Anybody who watched it will never forget it. Whether you were on the good or bad side of the result, the AFC Wild Card playoff game between the Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City Chiefs will be forever burned into the brain.
Here, most have a
memory nightmare they wish would go away. It's a contest that will always bring a saddened feeling, a haunting vibe which refuses to dissipate. Since the season ended, I have watched every Chiefs game at least twice, looking to gain insight into my favorite team.
Except for that playoff game. I could not bring myself to click play.
Finally, a few weeks ago, I decided it had to be done. Slowly, I went back and watched what began as brilliance turn into blight. After seeing the game from a telecast prospective, I needed to take a walk in the freezing weather that lovely New York serves up this time of year. Throughout my walk, I thought, "Why did Bob Sutton leave Dunta Robinson on T.Y. Hilton? Why didn't the Chiefs blitz more? Why, why, why?"
I had no answers, but I had the tools to figure out exactly went wrong. I decided to use them, and share my findings in by far, the most analytical piece I've ever embarked upon for Arrowhead Pride.
The journey left me with no questions remaining, only plenty of answers that both disappoint me, and make me hopeful going forward. It gave me definitive answers on the worth of players such as Brandon Flowers, Husain Abdullah and Eric Berry. It did the same for Dunta Robinson, Allen Bailey and Kendrick Lewis.
Here now, are my conclusions. I've included 15 total pictures of four plays, helping to explain my thoughts.
Let's begin with the way the Chiefs defense lined up in the game. As most here know, Kansas City's true base defense is a 3-4. Against the Colts, the Chiefs did not line up once in a 3-4.
Across the field, Indianapolis lined up with three wide receivers, a tight end and a running back. Of their 61 snaps (not including kneel-downs or plays cancelled by penalty), the Colts used that formation every single time. In 61 plays, Indianapolis never went to a double tight end set, a two-back set, or more than three receivers.
Conversely, Kansas City employed the following defensive schemes:
To go further, let's take a look at the cover schemes. For those not aware, a Cover 0 is when the safeties are either blitzing or in man-to-man coverage. Cover 1 involves one man patrolling deep, Cover 2 is with a pair of men over the top, and so forth.
When the Chiefs were in a 1-3-7 scheme, Robinson never saw the field before Flowers' injury. The lineup was always the same, with the exception of the down lineman (Dontari Poe and Bailey). The linebackers were always Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. The secondary always consisted of Sean Smith, Marcus Cooper, Ron Parker, Quintin Demps and Flowers, Abdullah and Berry.
In the 2-3-6, the Chiefs started the game with Bailey and Poe up front. As the game wore on, Mike DeVito, Tyson Jackson, Jaye Howard and Mike Catapano rotated in sparingly. The linebackers remained Houston, Hali and Johnson throughout the game.
The secondary began with Smith and Flowers outside, while Robinson patrolled the slot. Abdullah was almost always next to Johnson, playing the role of a 3-4 inside linebacker. Lewis was exclusively deep, while Berry roamed various spots. After Robinson was torched during the first drive for four receptions, including a touchdown, Cooper came in and played outside, with Flowers kicking inside. Robinson would not see the field again until Flowers' injury.
Berry was the only player that, throughout the game, I had to stop the film and identify before each snap. All the other defenders were in the same spot pre-snap on every play.
Conclusions: Eric Berry is the man every quarterback has to identify before getting snapping the ball. Luck played almost exclusively out of the shotgun, and looked for Berry before each play. Sutton trusts Berry to do anything, including being the high safety in Cover 1, playing deep in Cover 2, coming up in run support, guarding the tight end 1-on-1, and blitzing. Against the Colts, he did all of that and more.
I came into the game thinking Berry played terribly. Without him, the Chiefs would have been plastered from the start.
The other realization is Bailey should not see significant snaps for Kansas City. To do this piece, I watched this game on film six times. Not once did Bailey flash as a pass-rusher. In most pass situations, Coby Fleener took a free release, but the back stayed in to block.
Indianapolis doubled Poe, forced Houston and Hali wide with the tackles, and kept the back in to pick up anybody winning a battle. Those matchups left Bailey 1-on-1 against a guard most of the time. He consistently lost.
The addition of Vance Walker can not be understated here. Does anybody remember his comment after signing with the Chiefs? He said his job is to win in 1-on-1 situations. If Walker was on the field instead of Bailey last year and living up to his words, Kansas City wins; I'm convinced of that.
