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2017 By The Numbers: Chiefs Blitzing and Pass Rush

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How often did the Chiefs send extra rushers and in what situations?

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NFL: AFC Wild Card-Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, I stirred up some fans around the site with a post detailing the Kansas City Chiefs’ propensity for dropping an outside linebacker in coverage in 2017. There was...some anger.

OK, maybe a lot of anger.

But there were some narratives that were broken by some of the tendencies that Bob Sutton and the 2017 Chiefs defense implemented. I’m back this week to shed some more light about the tendencies used last year and hopefully start some more discussion (and potentially more anger) about another oft-discussed topic: the Chiefs pass rush.

As with last week’s post, this isn’t here to try to condone any of the actions that occurred with last year’s defense, nor is it here to try to assign blame to any singular party. Instead, we’re looking at what situations brought about different behaviors to try to establish a baseline for Sutton and the 2018 Chiefs defense.

Along the way, I’m looking to give as much of this information as I can to you, the reader, so we can continue to raise the overall level of discussion and debate through facts.

Strap in, everyone. This might be a tough one for you to read.


As always, I charted every 2017 Chiefs coverage snap to collect this data for myself, and you, fine AP readers.

I made sure to keep track of down, distance, point differential, quarter, offensive personnel, offensive formations/alignments, defensive formations, coverage responsibilities, number of defenders rushing the passer, if a blitz was shown and whether or not a blitz was executed for each one of these snaps.

So when I say that I’m sick and tired of watching Philip Rivers throw the ball, know that I come from a special level of disgust.

First, here are the game-by-game and season-long totals:

KC Rush Tendencies - 2017

Week Opponent Total Coverage Snaps Show Pressure Blitz Rush 2 Rush 3 Rush 4 Rush 5 Rush 6+ %Show %Blitz %R2 %R3 %R4 %R5 %R6+
Week Opponent Total Coverage Snaps Show Pressure Blitz Rush 2 Rush 3 Rush 4 Rush 5 Rush 6+ %Show %Blitz %R2 %R3 %R4 %R5 %R6+
1 @NE 45 6 5 1 18 20 5 0 13.33% 11.11% 2.22% 40.00% 44.44% 11.11% 0.00%
2 PHI 57 9 2 0 12 36 5 0 15.79% 3.51% 0.00% 21.05% 63.16% 8.77% 0.00%
3 @LAC 47 5 4 0 9 32 5 1 10.64% 8.51% 0.00% 19.15% 68.09% 10.64% 2.13%
4 WAS 27 3 2 0 7 18 1 1 11.11% 7.41% 0.00% 25.93% 66.67% 3.70% 3.70%
5 @HOU 40 5 4 0 17 16 6 1 12.50% 10.00% 0.00% 42.50% 40.00% 15.00% 2.50%
6 PIT 27 6 3 1 7 13 5 1 22.22% 11.11% 3.70% 25.93% 48.15% 18.52% 3.70%
7 @OAK 62 6 3 0 9 44 9 0 9.68% 4.84% 0.00% 14.52% 70.97% 14.52% 0.00%
8 DEN 44 8 2 0 3 37 4 0 18.18% 4.55% 0.00% 6.82% 84.09% 9.09% 0.00%
9 @DAL 38 3 4 0 1 30 6 1 7.89% 10.53% 0.00% 2.63% 78.95% 15.79% 2.63%
10
11 @NYG 38 10 9 1 3 19 13 2 26.32% 23.68% 2.63% 7.89% 50.00% 34.21% 5.26%
12 BUF 34 6 6 0 2 24 6 2 17.65% 17.65% 0.00% 5.88% 70.59% 17.65% 5.88%
13 @NYJ 41 10 14 0 7 20 10 4 24.39% 34.15% 0.00% 17.07% 48.78% 24.39% 9.76%
14 OAK 49 1 0 0 10 39 0 0 2.04% 0.00% 0.00% 20.41% 79.59% 0.00% 0.00%
15 LAC 42 3 5 0 8 26 7 1 7.14% 11.90% 0.00% 19.05% 61.90% 16.67% 2.38%
16 MIA 40 7 3 0 11 26 3 0 17.50% 7.50% 0.00% 27.50% 65.00% 7.50% 0.00%
17 @DEN 39 9 2 1 8 24 6 0 23.08% 5.13% 2.56% 20.51% 61.54% 15.38% 0.00%
18 TEN 39 3 3 0 11 25 3 0 7.69% 7.69% 0.00% 28.21% 64.10% 7.69% 0.00%
TOTALS 670 100 71 4 143 449 94 14
14.10% 10.01% 0.56% 20.17% 63.33% 13.26% 1.97%

