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7 minutes in hell: Former Chiefs in coverage

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at New York Jets Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

This offseason, there’s been a fair amount of hand-wringing regarding how the Chiefs defense is going to stop the pass, with good reason. The Chiefs have cut, traded, or let walk a number of contributors to the Chiefs coverage team from the past couple years. For some, the Chiefs didn’t do enough to fill the gaps left behind by Marcus Peters, Ron Parker, Derrick Johnson, and even Terrance Mitchell or Kenneth Acker. Others think that the players brought in to fill those roles aren’t adequate enough to boost the overall level of play beyond that of the 2017 squad. There are legitimate fears there, and I’m not necessarily here to try to dissuade them today.

I am, however, here to point out some of the things I’ve seen pop up routinely from some of the now former Chiefs on last year’s squad, all encapsulated in a seven minute span during the Chiefs Week 13 game against the New York Jets.

For those who don’t remember, Week 13 was definitely the boiling point of the Chiefs 2017 season. They had lost five of their last six and three straight after starting the season looking like world beaters. The division was catching up to them and they NEEDED a win against the 4-7 Jets. The defense had played better as of the last couple games, and the Jets were another in a line of lower-scoring offenses that definitely could help right some of the wrongs on that side of the ball.

Instead, we got a shootout.

Yup, this is gonna get brutal. This play takes place right before the end of the first half. The Chiefs are up three, there’s 30 seconds left, and it’s 3rd and 11. If the defense holds, they’re looking at a tie ball game going into half.

The Jets line up with a stack to the left side of the offense, and the Chiefs line DJ and Revis up over the stack. Off the snap, the wide receiver clears out Revis and more importantly, the Safety, Dan Sorensen. Frank Zombo drops into short coverage and takes away the quick out, but passes the running back (Matt Forte) on to DJ ... who doesn’t travel with him. Because the safety is cleared out by the wide receiver, and neither linebacker followed the route, quarterback Josh McCown simply has to hit a wide open receiver for a score.

There’s a lot to unpack here. On initial watch, it’s easy to get hung up on Revis’ effort level in his 10-yard zone. He’s walking toward the play while the ball is being released. That’s infuriating to watch on a team that is in a backslide and needed a win in this one. Secondly, while the play call was sound from the offense, there’s simply no way that BOTH Zombo and DJ are supposed to cover the same patch of grass. If DJ continues in man coverage with Forte, the throw couldn’t have been behind the receiver (as it was), and would have lead more into the onrushing Ron Parker as the catch was occurring. There’s no guarantee of a stop, but it goes from being a TD on a bad throw to requiring a lot more precision, turning into a likely FG.

The Jets got the ball back after the half and mounted a drive with a couple 3rd down conversions to get just inside Chiefs territory. The defense had done well on first and second downs, leaving them with an advantageous 3rd and 9.

The Jets send a motion man across the formation, tracked by Terrance Mitchell, into a stack formation on the right. Steven Nelson makes the banjo call (more coming on this soon!) and switches coverage responsibilities to take the receiver that has an outside release. Mitchell apparently misses the call and overruns his coverage responsibility (the inside release), and ends up covering grass for a solid two seconds while McCown finds the open receiver who converts the first down.

This is ABYSMAL communication in the secondary. Nelson very clearly makes the switch, and either Mitchell doesn’t hear him, or misunderstands his coverage responsibility. This couldn’t be an easier catch and throw, and the Chiefs are lucky that McCown didn’t see the receiver earlier, or it would’ve been a HUGE gain. Once again, McCown doesn’t lead the receiver and is afforded a bad pass that still works out due to a badly blown coverage. Better communication likely changes the result of this play and keeps the Jets out of FG range.

The VERY NEXT set of downs sees the Chiefs once again doing good work on first and second downs, putting the Jets behind in the count with a 3rd and 11. The Chiefs line up with press coverage ALL across the board, with the exception of Marcus Peters, playing off man with eight yards of cushion. Bob brings pressure, but it’s all for not. The receiver hits an 8-yard comeback, and Peters is in no man’s land. The receiver has time to set his feet after the catch and drive forward for a first down.

There’s a lot that could be speculated upon based on plays like this specific play. I’d like to say this was the only one I saw like this, but I can’t. I don’t know who is responsible for this coverage call, although I’m sure the comments section will have an opinion or two. It could have been Bob Sutton. Marcus had time after the catch to drive to the receiver, but he hesitated. If he drove through the route, it’s probably not a first down. However, if Bob’s calling a blitz, why would he leave that much cushion on that side of the field? And why would everyone else be in press except Marcus? Safety Ron Parker doesn’t seem too concerned with the coverage. He’s not trying to get Peters into press coverage from his position. Either way, if Peters is in press coverage, that pocket collapses and pressure gets home, putting the Jets in an attempt at a 50-plus yard field goal. Instead, they got to hit a chip shot FG on this drive.

Now, there are a lot of reasons why the Chiefs lost this game to the Jets last year. I’m not trying to solely pin the loss on these former Chiefs. However, these are problems that plagued the Chiefs throughout the 2017 season, not just the Week 13 game. There appeared to be a vast amount of on-field communication that was in error all season long. Yes, having the field general in Eric Berry back will rectify more than a small amount of those miscommunications, but I do believe that the personnel on the field had more than their fair share to do with the errors that occurred. And that’s where I can’t comprehend the knock on the Chiefs current crop of players in coverage...because last year’s group really wasn’t all that great at executing the things it looked like they needed to execute.

Sure, they had good moments. And I don’t want to make it sound like addition by subtraction simply by walking away from some of these players, because it likely won’t be. I can’t guarantee any of the players on the 2018 roster will play to half the level of play that Marcus Peters did in 2017. However, I do believe that Brett Veach and Andy Reid went out and got a bunch of players that they believe will execute what the correct coverage call should be. They may not be as naturally gifted as members of last year’s group (certainly not compared against Peters), but they might do enough to allow the secondary as a whole to perform better.

Based on this seven minute stretch from Week 13 last year, it would be enough. The Chiefs lost that game by six points, with the offense stalling out on the 19 yard line at the end of the game. If the Chiefs are able to force the Jets into a FG at the end of the half or able to keep the Jets from kicking a FG on the first drive out of the half, the offense simply would have needed a field goal at the end of regulation to win or send it to overtime. Instead, in a seven minute span, the Chiefs poor execution in coverage led to a loss.

Now since I’ve lit this match, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go watch the world burn.

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