Over the weekend, a beat-up Kansas City Chiefs team dropped its third game of the season to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football.
The defense gave up 31 points and couldn’t get off the field at the end of the game — but it wasn’t all bad. There were definitely some bright spots to highlight for a defense that is finding its identity under new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
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.
Quarter/Down/Distance - Week 8
|Situation||YPP Avg||Success||Wk 8 |
|Wk 8 |
|Yds remain 0-3||4.07||34%||7.54||23%|
|Yds remain 4-6||4.93||50%||0.40||60%|
|Yds remain 7-10||6.68||49%||6.70||48%|
|Yds remain 11+||4.92||83%||5.50||75%|
The Chiefs defense had some rough moments against the Packers, but Spagnuolo’s game plan and attack-minded approach had the Packers reeling during the second quarter. Allowing 1.81 yards per play in the second quarter is impressive — but doing it while forcing only two negative yardage plays is even more impressive.
Spagnuolo continues to make his mark in long-yardage situations, with an 83% success rate at the halfway mark of the season. That’s a full 11% higher than last year’s defense.
The Chiefs did get beat up in the fourth quarter, allowing big yardage and sustained drives. This was due in no small part to the lack of depth along the defensive line; in the fourth quarter, Green Bay was able to move the ball at will against the Chiefs five-man rotation.
Defensive formations - Week 8
|Formation||Pct||YPP Avg||Success||Wk 8 |
|Wk 8 |
|Wk 8 |
There was nothing too abnormal about the Chiefs formations in Week 8. Spagnuolo did counter some of the Packers two-running back looks with his nickel defenses rather than the traditional base 4-3 he typically utilizes. This meant he treated running back Jamaal Williams as more of a receiver when Aaron Jones was in the lineup.
Pass rushing - Week 8
|Players Rushing||Pct||YPP Avg||Success||Wk 8 |
|Wk 8 |
|Wk 8 |
With the defense missing both Frank Clark and Chris Jones — and then losing Alex Okafor to injury during the game — Spagnuolo really had to dial up some creative pressure this week. Bringing five or more rushers on a whopping 43% of the Packers dropbacks, Spagnuolo was able to make Aaron Rodgers uncomfortable for the majority of the day.
Pass coverages - Week 8
|Coverage||Pct||YPP Avg||Success||Wk 8 |
|Wk 8 |
|Wk 8 |
A higher blitz percentage once again led to a higher man coverage percentage on Sunday night. Spagnuolo continues to add more and more man coverage outside of the blitz coverage, too. While the overall success rate for man coverage was high, the majority of the crucial plays in this game came against man — particularly against the Chiefs linebacker corps.
The Chiefs gap discipline has been better the last two weeks, and this is an example of the LB's playing mentally faster.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) October 30, 2019
Outside Zone, OC and LT fire off to climb to the second level. Ogbah sets edge, Hitchens shoots B, forcing cutback. Ragland there for the big hit. pic.twitter.com/aCFkMSdxvM
The run defense has improved significantly over the past two weeks — and it’s not just personnel changes that have made the difference.
For all the derision he gets about his pass coverage, Anthony Hitchens has really gotten this depleted front to play disciplined football against the run. The linebackers and defensive linemen have done a good job against the run, allowing a paltry 3.74 yards per carry over the last two weeks.
While some players have made great individual efforts, the gap discipline shown on this play is representative of the overall effort the last two weeks. Players are holding their gaps, setting a strong edge and quickly triggering downhill against running plays.
This has led to a more unified front when the offense is attempting to establish the run early in the game. While the depleted defensive line was worn out by Suinday night’s fourth quarter, the unit seems to be making strides in the correct direction.
The Chiefs have to fix their empty checks -- you simply can't have this coverage call out there, putting a LB in man with no safety over the top.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) October 30, 2019
Both Thornhill and Sorensen bracket the mesh concept, which leaves nobody over the top of the poor matchup. It's easy money for GB. pic.twitter.com/7eLvTdnqia
I’ll be blunt: the Chiefs linebackers are bad in coverage. You know it, I know it and they know it. I discussed it at length in last week’s article previewing key matchups in the Packers game.
So why were the Chiefs linebackers able to be manipulated in coverage for nearly every crucial play that the Packers offense ran?
Green Bay attacked Kansas City from an empty formation on 15% of their offensive snaps. Those plays went for an unacceptable 16.11 yards per play, accounting for 56% of the net passing yards allowed by the defense. Whittling it down to just man coverage snaps makes it an even more egregious 33 yards per play.
Some might argue those numbers are blown out of proportion because of two long plays — like this one. While those plays certainly hurt the overall average, the Packers were able to reliably shift the running back all the way to the boundary and achieve a first down or touchdown on two-thirds of their empty formation snaps.
That’s not an isolated incident or two. That’s a systemic problem.
Quite simply, the Chiefs needed a different check when the Packers went empty. Aligning the linebacker on the boundary with 5-7 yards of space in man coverage not only didn’t work, it was the difference in this game. Spagnuolo has seemed to want to play more man coverage in recent games, but he can’t allow these easy mismatches on the boundary — especially if the coverage call leaves the linebacker without safety help.
Something you may have missed
Spags is a gambler, as evidenced by this 3-3 Cover 0 blitz against 21p.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) October 30, 2019
RB split out wide, Okafor dropping in coverage against the FB. OL is down a blocker, & Nnadi occupies the RG. Mathieu sells the outside rush. Wilson gets the open lane and forces a bad throw -- and a punt. pic.twitter.com/VJh8q9gHUT
One of the reasons the Chiefs were able to hang in this game was the exceptional pressure packages Spagnuolo brought out. The Chiefs were able to show pressure from every angle — and for most of the game, that had the Green Bay offensive line reeling.
To this point, Spagnuolo has put many different blitzes on tape. That makes it difficult for offensive linemen to stay sound in their protection calls. This play is a Cover 0 blitz from a 3-3-5 formation. The only true pass rushers on the field are Alex Okafor and Emmanuel Ogbah — and Okafor drops out of the rush into coverage. Tyrann Mathieu walks up to show a rush off the edge. That opens a lane for Damien Wilson to come through and force a bad throw.
This is a risky Cover 0 blitz that relies on a miscommunication up front. If the right guard picks Wilson up, the fullback in the middle of the field is going for big yardage. Spagnuolo rolled the dice — and won. He knows that sometimes he’s going to gamble and lose, but he’ll still get home enough to make those gambles count.
The bottom line
This game was a bit of a roller coaster for the Chiefs defense. There’s not much to take from a performance that was littered by injuries — and exhaustion at the end of the game. And once again, they ended up with their backs against the wall due to a costly turnover by the offense.
But the aggression and intensity from the Denver Broncos game ten days before definitely carried over to the Green Bay game. That’s extremely positive — and it showed up throughout most of the evening. That’s something the Chiefs can hang their hats on.
However, a fatal flaw — linebackers in coverage — was exploited time and time again. We saw no adjustments to fix it. The fact that the Chiefs couldn’t remedy the situation in-game by putting a better coverage defender on an obviously more dynamic receiver should raise some eyebrows. We all knew the linebackers were slower and struggled in coverage. Why were the Packers able to go to the well time and time again — and do so much damage?
The Chiefs are earning their identity on defense. The blitzing and all-out aggression is contagious — and a welcome sight for coaches and fans alike. That identity will help keep them in games and force mistakes from good offenses — much like the one they faced on Sunday.
Let’s just hope that before January, adjustments can be made to help cover up one of the unit’s fatal flaws.