As with last week’s endeavor, there’s a number that most are going to jump on from this data, and that’s how often Sutton blitzed. 10 percent of the snaps is low by pretty much every metric, and it assuredly ranked near the bottom of the league this year.

For reference, in 2013, the Chiefs blitzed 28.4 percent of the time, and in 2014, they blitzed 27.8 percent of the time. Both years, the Chiefs finished 20th in the league. However, both years saw the Chiefs able to generate pressure with both Justin Houston and Tamba Hali.

In 2017? Not so much.

So yes, you’re probably frustrated with how often Sutton blitzed overall. But let’s look at these individual games and what he did. Obviously, the Week 14 Oakland game jumps out for not having a single blitz called and only one time the Chiefs even pretended like they were going to bring pressure. For those keeping track from last week, that was one of the games most Chiefs fans cited as one of the “best” defensive performances of the year. On the flip side, the highest blitzing performance of Sutton’s 2017 Chiefs came on—you guessed it—the Week 13 meltdown against the New York Jets.

Another common narrative I’ve seen around the site is Sutton rushing only three rushers “the majority of the time.” Well, I’m here to show you that while you may think that 20.17 percent of the snaps is high, it’s far from the majority. Sutton tended to lean on his four-man rush more often than not, which is similar to what he did in previous years with Houston and Hali on the edges.

Another piece of information we touched upon last week was the Chiefs’ tendencies while in various point differentials, and we’ll go back to that this week.

KC Rush Tendencies vs. Score - 2017

Score Total Coverage Snaps Show Pressure Blitz Rush 2 Rush 3 Rush 4 Rush 5 Rush 6+ %Show %Blitz %R2 %R3 %R4 %R5 %R6+
Score Total Coverage Snaps Show Pressure Blitz Rush 2 Rush 3 Rush 4 Rush 5 Rush 6+ %Show %Blitz %R2 %R3 %R4 %R5 %R6+
Losing 124 23 21 2 23 71 20 8 18.55% 16.94% 1.61% 18.55% 57.26% 16.13% 6.45%
Tied 99 16 14 1 17 58 19 3 16.16% 14.14% 1.01% 17.17% 58.59% 19.19% 3.03%
Win by 1-3 111 15 14 0 23 63 20 1 13.51% 12.61% 0.00% 20.72% 56.76% 18.02% 0.90%
Win by 4-7 129 20 13 0 31 78 20 0 15.50% 10.08% 0.00% 24.03% 60.47% 15.50% 0.00%
Win by 7+ 246 26 12 1 49 179 15 2 10.57% 4.88% 0.41% 19.92% 72.76% 6.10% 0.81%

Repeating some of last week’s trends, as the Chiefs gained a bigger lead, the defense tended to play a little more vanilla, blitzing less and rushing four more. As the game got tighter and the Chiefs were playing from behind, Sutton tended to blitz more to fabricate pressure.

This goes against some teams’ tendencies to “get a lead and bring the heat,” instead favoring a base rush and a tendency toward more secondary players. This became especially true on early downs.

