The Kansas City Chiefs defense, while suspect most of the year, has been one of the most productive and consistent pass rush units in the NFL. Heading into the season, this may not have been an outrageous thought with the thought that Justin Houston and Chris Jones would be having monster seasons carrying the load.
Both Jones and Houston have had good seasons to this point but Dee Ford has been the one stealing the show. This past week against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Ford not only needed some help, as both Houston and Jones left the game early, but he needed someone to take on the burden when he too exited the game early with an ejection.
These circumstances, along with a dinged up Tanoh Kpassagnon, led to Breeland Speaks seeing by far his most snaps on the year.
While the pass-rush loop down in the AP Laboratory is almost always continuously on Dee Ford (much to Kent’s chagrin), this week was time for Breeland Speaks to get on the main screen.
Taking over for Justin Houston in the second quarter and getting the majority of the snaps with Kpassagnon also limited due to an injury, Speaks nearly doubled his snap count for the entire year in this game.
Which led to the perfect time to put him under the microscope and try to dig deep into his film and look at where he’s winning, what he’s improving on, and if any weaknesses are coming up.
Breeland Speaks - EDGE
Speaks is a young player still in the midst of a positional change, going from DT to DE to OLB over the past three years, so it’s somewhat unfair to be overly critical of him at this point, but sometimes his traits don’t lend to a ton of promise. Throughout the offseason and even early parts of the season, Speaks looked like a stiff, lumbering pass rusher that really didn’t show any moves outside of a bull rush and really looked out of place when moving in space.
Good chop with a little outside shuffle from Speaks. Coming from the Wide 9 may help him turn the corner with a little less harsh of an angle to the QB. pic.twitter.com/qt3RPGhGY9— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) October 9, 2018
Working out from the wide-9 alignment may be a good choice for Speaks moving forward, as it allows him to have a softer angle to turn once he does get the corner. He gets a good get-off the line, something that is definitely not consistent and even shows some quick footwork before he slides outside while chopping with his outside hand. He wins the edge pretty quickly and easily here and does turn the corner back up to the quarterback but just simply can’t tighten it up all the way.
This is the kinda snap you want to see from Speaks to give you promise. Solid get off, compact slap/club with a little lateral step. Just hope that reps and maybe some conditioning allow him to flip his hips around that corner faster. pic.twitter.com/nLo67Citwf— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) October 9, 2018
The little lateral shuffle/hop and outside chop is Speaks counter move to his bull rush right now, and while the primary and secondary moves there need to be switched, it’s nice to see both of them.
Speaks isn’t going to be a speed rusher, but if he can continue to clean up this chop and lateral skip move to the point that offensive tackles expect it rather than the bull rush, he can become much more effective going forward.
That was good.
As mentioned, Speaks is a power rusher rather than a speed rusher and he’s going to be working through half-man a lot more than he’s going to be working around a blocker.
Up until this point, Speaks had struggled to translate his power and strength into success as a pass rusher due to a lack of setting up his bull rush and offensive tackles dropping their anchor expecting it.
Good job planting and transitioning into a bull rush by Breeland Speaks. If he punches and extends his arms here he has a sack but the raw power is impressive. LT for Jax at this point isn't great but he's stout and powerful. pic.twitter.com/c5qdXsQV2r— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) October 9, 2018
Speaks comes off the ball attacking up the arc which gives the idea that he’s going for the chop around the edge again but then he plants his outside foot in the ground and leans into the offensive tackle while driving through his inside shoulder. He catches the tackle with his post foot moving and forces the tackle to open his gait to the inside towards the quarterback.
The flash of the outside move transitioning into the power rush was fantastic, and now we just need Speaks to conclude the move with a finish and punch-extend his arms to get clean of the block.
Why to be skeptical
The ability, or lack thereof, to turn even a mildly tight corner is something that Speaks has to work on. Even when he wins around the corner, he really has to dial it down and turn wide to get back to the QB, which is always going to result in late pressures rather than sacks.
The glimmer of hope is that he can lose some weight next offseason and get into EDGE shape which gives hips a little more flexibility. Beyond just the corner, Speaks also has to learn how to attack blockers in less predictable ways.
Second time this game that a quick set and early punch has floored Speaks. He kinda has one move right now that OTs are able to time up at times, and when they catch him leaning into the long arm before the big club, it's not good. pic.twitter.com/LRATwrYbxD— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) October 9, 2018
This has been a problem for Speaks all year—getting knocked to the ground because his pass rush plan is the same every snap: press the outside shoulder with a bull or chop. Good tackles have slapped his hands down and pancaked him and even a third-string left tackle, a backup right guard playing LT, is able to short set and punch him as he leans in to attack that outside shoulder and knock him over.
Tackles sit down and anchor against him so often because of his lack of pass rush diversity that he starts leaning and when they slap his hands down or quick-set him, they catch him all kinds off balance.
The bottom line
Similar to Armani Watts (before he got hurt), Speaks had seen a share of snaps already this season before the injuries across the defensive line forced him into even more playing time.
Fortunately for Speaks, his health seems to be good, knock on wood, for now and it’s a good thing because Justin Houston may be out for more games and Nate Orchard and Frank Zombo are not solutions across from Dee Ford. Whether Speaks is ready or not, the coaching staff has made it very clear that he is going to play and get plenty of run during games.
The best take-home message from this game is that Breeland Speaks has a path to success, we saw it come to fruition in the fourth quarter.
Speaks’ intensity and power was able to wear down the Jaguars’ left tackle (granted, he was a third-string OT) to the point that Speaks was able to outwork him to the edge routinely.
Going forward, you would like to see him build on the ability to win against poor competition later in games and flash more often early in the game against starting caliber players.
To get to that point, he may still need to lose some weight in order for him to be able to turn corners tighter and slip under OT’s hands a little cleaner. Speaks could also benefit from continuing to add pass rush moves to his belt, so that he’s not as predictable with the same move, but stacking a few more games together like this one will continue to trend his stock up going forward.