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Kansas City Chiefs defensive trends and tabulation for Week 7

The Chiefs defense had an impressive week against the Bengals, but where did they perform best?

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no place like home for the Kansas City Chiefs defense.

After getting shelled two weeks ago, the Chiefs faced a stern test against a Cincinnati Bengals team that was sixth in the league in scoring coming into Sunday Night Football.

And the Chiefs defense shut. them. down.

A 10-point, 239-yard performance from the defense allowed the Chiefs to cruise to victory under the lights at home. Bob Sutton dusted off the Good Playbook and showcased some tendency-breakers, some new personnel packages, and a great game plan 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 succeeded and the spots that they struggled. We’ll talk about what Sutton did to shut down the Bengals offense, and where we can expect to see some more of the new personnel packages going forward.

The numbers

Quarter/Down/Distance - Week 7

- 2018 Yards/Play 2018 Success Wk 7 Yards/Play Wk 7 Success
- 2018 Yards/Play 2018 Success Wk 7 Yards/Play Wk 7 Success
Q1 5.28 58.72% 3.85 61.54%
Q2 6.81 45.08% 5.86 57.14%
Q2-Under 2:00 5.98 51.22% 1.00 100.00%
Q3 6.80 45.74% 3.00 69.23%
Q4 6.08 53.90% 5.08 33.33%
Q4-Under 2:00 7.16 51.61% 4.75 25.00%
1st Down 7.00 48.32% 6.38 54.17%
2nd Down 6.05 47.95% 4.53 58.82%
3rd Down 4.16 66.67% 0.18 63.64%
4th Down 6.71 42.86% N/A N/A
Yds remain 0-3 3.90 39.44% 1.25 50.00%
Yds remain 4-6 5.71 47.46% 0.50 87.50%
Yds remain 7-10 6.74 51.59% 4.39 57.58%
Yds remain 11+ 7.20 77.14% 24.33 0.00%

By breaking these numbers out by quarter, down and distance — and comparing the Week 7 numbers to the rest of the season — we can easily see the Chiefs performed above their season averages in almost every category. They continued to play well in the first quarter and on third downs, and they vastly improved their third quarter and medium-yardage defense.

The only two places where they were significantly below the season average were their fourth-quarter defense — particularly under two minutes, when the backups were in — and their long yardage situations.

Also this week, the Chiefs saw three situations where the defense had forced 11+ yards to gain a first down, and on every single one, they allowed the first down. It’s something to monitor going forward, because the Chiefs had been putting forth good numbers in these situations before this week.

Defensive Formation - Week 7

- 2018 % 2018 Avg 2018 Success Week 7 % Week 7 YPP Week 7 Success
- 2018 % 2018 Avg 2018 Success Week 7 % Week 7 YPP Week 7 Success
1-4 1.57% 8.75 62.50% 0.00% N/A N/A
2-3 11.00% 4.64 58.93% 21.05% 0.42 80.00%
2-4 59.72% 6.11 48.68% 70.18% 5.10 51.35%
3-3 2.55% 3.38 30.77% 1.75% 3.00 0.00%
3-4 22.79% 6.33 41.38% 3.51% 10.00 50.00%
4-3 0.98% 0.00 60.00% 3.51% 0.00 100.00%
4-4 0.98% 0.20 60.00% 0.00% N/A N/A

The Chiefs ran significantly more of their dime defense this week than they have this season. It performed very well, and it was the featured defense of a player that many fans have been clamoring for: Dorian O’Daniel.

Sutton specifically installed the dime package for O’Daniel this week, taking linebackers Anthony Hitchens and Reggie Ragland off the field in the nickel and replacing them with O’Daniel and safety Eric Murray. These snaps were coming before the injury to Terrance Smith, and accounted for 75 percent of O’Daniel’s snaps without the garbage time snaps on the final drive of the game.

The Bengals were primarily in 11 personnel this week, so the Chiefs 3-4 defense was not prevalent, and the 4-3 snaps were all goal-line defensive snaps.

