We know that in some stretches, the defense was not good — but we also know they came up with some major moments to keep the Chiefs in the game.
We’ll dive into the numbers to see where the Chiefs showed well and where they didn’t — as well as taking a look at something good, something bad and something you may have missed.
Quarter/Down/Distance - Week 4
|Yds remain 0-3||0.50||67%|
|Yds remain 4-6||9.23||31%|
|Yds remain 7-10||5.71||48%|
|Yds remain 11+||5.00||67%|
The Chiefs defense once again had a slow start, then picked it up in the second quarter to help the team fight back and pull the game level at the half. To this point in the season, Steve Spagnuolo has done an excellent job with early-game adjustments.
The defense was awful on second downs but did well on third downs. They also performed well in the handful of short-yardage situations they saw. Once again, long-distance situations were huge for the Chiefs in Detroit. In fact, the defense is boasting an 85 percent success rate in 11+ yard situations for the season.
Defensive formations - Week 4
The Chiefs played the Lions a bit differently than they typically play offenses. Rather than match like-for-like personnel, they played a few more situational cards. Against 12 personnel, the Chiefs chose to implement Kendall Fuller and the nickel defense rather than the base defense.
The Lions also chose to use running back J.D. McKissic split out with Kerryon Johnson in the backfield as a form of 21 personnel. The Chiefs opted to treat McKissic like a wide receiver and put a cornerback or safety on him in coverage — rather than a slower linebacker.
Pass rushing - Week 4
|Players Rushing||Pct||YPP Avg||Success|
The Chiefs blitzed this week — and with plenty of success. At one point in the second quarter, Spagnuolo rushed five players on five consecutive passing snaps. Four of those snaps came up with a defensive success. Zone blitzes weren’t as prevalent this week as in some previous weeks.
The Chiefs did have a small handful of three-man rushes. Dropping players into shallow zones frustrated Stafford — and the Chiefs were able to find defensive success on each snap.
Pass coverages - Week 4
After a couple early passes stressed the seams and racked up yardage, Spagnuolo moved slightly away from his zone tendencies. With more blitzing, he relied on more man coverage and tried to get home with his rush. Against the Lions, it definitely worked — which is a bit surprising with the Chiefs’ cornerback group.
Damien Wilson has been good this season, and this snap showed his ability to get downhill.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) October 1, 2019
Hitchens attacks the A and fills the cutback with Williams. Jones stacks the RG and strings the play along. Clark sets edge while Wilson fires through the open gap. pic.twitter.com/49mvZ0EEgl
Damien Wilson has been a pleasant surprise thus far. Originally thought just to be a base SAM linebacker, Wilson has been one of the two nickel linebackers next to Anthony Hitchens. He’s done more than enough in coverage, allowing 4.82 yards per target and posting a 73% defensive success rate.
The Chiefs brought him in to be a run-stuffing linebacker — and he’s shown a couple of flashes like this one.
With the Lions finding success on cutback runs, Spagnuolo fires Hitchens through the A gap on a run blitz, stacking the center next to Xavier Williams. Chris Jones is able to string the right guard down the line while Frank Clark sees an initial double before the right tackle climbs to the second level.
The Chiefs defensive line (and Hitchens) hold their gaps well. Wilson is able to see the gap opening. Coming from seven yards deep, he gets downhill well and stuffs the back in the hole for a loss.
Emmanuel Ogbah has had a pretty solid last two weeks, and this stretch run late was a great heads up play.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) October 1, 2019
DET pulls the TE and the tackle, trying to chip Ogbah with a WR. Ogbah ID's early, gets width to string the run along, and shows good pursuit to the sideline for the stop. pic.twitter.com/ZNTYKffSw9
Speaking of splash plays, Emmanuel Ogbah has made a handful of them in limited reps. After a 1.5 sack performance last week, Ogbah showed up against the run late in the game as the Chiefs attempted to protect a four-point lead.
Hitting the Chiefs defense with stretch runs — particularly to the right side of the offense — had paid dividends for the opposition.
But on this play, the Lions attempt to catch Ogbah off-guard by cracking down on him with a slot wide receiver. This allows the offense to get their tight end and right tackle in space.
Ogbah identifies the play quickly and is able to discard the block and get horizontal to string the play along. He has the speed to shut down the angle, and gets help from Bashaud Breeland on the edge to create another tackle for loss in the run game.
The very next play did not go as well for the Chiefs defense.
We talked last week about finishing opportunities to close the game, and here's another missed one.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) October 1, 2019
2nd and long, LB's try to get Breeland to the trips w/ the RB to that side. Fuller beats the blocker and drives on the bubble, but can't make the tackle for a loss of 5. pic.twitter.com/RhE9A5yGvu
Last week, I pointed out a series of plays in the fourth quarter that would have changed the entire narrative of the game. These were opportunities left on the field due to poor execution; the final score was much closer than it should have been.
