Welcome to your weekly Kansas City Chiefs Front Seven Evaluation! Throughout the year, I'll be rewatching the games (All-22 tape is phenomenal!) and keeping track of some of the things that I see in the trenches and away from the ball that others may not immediately recognize. I hope for everyone to utilize this as a tool to see how individual players fulfill assignments and combine to create good and bad plays, so make sure to tune in all year and see how our boys improve from game to game.
In Week One, the Chiefs lined up against the Atlanta Falcons in what can best be described as a track meet. Neither defense was able to stop the ball in the first half, and the Chiefs didn't force a punt until midway through the fourth quarter. Naturally, one would assume that the defensive numbers are absolutely abysmal. Some were, but there were a few plays and a couple players that stepped up and did their job well. Grab some coffee, maybe a sandwich, and let's go through the game to see what happened.
- 46.1% of the time, the Chiefs were in their base 3-4 defense
- 5.9% of the time, the Chiefs removed a defensive lineman for their Nickel defense.
- 48.0% of the time, the Chiefs removed a linebacker and a defensive lineman for their Dime defense.
- The Chiefs have some standard gap assignments for each individual formation:
- In the 3-4 look, Tyson Jackson is normally head up with the right tackle (5-tech), Glenn Dorsey is normally head up with the left tackle (5-tech) and Dontari Poe/Jerrell Powe were normally lined up head up with the center (0-tech). Dorsey will occasionally line up as a 4-tech when the Chiefs have him trying to penetrate. DJ almost always lines up inside the guard's shoulder (01-tech) and Belcher almost always lines up outside the other guard's shoulder (04-tech). OLB's are standard, outside the tackles.
- In the nickel look, the defensive linemen were in various positions, nothing that had consistency, but typically tried to stay inside the tackles. Belcher lined up directly over center (00-tech), and DJ then moved to a 04-tech on either side. OLB's are standard.
- In the dime look, there were many different fronts. Typically, Poe would be lined up as a 1-tech or a 2-tech, taking on either the center or the guard, leaving Ropati Pitoitua to line up as far in as the opposite 3-tech or as far out as a 7-tech. DJ typically lined up as a 00-tech, but occasionally, Romeo would have Edgar Jones shifting to a 07-tech on the weakside and have DJ line up outside of him as a 09-tech.
- Early in the first quarter, the Chiefs saw some of the problems that were going to plague them throughout the game. On a first and 10, the Falcons lined up and ran a play action pass. The Chiefs were in the base 3-4, and both DJ and Jovan Belcher bit pretty hard on it. Julio Jones ran an inside slant, and DJ (recognizing the play action) drops into coverage to take it away. The only problem? He doesn't drop deep enough. With the safeties lined up as deep as they are, DJ has to be able to fill the gap. Spoiler alert: he doesn't do it at all this game.
- Great team play at 12:21 in the first quarter. It's 2nd and 10 after a first down pass breakup by Eric Berry. Dontari Poe obtains a double team, doesn't get a whole lot of anchor, but is able to usher both the center and the guard out of the play without disengaging them, leaving the gap open for DJ to shoot. DJ stacks the fullback in the left "A" gap, leaving only the right "A" gap as an option for Michael Turner. Tyson Jackson obtains a double team right off the snap, then moves laterally towards the ballcarrier after Poe ushers the linemen out of the play. He disengages his blockers and brings down the running back from the backside. Great team defense.
- This one confuses me. With 10:53 left in the first quarter, Andy Studebaker (lined up in Tamba's usual spot) is lined up in coverage with the slot receiver. Stanford Routt is playing at least 10 yards off of the line of scrimmage. As the snap occurs, Javier Arenas takes the slot receiver, and Studie is now running down the field in man coverage with Roddy White. Routt is now 20 yards off the line of scrimmage, and obviously, Matt Ryan takes advantage for an easy 15-yard gain. What is going on? Why is any outside linebacker on this team 1-v-1 against a premier wide receiver? Why is Routt so deep? That's a head scratcher.
- After Atlanta went down the field with ease on the first drive, Romeo changed things up a bit. With 10:56 left in the second quarter, he shifted Justin Houston to a 05-tech in the dime and had him run directly at the right tackle to beat him 1-v-1. On back to back plays, Houston got pressure, laying a couple hits on Matt Ryan just after the ball got out. After a challenged play by Romeo, the Falcons recognized this and switched from a vertical attack to an underneath attack to try to get the ball out quicker. They also threw towards Houston's side of the field, essentially nullifying him with quick passing and forcing him to break off his rush to try to bat the ball down. The problem: Romeo never adjusted the way the defensive backs were playing. Too much cushion was given, and the Falcons were able to throw short passes all the way down the field after some early tense moments in the drive. While the necessary adjustments were made to try to stop the passing attack initially, Atlanta switched their game plan and simply beat us.
