Anatomy of a Play: The Chiefs force a 3rd-and-48 on the Raiders

Peter Aiken

Let's remember one of the best defensive sequences from the Kansas City Chiefs 2013 season: the 3rd-and-48 vs. the Raiders.

If you walk up to any Chiefs fan and ask him to name the top five most enjoyable moments of the 2013 season, you're bound to get a lot of variety in your answers. Some people love an underdog story (the subs outplaying and winning in every way but one against the Chargers in Week 17). Some people dig defensive performances (the second half destruction of Case Keenum against the Texans). Others look to big plays (basically anything Jamaal Charles did), or clutch moments (Alex Smith hitting Donnie Avery from his own end zone to keep a lead alive).

There were a LOT of fun moments in 2013. This gets overlooked at times because of the way the season ended. But the point remains that there aren't a lot of fans who would name the same five moments of 2013 as one of their favorites. With at least one exception.

If you say "3rd and 48" to any Chiefs fan with a pulse who was paying attention last year, you're bound to get a fist bump (or high five, or whatever it is cool people do now. Man hug? Who knows ...) and spark a fun discussion. Because every single Chiefs fan includes "3rd and 48" as one of their favorite moments from 2013.

You remember. The at-the-time-undefeated Chiefs are hosting the Raiders at Arrowhead. Insane home crowd. Up by a touchdown with a little over six and a half minutes to go in the fourth. The Raiders moving the ball to the point that they've got 1st and 10 at the 50-yard line.

Then all hell broke loose (at least, if you're a Raiders fan). A holding penalty leads to 1st and 20. Then a Tamba Hali sack kicks it back 12 yards for 2nd and 32. Then a SHAKING Arrowhead leads to Pryor stomping his foot as his center contemplates a new career and the ref throws a flag for delay of game.

Now it's 2nd and 37. Which, by itself, is pretty nuts. But the play that I'd like to look at led to a down and distance that I've literally never even heard of before.

It's worth noting that the play we'll be looking at today serves as an interesting contrast to the last play I broke down. Both are screens, but that's about all they have in common. On one hand, you have a marvelously called and executed screen with a defense that is completely fooled. On the other (today's play), you have a questionable call, a quarterback and running back who can't figure their crap out, and a defense that stays disciplined. It's fun seeing Raider fail. Let's get to it.

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The Chiefs are lined up in a 2-4-5 alignment. Dontari Poe and Allen Bailey are the two down linemen (Poe to the right, Bailey to the left). Justin Houston and Tamba Hali are at their usual places, Derrick Johnson is the WILB and Eric Berry is essentially the SILB.

In coverage we have Marcus Cooper (who you should read about here. Seriously, leave now and read it. It's incredible) and Sean Smith at LCB and RCB, respectively. Dunta Robinson is camped out right by the 30-yard line and (after re-watching about 5 times) seems to be in man despite being roughly a thousand yards off the line of scrimmage. Kendrick Lewis and Quintin Demps (upper and lower in the picture, respectively) are back deep.

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The ball is snapped. Houston, Bailey, Poe, and Hali all go after Pryor, with Berry blitzing and DJ dropping back into zone. Smith plays off man while Cooper presses right at the line.

It's worth noting that Cooper gets beat here by a stutter step at the line of scrimmage. If Cooper has one priority this offseason, it's learning how to deal with the basic moves WRs use to beat the press, most notably the stutter step. Because he absolutely did not know how to counter it last year. That's what happens when you're a rookie who's been playing the position for less than two years.

I'd also like to take a moment to point out that Poe is IMMEDIATELY doubled. We'd already reached the point in the season where teams basically never left Poe alone.

On a final point, it genuinely appears (you'll see in the next picture as well) when watching live that Robinson is in man. Is it my imagination, or would a more experienced quarterback have audibled to a quick throw to the Oakland WR right next to the 20-yard line? Isn't that at least a 10 yard gain even if the secondary closes and tackles perfectly? This is why you can't have corners who need a 20 yard cushion to cover people. Maybe I'm missing something, but it definitely appears that Robinson needs to give THAT big a cushion to avoid getting beat deep.

Anyway, on to the next picture, as the play hasn't really developed yet.

