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Kansas City Chiefs defensive trends and tabulation for Week 3

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The Chiefs defense allowed their lowest point total of the season...but how bad was the performance?

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 Kansas City Chiefs defense held an opponent to under 28 points!

Hang the streamers, blow up some balloons and break out the kegs. We’re gonna party!

OK, maybe not. The defense once again allowed an offense to move the ball readily and gave up a lot of yards and a lot of points. Its now ranked 30th in points allowed and dead last in yardage, giving up 41 more yards per game than the next team on the list.

However, the Chiefs defense has started out well this year, forcing a three-and-out on every single opening drive by the offense. I pointed out that when it’s a one-score game (eight points or less), the Chiefs are holding the opposition to a measly 4.84 yards per play.

Of course, old friend BJ Kissel had to come in and one-up me:

Where does this defense go wrong to be at the bottom of the league after starting so hot? Why can’t that side of the ball seem to play a complete game?

68 snaps are better this week, but Sutton, can we trim that down just a bit more going forward?

Fortunately for Arrowhead Pride readers, I re-watched and re-re-watched the Chiefs defense this week to give you the numbers of where the Chiefs had success, failures and where some of the recent trends were bucked.

The numbers

  • The Chiefs lined up in their base 3-4 formation 39.7 percent of the time, typically against the San Francisco 49ers 21 personnel. In those snaps, the opposition gained 6.38 yards per play.
  • The Chiefs lined up in their nickel defense with two down linemen and four linebackers 47.1 percent of the time, making it their preferred formation for the third week in a row. They allowed 7.82 yards per play out of this formation.
  • The Chiefs showed their dime defense 16.2 percent of the snaps this week. On those snaps, the 49ers gained 4.16 yards per play.
  • The Chiefs dropped an outside linebacker on 25.6 percent of the snaps in Week 3. That’s significantly less than last week, and the vast majority of them came out of the 3-4 defense. Those plays gave up six yards per play, and on average, the quarterback threw the ball in 2.81 seconds.
  • The Chiefs sent extra rushers 15.4 percent of the time. That’s the highest total of the season thus far for Sutton’s defense. Those plays gave up a whopping 11.2 yards per play when rushing five and the quarterback got rid of the ball in 1.98 seconds, on average. The Chiefs showed pressure, brought a rusher from the second level while dropping another rusher, ran a stunt or blitzed on 18 percent of the snaps, which is the lowest number of the season for this defense.
  • The Chiefs rushed three players on ONE SNAP. Bob Sutton heard you this week, Kansas City. That single snap was the third-and-16 play where there were only three players within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage.
  • The Chiefs rushed four players on 82.1 percent of the passing snaps. Those snaps resulted in 6.1 yards per play and an average time to throw of 2.87 seconds.
  • The Chiefs were in man coverage on 33.3 percent of the passing snaps. Those snaps resulted in a dismal 9.1 yards per play and an average time to throw of 2.74 seconds. That’s a big turnaround from a good man coverage week against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 2. They played press man coverage 75.9 percent of the time with their corners and slot safeties.
  • The Chiefs were in zone coverage 66.6 percent of the passing snaps. Those snaps resulted in a much-improved 6.2 yards per play and an average time to throw of 2.72 seconds. The Chiefs showed a lot of pattern match concepts this week, doing a good job of mixing up their tendencies from previous weeks and confusing the San Francisco offense on early downs. Give Sutton credit for this one; he mixed it up schematically this week.
  • The average time to throw this week was 2.72 seconds. When the Chiefs forced the throw under 2.5 seconds (15 plays), they allowed 8.26 yards per play. When the throw took longer than 2.5 seconds (16 plays), they allowed 8.46 yards per play. There wasn’t a stark difference between over and under 2.5 seconds like there was last week, showing that the Chiefs had successes and failures regardless of how long the quarterback held the ball.

Something good

A lot has been made of the Chiefs 2018 rookie class and its contribution level to this point. Breeland Speaks, Armani Watts, and Dorian O’Daniel are discussed regularly as guys who either aren’t contributing when they’re on the field or guys that aren’t getting enough snaps on the field.

That’s not an issue for rookie Derrick Nnadi. A powerful, run-stuffing nose tackle, most don’t think of him using his agility to make plays. However, the above play shows just that. From the snap, the center has improper balance when engaging Nnadi. Some nose tackles would look to eat the block and keep the linebacker clean behind them to clog the run lane.

Nnadi identifies the balance issue and drops his inside shoulder to let the center roll off and carry his weight forward, which leaves him on the ground. Nnadi is then able to get upfield, take away a chance at the running back’s counter and funnel to unblocked members of the defense. That’s a really agile, smart play from the Chiefs’ rookie nose tackle.

I’ve mentioned both in my posts and on the AP Laboratory podcast that the Chiefs have become somewhat predictable with their inside linebackers blitzing double A-gaps, and that they needed to bring a different look. This week, Sutton brought the tendency breaker.

Both Terrance Smith and Anthony Hitchens blitz the A-gaps while Chris Jones and Allen Bailey shoot the B-gaps. With the guards having to pick up the defensive linemen, that leaves the center and the fullback with A-gap protection, which they handle soundly. Both tackles are responsible for the edge rushers pre-snap, and Justin Houston drops into coverage, leaving the right tackle with nobody to block. Dee Ford, meanwhile, is able to loop around the backside of Jones and Smith to also shoot the empty A-gap. He’s able to navigate past the center and the fullback’s blocks to lay a big hit for a sack.

