The Kansas City Chiefs defense has life!
Playing in cold, rainy weather, the Chiefs defense finally put together a game with a good scheme and improved execution, leading to a performance with five sacks, four interceptions — plus a pick-six — two turnovers on downs and strip-sack.
Yes, playing a poor Jacksonville Jaguars offense at Arrowhead Stadium is just what the doctor ordered for the NFL’s 20th ranked scoring defense, but sometimes all a team needs is a get right game to sort out some of the missteps and start making serious improvements.
Who knows? This defense might go from bad to okay sooner rather than later.
This week — as I do every week — I’ve charted the game to get the numbers, trends, and outliers so you can see where the Chiefs found success and where they struggled in a season-high 86 snaps faced. Starting this week, we’re looking at some of the season-long trends and tabulations as well!
Let’s get to it!
- The Chiefs lined up in their base 3-4 formation 19.3 percent of the time — usually against the Jaguars 12, 21 and 22 personnel. In those snaps, the opposition gained a minuscule 3.88 yards per play. But the Chiefs did allow 5.8 yards per rushing attempt out of their 3-4.
- The Chiefs lined up in their nickel defense with two down linemen and four linebackers 77.1 percent of the time. Quite simply, this is the actual base defense for the Chiefs. They allowed 6.07 yards per play out of the formation this week, and an eyebrow-raising 3.25 yards per carry. We’ll have to keep an eye on whether or not the Chiefs run defense in the nickel is starting to improve with some better tackling.
- The Chiefs showed their nickel defense with three down linemen and three linebackers on 3.6 percent of the snaps this week. On those snaps, the Jaguars gained 10.67 yards per play. Those numbers are a little questionable this week thanks to a single 30-yard pass over Kendall Fuller.
- The Chiefs dropped an outside linebacker on only 16.2 percent of the snaps in Week 5. That’s lower than the season average — and those plays did well this week, giving up 5.91 yards per play. On average, the quarterback threw the ball in 2.19 seconds with an outside linebacker dropping.
- The Chiefs sent extra rushers 11.9 percent of the time. After a season record last week, Bob Sutton returned to the mean with his blitz tendencies. These plays gave up 9.38 yards per play and on average, the quarterback got rid of the ball in 2.11 seconds. The Chiefs showed pressure, brought a rusher from the second level while dropping another rusher, ran a stunt or blitzed on 26.5 percent of the snaps, which is pretty normal for Sutton’s defense.
- The Chiefs rushed three players on TWO SNAPS. Sutton just isn’t dialing these up very often anymore. Those resulted in an average of 4.00 yards per play and an average time to throw of 2.22 seconds.
- The Chiefs rushed four players on 85.2 percent of the passing snaps. Those snaps resulted in a not-too-shabby 5.63 yards per play and an average time to throw of 2.77 seconds. The Chiefs also got pressure with a four-man rush on a staggering 18 plays this week.
- The Chiefs were in man coverage on 35.3 percent of the passing snaps. Those snaps resulted in 7.63 yards per play and an average time to throw of 2.53 seconds. Sutton is keeping offenses on their toes. Depending on the opponent, he’s swapping between man-heavy and zone-heavy schemes. They played press-man coverage 71.1 percent of the time with their corners and slot safeties.
- The Chiefs were in zone coverage 64.7 percent of the passing snaps. Those snaps resulted in a ridiculously good 5.15 yards per play and an average time to throw of 2.74 seconds. After a rocky start, the zone defense seems to be making inroads for the Chiefs. They showed a few match concepts again this week, and it paid off with effective coverage.
- The average time to throw this week was 2.67 seconds. When the Chiefs forced the throw under 2.5 seconds (31 plays), they allowed 5.35 yards per play. When the throw took longer than 2.5 seconds (29 plays), they allowed 8.10 yards per play. Blake Bortles tried especially hard to get the ball out quickly against the Chiefs pass rush — especially in the third and fourth quarters — but the main result was more inaccurate passes.
This is just a fantastic ID of the play by Chris Jones to recognize the blockers have peeled off, sinking back and picking off the pass. It's a great thing he did, too. Terrance Smith had three blockers converging on him for what would have been a MASSIVE gain. pic.twitter.com/bPQ3neYz2Y— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) October 9, 2018
There’s been lots of talk about Chris Jones getting ejected from the game this week, and that’s overshadowed his first half — which was pretty fantastic. That half was capped off by an incredible pick-six on this screen play.
Jones feels the double initially on his rush, so he attempts to split it while Dee Ford tries to counter inside and loses his footing. The Chiefs drop into Cover 3 Buzz in the secondary, leaving Terrance Smith responsible for the flat to the weak side of the formation.
The double on Jones releases him as the running back enters the flat, and it’s now a screen pass with three blockers out in front of the running back — with only Smith and a pursuing Ron Parker from the hook to beat. Jones sinks into space rather than rushing the quarterback and makes a great play on the ball.
If Jones doesn’t identify this screen when he does, this is a huge gain for the Jaguars in a situation where they needed momentum — after two previous possessions resulting in a red zone turnover on downs and a strip sack.
There’s been lots of talk about how this team isn’t stepping on a team’s throat when they’ve got them beat, but they certainly did this week.
It doesn't seem like much, but plays like this had the secondary flying this week. Scandrick drops in his zone, and Bortles sees the curl come open with Fuller blitzing. Scandrick closes & lays a big hit on the receiver for a PBU. That's a tone setter, and great to see this week. pic.twitter.com/9siNjCsApd— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) October 9, 2018
The tone on the defensive side of the ball was significantly different this week, and the Chiefs defense played with a definite edge. We saw the sacks, the taunting, the shoving, and Jones’ attempted Macho Man Randy Savage Atomic Elbow, but the secondary was a major tone-setter with their physical play.
