Well, that sucked.
Playing on a big stage in a big game in a tough stadium, the Kansas City Chiefs defense had a really bad performance against the New England Patriots that finally cost the team a game. They gave up 500 yards, 43 points, and 36 minutes of possession to a good offense.
They were bad, and they should feel bad.
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 struggled, and the few moments where they found success. This week, I’ve added a new metric to the equation — success rate!
A hat tip here to AP user HatCreekCattleCmpny for this suggestion. Success rate is defined as follows: holding the opponent to less than 45 percent of the required yards to gain a new set of downs or touchdown on first down, 60 percent of the remaining yards on second down, and 100 percent of the remaining yards on third or fourth down.
This metric helps show the situational successes that a team may have. For instance, if the opposition is in a third-and-16 situation — and the Chiefs allow eight — it may skew some of their yards-per-play statistics, but it’s a success for the defense to hold the offense and get off the field. It also happens to be what Football Outsiders DVOA statistic starts with when determining success on a given play — just without all of their excellent weighted measures.
With that, let’s dive in and see where the Chiefs got beat up this week!
- The Chiefs lined up in their base 3-4 formation 35.1 percent of the time — usually against the Patriots 21, 22, and 23 personnel. In those snaps, the opposition gained 5.07 yards per play and the defense had a 50 percent success rate.
- The Chiefs lined up in their nickel defense with two down linemen and four linebackers an equal amount for the first time of the year — 35.1 percent of the time. They allowed 6.56 yards per play out of the formation this week. Their success rate was poor, succeeding on only 40.7 percent of their snaps.
- The Chiefs showed their dime defense with two down linemen and three linebackers on a season-high 20.8 percent of the snaps this week. On those snaps, the Patriots gained 6.94 yards per play, and the Chiefs had a dismal 46.5 percent success rate out of the formation.
- The Chiefs dropped an outside linebacker on 27.8 percent of the snaps in Week 6.That’s to be expected with the previous ways that Bob Sutton has stopped the Patriots. The Chiefs gave up 6.68 yards per play and allowed a better-than-average 52.3 percent success rate.
- The Chiefs sent extra rushers 14.6 percent of the time. These plays gave up jaw-dropping 0.5 yards per play and on average, the quarterback got rid of the ball in 2.12 seconds. Naturally, with those kind of numbers, the Chiefs had a 100 percent success rate.
- The Chiefs rushed three players on 29.3 percent of their passing snaps. Those resulted in an average of 4.00 yards per play and an average time to throw of 2.35 seconds. These also fared pretty well, with a success rate of 63.6 percent.
- The Chiefs rushed four players on 56.1 percent of the passing snaps. Those snaps resulted in an abysmal 10.3 yards per play and an average time to throw of 2.36 seconds. This is where the Chiefs managed to fail — after a good week rushing the passer with four players in Week 5 — attaining a 40.9 percent success rate.
- The Chiefs were in man coverage on a whopping 85.4 percent of the passing snaps. Those snaps resulted in 7.54 yards per play. The Chiefs were incredibly man-heavy this week, after going zone-heavy in Week 5. The had success on a low 45.7 percent of their man coverage snaps. They played press-man coverage with their corners and slot safeties 81 percent of the time.
- The Chiefs were in zone coverage 14.6 percent of the passing snaps. Those snaps resulted in another great four yards per play, and a success rate of 66.7 percent. Once again, they showed their match concepts in their limited zone snaps.
- The average time to throw this week was 2.22 seconds — which is very quick. When the Chiefs forced the throw under 2.5 seconds, they allowed 9.4 yards per play with a 40 percent success rate. When the throw took longer than 2.5 seconds, they allowed 6.1 yards per play with a 55.6 percent success rate. With Tom Brady being an “on-time” thrower, it’s not a major surprise that the Chiefs had more success when he was forced to hold onto the ball longer this week.
This strip sack gave the Chiefs life, and it's an excellent job by the D. It's a Tampa 2 shell with both OLB's in coverage, rushing 3. Hitchens carries the TE well, & Scandrick takes the out by Edelman. After it becomes a scramble drill, Speaks rushes and knocks the ball loose. pic.twitter.com/EmjumasCqZ— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) October 16, 2018
There wasn’t much in the way of good this week, but this was one of the few plays that the Chiefs were able to help out their offense.
