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Kansas City Chiefs defensive trends and tabulation for Week 17

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The Chiefs defense saved the best for last.

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs defense was down. It was struggling. And it was playing a bad team that it let hang around until the end of the game just four weeks earlier.

And it crushed them.

A three-point outing for the Chiefs defense over the Oakland Raiders was just what the doctor ordered to end the regular season on a high note. Forcing turnovers on each of the Raiders’ first four possessions — and taking one of those back to the house — the Chiefs found themselves up by multiple scores early in the game.

Unlike previous games — where the opposition was allowed to claw its way back — the Chiefs defense shut down a bad offense and didn’t allow them past its own 32-yard line.

This week — as I do every week — I’ll break down the numbers from this week’s game. We’ll hit the highlights, find where the Chiefs won, lost and bucked trends and then we’ll move on to some clips of their good, bad and under-the-radar plays.

The numbers

Quarter/Down/Distance - Week 17

- 2018 Avg 2018 Success Week 17 Avg Week 17 Success
- 2018 Avg 2018 Success Week 17 Avg Week 17 Success
Q1 5.64 51.35% 4.86 42.86%
Q2 5.66 50.92% 4.45 50.00%
Q2-Under 2:00 5.48 58.23% 2.71 71.43%
Q3 6.25 51.03% 3.93 50.00%
Q4 5.86 54.38% 4.88 50.00%
Q4-Under 2:00 6.01 55.22% 6.33 33.33%
1st Down 6.23 52.62% 4.63 53.33%
2nd Down 5.72 49.00% 3.88 37.50%
3rd Down 4.76 58.64% 5.90 60.00%
4th Down 6.46 38.46% 3.00 0.00%
Yds remain 0-3 4.34 33.12% 3.50 25.00%
Yds remain 4-6 5.02 48.30% 4.78 33.33%
Yds remain 7-10 6.19 54.01% 4.67 47.62%
Yds remain 11+ 6.79 73.00% 4.50 100.00%

After several weeks of struggles with long-distance situations, the Chiefs were finally able to capitalize on Oakland finding themselves in bad situations. A 100 percent success rate for the Chiefs defense shows that it was able to keep Oakland’s dink-and-dunk offense in check and force more stops. The Chiefs also found themselves playing very well on third down, and marginally well on first down.

Where the Chiefs defense found trouble was on second down — especially second-and-medium yardage situations. The Raiders were able to convert in multiple instances of these situations in the first half, allowing for some longer drives without many explosive plays. This explains some of the average success rates on a quarter-by-quarter basis.

Defensive Formation - Week 17

- 2018 % 2018 Avg 2018 Success Week 17 % Week 17 YPP Week 17 Success
- 2018 % 2018 Avg 2018 Success Week 17 % Week 17 YPP Week 17 Success
1-4 0.69% 8.75 62.50% 0.00% N/A N/A
2-3 14.51% 4.97 57.99% 6.06% 8.50 50.00%
2-4 53.39% 5.72 49.36% 62.12% 4.29 51.22%
3-3 7.21% 4.49 47.62% 3.03% 2.50 50.00%
3-4 22.40% 5.91 43.30% 28.79% 4.16 38.89%
4-3 0.94% 0.27 63.64% 0.00% N/A N/A
4-4 0.69% 0.38 50.00% 0.00% N/A N/A

From a formation standpoint, it was a pretty vanilla week for the Chiefs. The Raiders stayed primarily with 11 personnel, and the Chiefs leaned heavily on their primary defenses this season — the base 3-4 and the two down lineman, four-linebacker nickel — to attack the Raiders with all four linebackers, rather than the third safety the Chiefs have tended to use in third-and-long situations.

Rush Numbers - Week 17

- 2018 % 2018 Avg 2018 Success Week 17 % Week 17 YPP Week 17 Success
- 2018 % 2018 Avg 2018 Success Week 17 % Week 17 YPP Week 17 Success
Rush 3 10.29% 5.36 48.72% 0.00% N/A N/A
Rush 4 72.43% 6.10 51.00% 78.38% 4.69 48.28%
Rush 5-6 17.15% 5.16 51.54% 21.62% 3.75 57.14%

After last week’s significantly higher-than-usual extra rushers, this week’s numbers showed more of a return to the mean. However, while the game was still within one score — which was the case on only two Raiders drives — the Chiefs rushed five or more players on 62 percent of the passing snaps. Against the Seahawks, it was over 50 percent of the passing snaps, and the game was within one score throughout.

While on the season, the Chiefs have rushed five or more when they’ve been losing or up by less than two scores — 24 percent of the snaps while behind versus 11.5 percent when up by more than two scores — in the past two weeks, we have seen a serious uptick in those rush numbers when the defense isn’t protecting a multi-score lead. It’s definitely something to monitor going forward.

The Chiefs only dropped an outside linebacker into coverage on 8.1 percent of the passing snaps this week — compared their season total of 24.6 percent. On average, Derek Carr got the ball out in a lightning-quick 1.84 seconds, making it very difficult for the Chiefs to get a good pass rush going.

