After a season that had its highs and lows (to the extreme on each side), one thing that became clear is this: the Chiefs need another guy who can rush the passer from the interior defensive line.
Dontari Poe is a man-eating, soul-crushing force of nature. Of this there is no doubt anywhere. After an OK rookie season, Poe emerged as one of the best nose tackles in the NFL this year.
Many have looked at Poe's decreased pass rushing stats as the season moved along and assumed that his play fell off, or that perhaps he wasn't quite as good as advertised early on. After taking a look at various random games in the second half of the season, I have to disagree. Poe wasn't playing any worse, he was just facing a constant barrage of double teams and even triple teams from the opposition.
Teams knew that facing the Chiefs, the first thing they had to account for was Poe (especially when Tamba Hali was hobbled and Justin Houston got hurt). Do that and have your tackles force the Chiefs OLBs to take a longer route to the QB by favoring inside, and you can delay the pass rush enough to allow for receivers to get open (which didn't take long all too often). Of course, this is only possible if you can leave the other interior rusher (since the Chiefs are generally using two interior rushers on passing downs) one-on-one against an OL.
Teams were able to use this method constantly against the Chiefs. You can't have an interior rusher that teams can leave alone and forget. It creates a domino effect that changes the entire dynamic of a defense that hinges on bringing the heat.
Everyone knows I'm a big fan of Tyson Jackson. And Mike DeVito brings a lot of good things to the table. Allen Bailey is a physical freak. Mike Catapano looks like he was built in a factory somewhere.
Of all of those guys, Allen Bailey is the one people have hope for next season as a pass rusher. And maybe they're right. He certainly seemed to be the favorite of our coaches to end the year in pass rushing situations. That said, with Bailey as the "other" interior guy I still see way too much of this.
Poe is the top arrow to the right, Bailey is the lower arrow to the left. On this play, both Poe and Bailey were put one-on-one against a G with the C hanging back to help. Poe, as you can see, has blown past 75 (after briefly engaging him) and is in the process of doing the same with the center. Bailey? Absolutely stonewalled. This can't happen.
This isn't to say that Bailey has never beaten individual OL. He was credited with some pressures and hits this year (via PFF). However, just looking at that picture (and I promise you, this is not an isolated event) you can see what other teams see when reviewing the Chiefs film; account for Poe, and the interior pass rush vanishes.
As mentioned, Bob Sutton's defense seems to rely (overly much, really) on pressure on the quarterback. If the Chiefs want the defense to get back to being dominant, it needs to add an interior pass rusher.
Or does it?
Yep, we're going down the Land Shark road again.
And then he went ahead and took part of the best defensive performance in the second half of the season (a win against the Chargers by the Chiefs second string. Loss? No, no, that was a win.). That game was basically the only sign of life the defense showed against an upper-tier offense in the second half of the season. And it was the Chiefs "scrubs" on the field. So what happened?
Per the stats, maybe it was the Land Shark that happened. One sack, two hits, one hurry, one batted pass via PFF. And all that in just 19 snaps rushing the passer. In other words, Powe created a disruption on 5 out of 19 plays rushing the passer, 26.3 percent of the time. For frame of reference, J.J Watt comes in with a 16 percent disruption rate when rushing the passer.
Is that a small sample size? Absolutely. Was it statistically the best pass rushing performance by anyone not named Poe on the defensive line this year? Pretty much, yeah. Combine that with the fact that the defense managed to look decent against a team which had just humiliated the starters a few weeks prior, and I found myself dragged back into the place where we look at Jerrell Powe's snaps.
For the sake of brevity (longtime readers are laughing hysterically), let's cover Powe's pass rushing snaps individually and leave aside the running game for now (because if the NFL can do so, why not us?).
Go grab a snack and get comfortable, because it's Land Shark snap review time...
Powe's Pass Rushing Snaps vs. San Diego
Lines up across from the RG one-on-one. Powe engages very briefly in an attempt to bull rush, but the throw gets out quickly from shotgun. No pressure, nothing to really note. Have I made a terrible mistake?
One-on-one against the RG. Powe tries a bull rush again, gets directed wide around Philip Rivers. Doesn't give up on theplay, though, and uses a nice shove to get the lineman off him once they've gone past the quarterback. He piles on Rivers along with several others (who were there first). One thing I liked was that he showed agility and kept his feet, something he's shown major problems with in the past.
Powe is alone against the LG. He gets an exceptional initial push, then the OL manages to set his feet and slow him down. Rivers gets the throw off as the pocket collapses around him (I hate that guy). Not a dominant snap, but Rivers was definitely feeling his OL being moved toward him by the time he threw and couldn't step into his throw due to Powe's movement of the lineman.
This snap the same as the last, only more so. Powe again matches up alone against the LG and flat-out overpowers him all the way into Rivers' lap. Rivers has nowhere to go, and Powe leaps up to block the throwing lane (almost smacks Rivers in the process. Good times). Rivers escapes the pocket for a two-yard scramble, but that looked really nice. Old fashioned, old school, "our guy can beat up your guy" football there.