Rush Numbers - Week 7

- 2018 % 2018 Avg 2018 Success Week 7 % Week 7 YPP Week 7 Success
- 2018 % 2018 Avg 2018 Success Week 7 % Week 7 YPP Week 7 Success
Rush 3 14.61% 5.58 48.08% 12.82% 1.80 60.00%
Rush 4 72.19% 6.38 49.81% 84.62% 5.03 53.33%
Rush 5-6 12.92% 6.13 52.17% 2.56% 0.00 100.00%

The Chiefs blitzed exactly once on Sunday night, relying on their three- and four-man rushes to do the damage. While the pressure put on the quarterback wasn’t the same as we’ve seen in some previous blitz-heavy weeks, the Chiefs defense was able to push Andy Dalton off his spot often enough to disrupt timing and create problems.

Conversely, the Chiefs dropped an outside linebacker into coverage 23.1 percent of the time this week, resulting in 3.2 yards per play and a 66.7 percent success rate. The Chiefs clearly were comfortable not bringing numbers against Dalton, and it worked.

Coverages - Week 7

- 2018 % 2018 Avg 2018 Success Week 7 % Week 7 YPP Week 7 Success
- 2018 % 2018 Avg 2018 Success Week 7 % Week 7 YPP Week 7 Success
Man 54.21% 6.29 50.78% 66.67% 5.04 50.00%
Zone 44.94% 6.18 49.38% 33.33% 3.38 53.85%

On the surface, this seems like a little more balanced attack by the Chiefs defense than some heavier zone or man weeks we’ve seen lately.

However, the Chiefs utilized split safeties with man underneath — Cover 2 man or Cover 5 — 24 percent of the time this week, with the Chiefs in off-man coverage 45.2 percent of the time. That’s a much different look than the season averages, when the Chiefs were running Cover 2 man seven percent of the time and press man 73.6 percent of the time.

These Cover 2 man looks with the corners in off coverage — or bailing on the snap — were so far off the beaten path for the Chiefs defense that Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green remarked on it after the game, saying it was something the Chiefs hadn’t shown on tape.

Prior to this week, the majority times the Chiefs corners bailed, they did so to drop into a Cover 3 shell. So Sutton added some confusion to the mix by bailing initially and then collapsing on receivers underneath.

That’s yet another curveball thrown by the Chiefs beleaguered defensive coordinator.

Something good

Jordan Lucas may have only made his way onto the field due to injury, but he’s made quite the impression in the last two and a half games. While he possesses great range in coverage, it’s his run defense that might be the most impressive part of his game to this point. Lucas routinely takes the right angles and fills gaps in run support — sometimes beating the Chiefs inside linebackers to the point of attack.

With the versatility that Sutton asks of his linebackers, Lucas’ willingness to attack and fill in run support — coupled with his good man coverage, deep range, and good attack angles — make him a must-start for this Chiefs defense right now. With Daniel Sorensen and Eric Berry potentially entering the fray in the near future, one of the Chiefs’ biggest early-season defensive weaknesses might turn into one of its biggest strengths.

Breeland Speaks has been thrust into a starting role over the past two weeks with injuries to Justin Houston and Tanoh Kpassagnon. While he has shown moments where he is still learning the game and identifying the next step in his process, there have been glimpses of ways that the Chiefs can help set him up to win.

Speaks does not bend or corner particularly well; that’s been one of the biggest criticisms he’s had to date. However, the Chiefs have found that by lining him up as a wide-nine defender and asking him to take a direct angle at the offensive tackle’s outside shoulder — rather than having to bend and turn — he can create a little pressure. He does so here, moving Dalton off his spot.

General Manager Brett Veach would be happy to see both his second round pick and his late third round pick — O’Daniel — making a play on this snap to stop the Bengals offense.

Speaking of O’Daniel...

Of course we were going to talk about the rookie linebacker.

As I mentioned in the numbers section, Sutton was planning to give O’Daniel reps this week. After a dismal performance in the dime defense last week against the Patriots, Sutton put in an install for O’Daniel as the lone off-ball linebacker in the Chiefs dime package. He played 12 snaps out of the dime defense — compared to the 4 snaps he had replacing Smith after his injury — prior to the final drive, when all of the backups were in the game.

Out of the dime, O’Daniel showcased the speed and range that made so many of us want him on the field. His ability to beat second-level offensive lineman to a stretch run with a proper angle, the speed to get out in front of a screen play and blow it up in the backfield — or even just the range to cover the running back in the flat — were welcome sights for sore eyes.

However, he still showed deficiencies reading gaps on interior runs and reacting to the play, hesitating more than we’ve even seen Hitchens and Ragland hesitate this season.

