clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Chiefs defensive trends and tabulation for Weeks 6 and 7

New, comments

Let’s see where the Chiefs found success (and failure) over the last two weeks

Kansas City Chiefs v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

The Kansas City Chiefs defense looked pretty damn good on Thursday night against the Denver Broncos. Coming off a bad performance at home against the Houston Texans, the Chiefs run defense and pass rush stepped up in a big way. It needed to keep momentum on its side after Patrick Mahomes’ injury, and it was able to do so and set the tempo throughout the rest of the night.

With the Chiefs on a short week last week, I didn’t get an opportunity to post the tabulation from the Texans game, so this week’s article will include those as well as the Broncos numbers.

As I do every week, we’ll dive into the numbers to see where the Chiefs showed well and where they didn’t — and we’ll take a look at something good, something bad and something you may have missed.

The numbers

Quarter/Down/Distance Week 6

Situation Season
YPP Avg
Season
Success
Wk 6
YPP Avg
Wk 6
Success
Q1 5.77 50% 4.47 47%
Q2 5.31 58% 5.46 54%
Q2-Under 2:00 4.46 59% 1.43 86%
Q3 5.46 53% 5.70 40%
Q4 5.51 46% 7.45 35%
Q4-Under 2:00 8.38 50% 8.00 0%
1st Down 6.16 50% 5.68 50%
2nd Down 5.69 48% 7.07 33%
3rd Down 4.99 63% 3.55 55%
4th Down 5.67 25% 5.00 33%
Yds remain 0-3 3.48 36% 4.10 30%
Yds remain 4-6 5.28 49% 4.40 60%
Yds remain 7-10 6.67 49% 6.87 46%
Yds remain 11+ 4.89 84% 6.00 60%

Quarter/Down/Distance Week 7

Situation Season
YPP Avg
Season
Success
Wk 7
YPP Avg
Wk 7
Success
Q1 5.77 50% 3.13 81%
Q2 5.31 58% 5.64 64%
Q2-Under 2:00 4.46 59% 7.80 60%
Q3 5.46 53% 2.36 71%
Q4 5.51 46% 2.67 78%
Q4-Under 2:00 8.38 50% 3.50 100%
1st Down 6.16 50% 4.52 70%
2nd Down 5.69 48% 3.00 71%
3rd Down 4.99 63% 3.08 92%
4th Down 5.67 25% 1.50 50%
Yds remain 0-3 3.48 36% 3.83 33%
Yds remain 4-6 5.28 49% -1.00 83%
Yds remain 7-10 6.67 49% 4.19 72%
Yds remain 11+ 4.89 84% 4.07 93%

What a tale of two weeks this has been.

While the Chiefs defense actually held on fairly well in the first half of the Texans game, its overall numbers and success rates were abysmal. Conversely, the Broncos game showed a team that outperformed its success rates in almost every category.

The negative yardage allowed on downs with 4 to 6 yards to go against the Broncos jumps out this week. The Chiefs found themselves in more third-and-medium situations that allowed them to pin their ears back and get after Joe Flacco, resulting in several sacks and a couple of incompletions to send that number negative.

Most importantly, the success rate on first and second downs — above 70% on each — against the Broncos made it an even more dominating performance by the defense. Most Denver drives simply didn’t get off the ground early, and that allowed Steve Spagnuolo to dial up the pressure late.

Defensive formations Week 6

Formation Season
Pct
Season
YPP Avg
Season
Success
Wk 6
Pct
Wk 6
YPP Avg
Wk 6
Success
Dime 21% 5.19 59% 11% 2.20 78%
4-2O 32% 6.26 45% 16% 3.79 62%
4-2U 16% 4.01 58% 14% 5.00 50%
4-3O 17% 6.64 33% 36% 7.06 35%
4-3U 11% 3.75 49% 18% 6.69 21%
4-3 Stack 1% 5.57 57% 0% -- --
Goal line 1% 0.40 60% 2% 0.50 50%

Defensive formations Week 7

Formation Season
Pct
Season
YPP Avg
Season
Success
Wk 7
Pct
Wk 7
YPP Avg
Wk 7
Success
Dime 21% 5.19 59% 48% 2.94 76%
4-2O 32% 6.26 45% 19% 5.00 75%
4-2U 16% 4.01 58% 4% 0.00 100%
4-3O 17% 6.64 33% 7% 7.20 60%
4-3U 11% 3.75 49% 12% 0.75 71%
4-3 Stack 1% 5.57 57% 6% 5.75 75%
Goal line 1% 0.40 60% 3% 0.50 50%

Back-to-back weeks saw the Chiefs diverted away from their primarily nickel defenses. Houston utilized a significant amount of 12 personnel, forcing the Chiefs’ depleted linebacking corps into their base 4-3 formations. Against the Broncos, the Chiefs utilized more dime personnel, particularly late in the game while protecting a massive lead.