Powe is lined up opposite the LG. He's engaged by both the center and LG and doesn't do much worth noting. Here's an interesting note, though; Allen Bailey was the other interior DL rushing the passer that play.
Why is that interesting? Think about it. Bailey, the Chiefs full time situational pass rusher, was on the field at the same time as the "scrub" backup NT in an obvious passing situation. And who did the Chargers choose to double team? Yep, the Land Shark. That tells us something about who the Chargers (who were fighting for their playoff lives) feared more after half a game of snaps. Food for thought.
Powe on the interior in an obvious passing down again (he didn't do this much early in the game, but is now getting his chances. Nice to see). He goes against the RG and gets some push, but is eventually walled off and Rivers has a decent pocket to throw into.
On a side note, this was a deep bomb down the right side, and Ron Parker went step for step with the receiver to prevent a big play. Just saying.
Wow, the big man has improved his footwork. Powe is lined up opposite the LG, but fakes a bull rush before stunting left (it should be noted Bailey does a nice job pushing right to occupy the blockers) and showing exceptional agility to get a straight shot at Rivers. He shoves him right after the throw.
Powe is one-on-one vs. the center and attempts a bull rush. He gets completely stonewalled. Now that's just not what you want to see.
Powe's second poor pass rushing snap in a row. He's alone against the RG and gets ridden to the ground. He doesn't get anywhere near Rivers (fortunately, Marcus Cooper makes a fantastic play in the end zone to break up the pass. I believe people gave up on him way too quickly when things turned this year. He can play).
Powe is alone against the center and gets stood up again. It seems like he's exhausted his array of pass rush moves at "bull rush," and with that not working he's struggling against that center.
Gets inside leverage quickly on the RG, but it's a screen to the right so that could well have been intentional. He recognizes the play pretty quickly (which is good) but doesn't disengage quickly enough to make an impact (which is bad).
It seems like Powe might be getting tired. He seems a little slower off the ball and isn't getting the punch he was earlier in the game. Plus, San Diego's RG is giving him problems. However, he compensates for it by keeping his head up, seeing Rivers is about to throw, and batting the ball down as it goes by. A really heads up play.
Powe draws a double team from the C and LG and stays active, but doesn't get any push. Meh.
Another stunt is attempted, and this time they go nowhere. Powe looks gassed (this drive has been going for some time now), having been on the field for quite a few plays in a row. That said, it's not a great sign when a guy is on his 14th snap that he seems worn out. I get that not everyone can have Poe's endurance, but still ... if you're looking for a guy to increase his snaps he needs to be able to stay on the field for long drives without such a noticeable drop-off in his play.
Powe's first snap of overtime. Doesn't get any push against the RG, but he's noticeably more active and helps pile on the receiver on a short route. He clearly needed a breather and is back to looking very agile for his size.
Powe gets a decent initial push on the LG and forces him to give ground, but the C comes to help and the stop Powe from going any farther.
Powe is alone against the C again, can't make the bull rush work. I'm sad.
Again, not much push on a quick throw. It seems like SD's line has figured out that Powe is going with the bull rush every time. In the NFL, that's just not going to work once they know what's coming.
I did not find this snap. Either I missed something or PFF did. Either way, I've seen enough to draw some conclusions regarding his pass rushing and the Chiefs defense.
Land Shark of the future?
Don't hate the messenger, but I wasn't overly impressed with what I saw against San Diego.
Let's take the good first. When he's fresh, Powe is just a load and moves very well. His bulls rush creates the quickest path imaginable to the quarterback; right through some poor offensive lineman. He stays active and doesn't quit. The biggest thing with him is ... well, how big he is. He's just so much larger than the guys he's lining up across from. Alone, they've got a tough job.
The bad news is that bull rush seems to be the only move Powe has in his arsenal, and when that doesn't work he goes nowhere. Multiple times San Diego's C or RG managed to stand him up, and he had no answer. On those snaps he becomes basically useless to the pass rush, as one lineman is easily accounting for him and keeping him well away from the quarterback.
The other problem I think I saw was one of stamina. I understand that we're spoiled with Dontari Poe's freakish stamina (fun fact of the week: he's the only DL in the league to play every single snap when playing in Denver. The man is a freak), and the vast majority of interior DL are going to need to be spelled. I also understand that he's in better shape than I am despite being 100 pounds heavier.
That said, Powe seemed to really run out of steam on longer drives and toward the end of the game. And a tired bull rusher is a nonexistent bull rusher.
I believe Powe has a place on this team. His strength, size, and surprising quickness makes for a rotation player who can come in and make a splash against tired offensive linemen (can you imagine being gassed and then having to deal with the Land Shark?). I'd love to see him rotated in at defensive end or to the interior on pass rushing downs.
But based on what I saw, he's not someone who can come in and completely solve the Chiefs pass rushing issues on the line. At least not without developing another rush move. If I were John Dorsey, I'd keep Powe (and Bailey) around, but very aggressively pursue another pass rusher on the line. Even if it means using a first rounder on it.
Hopefully Powe sticks, though. Because really, do any of us want to live in a world where we don't have the possibility of a Land Shark celebration in our future?
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