One problem with the forever-ness that is the NFL offseason is that it gives those of us with minds that don't like to sit still (as in me) way, way, WAY too much time to think about stuff. We analyze every nugget of information over and over until we've bled it dry of any possible meaning. We devise strategies and try to project how new players will fit into "the system." In other words ... we guess.
Allow me to be the first to admit something. I have absolutely no idea what the Chiefs defense will look like next year. My understanding based on a few recent quotes is that the defensive system will remain much the same as it was last year. Of course, last year the Chiefs ran multiple different sets, so that information doesn't help me much. I know a few things
1) The base defense will be a 3-4.
2) They won't be in their base defense roughly half of the time, if not more.
3) The Chiefs have at least one shiny new toy on defense in Dee Ford that I'd love to see featured more.
With those limited facts in mind, my brain (such as it is) has wandered far and wide trying to figure out exactly what a perfect defensive formation would look like to me. Of course, everyone knows there's no such thing as an ACTUALLY perfect defensive formation. Holes always exist, and flaws will always be there to exploit. But that doesn't mean I'm going to waste any less time trying to figure out what I would like to see from the Chiefs defense this next season.
One formation the Chiefs lined up in with some frequency last season that intrigues me was a 2-3-6 (two DL, three LBs, six DBs). The Chiefs played in that formation the vast majority of snaps in the playoff loss to the Colts (yes, I'm aware that doesn't exactly inspire confidence), and I think variations of it present some intriguing options for the team.
The way it's worked for years with the Chiefs is that on obvious passing downs, the SILB (who has consistently been a guy who is too slow to be good enough in coverage) comes off the field along with one DE, and two DBs take their place. Hence, the 2-3-6, with the two DL playing a more defensive tackle role than NT/DE and two of the LBs (recently Tamba Hali and Justin Houston) playing basically defensive end and rushing the passer.
The formation hasn't been very good against the run, and as we saw last year in the playoff meltdown, hasn't been particularly impressive at times against the pass either. However, I do think that there's potential there.
With Dee Ford being added to the mix, I keep trying to figure out ways to get him on the field. Another issue that's plagued me is the Peyton Manning/Philip Rivers problem the Chiefs have in the AFC West. Both are exceptional at reading defenses pre-snap (with Manning obviously being one of the best at it the league has ever seen), and both carved us up last year.
In my opinion, there are a few ways to deal with Manning (who is the primary obstacle to taking the division):
1) Hit him constantly. Even if you're not sacking him, make sure you're hitting him and forcing him to get rid of the ball more quickly than he'd like.
2) Get him outside his comfort zone of knowing exactly what the defense is going to do prior to the snap.
3) Disrupt the timing with his receivers.
Any one of those things, on their own, is not going to be enough to beat Manning. He's too good. However, if you can do two out of three you're going to give him problems. Three out of three and you're going to eat him alive (as the Seahawks so aptly demonstrated in the Super Bowl). Of course, if it were easy everyone would do it.
I've talked a lot about Dee Ford's ability to drop back in coverage (even in a zone capacity) being a major wild card for the Chiefs defense this upcoming season. Ford is a vastly superior athlete to any of the linebackers the Chiefs have had playing SILB the last few years. This leads me to be able to at least consider the possibility that Ford can play a little in space. So let's imagine, for argument's sake, that Ford figures out how to drop in coverage without being a major weakness. What possibilities does that open up on defense?
Well, this is one I think would work beautifully for methods No. 1 and No. 2 of operation "Beat Peyton Manning."
(Quick caveat; I'm not a coach, so this is nothing more than mindless musing. Also, I suck at using MS Paint. So let's just try and be only somewhat abusive in the comments, OK? Please?)
For those of you who aren't doubled over in laughter at my pathetic attempt at using MS Paint (technology is evil), let's take a look at what we have here (maybe a magnifying glass will help you).
Poe is the sole defensive lineman. Instead of removing one LB and one DL, we've taken two DL off the field in order to bring in two extra DBs (Chris Owens and Sanders Commings). As you can see, I'm anticipating a passing formation (three WRs and one TE). This formation isn't one that I'd ever want to use as any kind of base, for reasons I'll get into shortly. But for obvious passing downs, there are a few reasons I really like this look.
First off, let's get the obvious out of the way. That's Eric Berry playing single high safety. Anyone who has read anything I've written over the last year knows my opinion on this. Bob Sutton has had Berry practicing at the position some in OTAs, according to reports from the practices, so it's not as though this is out of the question. The ability to mix things up and keep 10 guys relatively close to the line of scrimmage depends on Berry having the range and instincts to patrol the entire back third of the field. I personally think he's up for it.
But the stuff I really want to talk about takes place in the box. As you can see (maybe), I've lined Poe up in the two-gap (between the C and RG). That's not a "fixed" position for Poe with this formation. He could move all over the line of scrimmage. I chose that place almost arbitrarily to show how many options this formation gives us.
Imagine that it's third and 8 and the Broncos are going to pass the ball. The Chiefs line up in this formation, and we're living in a world where Dee Ford can passably drop into zone coverage. Tell me, if your Peyton Manning, who do you anticipate is rushing and who is dropping into coverage?
Brandon Flowers, Sean Smith, and Eric Berry are basically the only players you KNOW are going to be in coverage. Dontari Poe is coming for you, and Tamba Hali is very likely coming as well. The other six defensive players? Every one of them is a wild card.
Husain Abdullah could be playing press man on the TE ... or he could be blitzing with Derrick Johnson dropping into coverage on the TE ... or he could be dropping back into a zone to cover any potential quick slant / in route by your WR. Who knows?
Derrick Johnson could be dropping into a zone (in multiple spots), covering the TE, or coming right at you.
Dee Ford? Same thing. Is he blitzing behind Poe? If so, to which side? Or is he just dropping into a zone in the middle of the field? Or is he going to sprint toward an outside zone to try and blow up one of your pick plays? What if he blitzes to the outside while Justin Houston stunts inside?
Speaking of Houston, what's HE doing? Is he going to destroy your RT? Stunt with Poe or Ford? Is HE dropping into an outside zone to ruin your pick play? If your RB has to help the RT block, isn't that going to leave a massive gap for Ford to rush through?
Chris Owens is likely in coverage on your slot WR ... but there's a chance he's going to blitz as part of an overload of the right side, with Commings filling the zone to prevent a quick safety valve throw. You have to at least consider the possibility, right?
And while we're talking about Commings ... crap, he just crept up to the line of scrimmage. Is this a prelude to a blitz on his part, or Owens? Or is it just a psych out?
Obviously, Peyton Manning is smart enough to figure out the answers to a lot of these questions. And obviously, it's more complicated in a world where things don't always go according to plan. A formation like this relies HEAVILY on our outside CBs to get the job done on an island. We saw last year that doesn't always work out well. Additionally, if Manning decides to say screw it and audible to a run, there are a LOT of free offensive linemen (which is why this is a "passing down only" look for the defense).
All that said ... there's a ton of upside in this formation. It allows for a maximum number of speedy pass rushers to be on the field at once. It creates a situation in which the Chiefs could line up the same way 20 times in a game and play it differently each time. It encourages attacking rather than reacting on defense. And most of all, it creates confusion in areas we were way, way too predictable last season.
It might all be an optimistic dream. But hey, what's the offseason for if not dreaming up ways things could go right this year?