The Kansas City Chiefs defense is fresh off a mini-bye week — not to mention their best performance of the year. That’s a good thing. With the offense potentially limited in the near future, the defense will have to shoulder a little bit more of the load.
Unfortunately for the Chiefs, the Green Bay Packers are coming to town Sunday night. A future Hall of Fame quarterback, dynamic running backs, speedy receivers and a big offensive line will provide potentially bad matchups for Chiefs defenders.
Let’s dig into the Packers personnel — and a concept we may see on Sunday night. Then we’ll discuss how the Chiefs defense can try to slow them down — and hopefully keep the momentum rolling on their side of the ball.
Aaron Rodgers has the ability to hit every part of the field off-platform. He is in the midst of his fifteenth year in the league — and it looks to be another good one. He exploded for five touchdowns last weekend against the Oakland Raiders — and looked unstoppable throughout the game. He already has over 2000 yards passing, 13 touchdowns and only two interceptions.
The running back tandem of Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams should be terrifying for Chiefs fans. Both are incredibly dynamic backs, capable of doing damage inside, outside, and through the air. Jones is the primary back, logging at least 10 carries in every game this season. He’s only rushed for 399 yards on 101 carries, but he’s tacked on another 196 through the air. His nine total touchdowns lead skill-position players. Williams has 196 yards rushing, along with 113 yards and three touchdowns through the air. Fullback Danny Vitale is also a threat receiving out of the backfield.
The wide receiver position has many injury question marks due to injuries — starting with their best receiver: Davante Adams. He’s missed the last three weeks with an injury — and missed practice on both Wednesday and Thursday of this week.
Starting opposite Adams is second-year player Marquez Valdes-Scantling. He’s is a dangerous deep threat, averaging a whopping 19.8 yards per reception. He has the ability to take the top off of the defense — and the length to be a serious red-zone threat. But he too is on the injury report; he had a limited practice on Thursday.
Geronimo Allison — more of a possession receiver — lines up in the slot. The big receiver is good at stacking the defensive back covering him and coming down with the pass. If Adams and/or Valdes-Scantling can’t go this week, expect to see plenty of Jake Kumerow and Allen Lazard.
Jimmy Graham is the biggest name at tight end. A capable move tight end, Graham is a poor matchup for most safeties. He’s had a decent start to the season with 214 yards and three touchdowns. Graham may be the more recognizable name, but 14-year veteran Marcedes Lewis seems to be the more consistent presence on the field. Lewis is an excellent blocker and can threaten the seam — perfect for keeping the opposition off balance.
The Packers start two strong, veteran tackles: David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga. Both have been good this year, although Bakhtiari has taken a small step back. On the inside, Billy Turner and rookie Elgton Jenkins are the guards. Turner has bounced around the league and seems to finally be holding down a starting spot after the last two years in Denver. Corey Linsley is the typical starter at center, but he suddenly missed practice on Thursday with a back injury. If he can’t play, Lucas Patrick will be the next man up.
The offensive concept: RB corner/seam routes
GB has excellent RB's and know how to manipulate the coverage to get them against poor coverage LB's -- especially on corner and seam routes.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) October 24, 2019
Post/Fade with a flat coupled with a backside vertical (or two) stresses single-high looks. Late RB route slips into space against LB. pic.twitter.com/sQahJywha2
Last week, the Chiefs deployed a heavier front with linebacker Reggie Ragland playing at SAM linebacker and Damien Wilson playing at WILL. This worked exceedingly well against the run-heavy Denver Broncos offense — one that doesn’t heavily utilize their running backs in the passing game.
If the Chiefs attempt it this week, that strategy could be exploited.
Green Bay loves to get their backs involved in the passing game — and not just on swing passes and screens. Jones and Williams are fantastic route runners; the Packers will utilize them to get poor matchups against slower linebackers downfield.
In the first of the two routes shown here, we see a corner route that went for a score against the Raiders. Lining up in 11 personnel in a 2x2 formation, the Packers run a post/flat combination to the boundary and leak the running back to that side of the field. The flat route pulls the apex defender forward; the skinny post occupies the boundary cornerback and the deep safety. This leaves the running back free to accelerate into the open field — easily getting over the linebacker — and finding the soft spot in the zone with the corner route.
The second route has the running back on a seam route against man coverage. Similar to before, the field receiver runs a fade route, pulling the cornerback wide and opening the seam. The motion receiver leaks to the flat and the attached tight end runs a post route that pulls the deep safety to the boundary. With the defense in man, this leaves a linebacker in man coverage up the seam — a difficult task, even without the Packers’ speedy running backs.
As tough as it may be for Chiefs fans to watch, the defense may have to keep two deep safeties on early downs to protect against these vertical combinations. Running a two-man or quarters scheme may allow the Chiefs enough flexibility on the back end to transition a safety over the top of these later-releasing routes. That extra safety over the top would also help protect linebackers from having to carry these deeper routes on early downs — while still allowing the Chiefs to play their heavier, slower linebackers against the run.
The bottom line
This defense has a tough task this week. Green Bay is not afraid to deploy a run-heavy attack against lighter boxes and rely on Rodgers’ arm to pick up third downs. They’re also not afraid to throw early and often — particularly to their tight ends and running backs — when the defense deploys those heavier boxes.
Quite simply, they have a smart offensive game plan — and the weapons to implement it.
The Chiefs may choose to match Tyrann Mathieu up with the Jones/Williams combination in the passing game, dragging him nearer to the box. This can help eliminate a dynamic receiving threat while offering a little more in run support. If that is the case, a lot of stress will be placed upon Damien Wilson and Reggie Ragland to cover the flats against tight ends. From the Chiefs’ point of view, that will be a poor matchup.
So perhaps an easier strategy would be to sit back in a split-safety look, forcing the Packers to beat the defense on the ground. While that’s not been a particularly great strategy thus far this year, the quality of play put forth by the linebackers and defensive line last week might be enough to get stops.
It’s going to take another excellent, cohesive performance by the defense to give the Chiefs a chance this week. We’ll see if the new leaders and coaching staff can step up and be the difference makers the team needs.