FanPost

Chiefs Play of the Week: Pre-Season Game 2 (w/GIFs)

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

From the FanPosts -Joel

This is the second edition of the Chiefs Play of the Week. It is still sort of an evolving concept. I have used this week as sort of a springboard to talk about larger issues at hand. This week it focus largely on the offensive line. The Chiefs' brass clearly made a statement this off-season by drafting one #1 overall and have a game plan for how to use him.... but enough with the chit chat. We got a lot to talk about:

Chiefs Play of the Week

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Well, there it is. Wasn't as nice as last week's, that's for sure. It won't always be a feel good play. Most of you probably just passed by this play on the telecast. I think it has lots of meaning. Let's start by analyzing the play in depth:

This is an HB misdirection. These are always beautiful plays to see because the hand off has so much footwork. Alex spins left off the snap but then circles around back to hand it back to Knile Davis who gets BLOWN UP by Justin Smith.

One of the key parts of this play is the use of Jeff Allen and Eric Fisher. This play is more or less designed to get Eric Fisher in space to make blocks down field. This is exactly why you draft players like him as you do, because he can make an impact down field. In this play, Fisher blows by the linemen like Dontari Poe does centers. In order free up Fisher, Allen moves inside and and is assigned the defensive tackle.This play looks very nice and could have a nice gain if it didn't get blown up the way it did.

So what went wrong? The corner blitz, that's what happened. Here Branden Albert recognizes it and picks up his man and waves to pick up Justin Smith. Albert knows all you need is a touch block on Smith because Knile will be gone in a jiffy. Only problem is that Jeff Allen is assigned to move inside. The Chiefs' best bet with this play call would be to move Hudson over but that's a tough thing to do for him given his position and recognizing corner blitzes are just about impossible for him to do in this stage.

If Alex Smith recognizes this soon enough, he would have been able to pass to a WIDE OPEN Dexter McCluster. This is the danger of the corner blitz. Linebackers and safeties pick up the receivers. However, corner blitzes are tough to diagnose. They come in your blindside and when you are under center they are even more difficult to diagnose.

Surely though, the corner blitz, along with a variety of other blitzes, wouldn't be used throughout the game undetected or un-countered just like this one, right?

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It worked the first time, why not try it again? This time on a pass play, the Niners use the corner blitz. When a corner is blitzing at you, your normal reads and progressions go out the window. It becomes exceedingly difficult to figure out the opening when the pressure is so in your face (We will talk more about this later and how Alex Smith has beaten pressure in the past).

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The back-view shows Albert is at fault here for the the missed coverage.

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Normally corner blitzes are not done so brazenly as to be from the outside like this. They are almost always done out of the slot. Normally, corner blitzes don't leave huge 6'4 possession receivers wide open with zero coverage in sight. Well, the 49ers did just that. The great news is that Alex recognized this play early and avoided a potential hard hit.

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It continues to get more embarrassing. A LB Corey Lemonier is now matched up with Tony Moaeki. This should be an insult. There is basically no clear intent to cover him in the first place. As if that is not enough, the safety blitzes too. To his credit, Fisher, picks up Lemonier blitzing but no one picks up the safety blitzing. Alex is on his back foot ready to hit his WR on the top of the screen but is unable to with mounting pressure.

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This time the there is less and less disguise about it. The corner hardly waits to show he is blitzing. Tough to get any more in Branden Albert's face than this. To Knile's credit, he does pick up the blitzing LB but does not do a great job blocking for someone his strength. This was an area of problem in college and something from a technique standpoint he will have to improve. Fisher also to thoroughly beat on the play. That is 3 people getting beat all from different directions. There is no stepping up in the pocket when you have a blitzing LB come at you. Somehow Smith avoids the sack, like he did continually throughout the game with his mobility. This time the protection set up was actually adequate but the blocking was bad and there was a wide open slot receiver. They have a lot to work on this week.

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So how did Andy Reid (where was he before?) compensate? This was actually kind of a nifty play. Here the corner from the bottom of the screen was lead in by the inside handoff. It doesn't really do anything to neutralize the blitz other than shortening the run Knile has to do. Teams usually run at this field position anyway.

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There isn't a lot of time on the clock and the Chiefs' need a big play. They are gonna need good protection so they bring in both Knile and Sherman. It looks like 3 deep plays for Jon Baldwin, Dwayne Bowe and Anthony Fasano. The first read is for Bowe, who does a double move (see below) who is looking to go deep. Both our tackles and Knile were unable to hold off the 5 man rush. All 3 of them got beat a lot today so it shouldn't come as any surprise to this point.

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So how did the players and coaches react?

Coach Reid said after the game:

"I think we have to do a better job of seeing them (blitzes) and picking them up. Sacks kind of get distributed around to everybody. If you want to point at just the offensive line, it's not always the offensive line; everybody's got a little piece in that, so the bottom line is, we have to do better and those things can't happen."

