Editor’s note: Of all the Chiefs-related topics I see at Arrowhead Pride, the Bob Sutton debate is without a doubt the most reoccurring. With that being the case, I tasked Craig, who watches more Chiefs defensive film than anybody, at painting the picture of both sides. Please read through Craig’s debate and cast your vote at the end. Happy Election Day!
It’s election season, and that means everyone is readying themselves to cast an important vote that could have a potentially large impact on their lives.
No, I’m not talking about the midterms. I’m talking about Bob Sutton.
This week, I decided to put together the major arguments about Sutton, argue the pros and cons and help you to make an informed decision over whether you’d cast your vote to keep Bob...or whether you’d like to watch him walk into the sunset.
To help me out this week, I’ve resurrected my stubborn, younger alter-ego to argue against. KaloPhoenix is back. Kalo wants to see Bob go.
The moderator has been seated, the candidates have taken their podiums, the time is here.
Let’s debate Bob Sutton.
Topic 1 — The run defense
KaloPhoenix (KP): The focus of this last Chiefs offseason was to build the run defense. General manager Brett Veach made the moves to obtain inside linebacker Anthony Hitchens and nose tackle Xavier Williams. The entire 2018 draft was collegiate defensive players, and most were touted as “good” run defenders. And yet — this defense is dead last in run DVOA.
Sutton has routinely fielded poor run defenses in his Kansas City tenure, and recent playoff losses to the Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers stick out as critical examples of the run defense helping cost the team a game. It seems like regardless of the personnel, when the opposition lines up with an intent to run, Sutton’s defenses can’t do much to slow it down.
Craig Stout (CS): I think it was a foregone conclusion this year that the run defense would be better. All the moves Veach made would be able to combine with a healthier Reggie Ragland, Eric Berry, and Justin Houston to limit the rush yardage early while the offense racked up points and forced the opposition to throw to keep up. The team moved on from older, slower players to get faster and more aggressive. Quite simply, it looked like they made the moves necessary to stop the run.
Berry got hurt in the preseason. Houston has missed four games. Ragland got hurt in the preseason and came back slower. Hitchens wasn’t the signing that we were sold, and he’s still learning his keys in the run game at the position. The major players expected to stop the run either haven’t been on the field or are struggling to do their jobs. The defensive line has struggled to hold their gaps, and the linebackers are hesitant. Throw in some of the worst tackling in the league, and you’ve got a problem on your hands.
The run defense will get better if all the pieces can get on the field together. It’s not going to be the force that some of us had hoped it would be in the offseason, but it can only get better.
KP: While returning personnel can’t hurt the run defense, the problems will merely be concealed rather than fixed. Sutton and his staff are asking defensive linemen to routinely work across the face of interior offensive linemen, and when they can’t get there, they don’t understand how to prevent offensive linemen from getting to the second level. The inside linebackers don’t have any cavalry coming to fix it — and it’s easily the biggest problem with the run defense. Sutton is asking some sub-par players to play in a scheme that has shown a history of being unsuccessful, and until the scheme gets changed to help those players, this will continue to be a bad run defense.
Topic 2 - The pass defense
CS: One of the few bright spots on the Chiefs defense this year has been the pass rush and the pass defense. Currently 13th on the year in passing DVOA, the Chiefs have been able to come up with some timely stops and turnovers in the passing game to help close out the game. Dee Ford is second in the league in sacks, and Chris Jones has notched a sack in the last five games.
Sutton’s defenses have typically been able to stop the pass in his time with the team. Whether through a stellar pass rush from Houston and Tamba Hali, or superior secondary play from Berry, Ron Parker, Sean Smith, and Marcus Peters — Sutton has been able to put together a pass defense that has finished in the top 12 in DVOA on average. With teams having to throw to keep up, and most of the league’s best teams getting it done through the air, being an above-average pass defense year in and year out has allowed this Chiefs team to compete on a regular basis.
KP: While the cornerbacks have been a positive surprise this season, the Chiefs are an abysmal 27th against tight ends and running backs. Teams are still able to move the ball at will by throwing across the middle of the field and into the flats, and Sutton refuses to shift coverages or put the proper personnel on the field to defend those players.