KC Rush Tendencies vs. Down/Distance

Down Total Show Pressure Blitz Rush 2 Rush 3 Rush 4 Rush 5 Rush 6+ %Show %Blitz %R2 %R3 %R4 %R5 %R6+
Down Total Show Pressure Blitz Rush 2 Rush 3 Rush 4 Rush 5 Rush 6+ %Show %Blitz %R2 %R3 %R4 %R5 %R6+
1st Down 277 26 23 1 47 178 44 4 9.39% 8.30% 0.36% 16.97% 64.26% 15.88% 1.44%
2nd Down 222 16 10 2 50 154 14 1 7.21% 4.50% 0.90% 22.52% 69.37% 6.31% 0.45%
3rd Down 193 55 38 1 42 109 32 8 28.50% 19.69% 0.52% 21.76% 56.48% 16.58% 4.15%
4th Down 10 2 1 0 3 6 0 1 20.00% 10.00% 0.00% 30.00% 60.00% 0.00% 10.00%
Yardage
1-5 yards 139 23 16 0 42 70 19 6 16.55% 11.51% 0.00% 30.22% 50.36% 13.67% 4.32%
6-10 yards 472 73 52 3 78 313 68 7 15.47% 11.02% 0.64% 16.53% 66.31% 14.41% 1.48%
10+ yards 91 4 6 1 22 64 3 1 4.40% 6.59% 1.10% 24.18% 70.33% 3.30% 1.10%

Simply put, Sutton didn’t try to bring the blitz on non-passing downs. That’s not necessarily abnormal, as some of his favored blitzes definitely did not lend themselves toward sound run-gap responsibilities.

However, when facing more obvious passing situations (second and 7-plus, third and 4-plus are fellow contributor Matt Lane’s benchmarks), Sutton was above his season average, blitzing 13.15 percent of the time.

Now, let’s look at the splits by quarter.

KC Rush Tendencies vs. Quarter

Quarter Total Show Pressure Blitz Rush 2 Rush 3 Rush 4 Rush 5 Rush 6+ %Show %Blitz %R2 %R3 %R4 %R5 %R6+
Quarter Total Show Pressure Blitz Rush 2 Rush 3 Rush 4 Rush 5 Rush 6+ %Show %Blitz %R2 %R3 %R4 %R5 %R6+
1st Q 140 17 11 1 31 84 21 2 12.14% 7.86% 0.71% 22.14% 60.00% 15.00% 1.43%
2nd Q 182 31 21 1 35 117 27 2 17.03% 11.54% 0.55% 19.23% 64.29% 14.84% 1.10%
2nd Q - 2 61 14 9 0 10 42 9 0 22.95% 14.75% 0.00% 16.39% 68.85% 14.75% 0.00%
3rd Q 136 21 17 1 24 85 20 3 15.44% 12.50% 0.74% 17.65% 62.50% 14.71% 2.21%
4th Q 246 28 22 1 53 162 24 5 11.38% 8.94% 0.41% 21.54% 65.85% 9.76% 2.03%
4th Q - 2 65 8 2 0 13 50 1 1 12.31% 3.08% 0.00% 20.00% 76.92% 1.54% 1.54%
OT 5 3 3 0 0 1 2 2 60.00% 60.00% 0.00% 0.00% 20.00% 40.00% 40.00%

HEY, HOW ABOUT THAT OVERTIME GAME, EH?

As you can see, Sutton tended to blitz more during the second and third quarters of the game, with the peak being under two minutes left in the first half...obviously excluding the five dropbacks Eli Manning had in the overtime game against the New York Giants.

And finally, we take a look at Sutton’s tendencies out of various formations in 2017.

KC Rush Tendencies vs. Formation

Formation Total Show Pressure Blitz Rush 2 Rush 3 Rush 4 Rush 5 Rush 6+ %Show %Blitz %R2 %R3 %R4 %R5 %R6+
Formation Total Show Pressure Blitz Rush 2 Rush 3 Rush 4 Rush 5 Rush 6+ %Show %Blitz %R2 %R3 %R4 %R5 %R6+
1-3 11 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%
1-4 5 1 1 1 3 0 1 0 20.00% 20.00% 20.00% 60.00% 0.00% 20.00% 0.00%
2-2 17 0 1 0 6 10 1 0 0.00% 5.88% 0.00% 35.29% 58.82% 5.88% 0.00%
2-3 380 66 43 1 74 262 35 8 17.37% 11.32% 0.26% 19.47% 68.95% 9.21% 2.11%
2-4 110 17 12 1 14 83 12 0 15.45% 10.91% 0.91% 12.73% 75.45% 10.91% 0.00%
3-3 46 8 7 0 10 11 22 2 17.39% 15.22% 0.00% 21.74% 23.91% 47.83% 4.35%
3-4 127 7 2 1 26 79 19 2 5.51% 1.57% 0.79% 20.47% 62.20% 14.96% 1.57%
4-3 5 0 2 0 0 3 1 1 0.00% 40.00% 0.00% 0.00% 60.00% 20.00% 20.00%
4-4 4 1 1 0 0 0 3 0 25.00% 25.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 75.00% 0.00%