The Chiefs are in their Tampa 2 shell and the Patriots attack the seam with the strong number three receiver. Anthony Hitchens does well to carry him to the safety help (Jordan Lucas over the top) while Ron Parker drops to take the strong number one receiver on the vertical. Orlando Scandrick denies the out route by Julian Edelman, and Breeland Speaks drops with Steven Nelson to take away Rob Gronkowski.
Initially, Tom Brady has nowhere to go, and the three-man rush — with both outside linebackers in coverage — isn’t getting anywhere. Brady initiates the scramble drill, and upon seeing this, the coverage shifts to take away James White while Dee Ford and Breeland Speaks both collapse to rush the passer. Ford just misses Brady in the pocket, and Speaks comes in with Reggie Ragland to force a fumble on the sack.
This is just fantastic overall play by the entire defense, forcing a coverage strip-sack from a linebacker who initially was dropped into a zone.
This is absolutely inexcusable alignment by Bob Sutton on a 3rd and 2 early in the third quarter. New England brings out 11 personnel, and on third and short, Sutton calls for the dime defense, with both DT's in a wide alignment. The LB's are responsible for the interior gaps. pic.twitter.com/ASVwMrNPD5— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) October 16, 2018
This is absolutely disgusting. The Chiefs have done the work of getting the Patriots to third-and-short early in the third quarter. They’ve been poor thus far, but this is a good opportunity to get a stop and try to force a rare (and as it turns out this week, nonexistent) Patriots punt.
Then Bob Sutton steps in and doesn’t even give his players a good chance at it.
This is a dime defense. On third-and-short, with tons of time left in the game and down only eight points. Not only is it a dime defense with a light box, but both Chris Jones and Allen Bailey have been lined up in a wide alignment with Ford, Speaks, and Hitchens standing over the interior gaps.
We’ve seen this formation before, and I noted it in the Los Angeles Chargers game in Week 1 as a good move — but on third-and-long.
Naturally, Brady shifts White into the backfield and runs the ball right up the gut at the Chiefs linebackers. Ford and Speaks don’t do a particularly great job attacking the B gaps, but Hitchens doesn’t stand a chance trying to cover both A gaps while working in a phone booth against the Patriots center.
White gains 10 yards on this play. It’s almost entirely on alignment. That’s inexcusable.
Lucas is lined up 8 yards deep with Fuller underneath. The strong 2 runs a vertical route from the slot while the 3 leaks out into the flat. Fuller switches. Lucas doesn't. They're not on the same page, and it's a wide open receiver. pic.twitter.com/eiVNK5ctSt— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) October 17, 2018
Here’s a play where the scheme was good, but the execution was poor. Lucas has been fantastic in relief duty over the past game and a half, and he definitely deserves a starting spot for the Chiefs — even with a healthy secondary. However, this play highlights the lack of playing time the Chiefs secondary has had together — and a mistake involving Lucas.
Lucas is lined up eight yards off the line of scrimmage opposite the strong three, while Kendall Fuller is lined up opposite the strong two. The strong three runs a circle motion into the backfield and leaks out into the flat off the snap. Fuller makes a switch to cover the strong three in the flat — being the up man — and passes the vertical route of the strong two to Lucas.
Unfortunately Lucas doesn’t expect the switch — either due to lack of communication between the two players or a lack of understanding of the coverage call — and the strong two has a wide open reception down to the Chiefs six-yard line.
The Gronk pass that iced it. After chipping him for a fair bit of the half, New England lines Gronk up as the strong 2, away from Speaks. Shaw is 1v1 on Gronk with no help, b/c the Chiefs are in C1 and Lucas is on White, as he's the only one who has effectively covered him. pic.twitter.com/hQrKKuRgU9— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) October 17, 2018
And now we’ve arrived at the granddaddy of them all — the play that squashed the last bit of hope the Chiefs had to come back.
