Preseason game two is in the books, and boy, was it a doozy.
The Kansas City Chiefs defense was once again without starting safety Eric Berry, without starting defensive end Allen Bailey, and they were without what I’m calling the “Hart Foundation” at inside linebacker: Anthony “Hitman” Hitchens and Reggie “The Anvil” Ragland.
They lost starting cornerback Steven Nelson early in the game. The Chiefs were playing their backups as their first stringers this week.
The Chiefs defense exhibited some flaws this week that were compounded by some players that were definitely in a trial by fire. There were miscommunications, execution errors and some downright poor play. But there were some bright spots this week for the Chiefs and some plays that you might have missed along the way.
I’m going to take you through some of the good, bad, and the unrecognized in this post and hopefully highlight some of the reasons we can still be positive about a defensive unit that has come under fire this offseason.
So strap in, reframe those expectations (I mean, Terrance Smith played a lot of snaps this week), and let’s dive into preseason Week 2.
- The Chiefs defense lined up in their 3-4 defense 56.5 percent of the time in the first three quarters, against every type of personnel except 11-personnel (3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB).
- The Chiefs defense lined up in their 3-3-5 defense 8.7 percent of the time in the first three quarters.
- The Chiefs defense lined up in their 2-4-5 defense 34.8 percent of the time in the first three quarters.
- The Chiefs defense DID line up in their 2-3-6 defense exactly once in the first three quarters, the first time this offseason. Just like last week, that is surprising from the standpoint of 2017, where the defense was in this formation more than any other formation.
- The Chiefs dropped an outside linebacker in coverage 6.5 percent of the first three quarters. Just like last week, that is well below their 2017 average and music to Chiefs fans’ ears.
- The Chiefs never ran off-man coverage across the board in the red zone on third down.
Kendall Fuller showing great close on a hitch route vs Atlanta's Smash out of 2x1 with 21 personnel. Fuller's deep off the line, keeping the play in front of him on 1st down, but ID's the concept and closes quickly for a PBU. Fantastic coverage. pic.twitter.com/aDcbLbgrbo— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) August 18, 2018
We didn’t have to wait long for something positive out of the Chiefs defense this week. The first play of the game showcased new Chiefs cornerback Kendall Fuller’s ability to close on a hitch route in off-man coverage.
There’s a large portion of the Chiefs fan base that shudder at off-man coverage, but this is a prime example of why you run it. On first down, where the defense is willing to give up small yardage, Fuller is in off-man while Steven Nelson is in press against the slot wide receiver. Atlanta runs a Smash concept (hitch route on the outside and corner route from the slot), and on the snap, Fuller identifies the combination. Before the ball is out of quarterback Matt Ryan’s hand, Fuller has started closing on the route and chews up the gap en route to a pass breakup.
Fuller showcased great instincts and concept recognition, as well as great speed to close on the receiver for an incomplete pass. That’s great to see out of the Chiefs’ biggest acquisition in the secondary this offseason.
Watch your big uglies do some work. Nnadi straight up bench presses the OC to find the RB and ID the gap the play is going toward. Chris Jones holds his ground against a combo block, and Breeland Speaks dives down across the line to help with the stop. Great 4th down play. pic.twitter.com/c6ZAS5RSOE— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) August 18, 2018
The second team had more success than the first team, and this fourth-down play was definitely a highlight in preseason week two. Rookie Derrick Nnadi has been described as an immensely strong player since the Chiefs drafted him, and he showcases it here.
Nnadi plays both A-gaps, fully extending against the center and peeking into the backfield to identify where the run is coming on fourth-and-1. He’s able to manipulate the center and fill the strongside A-gap while Chris Jones throws his shoulder into the left guard and holds his ground. Simultaneously, Breeland Speaks dives underneath the strongside blockers, continues working toward the play, and helps Nnadi make the stop short of the first-down marker.
That’s a very positive play out of two rookies in a tough situation for the defense. They really stood strong against an inside run in the red zone. Not much more you can ask from your defense, especially rookies, in that situation.
Chiefs line up heavy against 13 personnel with all three TE's attached to the field. X Williams is in the Weak A, Jones in the Strong A. Smith shoots the Weak B, forcing the RB to cut back, but Eligwe has tripped Jones in A instead of shooting Strong B. Execution is CRITICAL. pic.twitter.com/PaeklXTGO3— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) August 18, 2018
The Falcons implemented 13-personnel (three TE’s, 1 RB, 1 WR) a handful of times Friday night, and they found some success with it.
In this play early in the first quarter, most of the defensive players do their jobs well. However, this play highlights how a small lapse in execution can harm the whole front seven. The Chiefs line up with a 3-technique and a 5-technique to the strong side of the formation. Xavier Williams shoots the weak A-gap, across the center. Chris Jones shoots the strong A-gap, covering an interior run. Terrance Smith shoots the weak B-gap and turns the running back into the teeth of the defense. However, Ukeme Eligwe stumbles over Chris Jones in the A-gap, and Jones goes down. Eligwe isn’t able to fill the strong B-gap, and the running back is off into the third level of the defense, even though most of the run fits were accomplished.
