Normally I’d mention the last few performances the Kansas City Chiefs and the Los Angeles Rams, and start to build anticipation for the game.
This week is different.
Not only is the game on Monday Night Football, but it’s also a game that’s we’ve talked about all year. There is no need to use up more bandwidth up-selling the game — and its importance so let’s just save the extra words for the game plan.
As I’m sure you know, the Rams are a darn good football team, and this is going to be a tough game.
So in this no-nonsense manner, let’s get down to the Arrowhead Pride Laboratory — where Pete and Kent have had me locked up all week — and get this game plan rolled out!
Like most teams, the Rams have embraced the new age of football, and play with two or fewer linebackers most plays. Putting more defensive backs on the field allows more speed behind their defensive line to cover more of the field.
The front seven employed by the Rams is ever-changing. When they go against heavy formations (21 or 12 personnel) they’ll play with three down linemen and four linebackers — but when facing lighter, more traditional formations (11 personnel) they’ll flip the first two levels, playing with four down linemen and only one or two linebackers.
It’s also worth noting that Mark Barron plays almost exclusively at linebacker — but like Deone Bucannon of the Arizona Cardinals last week, he’s more of a safety than linebacker. The Rams prefer to bring on a cornerback for their nickel package rather than a safety — and even do the same for their dime package. Most teams prefer to utilize more safeties to help against the run and tight ends, but since Barron is already on the field, he essentially just becomes the third safety while a cornerback pops into the slot.
The Rams pass defense starts with Aaron Donald and their pass rush up front. Donald is a complete game-wrecker. At least two players must account for him on every play — two offensive linemen, an offensive lineman and a running back, or simply the quarterback acknowledging him and moving accordingly. Ndamukong Suh and Michael Brockers are a bit less consistent as pass rushers, so the addition of Dante Fowler provided another one-on-one pass rush threat,
The Rams coverage isn’t static but does heavily rely on man-to-man coverage. Last week, the Rams shifted to more zone coverage — still ultimately running more man than zone — to help ease some of the issues they’ve had on the back end. Their coverage shell is often two deep safeties, but one will align closer to the line of scrimmage in (or near) the robber hole. That safety — as well as one of the underneath man defenders — is also given a high-low tag. This essentially means this safety has dual coverage responsibilities, and the underneath defender is not in pure man coverage — even if it looks like they should be.
They like to mix up press and off-man coverage often, but do prefer pressing the X receiver off the line of scrimmage as often as possible. For much of the year, the Rams cover corners have struggled dealing with both size and speed. But as other teams have found, relying heavily on zone coverage against the Chiefs has proven to be a bad idea.
The Rams run defense has been relatively poor this year, but it takes a certain kind of team to take advantage of them. The skill and penetrating ability of their front can really disrupt the run and force negative plays. But breaking beyond that initial surge often leaves fewer (and smaller) bodies to get by. If a team is okay with handling an occasional loss of yardage, they can stick with the run; the poor-tackling Rams can definitely be exploited on the ground.
How the Chiefs win
Because of their pure talent and ability on nearly every level, the Rams defense definitely presents a big challenge for the Chiefs offense. Lately, however, there have been plenty of teams able to take advantage of them. In order for the Chiefs to join them, they will have to attack the Rams on multiple levels.
If they are hoping to keep up with the Rams offense, the Chiefs will need to attack downfield and pick up big plays. They can do this by going after the Rams cornerbacks — especially Marcus Peters — with double moves, or simply use speed to get behind their safeties, who often get caught looking. On the outside, the Chiefs should use double moves — especially out of the X receiver position — and because the Rams often leave the middle of the field open, run seam and post routes out of the slot to threaten it. In addition, the Chiefs need to force linebackers (Barron included) to cover vertically by manipulating alignments and using motion to get favorable matchups.
To help set up these deeper shots — and get the time to attack downfield — the Chiefs will need to run the ball successfully. There will be lumps along the way, but the Chiefs will need to stick with it and find the chunk runs. Slight misdirections, draws and quick counters — along with running inside zone at the one-technique — should have success against the Rams. Equally helpful will be the quick passing game; three- and five-step drops that quickly get the ball to the receiver in space will get yards after the catch.
Chris Conley spoke this week about how important it is for the WRs to get in and out of breaks in the quick passing game and I couldn't agree more. The Rams will challenge the Chiefs WRs who will need to win early to help slow down the Rams pass rush. pic.twitter.com/qVIL274fQI— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) November 18, 2018
The Chiefs will need to execute in the short game to help open up the rest of their playbook. Chris Conley mentioned how important it will be for the receivers to get in and out of their breaks quickly in order to open up before the Rams pass rush can hit home. The Rams struggle wrapping up in space and bringing ball carriers to the ground, so getting the ball out quickly into space could lead to big plays for the Chiefs.
The Chiefs will need to use their quick passing game as an extension of the running game. The Rams have the same hi-lo call only this time with the S opposite of the WR to pick him up if he runs up the seams. Adams runs a good route selling vert to lose the DB before opening up pic.twitter.com/5Pna8NECg8— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) November 18, 2018
These quick out-breaking routes were used very successfully by both the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints to pick up easy yards. The Chiefs Chiefs will have to watch for the high-low tag the Rams often use. Here it doesn’t come into play, but the two highlighted defenders aren’t in strict man-to-man coverage. Both have man responsibilities on Davante Adams, but both also have zone responsibilities depending on what route Adams runs.
