When I saw Ron Parker lined up in man-press coverage against Sammy Watkins, I started yelling at my television like an insane person. For the life of me, I could not understand why Bob Sutton would put Parker, who has established himself as a solid safety but a poor corner, against one of the best receivers in football. It seemed like a sure mismatch, a game-changing matchup. It turns out, that's exactly what it was.
Some games prove to be coming-out parties for certain players, and Sunday's belongs to Parker. Whenever Chiefs fans discuss their 2014 win over the Bills, it will be impossible not to mention Parker in some capacity, whether it be his game-saving forced fumble or his bevy of pass breakups. He was unbeatable, and without him Kansas City would be 5-4 and sitting on the fringe of the AFC playoff picture.
It is clear the coaching staff has no interest in Marcus Cooper seeing the light of day. When Phillip Gaines was not ready to play defensive snaps because of an injured ankle, Sutton employed Chris Owens in the slot with Parker sliding from safety to corner, opposite Sean Smith. The safeties were Husain Abdullah and Eric Berry, with Kurt Coleman coming in on three-safety sets.
For almost the entire game, Parker had the toughest assignment of the day: stop Watkins. Many times, he was left completely on an island without safety help. Sutton showed major faith in Parker, giving the 27-year old massive responsibility. Parker, a man who was cut by the Seattle Seahawks three times, and the Carolina Panthers and Oakland Raiders each once, made Sutton proud.
Let's take a look at some of his best plays, because including all of them would keep up here until next week:
Play #1: The fumble
On this play, Parker is in man coverage against Watkins. Watkins is going to attempt to block Parker and do a pretty good job of it, while Bryce Brown eventually takes the handoff and runs right. Here is the pre-snap look:
It's press-man coverage across the board. The Chiefs have only six men in the box, making them very susceptible to the run on this play. Scott Chandler is in tight on the left side, giving the Bills a chance to pop a big play if they can get a hat-on-a-hat.
Brown has broken through the right side and has a clear path to the end zone. Look at the amount of space in front of him. Parker is the only one with even a remote shot of making the play. Watkins helps out because he only held the block for a second before getting lazy. The rookie allowed Parker to shed him quickly and sprints toward Brown as he attempts to give Buffalo a 17-3 lead.
Look at Brown running his mouth before he scores; it's a cardinal sin. Parker's only chance is to do exactly what he did. He leaves his feet and lunges toward Brown, about to tomahawk the ball out of the back's grip.
This is great coaching and tremendous effort. Do you know how many players would have let Brown walk into the end zone with nothing more than token hustle? Maybe it's the fact Parker has been released five times. Maybe it is because Sutton and the Chiefs have shown Parker they believe in him. Maybe it is simply a guy trying to make a play because he doesn't want to let the men around him down.
One thing I can tell you for sure, is these are the types of plays that build champions. This is perhaps the best-coached team in the league and it shows. This is not a product of chance, this is a product of practice. Parker goes for the strip because that is what he is taught to do. He is taught never to quit.
Sutton's mantra is "they are not in until they are in." Ron Parker exemplifies that spirit.
The final result is a touchback and the game being saved.
Play #2: Parker blankets Watkins
This is 1st and 10 from the 15-yard line late in the fourth quarter with the Chiefs clinging to a 17-13 lead. This is the way the teams lined up pre-snap:
Very similar to the first play we discussed. The Bills are in a three-wide set with Watkins on the right, matched against Parker in press-man. Sutton has decided to warm MNChiefsFan's heart and has Eric Berry in a single-high safety set. Kansas City has seven in the box, loading up to take away the run.
Orton never takes his eyes off Watkins. The second the ball hits Orton's hands, he knows he has Watkins against single coverage. Any decent quarterback will take his top receiver in man-coverage any day of the week. Berry stays in the middle of the field, even cheating toward the seam. Notice how Parker starts to widen Watkins toward the outside with excellent position. He is using the sideline as another defender.
Dontari Poe is about to remove Orton from this planet, but Orton gets the ball away just in time. However, Parker does something that most corners fail to do; he turns and looks. This was something I noticed throughout the game. Parker would turn his head in whatever direction Watkins turned his.
It sounds simple, but it is a lost art in the NFL. There is literally no window for this ball to be completed. Also, notice how Parker has widened Watkins out even closer to the sideline. This is textbook coverage from a guy we were terrified of playing corner.
Parker is in such tight coverage, you can't even see him. He's earned great inside position and knocks the ball away, forcing second down.
Play #3: Parker bests Hogan
This is the next play of the game. This time, the Chiefs are expecting a pass. Let's look at the play pre-snap:
Kansas City is in a Cover 4 scheme. Parker is highlighted at the top left, with Kurt Coleman, Berry and Sean Smith going from left to right. The Chiefs are going to combat this five-receiver set with zone principles underneath as well, something we see in the next frame.
Look at how well Kansas City creates defined zones. You can almost draw a straight line across the three shallow defenders and the four deep backs. We see Chris Hogan running a corner route, straight into Parker and Coleman. Orton is about to take a chance on a risky throw into coverage, although he doesn't have any better options outside of throwing the ball away.
We see Orton unloading the throw and Parker is in a backpedal. Coleman has forced Hogan to the outside, doing his job perfectly. Parker is watching Orton the entire time while moving back toward the corner of the end zone. He's in perfect position to make a play on the ball. Even an exceptional throw won't suffice.
This is when the ball arrives. Parker has high-pointed the ball and taken Hogan completely out of the play. The result is a 3rd and 10. The Bills would not score, and would not win.
Parker also made a play on fourth down to end the drive, isolated on Watkins in man coverage once again. Orton's throw was awful, which is why I didn't go deep into that play.
Parker played like an All-Pro on Sunday. It might be the best game he ever plays, or it might be the start of something terrific. Either way, it won the Chiefs a critical contest.