Alex Smith spoke along the same line after the game:

"There were a few times that we didn’t bring in more than we had, the ball has got to come out and we have to execute outside. A few communication things up front we have to get ironed out."

Eric Fisher probably has the most to learn from this:

"Tonight was a big learning night for us. We missed on some plays; I missed on plays. Unfortunately, we couldn't get the win. There are things we need to improve on offense and we'll watch the film, see our mistakes and learn from them and come back next week and try to pull out the win."

Jeff Allen, who did not have his best game either, has a good attitude:

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So what do we make of this? Is Alex Smith terrible at handling the blitz in the past? I sat down (not literally) with Andrew Carroll to talk more about this. He writes:

This says Smith's PFR rating against the blitz last season was a +7.4:
https://www.profootballfocus.com/data/by_player.php?tab=by_player&season=2012&surn=s&playerid=2218&group=3&pre=REG&pre=REG

Since Smith did not play as many snaps as other quarterbacks in the league, that number cannot really be compared to other quarterbacks without turning it into a grade per snap type number. Given he faced only 90 snaps with a blitz, a +7.4 is pretty good. For example, Rodgers graded out a +13.4, but was blitzed 178 snaps. Had Smith faced 180 snaps, his grade would have (theoretically) been +14.8 -- a bit better than Rodgers.


I do know that Smith's passer rating was slightly worse than Brady's against the blitz (by like 2 points, 128 to 126), but Smith's Y/A was higher. At 8.6, that had to be one of the highest in the league last season. Rodger's was 8.0, Brady's 8.4

This is a statistic comparing their performances at the end of the 2012 regular season:

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As you can see, even in 2011 he was doing really well, as Harbaugh eliminated sight adjustments. By the time 2012 came around, Smith was doing even better.


All the information says Smith has been one of the best in the league against the blitz over the past two seasons. It's especially interesting how much better he was at it than Kaepernick. They were operating in the same offense, so those comparisons are intriguing. Perhaps it was Kaepernick's youth, as he did struggle to make adjustments at the line to run the entire offense at the "elite" level of efficiency that Smith was in 2012. Of course, Kaep made up for that discrepancy in other ways.

When talking about the number of times the 49ers blitzed in the game, he writes:

What is interesting to me is the amount of times San Francisco blitzed this Friday. I don't know if they were doing the Chiefs a favor, or what, but the 49ers never blitz that much. And it seemed odd to send that many corner blitzes against a team that Harbaugh had to of known wasn't prepared for it and/or unwilling to give too much away in only a 2nd preseason game

...

The 49ers were ranked 27th in the league in plays sending 5-or-more pass rushers. San Francisco relied on a 4 man pass rush often last year. That's how good Justin Smith is.

Of course, much of the blitzing (but not all) came with the 2nd stringers out there, many of who are quite good and just never given the chance.

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So what made Smith so successful against the blitz San Fransico? Chris Brown from Smart Football writes:

Harbaugh has also changed the entire theory behind how Smith and his offense approach the blitz, and this is where Smith's greatest improvement has come. That's because Harbaugh eliminated "sight adjustments" from the 49ers playbook. Indeed, this change has been so successful that, according to Pro Football Focus, Smith's completion percentage, quarterback rating, average yards per attempt, and touchdown-to-interception ratio against blitzes have all been much better than Smith's historical averages, but also better than his performance on all other downs.

A "sight adjustment" by a receiver refers to the concept that, if a defense blitzes, the quarterback and receiver must both — on the fly and after the snap — recognize it and adjust routes accordingly. For example, if the receiver's original assignment was to run, say, 12 yards upfield before breaking outside, when he saw a blitz he might instead run five yards upfield and then break inside on a quick slant, presumably away from a man-to-man defender or to a spot left open by the blitzers. The theory behind this is sound: You simply must have answers against the blitz, and you need receivers to break off their routes to give the quarterback someplace to quickly pass the ball. If they don't blitz, however, you want to throw downfield (or so you think). Again, this is all great in theory.

Here's the problem: Players have to make sight adjustments after the snap, in the cognitive mist of a few seconds of action. The quarterback is in a decent spot to read the defense's intentions — to the extent that he can identify the likely blitzers and potential coverage. Receivers, on the other hand, are aligned to the perimeter and can't see more than a few players in front of them. They also happen to be sprinting once the ball is put in play. This is not to say that sight adjustments can't work, but they're certainly difficult to execute, and when they go wrong terrible things happen: Receivers run hot routes they shouldn't, or don't run them when they should; passes go sailing to empty patches of green; interceptions are frequent.