This is an outstanding blitz design that gets home because of Sutton’s previous tendencies. Both the left guard and the right tackle end up blocking air on this play while the Chiefs found a way to get Ford with a full head of steam up the A-gap. Even though Jones jumping in the neutral zone wiped it off the books, it’s an excellent call.

Something bad

I covered this with several examples last week, so I’ll try not to belabor the point, but this is absolutely fixable if everybody plays the coverage scheme properly. It didn’t kill them on this particular play, but this is on tape multiple times now, and it’s very exploitable.

They either need to drill down on the coverage responsibilities in their Cover 3 zone or switch it out before it becomes a “go-to” for the opposition.

The first of two blown coverages for touchdowns this week, and this is a failure at the second and third level of the defense. It’s a great call by the offense, really stressing communication and coverage responsibilities from the linebackers and safeties.

It’s a Cover 2 man call, and Kendall Fuller runs with the dig route from his wide receiver. The tight end comes across the backside of the formation, and that leaves Hitchens in man against him. The running back shifts out into the flat to be picked up by Speaks, and that means Reggie Ragland is responsible for fullback Kyle Juszczyk on the drag wheel route. As you can see, Ragland doesn’t move with the fullback.

To compound the blown coverage from Ragland, Parker gets caught peeking at the dig route that Fuller is covering, then drops to the middle of the field, rather than his deep half. He’s in no position to keep the wheel route in front of him, and Juszczyk can waltz into the end zone untouched.

Here’s my most frustrating play of the day from the Chiefs defense. The 49ers are lined up in a 3x1, and Nelson is opposite the trips. San Francisco rushes to the line and snaps the ball. The field-side defenders all handle the receivers coming out of the trips formation, and all of them handle their coverage responsibilities, including Houston on the running back in the flat.

However, Nelson drops into a zone to the boundary third and watches Marquise Goodwin streak across the field to a wide open area. It doesn’t appear to be a Cover 3 call, as the rest of the defense reacts as if they’re in man coverage. If it’s a pattern match call, then Nelson would be Man Everywhere he Goes (MEG) against Goodwin, so dropping into that zone doesn’t make sense. And if it’s a straight man call, he definitely shouldn’t be dropping into that zone.

This is a prime example of miscommunication and misunderstanding. The 49ers rushing to the line force a quick coverage call from the safety — Nelson is looking back to Parker pre-snap to find out the call — and either the call doesn’t come or it’s not relayed correctly.

Getting each member of this defense on the same page is paramount to finding any amount of success on this side of the ball this year. It’s one thing for a team to be able to point to communication and coverage breakdowns, but it’s quite another for it to be so glaringly obvious for those outside of the organization.

Something you may have missed

The run defense was not great this week, getting beat around the edge by Matt Breida and up the middle by Alfred Morris, but the Chiefs front did well with lighter boxes against the 49ers big personnel on a handful of occasions.

Shown above is a fantastic effort by the left side of the Chiefs defense, with all three players working in tandem for a 1-yard loss. Houston sets a strong edge against the outside zone run. The fullback’s job is to get to the second level and block Hitchens, and the guard/center combo block should take out Bailey, then climb to the second level to clear out Smith chasing from the backside. Instead, Hitchens meets the fullback in the B-gap and stacks him, shutting the door for the back to be able to get through. Bailey bulls through the combo block and when the guard releases, he’s able to use his strength to take the center with him to meet the running back before he can hit a cutback to an open running lane.

Efforts like these can allow the Chiefs to sit in lighter boxes on occasion and still stop the run with their superior defenders. That allows the defense to keep safeties back and have a “pass-first” mentality to prevent big plays.

The bottom line

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs-Training Camp Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The defense is still poor. They’re executing their coverages poorly, missing tackles, losing contain against the run, and committing silly penalties that wipe out good plays.

But there are some silver linings to this week.

A neutral zone infraction and a defensive holding penalty stopped the Chiefs from racking up five sacks on the day, and they had an additional four quarterback hits. That’s a lot of damage to do to a quarterback from your pass rush.

That same neutral zone infraction and Hitchens’ missed tackle on the third-and-16 play are two minor execution errors, but both of them would have resulted in the 49ers having to punt the ball away. Instead, those two drives ended in touchdowns. While it certainly would have changed the flow of the game, on the surface, that’s 15 points and 120 yards of offense that San Francisco was able to put on the board.

Sutton called a good game this week, particularly from a pass-rush perspective. Throwing more pattern match coverages than previous weeks definitely threw the 49ers and Kyle Shanahan for a loop as a tendency breaker, and the Chiefs were able to force more third downs and get off the field easier than they have so far this season.

I criticized the zone defense last week, and with the pattern match coverages, the zone looked significantly better. However, the man defense took a large step back, with the 49ers running backs and tight ends doing damage against the Chiefs linebackers.

There is still a ton of cleanup to do all over this defense, and they have to figure out how to get everyone on the same page more often than they are.

If they don’t, this might be the peak of a 2018 Chiefs defensive performance. With a potentially historic offensive output on the other side of the ball, that simply can’t happen.