As we covered last week, Sutton matches formations to various personnel. We also talked about the high propensity for an outside linebacker to be dropped into coverage out of the Chiefs’ 3-4 defense, usually against more run-heavy personnel.

As you can see, the Chiefs definitely didn’t blitz out of that formation very often at all. Meanwhile, the actual base defense, the 2-3-6 formation, found the Chiefs showing pressure more often and blitzing more often than their season average.

Before we close this thing up, let’s take a couple looks at some of Sutton’s “go-to” blitzes and one crazy one.

Sutton loves blitzing the dime linebacker from the 2-3-6, and this one sends the inside linebacker, too. Daniel Sorensen shows blitz and forces the left tackle to pick him up while Frank Zombo drops into man coverage against the running back. Derrick Johnson then loops around the occupied left tackle, who is forced to disengage Sorensen to stop the blitzer, and Deshaun Watson is trapped in the pocket as he climbs it.

This is a great example of a linebacker stunt, and if you’d like to learn more about the stunt, just click on over to one of my earlier posts (plug, plug).

Another look that Sutton likes is threatening the A-gaps with a blitz from both of the linebackers. In this instance, Sorensen fakes the blitz, then drops into coverage, leaving the center having to account for him, even momentarily. DJ is picked up by the left guard, Allen Bailey is picked up by the left tackle, and Zombo has a free rush at the passer.

The quarterback sees that the Chiefs have advantageous numbers against the blocking scheme and audibles to try to avoid the blitz.

Because cornerback Terrance Mitchell played good press coverage against Antonio Brown, (Hey, I’ve got a post about that too!) the quarterback has to force a throw into good coverage, resulting in a third-down incompletion.

This final play is an ALL OUT BLITZ by Bob Sutton on fourth and 5. It’s a huge gamble that resulted in a pass interference call near the goal line that set up the winning field goal for the Giants.

Bob sends the house by blitzing eight men, leaving each of the remaining three receivers single covered in man with no safety help (Cover 0). This has to get home and doesn’t, due to safety Eric Murray breaking his stride in the gap. If this gets home, the Chiefs are taking over the ball near midfield and with a chance to win the game.

This is a prime example of a gamble not working, even if it is by execution.

What we learned

Sutton didn’t blitz much. That in itself is an understatement. However, when you look at the data I collected, you can see that the games Sutton blitzed more weren’t always the “best” defensive games the team played against the pass.

The New York Jets game was especially awful, as I covered here. Sure, the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants games were heavier-blitzing games than most, but the Chiefs played from behind or tied for most of those games, scenarios that the data shows they tended to blitz more during. Conversely, the Philadelphia game and the Week 15 Oakland game (which were two of the best-ranked performances by Chiefs fans) saw the least percentage of blitzes on the year.

The 2-4-5 once again tends to lend itself toward rushing four-plus defenders more often than the base 2-3-6 defense and more than the “base” 3-4 defense, while still offering a flexible run-stopping option to go along with the pass coverage. It also blitzes right in line with the 2-3-6 and much more than the 3-4 defense.

Based on some of Sutton’s favorite blitzes, it makes sense to have a speedier set of linebackers on the field to bring pressure from all over the place while still letting your outside linebackers do what they do best.

So that’s what the Chiefs did in 2017 while rushing the passer. As is the same as last week, I’ve got a bunch more data, and if there are specific situations you’re curious about (e.g. “How often did they rush three on second-and-7 in the second quarter when they were losing?”), do not hesitate to ask. This really isn’t information that you can get anywhere else for free, and I’m more than happy to provide it with the hope that we all gain something from it.

Plus, then you’ll look smart in your next debate about the Chiefs defense. And that’s what matters.

Well, that and the Oakland offense being bad.