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What concerns me about the Chiefs run defense and what doesn’t

There were a lot of storylines that came out of the Chiefs first preseason game of the year. Many of them were very positive, like the play of the offensive line and Chris Jones looking unblockable against the ‘Hawks second string.

However, as always, there were negative storylines as well. One such issue was the Chiefs first team and the run defense, or lack thereof.

The Seahawks (always a good rushing team, even without Beast Mode, because of the threat Russell Wilson and his backups create with the read option) ran the ball against the first team nine times (not including a QB run). Of those runs, four went for eight or more yards (nine, 16, eight and nine yards). That’s obviously more than you want to see runs go for bigger chunks of yardage.

Now, to be fair, the Chiefs also had several plays where runs were stuffed at the line of scrimmage. And given the small sample size we’re dealing with, I don’t think there’s any reason to panic. But it’s worth taking a look at what went wrong on those 4 plays to try and figure out if they are a harbinger of things to come.

There are a few things that go wrong here, but as stated in the tweet, the biggest culprit on this play appears to be Dontari Poe. He doesn’t stay on his feet (just a slip, I’d assume), and as a result he gets driven down and is a non-factor in keeping either of the guards off the inside linebackers.

For their part, the ILB’s (Derrick Johnson and Ramik Wilson) hesitate and don’t attack as quickly as I’d like. That said, they have guards on them pretty quickly. DJ appears (tough to see without the Madden cam view) to shed his blocker enough to attempt a tackle, but misses as the guard recovers to drive him into the ground. Ramik just... well, it doesn’t go well for Ramik.

And the final problem that makes this gain longer than it ought to be is a failure by Marcus Peters to even attempt the tackle at the line of scrimmage. An aggressive dive at the RB’s knees would have at least slowed him down enough for the defense to recover and made for a shorter gain.

All told, this big gain isn’t likely to be a consistent problem throughout the season, as Poe is generally pretty stout at the point of attack (though not quite the immovable wall he’s made out to be by some), so a loss that bad isn’t too likely from snap to snap. I’m guessing Peters makes a better effort during a real snap, and DJ sticks that tackle half the time.

This is more a good play by the Seahawks than a bad play by the Chiefs defense. They execute a read option look here, which freezes DJ and Frank Zombo. That hesitation gives the LT time to help the LG out with Poe, which leads to Poe getting moved out of his (likely) gap responsibility.

Zombo doesn’t recover in time to help, but DJ sticks his head in there and actually lays a pretty solid hit on the RB, who does a great job shrugging off the contact and doesn’t even really slow down. In the meantime, Ramik is unable to shed his guard and can’t do much more than wave as he’s passed by.

This play could have been different had DJ and Zombo not hesitated for quite as long as they did. DJ attacking would have prevented the LT from pushing Poe, which means that gap likely doesn’t exist. Also, many RB’s would be at least slowed by the hit DJ lays on this play. Finally, better ILB play from Ramik would mean at least SOME resistance as the RB hits the second level, giving the rest of the defense time to recover (these snaps haven’t looked good for Ramik, who seems to react more than attack).

Now, if you’re sensitive, why don’t you just skip this next one?

I don’t have much to say here. The defense didn’t allow any real paths for the RB to travel, which forced him to bounce outside. Dee Ford just doesn’t set the edge and Michael is fast enough to get good yardage out of the deal.

This is a very, very frustrating snap to watch, especially if you’re a Chiefs fan who has been spoiled by Justin Houston for the last few years. Very, very, very few edge defenders are as powerful as Houston or as effective at stopping the run. People are worried about Ford’s pass rushing, but that doesn’t really concern me. What concerns me is that the defense is going to get run over on that side with Ford there instead of Houston. This snap is a perfect example of where that fear comes from.

This is another one that’s frustrating to see (and not just because I incorrectly labeled it the third big run when it’s actually the fourth). It’s a good example of how close things really are in football. Basically, the defense holds up well and doesn’t allow daylight anywhere except one TINY window.

The thing is, that window SHOULD get slammed shut by Daniel Sorensen, who is playing a hybrid LB role. He actually does a pretty decent job avoiding the fullback’s block, but he’s unable to completely fill the gap and basically bounces off the runner (who, like with the DJ play, does a good job running through contact.

As I said in the tweet, you put Eric Berry on the field there and that play goes nowhere. In my opinion, if you put Husain Abdullah (we miss you, Husain!) there it’s still dead in the water. If you ever wondered whether just one guy failing in his assignment is enough to cause a bad play for the whole defense, well, wonder no more.

The question we set out to ask was whether the run defense is in trouble. Or, to put it another way, should we be worried about the defensive line when we thought it would be a strength?

My (tentative) response would be no. Now, there are problems that need to be addressed on the defense, but in my opinion they stem from somewhere beyond the defensive line (Poe’s slip in the first play notwithstanding, he did plenty on other snaps to show he didn’t suddenly become a weakling).

Justin March has taken over the starting spot over the last few days at ILB next to Derrick Johnson, and I think that’s a recognition by the coaches that Ramik definitely struggled against Seattle. Throw in a SILB who attacks and is able to hold up (or shed) blockers a little better and those windows for the RB shrink considerably. Now you’re looking at much shorter gains (in our fun hypothetical world of improved SILB play). So hopefully, we see improvement with that change. If not, there could be some issues stopping the run up the middle.

Sorensen failing doesn’t concern me, because I don’t think Eric Berry will miss any real playing time.

On the last positive note, the simple fact of the matter is that the Seahawks are a tough team to defend because of their dual threats at QB. Of the big runs given up, the worst of them all was a direct result of hesitation caused by a running QB who sells the read option very well. The Chiefs aren’t going to face many (if any) quarterbacks as capable as Wilson at making you hesitate out of fear of the QB’s legs.

So that’s the good news (well, maybe good news. We’ll see how they do against the Rams). The bad news? Well... Dee Ford doesn’t seem like he’s going anywhere. As I said earlier, I’m deeply concerned about the run defense having significant issues on his outside edge. That’s something to keep an eye on over the next few weeks as the Chiefs try and get their defense primed for the regular season.

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