This week’s dime personnel was partially due to necessity. Kendall Fuller’s injury and absence thrust Tyrann Mathieu into the slot often, with Dan Sorensen keeping his typical “dime linebacker” role. That put Jordan Lucas and Juan Thornhill deep a little more often until Spagnuolo allowed rookie Rashad Fenton to man the slot full-time at the end of the game.

Pass rushing Week 6

Players
Rushing
Season
Pct
Season
YPP Avg
Season
Success
Wk 6
Pct
Wk 6
YPP Avg
Wk 6
Success
2-3 6% 3.55 70% 16% 5.00 63%
4 69% 5.87 49% 59% 6.47 33%
5+ 24% 5.47 52% 24% 5.42 27%

Pass rushing Week 7

Players
Rushing
Season
Pct
Season
YPP Avg
Season
Success
Wk 7
Pct
Wk 7
YPP Avg
Wk 7
Success
2-3 6% 3.55 70% 11% 5.20 40%
4 69% 5.87 49% 58% 4.15 83%
5+ 24% 5.47 52% 31% 1.43 75%

The Chiefs finally found success with the four-man rush this week.

Frank Clark, Alex Okafor and Emmanuel Ogbah were able to exploit one-on-one matchups and force Flacco into mistakes, poor throws and sacks. The Chiefs played a lot of games up front, running stunts and looping rushers in their four-man rushes — particularly late with Tanoh Kpassagnon and Reggie Ragland lined up as interior rushers.

This week’s numbers were definitely inflated by Flacco holding on to the ball for far too long. He held it for an average of 2.67 seconds per dropback (excluding sacks), allowing the defensive line to get to him.

Pass coverages Week 6

Coverage Season
Pct
Season
YPP Avg
Season
Success
Wk 6
Pct
Wk 6
YPP Avg
Wk 6
Success
Man 30% 4.00 57% 39% 5.50 25%
Zone 70% 6.32 48% 59% 6.30 40%

Pass coverages Week 7

Coverage Season
Pct
Season
YPP Avg
Season
Success
Wk 7
Pct
Wk 7
YPP Avg
Wk 7
Success
Man 30% 4.00 57% 47% 0.33 86%
Zone 70% 6.32 48% 53% 6.13 54%

Over the past three weeks, Spagnuolo has started to embrace more man coverage on the back end. That coverage struggled against Houston’s dynamic passing attack, with receivers open downfield and linebackers unable to keep up with running backs and tight ends underneath. The 25% success rate might have been even lower if Will Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins would have caught a few open drops.

Week 7 was a different story altogether. The Chiefs were able to play stifling coverage against the Broncos receiving corps, and that forced Flacco deep into his reads on most of his dropbacks. Spagnuolo recognized this and leaned on it a little more often against the Broncos — particularly when blitzing — and that led to a very positive result when the Chiefs found themselves in man coverage.

Something good

Ragland got the nod at SAM linebacker this week, with Damien Wilson moving to WILL linebacker. Ragland’s impact on the game was felt multiple times rushing the passer, plugging rush lanes and recovering a fumble for a touchdown. He looked quick, strong and aggressive in his opportunities throughout the game and certainly earned more playing time.

With that said, Mathieu being able to shift into the box against the run might have made the biggest difference in this weekend’s performance. The Chiefs trusted a single-high safety for a fair amount of the day against the Broncos, and that allowed Mathieu to stick his nose in run fits, like the play above shows.

Ragland’s ability to knife through the C-gap is fantastic on the play, and he definitely earned the run stop here. However, the ability to play an eight-man box is what helps make this whole play happen. The Broncos aren’t able to take advantage of the extra gaps that they’ve created with their tight ends, and both Ragland and Mathieu are free in pursuit off the backside of the formation.

The ability to commit to heavier boxes allows for the Chiefs to place a dynamic defender like Mathieu near the line of scrimmage where he can have a greater impact on the game. The Chiefs haven’t been able to do that as often this year because they’ve needed to protect their cornerbacks a little bit more over the top. Let’s hope that the secondary play improves enough to where we can see Mathieu in the box more often going forward.