One single misstep can spell catastrophe against a good running back. Even though the gaps should have all been accounted for, the defense gave up a big run due to poor execution.
Prime example of miscommunication blowing up against an underneath route this week. Terrance Smith passes the slot WR to Ben Niemann, who is carrying the TE to the safeties, and Zombo is responsible for the opposite flat. If the communication is better, this is likely a stop. pic.twitter.com/Mq1X2HOMu8— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) August 18, 2018
Communication at all levels in the secondary is paramount. The Falcons are in a second down-and-short situation, and the Chiefs defense appears to be playing a Cover 2 zone-coverage shell. Off the snap, linebacker Terrance Smith gets deep into his zone as the apex defender, as does linebacker Frank Zombo. The attached tight end runs a deep cross, which linebacker Ben Niemann starts to carry to the safeties. This opens up a crossing route underneath that is able to turn upfield and gain the first down with ease.
It’s definitely a good playcall by Atlanta to manipulate the hook defender (Niemann), but if the secondary is able to communicate better, Niemann wouldn’t be carrying that route to the third level and could be sitting on the crossing route, stopping it before the first-down marker, or even breaking up the pass.
Each player in the secondary needs to know exactly what his responsibilities are against different routes, and they need to be in communication with every level of the defense so everyone’s on the same page. A prime example of a good coverage call, but with the hook defender evacuating the underneath route, the coverage failed.
Something you may have missed
Ukeme Eligwe does a good job of staying sound in his run fit and slips the pulling TE for a big stop on 3rd and 3. He definitely has flashy moments, but it's plays like these that help him hold down a high spot on the depth chart. pic.twitter.com/9vTdnx8bJZ— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) August 18, 2018
There are many reasons guys make an NFL roster. Athletic traits and good instinct will go a long way individually, but sticking on a roster and staying high on the depth chart requires both attributes. This week, Ukeme Eligwe showed both on a third down and three play that resulted in a stop for the Chiefs defense.
The Falcons are attempting to run at the weakside B-gap, and right off the snap, the center/guard combo is able to get significant push against defensive tackle Jarvis Jenkins. The guard climbs to the second level, where he’s able to block the strongside inside linebacker, Terrance Smith. With Dee Ford being blocked by the offensive tackle, this leaves one man for the pulling tight end to block: Ukeme Eligwe. However, Eligwe slips under the block, forces a cutback by the running back and makes a tackle with the help of Jarvis Jenkins, now free from his block due to the running back’s cutback.
Eligwe’s sound run fit shows up in a big way in a crucial moment, forcing a stop for the Chiefs defense. Although it’s not one that will show up large on the stat sheet, Eligwe’s fit was a primary reason for this drive ending. It was a good play by a guy thrust into the starting role and trying to make the most of it.
Something that hasn't been talked enough about: Leon McQuay's close on the sticks on this play. The Chiefs DB's are in press (ON 3RD DOWN IN THE REDZONE), and the crosser comes ALL the way across the field. McQuay closes quickly at the sticks and prevents the first down. pic.twitter.com/5xIFkmh4PQ— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) August 18, 2018
Sometimes, pure individual effort can get the job done for a defense. On this play that forced the fourth down shown above, Leon McQuay does a fantastic job playing as a top-down safety in the Chiefs’ Cover 2 Man look. Atlanta threw lots of underneath crossers as the Chiefs’ Cover 2 opposite a tight end post. This meant that any potential inside linebackers robbing crossing routes were pulled out of the play by the tight end. This is also a very tough route to cover as a cornerback, having to track a wide receiver all the way across the field, and David Amerson is a step or two behind the route because of it. However, McQuay sees the crosser coming and starts closing on the receiver as the ball is being thrown. He takes a decent angle to the receiver and is able to bring him down short of the sticks on a play that could have gone for a score.
Not only was McQuay the last line of defense against this route, but he also made a play that set up the Chiefs defense in an advantageous position to stop the drive on the very next play—a truly great play that got a little bit overlooked on Friday night, but one that deserves recognition.
So that’s preseason week 2 all wrapped up for the Chiefs defense.
Sutton called a much more aggressive gameplan this week and maybe showed a little bit of a hint of what’s to come with Berry, Bailey, and the Hart Foundation back in the mix when they get to the regular season.
A lot of the errors for week two were execution-based, and problems that will likely be cleaned up by having a better players in the lineup when they return from injury or by seeing more snaps and growing into the position they’re playing.
Until then, keep it locked in here to Arrowhead Pride for the next week’s preseason performance, where we should see more of what’s to come in 2018!