The Kansas City Chiefs played a poor all-around game in Sunday night’s loss to the Indianapolis Colts. The defense was gashed on the ground, and the Colts controlled the clock through their running game. The defense didn’t record a sack — even though Jacoby Brissett held the ball longer than any quarterback the Chiefs have faced this year.
And yet... the defense only gave up 19 points — six of them coming on short fields at the end of the game.
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 5
|Yds remain 0-3||3.20||39%||3.35||29%|
|Yds remain 4-6||6.22||43%||3.88||25%|
|Yds remain 7-10||7.09||46%||6.43||43%|
|Yds remain 11+||5.02||83%||4.67||78%|
It’s Week 5, so we’re adding in the season-long numbers!
The Chiefs defense was awful in the first quarter, allowing a long touchdown drive. However, the more concerning point for me was the abysmal first and second-down defense. The Chiefs were rarely in third-down situations — only getting to third down five times in the first half — and it had to do with the terrible early-down defense.
The Chiefs did have some success in the third quarter. They’ve struggled a bit in the opening drive of that half, and the stop that they came up with was huge; it kept the momentum from swinging too far to the Colts.
Defensive formations - Week 5
Another week against a heavy rushing attack saw another week of heavier Chiefs personnel. The Chiefs were in their base defense 33% of the time — and they posted poor numbers while in both the over and under the front.
When the Chiefs did get to operate out of the dime — knowing that Brissett was going to throw the ball — they did well to limit yardage.
Pass rushing - Week 5
Through five weeks, when the Chiefs aren’t blitzing or dropping eight into coverage, they’re struggling to stop the opposition’s passing game. That was true against the Colts, too. Bringing pressure against Brissett forced quicker passes — and a propensity to stare down his first read. That allowed the Chiefs secondary to drive on underneath routes and come up with some stops.
The four-man rush struggled this week — which is to be expected without Alex Okafor and while losing Chris Jones. in some passing situations, Reggie Ragland entered the game simply to rush the passer. He did lodge a pressure on the day.
Pass coverages - Week 5
Several readers have clamored for more man coverage out of Spagnuolo — and they got their wish on Sunday. Unfortunately, without the threat of pressure in front of the secondary, it didn’t perform up to snuff.
In the limited passing snaps the Colts ran, I thought the Chiefs zone defense did better than they had over previous weeks. This week’s success rate is low because Brissett was dinking and dunking underneath a soft zone late in the second quarter. But I liked the spacing and discipline on the back end more than I had the previous couple of weeks.
Tyrann Mathieu had a couple of splash plays, but this was a major one.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) October 8, 2019
IND runs a crack sweep in the red zone, and Mathieu gets quickly upfield to beat the pulling tackle and force an 8 yard TFL. Great instincts and film work to ID it quickly and get the big stop. pic.twitter.com/hiquQNJcso
Tyrann Mathieu is a playmaker.
He had a great game on Sunday, helping to shut down some deeper route concepts and taking away the tight ends and the running backs in the passing game. His fantastic read on the red-zone interception in the second quarter sticks out as a major play — but late in the game, the run stuff shown here gave life to the defense.
The Colts had steamrolled down the field, running between the tackles for chunk yardage. They were set up in a second-and-short play and dialed up a crack sweep — something I highlighted in my advanced scouting article last Friday.
Mathieu recognizes the condensed trips, sees the slot receiver release inside to seal the defensive end and triggers upfield to slip the offensive tackle. He meets the running back eight yards deep in the backfield, forcing a third-and-10 that stalled the drive — resulting in a field goal.
In last week’s article, I said that the crack sweep was “tough play to quickly identify and try to limit.” The nature of the play makes it very difficult for the defense to stop it without completely selling out on the sweep. Mathieu’s film work and on-field processing helped him to make this play look significantly easier than it actually was. These attributes are clearly top-notch with Mathieu — and it’s one of the reasons he has been such an impact player for the Chiefs.
I've talked each week about missed opportunities, and this is one right before the half.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) October 8, 2019
2nd and 10, rotating Fuller out of the slot to a C2 look, Breeland sits on the RB in the flat. He drives on him for a 1 yard gain, but misses the tackle. Drive ends in a FG. pic.twitter.com/nmGxC6dFsT
Every week, there seems to be a missed opportunity or two that puts points on the board. On Sunday, Bashaud Breeland was the culprit.
Breeland had a rough week — including multiple holding penalties and a long pass interference call — but this might be his roughest play.
The Chiefs defense late-rotates Kendall Fuller into a deep Cover 2 with Juan Thornhill, and Breeland correctly sits on the running back in the flat. He drives on the play to make a tackle for a one-yard gain — but the back slips the tackle and gets up the sideline, gaining 18 yards.
This play should have resulted in minimal gain — and forced a third-and-9 with under two minutes to go in the half. A stop here would have forced a Colts time out with 40 seconds in the half and would have kept them out of field goal range. That single missed tackle led to the continuation of the Colts drive, allowing them to go into the half with a three-point lead.
The Colts bossed the trenches out of this 12p 2x2 look to finish the game.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) October 8, 2019
Nelson blows Nnadi out of the gap, Niemann gets sucked inside. Kpass walks the TE back, but can't close the wide open strongside B, and the back hits the hole hard for a massive gain on 1st down. pic.twitter.com/jRW25wVwih
The Chiefs’ run defense continues to be bad. Plays like this one illustrate the problem.