The Chiefs are also asking him to be in man coverage only — something in which he’s shown a proficiency — because he’s not been good in his limited zone responsibilities. Basically, when he’s on the field, the offense can expect the Chiefs to be in man coverage, and that they can rush through the middle. From a schematic point of view, that’s not ideal.

However, Sutton used O’Daniel primarily on second and third downs with medium-to-long distances this week — clear passing downs — and it paid dividends. More reps for O’Daniel should not only help him get a feel for various aspects of the defense and help the game slow down in some of the spots where he still struggles, it should also give the Chiefs defense a stronger dime defense that they can lean on.

Something bad

As I mentioned in my advanced scouting article last week, the Bengals love to attack the middle of the field with Green. This week was no exception, and they took advantage of one of the Chiefs’ biggest issues: the weakness they’ve shown over the middle of the field.

Cornerback Kendall Fuller allows a free release on this play — something the Chiefs did a lot this week — and is in trail on Green’s route, unable to keep up. Hitchens reacts late to Green and attempts to robs the route in his hook zone as long as possible, but Dalton is able to hit Green as he comes open. To this point, it’s a situation where an elite wide receiver and a good quarterback are able to combine for a good play against some mediocre play in the middle of the Chiefs defense.

Ron Parker is the lone deep safety. He sees the pass, goes to attack the receiver at the sticks, but takes a horrible angle toward Green. Instead of a stop at the sticks, Parker ends up chasing the play, allowing a gain of fifteen turn into a gain of thirty.

Fuller’s inability to run with the route, Hitchens late reaction, and Parker’s poor angle all combined to increase the yardage gained on this good play by the Bengals offense. These plays happen routinely over the middle of the Chiefs defense. To this point, it’s clearly their Achilles heel.

Something you may have missed

Dee Ford is having himself a great year on the Chiefs defense. The knock on Ford has always been his run defense — and for good reason. The Chiefs still pull him off the field in some obvious short yardage situations. This week, Frank Zombo took his snaps in these plays.

However, Ford has been steadily improving his play recognition this season. We’ve seen multiple stops coming across the back side of the formation unblocked as the run goes away from him — but as shown above, he’s also improving when offenses run toward him.

In the past, Ford may have gotten too far upfield — or be shoved clear out of the play by a pulling guard — in this kind of play, but in this case, he recognizes the run, stonewalls the guard to set a hard edge, and forces the back to cut back inside. This cut and subsequent angle change causes the back to lose his ability to attack the outside, and that allows Hitchens to take a great angle to come up with a stop.

Ragland has had some struggles this year — particularly in coverage — but he’s shown more and more glimpses of his 2017 self over the past three weeks. Against the run, he made several plays this week; this one is a great one.

Lining up over the center, Ragland changes the blocking responsibilities for the Bengals offensive line. Off the snap, the center has to punch on Ragland before the right guard reaches to block him. Ragland is able to engage and shed both linemen to work back to the running back in the gap — which is no small feat for an inside linebacker.

Allen Bailey also does well to shed the left guard and move laterally to the back, helping Ragland to close it. The result is a gain of zero on a second and one play.

The bottom line

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

One week after getting a clown suit put on him, Bob Sutton coached a spectacular game against the Bengals.

Employing tendency-breakers to feint zone coverage and convert to man, bracketing Green in the second half, attacking the weak right side of the Bengals offensive line with multiple pass rushers, and finally putting together an install for a rookie coverage linebacker, it’s difficult to find holes in Sutton’s game plan this week.

The players also executed well, tackling better — although it’s not fixed — handling their coverage responsibilities better and dominating the line of scrimmage more than we’ve seen before this week.

I said last week that there’s reason to hope this defense can turn around, because the team shuffled in a lot of players at the beginning of the season — and some of the new players have had only six weeks to learn the full system. This week we saw growth and development. We saw more than just glimpses of understanding the system and playing within it. We also saw a defensive coordinator that wasn’t afraid to try things.

If the Chiefs defense is going to truly improve — and not just against Blake Bortles — then they’ve got to embrace all of the above. Becoming more natural within the system (Hitchens), understanding where the guy next to you is going to be (Ragland), playing with a consistently high motor (Speaks), playing with energy and speed (Lucas and O’Daniel), and not being afraid to let ‘em swing and try something new (Sutton) are showing to be the recipes for success for this defense.

If the Chiefs can replicate this performance over the next three weeks against some struggling offenses, they just might be able to get into the rhythm they need to be in before they enter the home stretch.

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