Todd Haley hammered home the importance of first-down plays in his post-game media session Sunday afternoon.
“I really felt like first-down was going to be the critical down for us.”
“First down was real critical for us.”
“First down. First down, in my opinion.”
On Monday afternoon, roughly 24 hours following those comments, Haley still had first-downs on his mind.
“We put a heavy emphasis on first down.”
“One of our keys going into that game was first down and our ability to play well on first down on both sides of the ball.”
So what was the big deal with first downs against the Niners?
We hear plenty about third-down efficiency and Red Zone efficiency, and we’ve discussed both of those areas of the Chiefs game right here on KCChiefs.com. While the Chiefs had struggled in both of those areas prior to Sunday afternoon, work at turning in *successful first down plays also needed attention.
Entering Sunday, the Chiefs ranked 30th in the NFL with just 18 *successful plays in 51 first down snaps. That’s good for a first-down efficiency rating of only 35.3%, making it even clearer why Haley made first downs an emphasis point vs. San Francisco.
When you throw in the fact that the 49ers ranked among the NFL’s top-10 in first-down efficiency, both offensively and defensively, there’s even more basis for a heavy focus on first downs.
“Last week it so happened that San Francisco was one of the better teams both offensively and defensively on first downs coming into the week,” Haley explained. “That is an area where we haven’t been quite as productive as I wanted to be on both sides. It was a natural point of emphasis for me to the team and to the coaches.”
So how did each side of the football fare?
For one, Kansas City outrushed San Francisco 117-23 on first downs and out-passed the 49ers 75-53. Offensively, the Chiefs also bumped up their first-down efficiency rating 10 slots to 20th overall by achieving 17 *successful plays on 28 first-down snaps.
Defensively, the Chiefs actually moved down four slots to 21st by limiting the 49ers to 12 *successful plays in 22 first-down snaps, but their first-down performance was still plenty effective.
“There were two additional plays on first down that kept us defensively from keeping them in the two’s, which would have been real, real good,” Haley said. “(Offensively), if you average second down at second-and-three or less, you’re going to have a very good chance to be efficient in most areas. To me, that was the key to the game.”
So there you have it, much like Haley places emphases on starting games fast, he did so in a similar fashion each time the chains were moved against San Francisco. By producing better first-down totals, the Chiefs were also able to turn in their best percentages in both third-down efficiency and Red Zone efficiency on Sunday.
“Some of the other sexier downs get more talk and some of the other areas of the field get a little more talk,” Haley said as he referred to third down and Red Zone snaps. “But I think if you’re playing a team like San Francisco, who has been one of the top teams in the league on first down through two games on both sides of the ball that became a critical down for us.”
*a successful play is defined as anytime the offense gains 40% of the yardage necessary for a first down on first down, 50 percent of the yardage necessary for a first down on second down or gains the first down on third or fourth down.
**overall rankings were compiled prior to the conclusion of Monday Night Football