At the end of the game, the Colts repeatedly aligned in 12 personnel with two attached tight ends to the boundary in a 2x2 formation. Derrick Nnadi is aligned in the strong side B gap and gets driven to the A gap — where he is sealed by Quenton Nelson. Ben Niemann gets sucked inside, making it easy for the left tackle to climb and seal him at the second level. Tanoh Kpassagnon collapses the gap slightly while facing a tight end — but the amount of space provided by Nelson’s block allows for the back to scoot through easily.
This is fantastic blocking from a very strong offensive line — but it’s also showcasing where some of the Chiefs’ woes on rush defense are cropping up.
Nelson is very good, but Nnadi loses ground immediately and can’t reset to try to drive him back. Niemann has an untouched tackle climbing to him but makes it easy by taking the wrong path to the gap. He can’t slip the block and struggles to shed. Meanwhile, Kpassagnon — the best of the bunch on that side — can’t collapse the gap quickly enough, even though he’s lining up against a tight end.
It’s not one single thing that can fix the Chiefs run defense. The unit as a whole has to buckle up and win more of their battles up front. Too often, the front makes multiple mistakes that turn what should be a two or three-yard run into a 9 or 11-yard run. Every single player on the front simply has to get better at getting to the gap they need to control — and then holding it. Let’s hope they can start that against the Texans’ poorer offensive line.
I've generally thought Spags has done well, but this one was a headscratcher.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) October 8, 2019
Dime personnel on 2nd and 10 with Ragland sugaring the A gap. The front plays pass all the way. Both DE's climb the arc, Kpass and Ragland on a stunt, Niemann drops. Pump fake handoff, huge gain. pic.twitter.com/Orf48N8Awz
If they want to improve the run defense, the Chiefs also have to get some help from the defensive coordinator.
I’ve generally thought that Steve Spagnuolo has done well to make adjustments and put players in the right positions to succeed. But on Sunday, I saw a couple of plays I felt he missed.
It’s late in the game on second-and-10 against 11 personnel. Chris Jones and Xavier Williams are injured. Defensive tackles Khalen Saunders and Nnadi are tired from the increased workload. Spagnuolo inserts his dime defense with Kpassagnon inside and Reggie Ragland as a blitzer — something that he implemented just to have a fresh rotation rushing the passer.
Considering how much the Colts were running the ball, the decision to go with the dime is questionable at this down and distance. I understood the need for the rotation. What I did not understand was the Chiefs front selling out to stop the pass — and not reading the run.
Niemann drops into coverage, Frank Clark and Emmanuel Ogbah climb the arc, and Kpassagnon loops over Ragland on a stunt. The play leaves a wide open play side B gap — with Niemann moving away from the line of scrimmage. The result is an explosive run against a light box — and on the next play, a third-down conversion.
Whether it was due to poor communication (or every single member of the Chiefs front biting on the pump-action), this defense was behind the eight ball immediately due to a light box on a second down. That’s something Spagnuolo has to do a better job preventing — even with a banged-up front.
Something you may have missed
The Chiefs did find a little bit of success by dropping 8 this week.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) October 8, 2019
Chiefs DB's with a soft press at the line, all in man. Lucas rotates deep single high with Thornhill spinning down as a hook defender. Niemann and Mathieu show pressure, drop to hook zones at the sticks. pic.twitter.com/ES9KpdNHXy
Spagnuolo utilized some eight-man coverages on Sunday, trying to build a wall of defenders at the first-down marker.
Here, the three cornerbacks and Daniel Sorensen are lined up in a soft press, and the call is for them to stay in man coverage. The Chiefs initially show a split-safety look, then rotate Jordan Lucas over the top — with Thornhill spinning down as a hook defender. Niemann and Mathieu initially show pressure, then also drop to become middle hook defenders.
Early on, the Colts tried to manipulate the middle of the field to dink and dunk — and get yards after the catch. This look would have helped counter that over the middle — yet would still have allowed the man coverage defenders to break hard on anything to the boundary. Here, the result was an incomplete pass — and a punt on the next play.
The bottom line
Right now, the Chiefs defense has two hallmarks: red-zone defense and turnovers.
The Chiefs are currently fourth in the league in red-zone defense, allowing a touchdown on just 45% of their trips. Unfortunately, they’re also leading the league in those red-zone trips. That red-zone defense showed up in a big way on Sunday, forcing the Colts into four field goals in five attempts.
In large part, the red-zone defense is succeeding because the Chiefs can bring their safeties into the game a bit more; between the 20s, Spagnuolo makes sure he gives his cornerbacks help over the top. This results in a lot of two-deep looks and boxes that are a little bit lighter. But when the defense enters the red zone, the cornerbacks are protected by that deep boundary and the safeties get to attack in both the run game and intermediate zones.
The Chiefs are also forcing turnovers at a high rate — ranking ninth in the league in drives ending in turnovers. Mathieu made a fantastic read to pick off Brissett — but he’s not the only one who is consistently in good positions to come up with a turnover. More often than not, Spagnuolo is putting these players in positions to make plays — and it’s paying off.
So yes, the run defense is bad. With Chris Jones injured, it’s likely the pass rush will be poor, too. And yet... if the Chiefs defense can lean on their two hallmarks and weather the storm through these injuries on both sides of the ball, they may just come out in a good spot to complement the offense.