The high-low call
On the previous play, the underneath defender is looking to peel off Adams when he sells the vertical/inside route. If the offense is relying on a clear out route and an underneath crossing route, that nickel back is looking to drive on anything as soon as the receiver passes a certain point. If unaware, this could lead to a big play for the defense while also preventing linebackers and safeties from having to carry receivers across the whole field — but this kind of play can also be a gold mine for the Chiefs if it is identified and exploited.
The Rams 2Man coverage often has a high-low call tagged to a defender. Almost all trips formations and some 2x2 formations get this tag by LA. Due to the dual responsibility by the S (& the FS looking this play) you can get behind the coverage if pass pro holds up. pic.twitter.com/VuG9XIUlQ8— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) November 18, 2018
Here is another high-low tag in which the nickel passes the receiver off to the deep safety. The problem is that this pulls one potential deep safety forward, while putting pressure on the other safety (who also gets drawn forward) to cover more range. Even if the far safety plays it properly, there is still going to be a tight window for a throw before the safety gets underneath the post.
Both of these last two plays are manipulation of the high-low tag. On the first play, Adams flashes the inside vertical route to get the nickel to release him before he breaks outside clear. On the second play, the pass-off happens properly, but because of its nature there is a ton of free space over the top. The Rams cornerbacks play outside leverage and over the top, relying on underneath help from the safeties. But with the high-low tag there is only one safety that can help.
Middle of the field open
Part of this high-low tag draws a deep safety out of his deep zone, but also comes with playing heavy amounts of split safety alignments. This results in the middle of the field — over the linebackers and between the safeties — being open.
Rams go MOFO a ton and to deter passes between the hashes align one Safety closer to the LoS while they attempt to drop underneath post routes while the CBs try to play over the top. The S still is forced to drop back leaving space over the under defender on the TE. pic.twitter.com/rOoT09d80s— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) November 18, 2018
While the tight end isn’t covered only by the linebacker, the high-low call is there, and the middle of the field is open. Travis Kelce — and Sammy Watkins, if he’s playing — should be able to work over the middle in these open spaces between the high-low defenders.
Run the ball
The Rams are susceptible to misdirection runs that allow the Rams defenders to get upfield and force second-level defenders make plays in space. Hard misdirection doesn’t always work against the Rams because of their team speed and penetration ability, but slight misdirections like draws and counters that take advantage of aggressive defensive line play can be huge.
The Rams front is talented and aggressive but can overplay the run. There is a fine line between wasting time behind the LoS and allowing the DL to run out of their gaps but the Chiefs should play that line. Quick draws, traps, and zone away from Donald should be in the run plan. pic.twitter.com/c6O22g8tbb— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) November 18, 2018
Here, the Rams defensive line shoots gaps like they are rushing the passer — which is how they treat a lot of runs — and the offensive line is able to easily work to the second level. With good vision by the running back, there are open lanes all across the offensive line for him to attack.
In addition to misdirection, the Chiefs should focus on inside zone runs specifically designed to run at the 1-technique defensive tackle — and away from Donald.
Sea goes heavy with a 6th OL but the key is the Inside Zone away from the 3t, which will normally be Aaron Donald (not on this play). The inside step by the OG forces the 3t through the backside B gap which is out of the play, front side combo clears & works to 2nd level. pic.twitter.com/6FfQDb3tpJ— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) November 18, 2018
Running inside zone at the nose tackle not only puts Aaron Donald on the back side of the play — giving his penetration less impact — but also helps force him to take himself out of the play. It’s not just Donald, either. The entire Rams front wants to play forward, so allowing that movement to create gaps behind the defenders — while allowing blockers into the next level — could be big for the Chiefs .
Go after No. 22
Marcus Peters has had a rough year, and while much of that has been because he’s being asked to do more than in years past, it’s also because he been also playing poorly against double moves.
If the Rams if the are content with man to man and using MP22 to press the X WR, the Chiefs should get Hill and Watkins on the LoS often. Make Peters hit the jam or be forced to run w/ better athletes and utilize his aggression against him with plenty of double moves. pic.twitter.com/q1JdoHzcv6— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) November 18, 2018
Peters has always struggled against double moves, but playing on the line of scrimmage, his lack of athleticism — combined with his aggressive play — has forced him into surrendering a lot of big plays. The Chiefs should try to bait the Rams into putting Peters on Tyreek Hill by aligning Hill as the X receiver — which puts him on the line of scrimmage — and forcing the Rams into that matchup.
The bottom line
The Los Angeles Rams don’t boast as good of a defense as the depth chart showed at the beginning of the year, but they still are plenty dangerous.
The Rams have talent on every level of their defense, and the Chiefs will have to be diligent about their attack. Using the running game and quick passing attack to get players in space, attacking Marcus Peters and company with double moves and identifying the high-low tag could help the Chiefs churn out a high scoring performance.
The Chiefs and the Rams are both high-power offenses. The Chiefs will have to score to give their defense more chances to make that one stop.
The Chiefs offense has all the weapons and coaching to beat the Rams defense, but may not have the pure talent to just outplay them — like they did last week against the Arizona Cardinals.