For those who have been reading my articles since my first stint at Arrowhead Pride (Hey guys, look at how old we all are!), you’ll know that I deal primarily in results-based information. I typically peddle my content in the realm of what has happened, and not so much in what will happen.
That changes this year.
Each week this season, the AP Nerd Squad is committed to covering every aspect of the Kansas City Chiefs film that we can.
As it so happens, we reserved a corner of the basement lab at Arrowhead Pride headquarters for looking ahead at the next week’s opponent and finding out what the Chiefs should watch out for in the upcoming game.
In this post, I’ll be taking a look at some of the ways the Chicago Bears under former Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy have utilized their tight ends in this year’s preseason games. I’ll also discuss what the Chiefs defense can do to attempt to defend some of these plays.
Let’s get to it, shall we?
Now, I know that some will say that this is a foolish task.
“It’s the preseason, Craig. These coaches aren’t trying, it’s all vanilla play calls!”
Well, let me be the one to inform you that Nagy isn’t your ordinary coach in the preseason.
The Chiefs Defense will get a good look this week, as Bears coach Matt Nagy isn't being especially vanilla this preseason. Here, Nagy puts a lot of window dressing (return motion, fake jet sweep, free release for the RB) for a tight end screen. pic.twitter.com/70WZB8Eewu— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) August 22, 2018
There are so many looks packaged into this one play.
Two looks at a jet sweep by the slot wide receiver. A free release into the flat by the running back. The tight end screen ends up being the call, but Nagy could go to the well a number of times over the course of this game, the next or for the rest of the season, knowing that he can operate several different play calls out of this one package. Point being, the Bears are likely going to present the stiffest schematic test that the Chiefs defense will see this preseason. That’s good news for a Chiefs first-team defense that needs reps together this offseason.
Let’s look at a series of plays involving the Bears’ TEs that had the Denver Broncos defense trying to keep up in preseason Week 2.
The Chiefs will need to stay sound defensively against CHI TE's this week. On this play, the CHI offense is in 11 personnel and the TE shuffle motions to line up as an H-back opposite the RB. He executes a slice block on the EDGE (believing he's unblocked), springing the RB. pic.twitter.com/UjFSUQShjE— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) August 23, 2018
On this split zone run from the Bears, the tight end is lined up as an H-Back (lining up similar to a tight end, but set back from the line of scrimmage) opposite of the running back. Denver is lined up in a 2-4-5 defense, and off the snap, they do a good job of filling all the potential gaps on the strong side of the defense, and most of them on the weak side. However, the weak-side outside linebacker is left unblocked off the snap, so he sits on the edge of the defense, working back inside and looking to dive on the running back after the handoff.
He doesn’t see the tight end until it’s too late.
The tight end executes a slice block on the outside linebacker, and outside contain is lost completely, leading to a giant gain.
Later that drive, CHI is in 12 personnel with goal to go. The TE motions across the formation, lines up again as an H-back opposite the RB. Anticipating the run, both ILB's bite on the action and the EDGE gets upfield. The TE has free release across formation for an easy TD. pic.twitter.com/EB2bsiV4aR— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) August 23, 2018
A similar look pays dividends later that drive, this time resulting in a touchdown for Chicago. The tight end is lined up as an H-Back, again opposite of the RB. The offensive line once again blocks to the play side, and the tight end pulls across the formation, just like before.
This time, the outside linebacker gets further upfield for backside pursuit on the running back if there’s a handoff. The tight end slips underneath the outside linebacker, and due to the play action (sold in part by the earlier run play), both inside linebackers and the safety on the second level of the defense get sucked in and fail to pick up the tight end. This results in a free release and untouched path to the end zone from Bears tight end Trey Burton.
The next drive, CHI is in 11 personnel with the TE as an H-back, this time on the same side as the RB. The opposite EDGE gets upfield again, but the SILB is frozen due to earlier playcalls. The TE gets up through the field B and is able to help seal the SILB for a big gain. pic.twitter.com/FCCfvXcCTv— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) August 23, 2018
The next drive, Chicago once again implements a tight end in an H-Back role, this time on the same side as the running back. A designed power run to the play-side B-gap is drawn up, and the right guard pulls, finding the weak-side inside linebacker coming from the second level. The tight end follows behind the guard and is able to reach the strong-side inside linebacker and seal him off for a big chunk play.
All of this occurs because the linebackers are having to take an extra beat to read the tight end and the running back due to the previous play calls.
These plays show how different looks can have a massive effect on how a defense pursues their responsibilities. By building in different looks and stressing the read and react abilities of the Denver inside linebackers and safeties in three different ways, the Bears were able to find success on the ground and through the air with one of their TEs in an H-Back role.
What the Chiefs should do
It is absolutely paramount that the Chiefs defense discuss responsibilities and shifts this week before they go to Chicago. The Bears utilized lots of motion to try to confuse and get the Broncos to tip their hands this week.
In the tight end screen shown above, the return motion from the slot wide receiver creates some confusion amongst the second level defenders, and the safety is slow to close on his man after it’s completed. If everyone is on the same page and communicates their assignment switches on the motion, this is a completion for minimal gain at best, due to the safety being locked in on his man.
The Chiefs defenders also have to stay sound in their gap responsibilities against runs with the tight end pulling across the formation. In the split-zone example, the Broncos outside linebacker gets sucked inside while level with the blockers on the edge of the defense.
In this situation, the tight end is able to seal the edge easily with a cut block, and the pursuing inside linebacker is swallowed up by the offensive tackle and tripped by the outside linebacker. The outside linebacker either needed to get further upfield and engage the tight end behind the line of scrimmage, setting the edge and forcing the running back into the heart of the defense, or the inside linebacker needed to recognize the pulling tight end and become the new force defender as the outside linebacker slid inside. Either way, the two players need to have a fundamental understanding of each other’s responsibilities and be able to interact on the fly.
Meanwhile, on the power run play, the Broncos defensive line executes a stunt with a defensive line looping to the play-side B-gap, where the pulling blockers are heading. The weak-side inside linebacker does a good job shooting the B-gap, occupying the pulling guard which forces the running back to cut upfield (although cutting to the left of the guard may have been preferred).
However, the strong-side inside linebacker inexplicably freezes instead of continuing play-side pursuit, since the safety was responsible for the strong-side B-gap. This hesitation and not trusting the run fits throughout the rest of the front resulted in the play going for big yardage.
Finally, the Chiefs defenders need to understand at all times who has coverage responsibilities for players attached to the formation or in the backfield, especially after motion. On the Trey Burton touchdown, the defensive coverage responsibility for that tight end was never clear.
The safety took the attached tight end to that side of the field, but as Burton crossed the back side of the formation after the snap, no safety or linebacker ever picked him up. That left several members of the Broncos defense pointing fingers and trying to work out responsibilities when it was too late. The Chiefs defenders all need to be on the same page in these calls, even if it means dropping an outside linebacker into coverage to handle the H-Back. It beats having a guy wide open for the score.
There are a few looks that the Bears offense might throw at the Chiefs defense this week to try to keep KC on their toes.
It’s a great test and perfect timing for preseason Week 3, when the Chiefs will (hopefully) have closer to a full-strength squad on that side of the ball.
With the misdirection the Bears implemented last week, it will really test the cohesion of the Chiefs defensive unit, and it could show that this defense is more than it’s been cracked up to be.
At the very least, it should give a lot of different looks on film that can provide teaching moments at all levels of the Chiefs defense in the last real tune-up for the starters before Week 1 against the Los Angeles Chargers!