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Kansas City Chiefs’ defensive trends and tabulation, preseason game three

Craig looks at the defense for the first three quarters of the Chiefs’ preseason game against the Chicago Bears and the good and bad.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Chicago Bears Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that was something.

This weekend, our beloved Kansas City Chiefs took on the Chicago Bears in their last real preseason tuneup before the starters get preseason Week 4 off in the leadup to the regular season.

The Chiefs got their first look at the starting inside linebacker combination of Reggie Ragland and Anthony Hitchens. They were also able to see new cornerback acquisition Orlando Scandrick. Finally, there was some semblance of the Chiefs first-team defense before the regular season kicked off!

That’s about where the optimism stopped.

The Bears decided to rest their starters, pitting the Chiefs first-team defense against a second-team squad. It was a lose-lose situation even before the kickoff, and it just went down from there.

Bears backup quarterback Chase Daniel lit up the Chiefs secondary in the first half of the game, scoring on every possession but one en route to a dominant performance. If you were on the fence about the Chiefs secondary prior to this weekend, this game may have tipped you all the way over to the bleak side for 2018.

I can’t blame you one bit.

I’m not here to try to make you feel better about this week’s game. I’m not here to try and tell you that the cavalry's coming with Eric Berry and Steven Nelson or that Bob Sutton was simply playing around with looks that exposed certain players. I’m also not here to try to stoke any fires of negativity and start the riot at One Arrowhead Drive.

I’m just here to give you the numbers.

Just like every week going forward, I’m here to tell you how the Chiefs lined up this week. I’m here to cover the trends against various offensive personnel, how often they blitzed, how often they dropped into coverage, as well as showcase some good, some bad and maybe something you might have missed.

So let’s grab the ol’ hard hats, watch for blown coverages, and find out what the Chiefs defense did from a numerical standpoint this week.

  • The Chiefs lined up in their base defense 36.6 percent of the time this week with their starters, always against the Bears 12, 21, and 22-personnel.
  • The Chiefs lined up in their 3 defensive lineman/3 linebacker nickel defense 12.2 percent of the time with their starting defense, mostly against 11-personnel.
  • The Chiefs lined up in their 2 defensive lineman/4 linebacker nickel defense 51.2 percent of the time with their starting defense, exclusively against 11-personnel.
  • The Chiefs never lined up in their dime defense with the starting defense. That means that I tabulated exactly once that Bob Sutton ran a dime defense this preseason, a stark difference from the over 60 percent of the snaps the Chiefs ran the dime last year.
  • The Chiefs dropped an outside linebacker into coverage 45.8 percent of their passing snaps this week with the starters and lined up their outside linebackers on the second level for 20.8 precent of their passing snaps this week. Sutton clearly was evaluating his OLBs in coverage this week, with Dee Ford, Tanoh Kpassagnon, and Breeland Speaks all getting at least three coverage snaps. Justin Houston only got one coverage snap, as some of you will be happy to know.
  • The Chiefs blitzed 16.6 percent of their passing snaps this week with the starters, almost exclusively from the inside linebacker position. Anthony Hitchens does this well.
  • The Chiefs rushed four players with their starters 79.2 percent of the time. That left one lone instance of the Chiefs rushing three players with their starters.
  • Excluding quarterback scrambles, the Chiefs starting defense held the Bears to a fantastic 2.64 yards per carry. Operating out of the 3-4 defense it was 3.28 YPC, out of the 3-3 defense it was 4.5 YPC (on two carries), and out of the 2-4 defense it was a staggering 2 YPC. That should be music to Chiefs fans’ ears after a few years of sub-par run defense.
  • When the Chiefs starters were in coverage this week, they allowed an abysmal 13.37 yards per play. Operating out of the nickel defense was even worse, bumping the average up to 14.92 yards per play. That simply can’t occur when the Chiefs get to the regular season if they want to be successful.

Something good

Derrick Nnadi ought to be everyone’s favorite pick of the Chiefs’ 2018 NFL draft after this preseason. He’s shown the ability time and time again to hold his ground against double teams, and when he’s been single blocked in the run game, he’s been destructive.

On this particular play, Nnadi gets fantastic leverage off the snap, gets both hands into the center’s chest inside of this arms, pushes with his left hand and pulls with his right. This throws the center off balance, and as Nnadi attempts to rip through with his inside hand, the center grabs him and pulls him down for a hold. A great snap for Nnadi, for sure.

However, the running back is able to get free, due to the hold on Nnadi. The running back attempts to bounce outside, but Breeland Speaks stands up the Bears left tackle and sets a hard edge against the run. He’s able to shed the LT and make a play on the running back behind the line of scrimmage, preventing the RB from getting around the edge and cutting upfield. It was a good play from that side of the line after a bit of a breakdown during the earlier touchdown run.