The run defense also improved this week because the interior defensive lineman did a fantastic job anchoring and absorbing blockers, or making the play themselves. Derrick Nnadi did just that on the above play.

Too often this season, Nnadi has struggled to hold his gap and keep the linebackers clean. Teams have been able to drive him off the ball and climb easily to the second level, leaving the interior rushing lanes wide open for running backs to burst through to the Chiefs secondary. That changed this week.

Nnadi played with power — practically launching the center to the second level with his club move — and agility. His quick first step already put the right guard at half-man. The play is designed to flow toward the A-gaps, and Nnadi is able to penetrate and shut out both gaps. Ogbah squeezed the cutback lane, and the running back had nowhere to go.

When a defensive coordinator has a history of blitzing as much as Spagnuolo does, offensive lines tend to respect linebackers and safeties floating around the box. That can lead to advantageous matchups, even with a three-man rush.

This is far from the first time this season that Spagnuolo has shown this look pre-snap, and he’s blitzed combinations of Sorensen, Niemann and Mathieu from it at various points in the year. Denver sorts out its protections in case the Chiefs bring six defenders, leaving the running back to pick up Mathieu — the likely delayed blitzer who could sneak free through a gap.

Instead, the Chiefs drop Sorensen and Niemann into a shallow zone and have Mathieu feint his blitz, then drop to rob a crosser. This leaves three interior linemen and a pressing running back in front of one defender. Frank Clark and Alex Okafor get one-on-one matchups on a three-man rush and both get home, with Okafor getting credit for the sack.

Something bad

It was great to see the Chiefs run-heavy personnel at linebacker do their jobs against Denver’s potent rushing offense. That being said, there are major drawbacks that the Chiefs will encounter if they keep this personnel on the field.

The Broncos’ flood concept evacuates the Chiefs’ best coverage defender to the field, isolating Ragland and Anthony Hitchens in coverage against a tight end and a fullback in the flat. Tight end Noah Fant has immediate separation on Ragland while Hitchens bites on the play-action, ending up well behind the fullback. Both players are wide open, and Flacco — luckily for the Chiefs — throws to the less dynamic fullback for big yardage.

With Ragland playing outside linebacker, these matchups will occur often. Spagnuolo may continue to choose slower linebackers to get the job done in the run game. I wouldn’t blame him for committing to that defense. However, the Chiefs could be exposed through the air if an opponent decides to operate out of heavy personnel — much like the Texans did a week ago.

Something you may have missed

Hitchens has been a whipping boy for a lot of fans in his time with the Chiefs — and for good reason. He was paid handsomely and hasn’t really shown the traits that fans were promised from the front office and multiple coaching staffs.

This week saw some significant steps in the right direction for “The Hitman.”

Hitchens made several splash plays on the day. Two sacks — one that forced a fumble, returned for a touchdown — four big run stops and an organized front seven made for a big-time performance. However, I’m just as excited about his ability to do the little things right.

The above compilation is three plays that Hitchens made an impact on that don’t stick out on the stat sheet, and they’re indicators of how well he played in his game against Denver. He showcased an ability to stack and shed offensive lineman, slip blocks while working toward the gap, good lateral agility to get to the flat and force a cutback, and (my favorite) a level of aggression that is contagious amongst his teammates.

Thursday’s game featured the Anthony Hitchens we were promised. If this version of the player is leading the fronts going forward, there’s reason for some optimism in an average linebacker group.

The bottom line

The Texans game was a bad defensive performance against a good offense. The Broncos game was a good defensive performance against a bad offense.

I loved the intensity and aggression that the Chiefs — and Steve Spagnuolo — implemented in Thursday’s divisional matchup. I hated the execution and schematic adjustments against the Texans.

The defense is at a major crossroads. They’re going to be relied upon significantly more over the next few games with an offense that will likely be weaker than what they’ve grown accustomed to over the last seven weeks. Allowing the opposition to march down the field and holding to field goals is no longer a functional strategy, as points will be at even more of a premium than they have been to start the season.

But if this defense shows up with the aggression and execution that we saw on Thursday against Denver, these games without Mahomes aren’t just “gimmies” for the opposition. Sure, the defense won’t stuff the stat line like they did against the Broncos, but it can get stops. It can make life rough on the opposition’s offense.

We’ve heard plenty about “changing the culture” on this side of the ball. When this team needs the defense most, do we see it step up? Or do we see them fall back to old tendencies?