This season, specifically, it seems like everybody in the building knows when the ball is going to a running back on third-and-medium, yet Sutton has rookie Breeland Speaks — not known for his speed or coverage ability — out in the flats chasing the back. While I understand that occasionally a 3-4 outside linebacker will have coverage responsibilities, the scheme should shift to avoid a situation like that as much as possible.
CS: Sutton has at least attempted to remedy the coverage in the middle of the field and in the flats by installing more packages each week for rookie linebacker Dorian O’Daniel. The safety play has been largely poor this season, but with Berry and Daniel Sorensen coming back, the middle of the field and deep coverages will be improved. If Sutton can keep getting O’Daniel snaps and get him more comfortable, get Houston healthy and back opposite Ford, and continue to have Jones make the impact he is rushing the passer, the 13th ranked DVOA pass defense might see a boost into the top seven or eight.
Topic 3 - Adjustments
KP: One of the biggest problems with Sutton is his inability to adjust his defense, preferring to have a rigid implementation of his scheme, regardless of his personnel. His safeties are a prime example of this, with Sutton asking them to be able to play in the box, slot and deep. Some of the players he uses aren’t good at some elements of the scheme, yet they’re asked to implement them anyway, rather than adjusting and crafting to the personnel.
Teams can find holes in the scheme, targeting players who are stuck in spots that they may not be comfortable in, and Sutton is either slow to adjust or doesn’t at all. That gives a giant schematic advantage to smart offensive coordinators or quarterbacks who can determine what Sutton’s plan of attack is on a given night — because he’s typically not making a change to attempt to fix a spot that’s being exploited.
CS: Sutton has definitely been slow to make a change in the past, but 2018 has shown more deviation from that “stuck-in-his-ways” mentality. Sutton has been all over the map with his coverage shells, press and off-man coverage splits and rush numbers this season. In previous years, we saw minimal deviation from the norm, and the change in philosophy has caught the attention of the teams they’ve played. Sutton threw the Bengals offense for a loop — playing a bunch of Cover 2 Man with bailing cornerbacks — and Cincinnati struggled to move the ball.
At the half, Sutton has been rolling help over the top where needed, moving his pass rushers around to find the matchup in which they’ve found the most success. The past three weeks have shown a distinct change in the second half of the game, forcing the opposition into more long down/distance situations through sacks and negative plays, and an uptick in forced turnovers after the break.
KP: While Sutton has definitely found more success in the second half in recent weeks, he’s not been beating up on the cream of the crop as far as quarterback and offensive coordinator pairings go. We’ve seen what the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers have done to this defense in big games — for the entire game. Until Sutton can prove an ability to come up big against good teams when it really matters, it’s not much consolation.
Topic 4 - Motivator
CS: Bob Sutton, in short, appears to be a poor motivator. His players seem to lack a fire and intensity, and that translates to poor tackling and execution. There’s little accountability for players — Parker, Hitchens and Ragland are routinely poor and still hold first choice spots on this defense every week, even when others have outplayed them. To date, the only player who left Kansas City in his prime and appears to have declined outside of Sutton’s system might be Marcus Peters, and it’s too early to tell.
Sutton routinely chooses his “safety blanket” players who are playing at an average or below-average level — guys who “know the system” — over young players with talent that make similar or fewer mistakes than the veterans. Quite simply, he and his staff don’t develop players well, they actively suppress opportunities for young players, and they don’t show the accountability in playtime when players do make errors.
From a fan’s point of view, we’re all genuinely excited to see this talent that Veach and Andy Reid have accumulated on the field together. However, when we’re in yet another year of Parker and Frank Zombo getting snaps over young players like Jordan Lucas that have been simply better or Tanoh Kpassagnon who has shown good flashes, it’s a failing on Sutton and his staff. It’s a failure to get the best out of the players he puts on the field, and a failure to develop the players that the organization has spent assets on.
KP: Um...yeah. I thought I was the negative one. I got nothing.
CS: I’ve spent nine weeks watching this defense closely, Kalo. There’s no way in hell I could be that positive.
So what’s it going to be, Chiefs fans? Which one of these viewpoints are you siding with? Cast your vote here, and make sure to cast your vote in the midterm elections on Tuesday!
Which argument about Bob Sutton do you agree with the most?
This poll is closed