Kansas City was a team that despite popular belief, did not rely heavily on blitzing throughout the season. During the regular season, defensive coordinator Bob Sutton blitzed 28.41 percent of the time, ranking 20th in frequency, according to Pro Football Focus.
During Wild Card weekend, Kansas City got away from blitzing even that often. With Andrew Luck behind a soft offensive line, the Chiefs had 50 pass plays run against them. On those plays, Kansas City brought an unexpected rusher 10 times, giving them a 20 percent blitz rate.
Of those 10 blitzes, only twice did the Chiefs bring more than four rushers. Amazingly, they never brought more than five. Eight of the 10 blitzes involved either one down lineman, or two of the four expected rushers dropping into coverage. Shockingly, Kansas City did not register a sack on those 10 plays.
Here are the breakdowns on what formations the Chiefs blitzed out of, who blitzed, and what direction they came from:
|Scheme||Blitzes||Percent of blitzes per snap|
Below are how many times each player blitzed, and from what direction:
|Player||Blitzes||Off LT||Between T||Off RT|
Until the fourth quarter, the Chiefs never blitzed on the outside shoulder of the left tackle. Sutton clearly thought the best way to attack was with fast defensive backs shooting through the middle of the line. Johnson was also used as a blitzer, but was very ineffective.
Ron Parker played only four snaps all day, all coming from the 1-3-7 scheme, and blitzed on every one of them.
Conclusions: Even after Flowers went down midway through the third quarter with an injury, Parker never came in to play coverage. Sutton showed no trust in the youngster as a corner, despite Robinson getting beaten nearly every play (we will get to that, with pictures, very shortly).
As for the rest of the guys listed in this section, Johnson was Sutton's hope of getting through the line, roughing up the back, and getting to Luck. It never happened. Johnson had all sorts of problems getting through the line because Indianapolis pinched the guards down, kicked the tackles wide and left Donald Brown, and occasionally Trent Richardson, in to block.
As everybody knows, Hilton absolutely destroyed the Chiefs.
In the game, Hilton caught 13 passes for 224 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including the game-winner with under five minutes remaining.
Here is a chart breakdown of when Hilton was targeted against man coverages:
Here is a chart breakdown of when Hilton was targeted against zone coverages, with the player given being responsible for him:
Below is a table showing what defense the team played when Luck felt Hilton was not open. To explain my Flowers zone category, those were plays in which Flowers shadowed Hilton in an underneath zone, with safety help over the top:
|Zone (Flowers)||12 (11)|
Hilton had all kinds of problems dealing with Flowers. When Flowers was assigned to him, it was always as a slot receiver. Unlike Robinson, who gave an approximate 10 yards of cushion on average, Flowers climbed up to within two or three yards of the scrimmage line.
Flowers was physical, disrupting Hilton and knocking him off his route repeatedly. Overall, Hilton went against Flowers on 18 snaps. On those plays, Hilton made two catches for 15 yards.
Hilton lined up against Robinson for nine snaps. He made five receptions for 76 yards and a score.
The defensive gameplan was adequate for the most part before Flowers went out with 7:32 remaining in the third quarter. On the first drive, Hilton caught four passes for 51 yards and a touchdown. All but five of those yards came against Robinson.
Conclusions: Beginning with the following drive and lasting until Flowers was hurt, Cooper, Flowers and Smith were the only cornerbacks to see the field in a man-coverage role. In that span, the Chiefs allowed three points. In the other 35 minutes, Kansas City surrendered 42 points.
With Cooper replacing the beleaguered Robinson, Sutton put Flowers in the slot. The move forced the Colts to make a tough decision. Either play Hilton in the slot and face Flowers, or move him out of his preferred spot and send him outside the numbers. Indianapolis chose to mix the looks, mostly challenging Flowers.
Flowers gives the Chiefs a huge advantage. If your best receiver is a slot guy, he will be blanketed. If he's an outside receiver not named Dez Bryant, he will be covered (I see you, DeSean Jackson). The opposing offensive coordinator can't put receivers in certain spots knowing he will create a big mismatch.
With Flowers out, Hilton went solely to the slot. Why? The Colts knew only Robinson could guard him there, or they would see zone coverage. Smith and Cooper can't play inside, making the Chiefs insanely predictable. Sutton should have mixed up the coverages more by going to zone, even doubling with Berry. He never did.