- Just before halftime, with Atlanta once again driving down the field, Romeo pulled Poe and Ropati off the field, instead opting for Dorsey and Jackson as the down linemen in the dime defense. This resulted in more push up the center of the line. With these two in the dime, we saw Houston get his sack, as well as a great blitz play where Jackson cleared out the linemen and DJ had a wide open run at the quarterback. This resulted in a quarterback pressure and an incompletion, holding the Falcons to a Field Goal just before half.
- With 9:03 left in the third quarter, our rookie made his presence felt again. Romeo let him 1-gap, and as you can see from the GIF provided by Clay Wendler, that athleticism proved to be destructive:
- After that, the turnovers took over. Consistently defending a short field, the Chiefs found themselves giving up a lot of points on the same mistakes they had been making between the 20 yard lines. Coverage was poor, edges weren't set in the run defense, and outside of a good stop by Dorsey (0:42, Quarter 3) and Belcher (11:24, Q4), there wasn't much to really see. Plays that were 7 yard gains turned into touchdowns instead of second and short situation. Atlanta went to a vanilla game plan late in the third quarter, and it ended up running the clock, with mostly a stalemate in the run defense.
As you can see, I've placed a yellow line even with the 3 YPPT mark. Anything less than that is a punt, if the team ran the ball three times. Studebaker and Jones show up underneath the line, but Studie only saw 2 plays, Jones saw 1 at his side. Of those with significant plays run at them, you can see that the standouts were Dontari Poe and Jovan Belcher, who both had great games against the run, with 2.57 YPPT for Poe, and 2.78 YPPT for Belcher. Dorsey is the high water mark, facing 6 plays for 24 yards.
The two graphs shows that Atlanta didn't run much against the dime and nickel defenses (see Jones' plays faced and plays away), and when they did run, they ran up the gut of the defense (see Houston and Studebaker's plays away). You can also see that Atlanta had much more success running at Justin Houston than they did running away from him.
Other Items of Note:
Justin Houston finished the game with four quarterback pressures and one sack. That means on 15.6% of pass plays, Houston was able to do some damage. That may seem low, but but that is a legitimate threat, especially considering he was the only true pass rusher and Atlanta schemed against him. DJ had 2 pressures, Poe and Ropati each had one.
Dorsey and Jackson led all linemen in effective double teams, each registering four. Keep that in mind when looking at Glenn's YPPT number. He may have done his job, but the guys behind him may not have. Poe grabbed two EDT's, and Ropati grabbed 1.
Dorsey, Poe, and Belcher all registered tackles for loss.
Jovan Belcher shot a whopping NINE correct gaps this game. Considering he only saw seventeen run plays, he was over 50% for the day. Taking into consideration where the run was going and free offensive linemen, that's excellent. DJ had a respectable seven correct gaps in twenty run plays.
Dorsey, Poe, and Powe all had a team high two destructive free men. Jackson had one.
DJ was pathetic in coverage, giving up an average of 16 yards per target over 5 targets. That has to be fixed. Studebaker had one target (mentioned above in the confusing play) for 15 yards. Houston led the team with 3 yards per target over 3 targets.
The Final Word
There was a lot more on the "good" side of things than I originally thought, but the game was still really bad defensively. Houston, Belcher, and Poe all played fantastic games. Add in Jackson's 3.0 YPPT, and that's a very formidable four against the run. On top of that, Houston really got after the QB well, dropped into coverage well, and made a mess of things for the Falcons. If anything gets taken from this game as an observer, it appears Houston is starting his Sophomore year on the right foot.
Also on the plus side, it's going to get better. Tamba Hali helps this defense be better against the run and puts a ticking clock in the quarterback's head. It forces teams to bring a running back or tight end to his side to chip block him, taking away an offensive weapon. Derrick Johnson had possibly the worst game of the last three years of his career. Something tells me that's not the DJ we'll be seeing week in and week out. Whatever the reason behind his poor play, something will get figured out on that front. Finally, Brandon Flowers will make the biggest difference. Atlanta threw at the right side (Reeves' side) 40.6% of the game, most of them short passes. Getting someone to take away those short passes, force the quarterback to hold onto the ball longer, and bringing the heat from Houston and Hali...that's a good way to ruin any team's offensive game plan. Hopefully that defense is able to show up tomorrow against the Bills.
Thanks for reading, everyone, and remember to look for this post every week on Saturdays. As always, any questions and comments are welcome, and I'll do my best to answer in the comments below.