Throughout the second half, Sutton had put Speaks opposite Rob Gronkowski when backup-to-the-backup safety Josh Shaw was in man coverage against him, so that Speaks could chip him. It was a strategy that worked. Brady was getting the ball out too quickly for Speaks’ limited pass rush ability to affect the play, so why not put Speaks in a position to affect the play another way?
The Patriots recognized this trend, and on the final drive of the game, they lined up Gronkowski out as the strong two, forcing a schematic advantage. Sutton didn’t have Speaks follow Gronkowski out wide to chip him, opting instead for him to be in a short zone — one that was taking away roughly the same area of the field as Hitchens’ short zone.
Since the Chiefs are in Cover 1 with Lucas spun down into the box — as he was the only person able to cover White all day — Shaw’s over-the-top help is Parker in the center of the field. As I’ve stated multiple times this season, Parker no longer has the range to cover wide from a deep safety position. Once Gronkowski gets an outside release, Shaw is done.
Sutton figured out a way to slow down the Patriots’ two best weapons in the second half by using Lucas on White, and by constantly chipping Gronkowski. But on this play, instead of instructing a player to follow Gronkowski to chip — especially against an overloaded formation — he had two players in a redundant zone. While the Patriots would likely recognize the light box and shift to a run play, the Chiefs would still be hat-for-hat on a probable short run play, rather than having a sixth-string safety one-on-one against one of the best tight ends in the league.
Something you may have missed
Something you may have missed: The Chiefs run defense was poor this weekend, but this is a very nice play on one of Zombo's few snaps. The Pats run Power, and Zombo stacks the pulling guard, setting the edge. Nnadi stands up the OC, finds the RB, then sheds for the stop. pic.twitter.com/puwEzgPQI4— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) October 16, 2018
Frank Zombo didn’t play much this week, but he made this snap count.
Here, the Patriots run power, with a guard pulling to block the edge defender. Zombo steps into the block and stacks the guard, setting a hard edge and forcing the running back to make a cut back inside. Meanwhile, Derrick Nnadi anchors against the center, peeks around to find the running back, then tosses the offensive lineman aside to pursue.
The Patriots were rolling down the field on this drive, and the Chiefs defense was able to hold them to a field goal, due in no small part to this early-down stop that went unnoticed.
The bottom line
This week showcased some absolutely mind-numbing schematic decisions by the defensive coordinator and some horrid execution by the players.
But there is no magic bullet to fix this Chiefs defense.
The bottom line
There have been a lot of calls for Sutton’s job this week — and those calls are not without merit. But firing Bob at this point in the season isn’t going to cure poor tackling at every level of the defense. Firing Sutton doesn’t magically make the Chiefs’ best coverage linebacker’s putrid 28.9 percent success rate in coverage improve. And firing Sutton definitely doesn’t get Justin Houston and Eric Berry on the field — and playing up to their massive contracts.
This defense very clearly is missing a leader — either on or off the field. They seem to be rudderless, and in need of some fire and attitude — something that General Manager Brett Veach thought he’d brought in through his free agent and draft acquisitions. Even with those acquisitions, this team still doesn’t have a foundation — a go-to when times are tough — that they can lean on to get things right again.
Quite frankly, the defensive mentality appears to be soft. Does Eric Berry’s return fix that mentality? It certainly doesn’t hurt.
Are there moves that Veach can make to try to shore up a soft interior — particularly in pass coverage? Definitely.
Is it time to panic and make desperation moves for just this year? I contend that we’re not there just yet.
This defense has had six weeks to play together — and this week, they leaned on three safeties that weren’t on the roster when the preseason began.
The inside linebackers look slow to diagnose and react — something we should probably expect from two players who haven’t played together before this year, and one who is being asked to handle a completely different set of gap responsibilities than he has in prior seasons.
The secondary is still practically learning each other’s names — let alone the full array of responsibilities that have to flow between them.
And the two highest-paid premium players the Chiefs have on the defensive side of the ball are injured.
There’s reason to hope that this Chiefs defense can turn around, and be at least mediocre. It’s not unfathomable to think that with time on the field together — and a couple more healthy bodies — this team could come up with the requisite number of stops to allow the high-flying offense to win games big.
Unfortunately, in the meantime, we’re stuck with this poor excuse of a defense — a defense that lacks an identity.