Game in snapshots
Let's start with the first drive. Robinson is in the slot, covering Hilton. The team is in a 2-3-6, with man coverage and a Cover 1.
Note: All photos can be zoomed in on by clicking them.
Result: The coverage is perfect, except for Robinson. He's toasted, and Indianapolis gains 24 yards after Robinson misses the tackle.
Now we move to the last two minutes of the first half. Kansas City is in a 2-3-6, zone coverage with a Cover 4 over the top. Flowers is matched up in the slot against Hilton.
Here, Flowers is so tight on Hilton there is only room for one square as Luck readies to throw. Now, he intercepts using an under zone technique.
Result: Flowers sits on the route and nabs the interception.
Now we move ahead to the last drive. Colts are trailing by six, and below we see the Chiefs in a 2-3-6 with man coverage on the outside and zone underneath. They are in a Cover 2 over the top. Abdullah covers Hilton.
Result: Abdullah sticks right with Hilton, using a good punch within the allowed five yards. Everybody else is airtight in coverage, and / or bracketing Fleener. It's perfect defense.
On the last drive, Sutton abandoned Robinson in favor of Abdullah, who he clearly doesn't have faith in as a man-cover corner before this point for some reason. Abdullah performed very well, employing Flowers' style and getting physical. On the first three plays of Indianapolis' final offensive drive, Abdullah played man against Hilton and stifled him.
On the fourth play of the drive, and the Colts final offensive snap, the Chiefs went to a Cover 3. The following happened:
OK, there is a lot going on here. Everybody drops into zone except for Berry, who has a 1-on-1 responsibility with Brown. For the three deep men, Smith, Lewis and Demps, top to bottom, the job is simple; do not get beat deep. The field is cut into thirds, as shown up top.
Once the play starts, the Chiefs are in good position, except for Lewis. Lewis has drifted way too far to the left, causing a cluster. Lewis should be much closer to the hashmarks, something Luck sees.
This is where Lewis is completely exposed. He should have opened toward his left hip to allow him to keep running with Hilton. Instead, he's about to get completely turned around, thus Luck cocking his arm. Demps is watching the curl route, and won't be able to recover. Smith is running with Hilton, but rightfully turns back to cover Fleener.
Luck is throwing deep, and the Chiefs are cooked. Hilton has way too much speed for Lewis, who is about to be torched.
Result: Hilton scores a 64-yard touchdown to put the Colts in the lead, 45-44. We all know the rest.
Every reason for the offseason changes to the defense are blatantly apparent in this game.
Kansas City cut Robinson not only for salary reasons, but because he has no speed. Demps, and especially Lewis, were left to walk because they simply aren't good enough. Everybody is aware of Lewis' issues, so I'll leave it at that. However, the film reveals some other important points.
Flowers may be paid quite a bit, but he is worth every penny. Very few corners can play both inside and outside the numbers like him. Flowers gives Sutton a ton of options. Chris Owens was signed to come in and play the slot, allowing Flowers to play outside if the situation calls for it. Owens simply gives Kansas City a nice fourth corner, something it did not have in 2013.
Abdullah saw a ton of snaps and mostly played zone. However, when pressed into man-coverage, he was terrific. I believe the Chiefs will give him a much expanded role this season, playing him in a wide range of ways. Again, more versatility.
Cooper played one of his best games against the Colts. He shows great technique at times, opening his hips and running. I have no doubt this kid is going to become one of the better corners in football. When you can go from a receiver in college to a seventh round pick, be given a new playbook six days before the season and play like he did, it's something special.
Up front, Bailey completely failed in this game. The Chiefs signed Walker to play this role going forward. I'm not saying Bailey is useless, because he isn't. In a 3-3-5 scheme, I can see him as a useful defensive end worth having on the roster. Again the pass, Walker will be a very important upgrade. Briefly, I want to mention Mike Catapano. He only played a few snaps, all in the 2-3-6, but he played well. Catapano showed a nice bull rush.
Lastly, leading into the draft, I believe Kansas City will look to add another pass-rushing DE/DT in the middle rounds. The Chiefs need depth up front, giving Poe and Walker a chance to grab some water for a play or two in a game like this. I also expect a corner, again in the middle-to-late rounds. The Chiefs need another corner Sutton can trust, in case of injury. The guy likely will be a developmental project taken at that spot, but that's no big deal.
Ultimately, this defense will be better if Walker lives up to expectations, Abdullah sees more time and Owens is better than Robinson. They won't be small improvements, they will be massive.