Anger. Frustration. Screaming at the screen. That's how I still felt rewatching the Week 2 matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Buffalo Bills. I extrapolated some numbers last week showing that while certain players in the front seven played poorly, some did step up and play well; namely Justin Houston, Jovan Belcher, and Dontari Poe. There was hope for the future. Tamba Hali would be back and ready to get after the quarterback. Brandon Flowers would help shut down the passing game. Derrick Johnson would figure out what's going on and step on the field as the DJ of old.
It was worse. The defense got smoked. Poor execution and poor scheme shot the Chiefs in the foot time and time again. I did the breakdown. I have the numbers. However, I'm not going to focus on those numbers this week. Instead, I'm going to focus on a trend that I'm seeing that is very troubling going into tomorrow's game against the New Orleans Saints. Get ready, everyone...it's going to get brutal.
I'm going to preface this by saying that Romeo Crennel and the guys on the Chiefs coaching staff know way, way, WAY more than I could ever hope to know about the game that I love. They have their reasons for doing the things that they do, and my criticism should be taken as what it is: a guy on a fansite that is noticing an alarming trend and doesn't know why it continues.
Before the game, I stated that the Chiefs needed to force Ryan Fitzpatrick to beat them with his arm. They needed to stay in the base defense, set the edges, and force a speedier back like CJ Spiller to funnel back to the inside, where DJ and Belcher could clean up the run. By doing this, Fitzpatrick would be forced to rely on his arm, and I like the matchup of the secondary against that quarterback.
The Chiefs didn't do that. Far from it, as a matter of fact.
70%. That's how often the Chiefs removed a linebacker (Belcher) and a defensive lineman, instead opting for 6 defensive backs: Flowers, Routt, Berry, Elam, Daniels, and Arenas/Hartman. That's the dime defense, regardless of what Berry sometimes does up near the box. He does that in our 3-4, as well. 40 plays that the Chiefs were lining up to defend the 3 WR passing attack that Buffalo put on the field. That's six guys to cover three wide receivers. Houston and DJ picked up the running backs (unless they lined up out wide), so why does this team need six guys to cover three receivers?
For the past two years, I've been harping on the auto-dime defense that Romeo shifts our players into when a team goes to a three wide receiver set. I've been saying that the way to beat this team is to force the switch, then run the ball all over them. That is precisely what Buffalo did to the Chiefs. On designed run plays, Buffalo ran the ball for 1.36 yards per attempt against the 3-4 defense. Against the dime defense, that ballooned up to a whopping 8.05 yards per attempt! Over 8 yards per play! Why would you throw the ball if you're achieving EIGHT yards per play on the ground? That's absolutely pathetic for a team who has spent three, count 'em, three first round picks on run stuffing defensive linemen over the past five years. This is a team that prides itself on its run defense. You can't be proud of 8 yards per attempt.
I get it, though. You have to cover that third wide receiver somehow. You don't want to pull a safety down on a receiver and have the tight end running through the middle of the field with no help over the top. The goal with the dime defense is to stop the passing attack, right? Well, last week, there were these numbers: a pretty bad 8.60 yards per throw against the 3-4 defense...and an even worse 9.64 yards per throw against the dime defense. That's correct. Not only did the Bills run all over the defense designed to stop the passing attack, they threw on it as well. I'm not trying to imply that the 3-4 defense could hang with a three wide receiver set, nor that the 3-4 is better against the pass than the dime on a weekly basis. What I am implying is that there's a serious problem with the lack of adjustments.
I was screaming at my TV all game last Sunday. If you thumb through my tweets, I was calling for the base WELL before this game got out of hand. I saw the Chiefs sticking with the dime, and it didn't change. How, then, can Romeo not see the problem? Or someone in his organization not see that problem? Did he give Fitzpatrick too much respect? Spiller is a good back, for sure, so why doesn't the defensive coordinator tee off on him? When 8 of the 10 longest plays are against the dime defense, isn't it time to at least try something different? Switch it up a bit?
Now this team goes to New Orleans. The Saints offense gets their yards regardless of the defense. With them, it's about controlling the ball on offense and trying to force mistakes...and don't let them score too much. This Chiefs team will almost definitely be in the dime defense for at least as much as they were against the Bills. (Sorry Jovan. You've done your job quite well this year.) That brings up the question that some of you may be wondering: What else can the Chiefs do?
In my opinion, there's two options if the Saints (or any other team) go with three wide receivers: the 2-4-5 or the 3-3-5.
In the 2-4-5, Romeo would have whichever two defensive linemen he likes in the game, be it his block eaters (Dorsey/Jackson) or his pass rushers (Poe/Ropati). Tamba and Houston are obviously on the outside, with DJ as one of the inside linebackers. Rotate that other inside linebacker spot. Play Belcher when Mark Ingram or Pierre Thomas are in the game. Task him with spying on that running back, committing to stopping them in the run, and covering them in the flat. These guys aren't fast backs, and Belcher can cover them coming out of the backfield. When Sproles sets foot on the field, switch to a quicker linebacker with some better coverage skills. That might be Cory Greenwood. It also might be Brandon Siler. When Sproles lines up in the backfield, Houston and Tamba HAVE to throw forward to set the edge and force the quicker back to cut back inside. If he goes out for a pass, you've got someone with better speed and coverage skill to try to eliminate the play.
In the 3-3-5, the Chiefs get closer to the base defense with the defensive linemen. This can be a blitz formation with the defensive linemen eating blockers and a late blitz from Arenas, DJ, or Berry that would be untouched all the way to the quarterback on a deeper drop. It also creates the wall that is so successful against the run in the base defense, limiting the number of yards that teams can achieve when the Chiefs are in a subset defense. This formation relies on DJ and Houston to step their game up and make sure the tight ends and running backs aren't free to make plays, but it also adds another defensive lineman to help collapse the pocket and not allow the quarterback to step up and avoid pressure from Tamba.
Either way, these formations take Eric Berry out of the forward/hybrid safety position and put him where he had his best year: as a playmaking deeper safety. No longer is HE the one tasked with identifying the run early and crashing the line, resulting in multiple play action bites and blown plays. He's asked to fly around the field, make tackles that are 5-6 yards beyond the line of scrimmage (instead of being crushed by an offensive lineman and not making any tackle), and rely on his closing speed and coverage ability to make plays. Doing this frees DJ up to play his game as well, playing short zone, and not requiring him to have to drop 15 yards into coverage to help with the holes. It simplifies the defense, and it trades Daniels (who had 40 snaps last week) for Eric Berry in the secondary. I think we'd all agree that is an upgrade.
In summation, I'm tired of this dime defense against three wide receiver sets. The Chiefs have ran it for the past couple of years, with some success...mostly due to players executing far better than they are right now. However, it's getting trounced by offenses that aren't top of the league...and this is a defense that was expected to be near the top of the league. Adjustments have to be made. The Chiefs can't keep trying to stick a square peg in a round hole and expect different results, especially with a high-flying Saints offense coming to town. The players have to execute better, and the coaches have to throw some different looks on the field to slow down teams when the going gets rough.