Something similar happened on Sunday.
On this play, both Hitchens and Wilson are signaling to Breeland to shift to the passing strength before the snap; they see that the Lions have a virtual 4x1 to the field with the running back shifted to the trips side of the formation. Breeland is late to get over, and the Lions throw the bubble screen to the field.
Kendall Fuller does well to drive on the play, beating the blocker to the spot and lining up the tackle for a sizable loss of five yards. But Fuller misses the tackle and the Lions have blocking out in front. Breeland comes up with the stop after an 11-yard gain.
The Lions were able to convert a third-and-2 on the very next play — and then drove the length of the field to score with just under two minutes remaining.
If Fuller had made the tackle, the Chiefs defense would have been looking at third-and-18. They’ve held up well in those scenarios thus far — and likely would have forced a punt and given the ball back to the offense with a lead and approximately five minutes remaining.
DET gashed the Chiefs through the middle, and did a lot of damage on cutbacks.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) October 1, 2019
KC tried to scrape exchange to protect stretch runs and DET took advantage by sealing the LB's and NT's while cut blocking the backside DE. Massive hole leads to massive yards. pic.twitter.com/W2vnSK30fd
The run defense is bad.
I’ve spoken about the lack of speed from the Chiefs linebackers creating problems on stretch runs. That lack of speed has resulted in alignment changes to try to help with pursuit angles. But those alignments can leave the defense at a disadvantage.
I spoke about Kerryon Johnson’s ability to abuse cutback lanes against the Chiefs defense in my game preview piece last week. Unfortunately, that prediction came true.
Here, the Chiefs tried to scrape exchange to the outside. The defensive line slanted and filled to build the wall up front, leaving Hitchens to get upfield behind Clark and stop the stretch run. Johnson has great vision and makes a great cut to slice back inside — where Williams has been sealed and Ogbah has been cut-blocked.
The play went for major yardage — and was set up due to the Chiefs’ inability to routinely defend the edge. The alignment also allowed the tackle to easily climb to Wilson and seal him. It was a well-designed play that feasted on the Chiefs’ lack of speed at the second level.
Something you may have missed
Spags is starting to play off of the attention Clark is getting.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) October 1, 2019
Sorensen shows man, return motion outside. TE chips Clark, delaying his release into the flat. Sorensen comes unblocked off the edge and forces Stafford out of the pocket. Ball should have been intercepted. pic.twitter.com/tsw0W2PL0U
Frank Clark didn’t get as much attention from the Lions as the Ravens gave him — but that doesn’t mean he was single-blocked for the whole game.
Spagnuolo put this blitz on tape to try to place some doubt in the minds of other teams that might consider chipping Clark.
On this third and long, Daniel Sorensen is matched up against the tight end, following him in the return motion pre-snap. As the tight end tilts on the edge toward Clark, Sorensen knows that the tight end is chipping — and will therefore be late on his route. Spagnuolo surely gave him license to blitz in this instance — and he does.
The blitz has Sorensen screaming off the edge untouched, flushing Stafford out of the pocket. Stafford throws a poor pass that Breeland jumps — but the interception goes through his hands.
This isn’t something that Spagnuolo will do every time a team shows they’ll chip one of the Chiefs’ pass rushers — but it is something that offenses will have to consider going forward.
The bottom line
Four weeks into Spagnuolo’s tenure in Kansas City, his defense has holes. That’s not entirely unexpected with a new scheme and so many new players.
The run defense is worrisome, allowing 5.9 yards per carry — with no sign of reinforcements on the way. The pass defense is slightly better — but on their go-ahead score, the Lions were still able to move the ball through the air without much effort. Morris Claiborne is eligible this week, but it will probably be a couple of weeks before he’s ready for a full-time role.
And yet... I like a lot of what Spagnuolo is doing with this defense.
The execution isn’t there — and the Lions did beat him with some alignments. However, his aggression is infectious — and is leading to turnovers. Two of those made all the difference on Sunday.
The Chiefs secondary has missed four interceptable passes in the past two weeks — not including the Hail Mary plays at the end of this game. If the Chiefs come down with those passes, they would be tied for the league lead in turnovers created. They would also have over 25 percent of their defensive drives ending in turnovers.
And an opportunistic defense is a great compliment to Patrick Mahomes on the other side of the ball.
Yes, the Chiefs still need to clean up a lot of their execution — but to this point, I like the spots that Spagnuolo is putting them in. The defense may continue to have poor execution throughout the year — and we’ll definitely cover that if it continues to happen.
However, I see a unit that is making adjustments and making offenses uncomfortable for small stretches in games. They’re likely only going to get more consistent and cohesive as the year goes along.
Just a little more consistency and cohesiveness might be all it takes to make a difference.