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So the 49ers ditched sight adjustments. But they still need an answer for the blitz, right? Harbaugh has one. If you want your team to throw the ball downfield, you must keep extra players (two running backs, a running back and a tight end, etc.) in pass protection to buy time for your receivers to get open. Coaches resist this because defenses can force unfavorable situations, like when your running back must block a blitzing defender while three linemen block no one on the other side of the field. But these are necessary trade-offs; the advantage to the offense should be that the three or so receivers who do release in the route should have time to beat the coverage. And, if the defense rushes only four, then the running backs or tight ends can leak into passing routes — a technique known as the "check-release". Remember, this doesn't mean the defense cannot still blitz more than the offense can block — they always can — but by keeping extra blockers, teams protect their quarterbacks from the inside to the outside. They force the extra rushers to come from the outside and give receivers time to get open.

But what if you aren't going to block with seven or eight people? The quarterback still needs an anti-blitz option or two, and these are known as "hot" routes. The difference between Harbaugh's "hot routes" and the sight adjustment is that he builds them into the receivers' regular routes. In short, every play has at least one hot route — a quick out, shallow cross, or slant — so if Alex Smith sees a blitz, no complex ballet of synchronized adjustments is necessary; he just looks for a different receiver. Instead of reading deep to medium to short on a passing play that was not blitzed, he might look deep to hot, or even hot to hot (as shown in the video above), when facing a blitz. There is a risk that the built-in hot routes won't necessarily attack the right area for a given blitz and its attendant coverage, but that was an equal risk with sight adjustments. At least with the built-in ones, there is no added risk that someone would simply screw up an adjustment.

This may seem like a small tweak, and maybe even a step backward, but I assure you it is not. As defenses get more complex, the answer isn't always to get more complex on offense; sometimes, it's the opposite. By making the game easier, Harbaugh has turned Smith into one of the league leaders in interceptions per pass attempt.

Hope you made it through that. If you did, you just read some very good information about Smith and how was able to handle the blitz comparable to Tom Brady. This is an area of concern for me and an area for you and I to watch. Will this hot read concept be in the play book be incorporated into Andy Reid's offense? It certainly was not on display. There was no compensation in terms of WR play as you can see above and there was little to no game planning for it when it started to get out of hand. Yes, it is pre-season and Andy may very well wanted to test this offensive line; however, there is only so much an offensive line can contain when the pressure is coming from everywhere, including the corner blitz. There needs to be intense practice this week and beyond on handling the blitz and hot reads.

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When looking at this situation after a pre-season game, there are a few ways to look at it:

1) The Chiefs should have been better in this area. Disappointing that they weren't. Sign of things to come.

2) The Chiefs lack that talent on the offensive line to play better. Over-rated prospects and players. Alex Smith is too indecisive as well.

3) These are areas the 49ers exposed for the Chiefs. Allow to be corrected with a week or more of practice with no penalty. Would have been exposed in the regular season, when it counts otherwise.

Personally, I take the 3rd. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. There were no major injuries this game (thank God Alex was not). The Niners threw every blitz you can think of in this game: stunts, corner blitzes, safety blitzes, linebacker blitzes. We got destroyed by all of them. Had we played the Oakland Raiders or the Jacksonville Jaguars, it would be less likely we'd be tested as thoroughly. The Chiefs chose a tough pre-season schedule (yes, teams get to pick their pre-season opponents) for a reason. Andy Reid rightly chose to play the starters through intense blitzing to test them. We got these areas exposed unlike other teams that sit their starters. Andy chose to play a banged up Eric Fisher to continue to get this experience now rather than later.

Don't take it the wrong way either. Eric Fisher, along with other members of our offesnive line, has displayed some nice skills too. Check out this great block he did to help covert a key 4th down in the game.

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They say youth on the offensive line is both a blessing and curse. Well, we have the second youngest starting offensive line in the NFL and a new QB who is behind it. A plethora of different receivers who have no chemistry with hot reads or timing with Alex Smith-- who was playing side by side a rookie RB with little experience pass blocking. The only direction to go from here is up. Thank you Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers for giving us everything you got and showing us how we can get even better. We get real film to improve on and will get another blitz heavy defense in Pittsburgh next week to prove ourselves.

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Further Reading:

Kansas City Chiefs OL Struggles Against San Francisco 49ers Friday Night. by BJ Kissel

Quarterbacking Made Simple by Chris Brown

Beating the blitz: Tom Brady, Alex Smith best vs. pressure by Eric Branch

OL age and the NFL: 2013 edition by Jimmy Kempski

Chiefs Share Game Plan for Improvement by KCChiefs.com (quotes from players above taken from there)

How Corner Blitzing Helps Defend The Read-Option by UkRedskin

The Redskins "Cornerback Blitz" Packages by UkRedskin

Corner Blitz from Eagle Alignment Strengthens Run Support by Sean McCormick

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Arrowhead Pride's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Arrowhead Pride writers or editors.

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