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Stout Assessments: press coverage and the Chiefs

The return of Craig Stout explores current Chiefs and their skills in press-man.

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Like a Phoenix from the ashes...


Welcome, everybody, to the new and improved, version 2.0 Kansas City Chiefs defensive analysis brought to you by me, KaloPhoenix Craig Stout!

For those unaware, I started writing for Arrowhead Pride nine years ago, when the Arrowfish lived and we all had some very misplaced loyalty to the Scott Pioli/Todd Haley regime and the glory they’d bring to the team. At the time, the Chiefs were making the switch to the 3-4 defense, and there was a fair bit of confusion as to how the pieces would make the transition. That’s where I came in.

I wasn’t a football player for very long when I was growing up, instead of playing soccer into my 30s (go ahead, get your soccer hate out, I’ll wait), but I always had a ravenous desire to learn about the defensive side of football and absorbed as much information as I could. Back in 2009, I started sharing the knowledge I’d picked up, and eventually led to writing weekly for the site, doing defensive breakdowns about the Chiefs front seven. I still have a section, and if you feel like re-living some of the heyday of DJ, Tamba, and Tyson Jackson (I’m dead serious), then you can find those articles here.

Then, life happened. My wife and I had a kid. I free climbed K2. I brewed a bunch of beer. I ousted Wenger and gave Arsenal the success they deserved. I grew a beard. I invented seven new cryptocurrencies and used that money to buy a Fortune 500 company just to run it into the ground. I grew another beard (half of those are true). The team went on, and I left the breakdowns as something from a previous era.

Then Brett Veach got here.

NFL: Combine
Brett Veach speaks to the media during the 2018 NFL Combine.
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Listen, I was just as excited for “The Reign of Pat” as everyone else, but these guys on the defensive side of the ball were older, slower, and replaceable. I was worried about what we’d see moving forward, and frankly, I was worried about we’d see over on that side. But Veach singlehandedly took my interest from about a five to an 11 with the offseason moves the Chiefs have made on defense. I am STOKED to be able to come back and cover the change in mentality, the change in scheme, and to bring some advanced statistics back to the table for you all to use when discussing the team this year. We’re gonna cover this squad as in-depth as we can, because this looks like it’s more than a facelift, this is an entire rebuild.

And you can trust me. I mean, I grew two whole beards since the last time I was here.

To start off this year, we’re going to touch upon some of the things the Chiefs have done or are projected to do in 2018 and forward. We’ll discuss some techniques, responsibilities, and how they apply to this year’s defense. Some of this may be territory some readers know well, but some of it might be pretty new to others. So stick with me, and you might just learn something.

Let’s talk press coverage. When you think about press coverage, do you have an image in your mind of a defensive back lined up opposite a wide receiver and when the ball is snapped, he tries to knock the wide receiver on his ass? You’re not alone, as a fair number of people look for that immediate initial engagement. While that creates a pretty awesome highlight for the reel, the truth of the matter is that it’s not sustainable. More often than not, the wide receiver will leave the defensive back gasping for air and looking silly. In reality, the definition of press coverage is disrupting the timing between the wide receiver and the quarterback. That doesn’t necessarily have to be with a solid jam at the line of scrimmage. As a matter of fact, press coverage is more about footwork than it is about the handwork.

Let’s take a closer look at what I mean:

New Chiefs defensive back David Amerson was the first player to mention to the media that he was told to expect to play “90 percent press” in Kansas City. This is a textbook example of press coverage by him from last year.

Amerson is lined up at the top of the screen, splitting wide receiver Terrell Pryor to the inside. Off the snap, Amerson initially shuffles his feet to stay squared up to Pryor. Since he’s lined up inside of the wide receiver, Pryor either has to run THROUGH Amerson, or he’s got to adjust his route to run to the outside of Amerson. Due to Amerson’s initial footwork and placement, timing is already disrupted. As Pryor releases, Amerson flips his hips to the left and uses his right hand to jab at Pryor’s chest, once again forcing Pryor wider on his route and further disrupting timing. Amerson is now in good position to run stride for stride with Pryor while taking away the throwing lane for quarterback Kirk Cousins.

Amerson didn’t have to get particularly physical on this play to have good coverage out of press-man. Proper footwork and positioning resulted in very sticky coverage by him. In contrast, former Chiefs defensive back Sean Smith is lined up in the lower slot in press coverage. He DOES attempt to get physical at the line of scrimmage with the receiver, without properly squaring up, doesn’t disrupt the timing very much, and allows an inside release without safety help. Cousins found that receiver for a big gain on the play, and Amerson had to come back to make the stop.

Let’s look at another coverage snap from another new defensive back, Kendall Fuller:

Fuller is lined up on the lower part of the GIF in the slot opposite wide receiver Seth Roberts. He (like Amerson above) is splitting the receiver with inside shade positioning. Off the snap, Fuller shuffles his stance to keep himself in front of Roberts, then flips his hips to the right and jabs with his left hand to force Roberts further outside. Quarterback Derek Carr tosses it up under pressure and would have had to make a PERFECT throw to squeeze it in between Fuller and the oncoming safety. Instead, Carr underthrows it right to a perfectly positioned Fuller for the interception.

Again, this is textbook press coverage. Carr hit the top of his drop and knew he needed to get the ball out, and due to the disruption in timing through Fuller’s coverage, the route wasn’t remotely in the spot Carr thought it was. I’m also pretty sure Carr likes throwing Kendall Fuller the ball. So we got that goin’ for us...which is nice.

Finally, let’s take a look at Steven Nelson in press:

Now there’s some pop! Nelson is playing the slot on the top of the GIF, and he starts the snap off with a downright perfect mirror of the wide receiver. The receiver starts to come out of his break and wants to go outside with his route, but Nelson shuts the door on that with a nice two-handed punch to the chest, throwing him back inside where Ron Parker can help. Eli had to rush the throw due to the well-brought blitz, and he definitely couldn’t target Nelson’s man.

Nelson may not have flipped his hips to run with the receiver after the punch, but this was always designed to cover for a short period of time with the expectation that the blitz was going to get home. Even with that release, Nelson was moving into trail coverage (more on that in a future post) with the safety help over the top.

Bonus points to Eric Murray playing out of the slot down low getting physical with his man in coverage. More bonus points for the stunts up front (also more on that in a future post). Justin Houston was coming unblocked down the center of the pocket if Eli didn’t get rid of the ball.

So, there are a few examples highlighting just how important the footwork of a defensive back is to a press coverage scheme. It truly is the most important part of playing press, even though more people seem to focus on the handwork when discussing the scheme. So later this season, when the guy next to you at Arrowhead says something about how the team’s not playing enough press because the receivers aren’t on their asses all game, you can casually point out some of the finer details of what these guys are doing out there.

Keep tuning in each week this offseason and we’ll keep learning together!

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