Something bad

If you’ve followed my posts at all this offseason, I’ve preached the Chiefs need for communication in coverage. I wrote an entire post on the breakdowns in the 2017 New York Jets game. This week truly embodied the words “coverage miscommunication” for the Chiefs. Far too often, players were double-covered while another ran free or were passed into spaces where other players had evacuated. It was a mess.

The above play highlights one of these miscommunications. The Chiefs are in their 3-4 defense, but they have OLB Tanoh Kpassagnon on the second level, mirroring the Bears H-Back. From the snap, Kpassagnon waits out the stacked receivers, getting a hand on the wide receiver and disrupting the route, then sits down on the flat where the H-back now resides. Reggie Ragland doesn’t step up to cover the curl route as Kpassagnon evacuates that area, and it’s an easy completion. Ragland’s either anticipating a crossing route from that tight end or he didn’t realize that the H-back has come into the flat. Either way, he needs to step up into that space and help to take away the route or hit the receiver short of the sticks with Kpassagnon evacuating. In the same vein, if Kpassagnon keeps his depth and plays the first down marker, he might be able to make a play on the tight end short of the sticks. One or both of the two players need to understand the width and the depth of their zones better on this play.

Above, I highlighted a play in which Speaks set a good edge and stuffed the run well. We’ve seen several times this preseason that he’s been able to hold his own as a run defender and make a play. Unfortunately, we can’t really say the same about his pass rush ability to this point.

After the Chiefs defense held in the Bears second drive, the Chiefs special teams lined up illegally, gifting the Bears a fresh set of downs. The holding penalty shown above has backed the Bears up into a second-and-forever, and the Chiefs still have the opportunity to get off the field. Even before the snap, Speaks jumps offsides, something we saw him do multiple times in camp. He luckily doesn’t have a starting offensive tackle opposite of him, so the tackle stays in his stance and Speaks gets away with it. Back in his stance, Speaks fires off the snap and is too rigid to turn the corner around the left tackle, and he ends up off balance. The tackle puts his weight into Speaks (does get his hands up into the face), and releases an off-balance Speaks before letting him fall to the ground for a pancake. Quarterback Chase Daniel sees the large opening and takes it for a 12-yard scramble to make it a third-and-manageable.

Unfortunately, that’s not the only time Speaks got pancaked in the first half.

This rush is arguably worse, with Speaks trying to duck under the left tackle and throwing his weight forward, making for an easy shove to the dirt.

Speaks’ run defense has shown a lot of promise thus far this year, but if Chiefs fans are looking for him to supplant Dee Ford in anything but an obvious running situation, they’ve got to hope Speaks develops very quickly as a pass rusher.

Something you may have missed

This week’s play was a great one from Ford, diving across the backside of the line and chasing down the running back, unblocked. Say what you will about Ford as a run defender, you better put a blocker on him if you’re running away from him. He’ll chase you down and make you regret it.

But that’s not the part you may have missed. Instead, focus on the play of Nnadi and Ragland. Nnadi comes off the snap and puts an extended arm into the chest of the left guard, who is trying to climb to the second level and block Ragland. With this shove, Nnadi knocks the LG off the easy path to the second level. He then gets upfield and engages the pulling right guard, sealing him off and giving Ragland acres of space to shoot through and make a big stop.

Ford ends up making the stop on this particular play, but even if he hadn’t, Nnadi and Ragland likely would have swallowed up this play as well. That’s fantastic work from a rookie nose tackle that will definitely keep his linebackers (and his coaches) happy.

In conclusion

Nobody’s going to try to pretend that the defense was good this week. There were critical execution failures and tons of miscommunications that led to big gains and bad performances.

However, we can look at some of the things that the Chiefs did this preseason and see that there are some potential changes from the 2017 season.

The run defense was very stout this week with the Chiefs starting ILBs, and the Chiefs defensive line has performed well against the run all preseason.

Bob Sutton hasn’t been running a dime defense as his primary defense, instead opting to lean on a 2-4-5 nickel defense that should be better against the run.

The Chiefs have blitzed 6.8 percent more this preseason than they did in 2017, and the preseason is for vanilla rushing attacks.

The Chiefs rarely rushed the passer with three players or less. Most snaps featured a four-man rush, which could see some success this year with Ford, Chris Jones, and Justin Houston regularly pursuing the quarterback.

If the Chiefs can get their personnel all on the same page or find some personnel that can in the secondary, there are some trends coming out of this preseason that Chiefs fans can keep an eye on for Week 1 this year.

I’m certainly looking forward to seeing what sort of shifts the Chiefs make between now and then, and I can’t wait to kick this 2018 season off with all of you!

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