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Stout Assessment: The Chiefs Stunt (on them haters)

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In last week’s post, we took a look at some of the finer points of the Chiefs press man scheme and ran down a couple of the misconceptions surrounding it. This week, we dive into the stunt.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome, everyone, to this week’s Stout Assessment!

Each week, we’re touching upon some terms that the reader may or may not be aware of, and how they apply to the Kansas City Chiefs’ defensive scheme. In last week’s post, we took a look at some of the finer points of the Chiefs press man scheme and ran down a couple of the misconceptions surrounding it. This week, we’re going to dive into the stunt.

The stunt (or as it’s sometimes referred to: the twist) is a way for the defense in their standard rush or blitz to confuse the offensive line by “trading” the typical gap responsibilities for two or more players in a defensive front. The idea is that by adding confusion as to where the defender is going to be coming from, the coordinator can scheme players to face minimal resistance on the way to the ballcarrier.

Let’s say a defensive tackle has been rushing straight up the field all game long. He’s tried rips, spins and swims on the offensive linemen, all with the idea that he’s rushing straight toward the quarterback, trying to collapse the pocket. All of the sudden, the tackle cuts sharply to the inside, collecting not only the offensive lineman blocking him all game, but also another lineman in the process. Meanwhile, the other defensive tackle loops around the backside of his buddy, and he’s got daylight all the way to the quarterback without having to beat a blocker on the way.

Make sense? Let’s look at a couple examples from last year:

While this may be the most common stunt Bob Sutton ran in 2017, it isn’t always one football fans pick up on when they think of a stunt. Dee Ford has been rushing toward the left tackle most of the game. He takes a small initial step to get the tackle to come up out of his stance and start his kick step to the outside. Meanwhile, Chris Jones engages the blocker in front of him and shoots the A-gap to try to bring the guard with him, leaving Daniel Sorensen with an opening in the B-gap to rush. The guard does recognize Sorensen’s rush, but it’s too little too late, as Sorensen is well past him and Carson Wentz feels the pressure coming. Wentz steps back to avoid the pressure and throws a bad pass to a falling receiver off of his back foot that gets popped up into the air by Justin Houston for Jones to catch an easy interception.

Some observers on initial watch would chalk this up as a well-called blitz by Sutton to gain some extra pressure, but it’s not. By disguising the rush and having Ford drop into coverage, this leaves the Chiefs with just four rushers. However, because of the stunt, the Chiefs have good “rush math” with four blockers on four defenders, and a two-on-one situation.

Dialing up these schemes are at times more valuable than blitzing as it can accomplish the same effect without losing a player in coverage.

Now, let’s look at an example in which some defensive players occupy multiple blockers to free up others.

When most people think of a stunt, this is more along the lines of what they’re thinking. Off the snap, Chris Jones (who had been primarily rushing A-gap to this point) rushes the B-gap. The guard recognizes this and kicks him outside, further away from the quarterback, not knowing that Justin Houston has set up the right tackle to make him think he’s going to rush around the outside, like he had most of the game thus far. Instead, Houston waits for the stunt to develop, then loops around the guard for an unimpeded run at the quarterback in the A-gap because Bennie Logan shot the opposite A-gap, clearing out the center.

On the opposite edge of the defense, Frank Zombo flashes as if he’s going to bend around the edge, then cuts inside, collecting the guard and the tackle. Kevin Pierre-Louis waits for Zombo to cut across his face, then loops around the outside to attempt to get an unabated path to the quarterback.

First off, the stunt works, even if it didn’t get home. Both guard/tackle sets are occupied and should have allowed both free players a path to the quarterback. Logan does well initially to get the center to evacuate the gap, but then when he tries to stall his momentum, he’s unable to stop. This allows the center to see Pierre-Louis looping around the backside, and the center shoves Logan into Pierre-Louis’ rush lane.

Perhaps the biggest thing this particular play shows me is when and where Sutton likes to dial up these “twist-style” stunts, and it goes hand-in-hand with last week’s press-man topic. I struggled to find more of these “front-line,” DL stunts in the 2017 tape because, well, he just didn’t call many.

You see, the biggest drawback of the stunt is that it takes time. Sometimes, it works that the free player can get a free lane right off the bat, but more often than not, the free player has to wait for the stunt to develop before looping or rushing the designed gap.

Last year, the Chiefs ran a fair amount of off-man coverage. While it tended to keep the passing game in front of the coverage players, it lent itself to short, quick completions. You simply can’t have that option if you’re planning on running exotic stunts or late developing blitzes. This play, in particular, might look familiar if you read last week’s post:

That’s right, it’s the same example I used to showcase Steven Nelson’s press coverage last week. By playing press coverage, Sutton felt comfortable leaning on a later developing stunt. Marcus Peters did have to navigate some traffic here, and he wasn’t able to get his feet underneath him to disrupt the timing a little more so the rush could get home.

When I went searching for examples in the 2017 defense, there were quite a few games that Sutton called a straight up three or four-man rush most of the game. There were occasional blitzes here or there, but he didn’t rely on these later-developing rushes. Against specific offenses (Philadelphia, especially), Sutton brought all kinds of looks to counter some later developing route trees, and it worked. Sutton brought exotic looks more frequently throughout the year as recently as 2015, when the Chiefs were playing, you guessed it, a press-man scheme.

I hear the complaints about how passive Sutton has become. Shoot, I’m right there with you for a fair number of them. But switching to a press-heavy scheme not only allows the Chiefs’ rushers more time to get home, but it’s proven to make Sutton a little more adventurous with his rushes.

For a team that some have called “too vanilla” on that side of the ball, these could be potentially welcome changes.