The Kansas City Chiefs defense needs a win in the worst way.
After poor performances in back-to-back games, the Chiefs have an Oakland Raiders team with nothing to play for coming into Arrowhead Stadium with the AFC West division title and the AFC’s number one seed on the line.
The Raiders have struggled to put the ball in the end zone regularly — scoring more than 28 points only twice this season. Unfortunately, one of those games was the Week 13 matchup against the Chiefs defense, where the Chiefs gave up 33 points in a poor all-around performance.
With the Chiefs playing the Raiders so recently, the Advanced Scouting article I wrote for Week 13 is still very relevant. So this week, I’ll be focusing on the changes the Chiefs have made in their defense since the Week 13 matchup and how it will compare to what the Chiefs did the last time they played the Raiders.
The Chiefs secondary is a completely different animal since the last time the Raiders saw them. The Week 13 lineup had both Ron Parker and Eric Murray starting — with Dan Sorensen as the dime safety — and Orlando Scandrick, Kendall Fuller and Steven Nelson as the cornerbacks.
This week, the Chiefs will likely utilize Eric Berry and Daniel Sorensen at safety, with Charvarius Ward coming on the field in the Chiefs nickel defense. If what the Chiefs did against Seattle is any guide, Jordan Lucas would also be substituted in as the dime safety. That’s a significant amount of change for a defense that got beat up by Jared Cook and Jordy Nelson in Week 13.
But where does it really matter?
Fuller was targeted the most in the last meeting — 29.5 percent of the passing snaps — and also had the best performance among the coverage defenders, allowing 4.9 yards per target and having a success rate of 53.8 percent. After that, the Raiders threw at Scandrick the most, and he fared much worse with 8.3 yards per target and a success rate of 37.5 percent — mostly against Nelson.
Murray started the game and was benched after a terrible run fill resulted in a massive play, giving way to Sorensen in his first major playing time since returning from injury. Murray and Sorensen both had a 33 percent success rate against Cook, and Parker gave up 14.5 yards per target.
Ward got torched by the Seattle Seahawks deep passing game this past Sunday, but could see more success against the Raiders’ shorter, quicker passing game; Nelson and Seth Roberts aren’t as adept at beating press coverage as Tyler Lockett and Doug Baldwin are. With Derek Carr trying to get the ball out as quickly as he can, a player like Ward might be able to disrupt his timing better than Scandrick did in the previous matchup.
At safety, Cook bludgeoned Murray and Sorensen — and he could easily draw Sorensen again. However, matching Berry against him can keep him as an eighth man in the box to help in run support and allow Berry the chance to take away the Raiders best offensive weapon in man coverage. When the Chiefs go to their dime looks, rotating Lucas into that coverage responsibility may also be an improvement over the last time these two teams played.
How to defend
Play identification from young defenders
If KC plan to utilize a young CB/S again this week, they'll have to be alert to outside zone when they're in man. OAK will use the TE to block the backside OLB with a drive route from the WR -- pulling both the S and CB away from the edge. OLB doesn't set a good edge, easy TD. pic.twitter.com/BiaW26TbTi— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) December 27, 2018
If the Chiefs do implement a young secondary with Ward and Lucas getting snaps, they’ll have to make sure their mental processing is strong, as the Raiders like to shift the box against the run when the defense is in man coverage.
On this play, a wide receiver is lined up tight to the short side of the field and the tight end is lined up as an H-back, so the defense is pinched in. The tight end comes across the back side of the formation to kick the back-side defensive end, and the safety — drawing the tight end in man coverage — has to follow across the back side of the defense. The receiver sells a drive route and is able to block the box safety, but this also pulls the cornerback away from the edge.
With the outside linebacker trying an inside move, the Raiders offensive line is able to seal the edge, and the back is free — with nobody to force him back inside. The linebacker has to sift through the trash from the two defenders across the back side, and the deep safety is shading the field receivers. This leads to an easy touchdown run from just outside the red zone.
While the Chiefs outside linebackers will need to set a better edge, and the young corners and safeties will need to process the play quickly so they are able to switch to run support. Oakland will force the defenders against the flow of the play without blocking them, so even a little bit of early recognition can help in pursuit and clear traffic for the inside linebackers to get to the edge for a stop.
