matchup with the Denver Broncos in Week 7, Clark has only added four pressures to his season total.
Furthermore, Clark had zero pressures in two of the Chiefs' last six games and hasn't recorded more than one pressure in a game during that span. The edge rusher hasn't got a sack since Week 9. His 2020 PFF pass-rush grade of 54.2 ranks 92nd in the league among eligible edge rushers.
Before the Chiefs Week 12 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, ESPN sports analytics writer Seth Walder tweeted out a chart that was deeply frustrating to me.
The model below shows an edge rusher's pass rush win rate compared to their double team rate. The vertical axis shows how successful or unsuccessful the player is in pass-rush rate. The horizontal axis shows how often they're double-teamed.
In short, the top right quadrant is great, the bottom left is less than ideal.
As you can see, both of the Chiefs' predominant defensive ends are in the wrong quadrant of this chart. In addition to this, it's important to note that according to ESPN's team pass rush win rate, Kansas City's 44% ranks 16th in the league while their sack total is tied for 24th in the league with the New York Jets.
If Frank Clark isn't getting pressure and isn't getting sacks, then the only thing he's getting is paid.
The Chiefs defense can only be as good as its pass rush. Clark being second on the team with only 20 pressures isn't just damning of Clark, it's damning of the enterire Chiefs defensive line beyond defensive tackle Chris Jones. There's no third pass-rushing threat to account for outside of Clark and defensive tackle Jones, and Clark isn't impacting the quarterback at a high enough level. Someone needs to get to the quarterback, preferably the guy making more than $20 million this year.
As Kansas City tries to make a stretch run for the No. 1 seed in the AFC, the Chiefs need more from Frank Clark. No matter the team, no matter the quarterback, if Kansas City can't get pressure, it's going to be a shorter than expected playoff run for the Chiefs.
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