I believe in accountability. Whenever a group fails in its purpose, each member must stand up and say "This is where I messed up. This is what I wish I had done better. This is what I learned." I surely hope that every Chief player, coach, and personnel man is going through exactly this process in these days following one of the more stunning losses I can remember. (And my memory goes as far back as dancing in the streets to celebrate a Super Bowl victory in 1969. Yes, I’m that old.) As a Chiefs fan, I’d like to join in that conversation, but sadly, I’m stuck on the outside looking in. The best I can do is to offer my comments on what I saw.
I’m going to start with the defense, since that is the unit that failed most miserably. Now, I’m not letting everyone else off the hook. In a game where any number of plays could have turned this loss into a win, no one associated with this team should say "I did my job" and be satisfied. But the defense, my god, the defense! The Colts had 7 second-half possessions (not counting the end-of-game kneel downs), and scored 5 touchdowns. That should never happen to a playoff team, and in fact has only happened once before in the famous comeback/choke job involving the Buffalo Bills (the victors) and the Houston Oilers (the chokers) during the 1993 playoffs (i.e., the playoffs following the ’92 season).
Andrew Luck was brilliant, of course. Really, really brilliant. Sure, he was merely competent in the first half, going 12 for 21 (57%), for 129 yards (6.14 yards per attempt), with 1 sack, 1 interception, 1 tackle, and 2 runs for 30 yards. That’s a decent stat line, but not the stuff that carries a team to victory.
Then, Luck went all supernova in the second half: 16 for 24 (67%), 314 yards (13 yards per attempt), 3 TDs, 2 INTs, 2 runs for 17 yards, and a fumble recovery and 5 yard return for a touchdown. His mental toughness impressed me most during this stretch. Not even the 2 interceptions could knock him off his game. And that fumble recovery? Berry made a great play to force the fumble, but Luck was in the right spot to respond, and he delivered. You just have to shake your head at that one.
I know that most think the Chiefs didn’t pressure Luck enough during the game, but my take is a little different. I reviewed every Luck drop-back, and by my count the Chiefs created 15 hurries and a sack on 49 plays. That’s a pressure rate of 33% and a sack rate of .5%. We know that Poe, Hali, Houston, DeVito, and Bailey are pretty mobile players, but Luck is just that good at moving in the pocket.
His performance under pressure is also a tale of two halves, as Luck did fine in the first half but was freakin’ stupendous in the second half. In H1, Luck was pressured 8 times, going down once, and completing 3 of 7 passes for 63 yards. Not bad, I’d say. After intermission, Luck recorded 7 positive plays in 8 pressures, completing 5 of 6 passes for 119 yards and scrambling twice for 17 yards. (The one negative play under pressure was the Abdullah interception on a tipped ball, from which the Chiefs could generate zero first downs and only 3 points despite starting on the Colt 28 yard line. So yeah, the offense is accountable too.)
On the other hand, the Chiefs only once sent more than 4 players after the Colt QB. Think about that – 49 drop-backs and only one 5-man rush. Clearly, the strategy was to keep at least 7 men in coverage at all times. I did count 7 blitzes, and in all but one case a lineman or linebacker dropped back into coverage. Of the 7 blitzes, 5 came before half-time and 2 were called in the 4th quarter. It can’t be an accident that Indy accomplished the bulk of its recovery when the Chiefs stopped blitzing in the 3d quarter. Even though Luck did throw 2 interceptions, you could also see him getting more comfortable as the Colt offense found its footing.
These events are painfully ironic given the praise bestowed on Bob Sutton just as he was making decisions that would ultimately cost his team the game. Here’s Mike Mayock during the Colts’ second possession of the third quarter, you know, the one where the team drove 80 yards for a TD in 5 plays without facing a single blitz:
"I kind of feel like Bob Sutton, the defensive coordinator in Kansas City, has very quietly done a great job for this team…. We asked him yesterday, you know, what about the Rex Ryan influence? Did you learn anything from him?.... He said ‘I learned I have to be a fearless play-caller. Make the offense worry about you. You can’t be afraid to call blitzes.’ And Bob Sutton has gotten much more aggressive as a defensive play-caller."
Don’t you love it when the play on the field belies the very b.s. the analysts are trying to sell?
In the crucial 3d quarter, the Chiefs faced 19 offensive plays by the Colts. With one or two exceptions, the defense lined up 6 players in the box, 2 over the top, and 3 in man coverage. The base 6-player front consisted of Hali, Houston, Poe, Bailey, Johnson, and Abdullah. Tyson Jackson took 3 snaps, spelling Poe once and Bailey once. Zombo played a series of downs, 5 plays, instead of Hali. It looked to me like a conservative, ‘bend but don’t break’ kind of strategy, and it failed miserably. (BTW, I have to give my brother, David, credit here for predicting this very thing during half-time.)
Given that Sutton chose to rely on his standard 4-man rush to put pressure on Luck, you’d think he’d want to keep his players as fresh as possible. Not so, apparently. Here are the snap counts for the defensive linemen in the game: Dontari Poe – 59, Allen Bailey – 52, Tyson Jackson – 10, Mike DeVito – 9, Jaye Howard – 4, and Mike Catapano – 2. Among linebackers, Derrick Johnson played all 66 snaps, Tamba Hali – 61, Justin Houstin – 58, Frank Zombo – 13, and Akeem Jordan – 3.
As for the secondary, no player had a great game, and some played down-right poorly. Sean Smith got beat several times for big gains. Berry missed 3 tackles (only 2 show on the stat sheet). Dunta Robinson missed 2 tackles and was useless in coverage. (He might be the worst FA signing from the 2013 off-season. If I remember correctly, Dorsey signed Robinson to a 13.8 million-dollar contract on the first day of free agency. So yeah, even the front office is accountable for this game.)
T.Y. Hilton turned Brandon Flowers inside out at least twice. That was bad enough, but after Flowers went down, no one could cover Hilton. Andrew Luck threw to him 6 times for 4 completions, 106 yards and 1 touchdown. I believe the Chiefs might still have outlasted the Colts had Flowers not missed the last 22 minutes of the game.
I credit 2 players with good games: Husain Abdullah and Justin Houston. I’d have put Berry in this group were it not for those missed tackles (which allowed 2 first downs and a touchdown) – and Flowers, too, if he hadn’t been injured. Poe, Bailey, Hali, and DJ had competent games, though none of the 4 made any game-changing plays.
To sum it up, I’d rank the causes for the Chiefs defensive collapse in this order of importance:
- The fantastic play of Andrew Luck in the second half.
- Bob Sutton going conservative in the 3d quarter.
- Bob Sutton’s refusal to rush more than 4 defenders at any point in the game.
- Bob Sutton’s lack of trust in his backups. That defensive line rotation was way too short.
- Brandon Flowers' 3d quarter injury.
- Not enough big plays from our defensive play-makers, which in part – and only in part –goes back to items 2, 3, and 4.
- Not enough talent in the secondary.
I guess I now know why Bob Sutton didn’t stick as the defensive coordinator with the Jets. It wasn’t just that Rex Ryan wanted the job. It’s that Sutton couldn’t be trusted to call a good game. I know that Andy Reid has already said he isn’t going to make any changes to his staff, but I’d really like to see him find a way to give the defensive headset to a bolder and more creative mind.