Coverages - Week 17

- 2018 % 2018 Avg 2018 Success Week 17 % Week 17 YPP Week 17 Success
- 2018 % 2018 Avg 2018 Success Week 17 % Week 17 YPP Week 17 Success
Man 57.12% 5.88 49.19% 67.57% 4.40 40.00%
Zone 42.48% 5.85 53.42% 32.43% 4.67 66.67%

The Chiefs played significantly more man coverage again this week, which makes sense with Charvarius Ward — primarily a man coverage cornerback — getting more reps. The Chiefs played press 46.6 percent of the time they were in man coverage this week, giving cushion to the Raiders and playing downhill against their check-down offense. This helped limit the offense to 4.4 yards per passing play in those situations — something that the Chiefs will definitely take on a weekly basis.

On the season, the man/zone percentages ended just shy of a 60/40 split. The two approaches allowed a near-identical average in yards-per-play, but the zone coverages tended to be in longer to-go situations, which led to a higher success rate. The Chiefs pressed 64 percent of the time in man coverage on the season. Their primary coverage shell was Cover 1 — almost double the percentage of their next-highest Cover 3 shell.

Something good

The Chiefs have had a bad run defense this year, but we did see some upward trends this week — specifically from inside linebackers Reggie Ragland and Anthony Hitchens. The defensive line seemed to simplify the gaps they were attacking — not regularly trying to get across the face of an offensive lineman to reach a gap that was a significant distance away — and that seemed to help with the linebacker’s reads and allowed them to play downhill.

This play shows that impact on the Chiefs run defense. Breeland Speaks definitely sets a good edge and squeezes the play side B-gap — which helps corral the running back — but both Hitchens and Ragland are able to get downhill more quickly, which makes blocking them more difficult. Even though the center is able to fire off the snap into the second level immediately, Hitchens is able to climb and get himself in a good position to shed the block rather than just waiting for the blocker to come to him. Meanwhile, Ragland is able to make his read quickly enough to be able to beat the climbing right guard coming off the combo block.

The lack of hesitation by the linebackers in the front speaks to a change in what they were asked to do on at least some downs this week. Let’s hope that continues into the playoffs.

The first matchup between these two teams saw tight end Jared Cook do a lot of damage in the Chiefs secondary. In this matchup, they purposely chipped and bracketed him on a number of plays — and also got good man coverage against Cook from Daniel Sorensen and Kendall Fuller.

As we see in this clip, taking away Carr’s safety blanket often forced him to look elsewhere on crucial downs, trying to exploit a one-on-one matchup. Steven Nelson plays it very well, and by the time Carr is able to rotate back to the trips for his reads, he’s late finding Jordy Nelson — who has just beaten Ward in off-man coverage — which results in a Justin Houston strip sack.

A couple weeks ago, I highlighted the lack of effort and gang tackling that has plagued the Chiefs defense all season. This week was a complete 180, with the Chiefs rallying to the ball and having multiple guys attempting to bring down the ball carrier — a good sign going into the playoffs.

Over the whole game, Hitchens and Fuller wanted to deliver hits and really focused on attacking the run game. In previous weeks, the play shown here likely would have gone for a first down; Allen Bailey would have made the tackle, but the back would have been able to fall across the line of gain. This week, both Hitchens and Fuller are able to lay the wood just short of the marker — and an especially energizing big hit from Hitchens got the defense rolling.

A third-down stop with a big hit? That’s a quick way to get momentum rolling on the defensive side of the ball.

Something bad

I’m harping on it every week, but the past three weeks have shown way too many blown coverages due to failed switches. On this play, we see that Nelson and Fuller exchange a pre-snap call identifying a potential banjo opportunity on the play. However, as the play develops, they don’t communicate and call the switch live— leading to both players covering the stop route and leaving the corner route wide open.

Here, the receiver isn’t able to bring in the pass. But if the defense is going to continue to banjo in the playoffs, they have to fix the communication and understanding of responsibilities.

Something you may have missed

I pick on formational tendencies with Bob Sutton, so it’s only fair to highlight a little bit of a wrinkle that he threw in this week.

Without Cook on the field, the Raiders typically have their tight ends block in when they’re in 11 personnel. When Sutton saw this Oakland personnel package take the field, he removed safety Jordan Lucas, put in Ward as a third cornerback, and left the stouter 3-4 front on the field against the run. Sure enough, the tight end stayed in to block, and the Chiefs were able to rush five with two hook defenders.

The bottom line

Yeah... this good performance was against a bad Raiders team. Yeah... there were still some holes in the run game. And yeah... it looks a lot better because of the four early turnovers.

But this is the type of performance the Chiefs defense needed to have against a team like this. They should beat down a bad offense, and they should be able to force the offense to panic, which naturally leads to turnovers. That’s a confidence-builder going into the playoffs.

The ray of optimism I found this week was the change in the fronts that allowed the Chiefs inside linebackers to play with more intensity and set more of a tone in their rushing defense. The first half saw the Raiders rush for 93 yards at 4.89 yards per carry — not great, but below their season average. In the second half, with a bigger lead and the Chiefs defense setting the tone, they allowed a mere 35 yards at 3.5 yards per carry.

If the Chiefs defense really is — finally, in Week 17 — changing things up and making it easier on the inside linebackers to fill gaps and help set the tone in the run game, that is definitely a positive we can take away from this game. With most fans terrified of the run defense getting beat up at home in the playoffs, this change in the fronts could allow the players to fill gaps better, and could lead to another stop or two at crucial points in the upcoming games.

As we’ve seen in the four Chiefs losses this year, one or two more stops in each game might be all that would be needed in the playoffs. Let’s hope that we see these changes become permanent.