Sutton has liked blitzing Kendall Fuller from the slot this season. While it hasn’t resulted in a sack yet, it has created some pressure and forced some throws.
On this play, Fuller blitzes, and the Chiefs drop into a Cover 2 shell. The Jaguars run a curl with their slot receiver, who has more space to work with now that Fuller is on the blitz. Bortles sees it and throws to the open receiver before Ford can drop to fill the zone. However, Orlando Scandrick is looking into the backfield and collapses on the curl, laying a giant hit right as the ball arrives, leaving Dede Westbrook on the ground with the ball a few feet away.
We’ve seen Scandrick unafraid to stick his nose in the play as a physical cornerback, but his energy and aggressiveness were obvious all over the secondary this week, with Steven Nelson, Jordan Lucas — and yes, even Ron Parker — making aggressive tackles and big hits all over the field. If this defense can play with this kind of aggressive mentality all season, it’s something that will start creeping into the game-planning for the opposition.
This isn't Chris Jones' best snap. Loses leverage immediately trying to swim over the RG and gets planted, blowing open the hole on a 3rd and 1.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) October 9, 2018
Williams does swim over the LG, but the FB in the backside B prevents him from gaining penetration. Hitchens eaten up by the OC. pic.twitter.com/JyhD4wExKC
One of Jones’ very few bad snaps this week, this shows how a single out-of-position player on the front can ripple through the front seven.
The Chiefs are in their 3-4 defense against the Jaguars 22 personnel. Jones tries to swim through the weak side B gap and loses leverage on the right guard, which results in him getting blown out of the gap and planted on the ground.
Next to him, Xavier Williams works across the face of the left guard and swims through the opposite B gap, but the fullback is there to prevent him from gaining real penetration and making a play.
On the second level, Reggie Ragland is keying off of the fullback, so he ends up stacked in the strong side B behind Williams. Anthony Hitchens is left one-on-one with the climbing center, and he can’t slip the block. The running back is into the secondary untouched.
Something you may have missed
Something you may have missed: Complimentary football. Ford gets a little too far upfield, leaving the avenue for the RB to get to the edge. However, Ragland crashes down and re-sets the edge. His momentum carries him past the tackle, but Nnadi cleans it up in pursuit. pic.twitter.com/OseokBKSH9— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) October 9, 2018
For my money, the biggest improvement this week was the team funneling to the ball and helping to bring down the carrier.
Too often this season, we’ve seen a single defender in the gap unable to make a play, and that turns into big yardage. Sutton even mentioned the problem in his press conference last week, saying that in the Denver Broncos game alone, they had four plays go for 10 or more yards that should have been stopped for loss or no gain.
This week, that definitely changed with some complimentary football.
Ford had a great game, but he was teed off on getting upfield and past the tackle on a couple of run plays to his side of the field.
This play was one of those, leaving an avenue for the running back to get to the outside. The Chiefs are in their nickel defense, and the Jaguars are in 11 personnel. Bortles hands the ball off on an outside zone run. Allen Bailey occupies both the right guard and the center, preventing the right guard from getting to the second level to block Ragland.
Ragland crashes down and re-sets the edge for Ford, turning the running back inside. Derrick Nnadi identifies the run and moves laterally across the back side of the formation in pursuit, knifing under the block from the left tackle. Ragland isn’t able to make a tackle here, but his reset of the edge — and Nnadi’s pursuit — result in a minimal gain.
In previous weeks, this play might have gotten well into the secondary untouched. However, good agility from Bailey to move laterally with the play, good recognition by Ragland to re-set the edge, and great pursuit by Nnadi results in a 1-yard gain instead of an easy first down run.
The bottom line
I said last week that the Chiefs defense needed to hit the reset button and try to fix some of the execution issues that they had in the first four weeks. They certainly did that, playing well within the scheme — and with significantly more aggression that we’ve seen so far this year.
Perhaps the most encouraging sign for this defense is the amount of depth snaps the Chiefs were able to get without a significant drop in production. Jordan Lucas stepped in and performed fantastically, looking very comfortable as the deep safety and coming up against the run.
Tanoh Kpassagnon got a little dinged up, but was able to see more reps against a live offense. And yes, even Breeland Speaks had a few pressures at the end of the game in substitute duty.
For the first time in a while, losing platers like Justin Houston, Ford, Jones, Eric Murray, and Armani Watts during the game didn’t make the task before the Chiefs defense seem insurmountable.
The Jaguars offense — and Bortles in particular — weren’t exactly a stiff test this week, and I’ve heard that as the excuse for why the defense looked good.
But this wasn’t just Bortles gifting the Chiefs the ball. The pass rush got home this week. The secondary didn’t have major blown coverages. The tackling was better. This Chiefs defense should be beating up on a bad offense because that’s what good defenses do.
It will be easy to write off the defense if the team reverts to its early-season self again when up against a good New England Patriots offense on Sunday night. However, I saw progress on this defense that went well beyond how poor the Jacksonville offense played. If they are able to show up and play with this attitude and execution on a week-to-week basis, we still won’t be talking about an elite defense — but we might be talking about a defense that climbs into the top half of the league by the end of the year.
With the what the Chiefs have on the other side of the ball, that might be all they need to be.