Communicate the banjo
One of the more baffling developments this season is a lack of banjo/switch from the Chiefs coverage defenders. On a 3rd and 13, the Chiefs are in C2 man. The Raiders run a slant/flat combo from the slot/TE. Fuller and O'Daniel don't switch, and the slot WR gets an easy 18 yards. pic.twitter.com/nb2soDfCq4— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) December 4, 2018
In the past couple of weeks, it appears that the Chiefs have wanted to employ more banjo concepts. But as I said in the Week 13 advanced scouting report and in the following defensive tabulation, they needed — and failed — to do so in the first matchup against the Raiders.
In the last two games, the coverage defenders did a poor job of communicating the banjo concepts, which resulted in a couple of blown coverages against the Seahawks — and a game-losing two-point conversion against the Chargers. So there are definite doubts about whether the Chiefs secondary can use banjo concepts effectively. The Raiders run so many crossing patterns and rub routes to get players open quickly for Carr to avoid pressure that it is imperative that the Chiefs get on the same page with their banjo calls this week.
On several occasions in the last outing, the Raiders got chunk plays and crucial first downs because the secondary didn’t switch. Just one more stop from the Chiefs defense in that game would have changed a fair amount of the perception about it, and would have resulted in a comfortable win instead of a “hang on by the skin of your teeth” victory. The Raiders will certainly attack the Chiefs’ man coverage schemes with these plays, and the Chiefs have to make sure they give themselves the best chance to come up with a stop.
Stay out of Cover 2
The Chiefs defense got obliterated in their Cover 2 shell against Oakland in Week 13. The inside linebackers don't have the awareness or the range to get depth, track, and pass receivers through their zones, and it's especially evident against receivers like Cook and Nelson. pic.twitter.com/TsLIFdcCYY— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) December 27, 2018
Since the Week 13 matchup with the Raiders, the Chiefs defense has largely stayed out of Cover 2 shells. In part this is due to a poor season-wide performance out of those zone looks — particularly the Tampa 2 looks utilizing Anthony Hitchens in a deeper zone — but the Raiders game was definitely a breaking point. The Chiefs utilized Cover 2 in 18.1 percent of the game — mostly in third-and-long situations or in the red zone — and had a paltry 37.5 percent success rate in that shell. As a comparison, the Chiefs’ Cover 3 zone looks had a 50 percent success rate on many more snaps.
The Chiefs don’t have inside linebackers that are particularly adept in dropping into deeper hook zones. They don’t have the range to cover players transitioning through their zones, nor do they pass them to other zones well. I’ve also documented several problems with Scandrick and Nelson failing to carry receivers or recognize underneath routes in Cover 2 looks.
Quite simply, against the Raiders the Chiefs need to continue to stay out of their Cover 2 zone shells as much as possible. Cook and Nelson can chew up the middle of the field, targeting these poor coverage defenders. Sticking with the preferred Cover 3 Buzz look — dropping a safety into the hook defender role — allows the Chiefs to put a better coverage defender in the center of the field and take away some of the looks that the Raiders like to get — while rotating Dorian O’Daniel to the sidelines and into the flats where he is a better defender.
The bottom line
This Oakland Raiders offense is nothing to write home about. Unfortunately, neither is the Chiefs defense.
Derek Carr hasn’t turned the ball over since Week 5. He’s done so by relying on quick, safe passes to move the ball down the field. To allow these opportunities, Raiders receivers need immediate separation from defenders. With players strong in press coverage — and some fresher legs in the secondary — the Chiefs may be able to play more press man this week than we saw prior to the Seahawks game.
Against the run, the Chiefs will have to play a similar strategy to the first matchup — stacking the box and forcing the Raiders to run against heavy fronts. If the Chiefs do choose to place Berry in that situation, he can help shift alignments — thereby helping the Chiefs run defense avoid some of the longer runs the Raiders were able to break in Week 13.
Most of all this week, it’s about energy and execution. The Chiefs defense should be able to beat up on the Raiders offense. Oakland should be forced to throw to keep up, which plays toward the Chiefs’ strength — their pass rush — and away from their biggest weakness: the run defense. The Chiefs should be able to press more often, throwing off the timing of the Raiders’ quick-passing offense. The Chiefs secondary should be able to keep up with a slower receiving corps, leading to more contested passes and Carr holding onto the ball longer — resulting in more sacks.
But the Chiefs defense should have closed out games multiple times this year, and they’ve struggled to find those stops. With the top seed and the division on the line, let’s hope they can find that energy this week.