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Quite a few things happening here, so here's another angle of pretty much the same moment in time.

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All right, let's start with the coverage. Even though it turns out to be a screen, it's good to see what the secondary does before they realize what's happening.

First things first. Marcus Cooper has all the talent in the world. Despite whiffing on the jam against a pretty fast receiver, Cooper recovers quickly and is right on the hip of his receiver. Even if this hadn't been a screen a throw his way isn't likely.

Meanwhile, DJ has gotten good depth on his drop to take away the throw across the middle. In a still shot, it looks like he's about to give away open space. But in real time, he was exactly where he needed to be and moving in the right direction to prevent a throw had Pryor looked that way.

Smith and Dunta are basically staying in front of their WRs, although Dunta is still almost ten yards away from his. I mean, I'm not trying to kill the guy, but I'm really, really glad the Chiefs are going a different direction with nickel CB this year. At least Owens (from what I hear) has some speed.

Demps and Lewis haven't had much to do (especially Demps), but I have to note one thing. The receiver coming across DJ's zone? Both Lewis and Demps, starting as this picture is taken zero in on that receiver (his current location, not where he's headed) despite the fact that:

A) Had the receiver come open across the field, there's literally no way either one gets there in time to prevent the catch. No way.

B)  Demps, by zeroing in on that route, was abandoning Cooper in the event of a deep ball.

I have absolutely no idea what the assignment of the two safeties was (though they certainly appeared to be in a cover 2), but I can't say I'm a fan of how they reacted to a guy who might maybe be coming open. You can see there why we ended up with some plays that went over their heads. Poor anticipation of where the ball is going can lead to terrible things for a defense. Anyway, to the line of scrimmage (and the lower picture ... )

You can tell that Pryor had burned the Chiefs with his legs all day. They're rushing to an extent, but they're also playing contain. Additionally, you can see Darren McFadden (remember when Raiders fans thought he was JC's peer? Good times) turning to collect a screen pass. Poe's OL have released him to try and get upfield.

This is where the major diversion between the play I showed earlier this week (a screen that went for six) becomes stark. First of all, you can contrast how the Chiefs defenders reacted. Bailey, Houston, and Berry all recognize the screen (I'm sure it helped they were playing containment, but they noticeably stopped and geared in on McFadden) and stay put. Then McFadden, rather than trying to run beyond the line of scrimmage and get behind the defenders, simply turns around with Bailey practically hugging him. There's literally nowhere to go.

Pryor has nowhere to go. And his problems are about to get worse, as Hali has destroyed the LT and is screaming toward Pryor's blind side.

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Hali hits Pryor, but Pryor manages to spin off the contact. He's a tough guy to bring down. If he ever figures out how to play quarterback, he'll be a really good quarterback.

Also, the play is busted up at this point. However, the secondary deserves props for remaining in good coverage. Demps and Lewis have closed on the open receiver that DJ is abandoning to pursue Pryor, which is the right call for at least one of them to prevent a big play if Pryor escapes. And look, Robinson's WR has almost reached him!

Of course, coverage is moot, really. Because this is what Pryor is going through right now

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Yeah, he's managed to shake Hali.  But now you've got three other unblocked Chiefs closing FAST, with DJ coming as fast as he can to join the party. Of course, one shouldn't underestimate Pryor's ability to escape, right? He's an amazing athlete, and running him down is a tall order. Well...

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Few players in the league close as quickly as Eric Berry. This is likely the reason that Berry had (per PFF) a ridiculous pass rushing productivity rate of 20.8 percent (meaning he got a sack, hit, or hurry one out of every five times he rushed, an insane number). Once he's got a shot at the quarterback, he's there almost instantly. Pryor is run down and wrapped up before he has time to go anywhere.

As I mentioned to start, this play is a great example of how things can go right for a defense if they maintain discipline. On a 2nd and long with a rocking crowd, the Chiefs easily could have lost their heads and over-rushed Pryor. That would have left them open to a huge gain. Instead, they maintained discipline (Berry, Houston, and Bailey in particular) and recognized screen, killing it before it could get started. Combine that with Hali doing Hali things and this play had basically no shot.

The end result? 3rd and 48, a number I won't be forgetting for awhile.

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