After an up-and-down offensive performance against the Tennessee Titans, the Chiefs hope to get back on track in Patrick Mahomes’ second game back from injury. With other offensive players also returning from injury, this is the perfect time for the Chiefs to start to hit their stride, fix their red-zone offense and take a step closer to be the offense they were in 2018.
The Chiefs have had a lot of success attacking the Chargers’ Cover-3 defense in nearly every way possible. They will look to continue that success. Divisional games, however, are never easy. Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley have shown the ability to change things up against the Chiefs — running more man coverage and bringing extra pressure — but their staple defense remains the same. And Andy Reid has a long history of success against the Chargers.
Let’s look at the Chargers’ defensive personnel — and how the Chiefs can have success attacking them on Monday.
The Chargers defense starts with an extremely talented defensive line. Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa are one of the best edge-rushing combinations in the game; they can absolutely win a game on their own. If Eric Fisher is unable to play, Cameron Erving will not be a good matchup with either of these players; he will need dedicated help. Inside of them, rookie Jeffery Simmons is showcasing his athletic skill set as a pass rusher; he could cause problems against the Chiefs’ average offensive interior.
The Chargers like to use subpackage looks for their linebacker position, often using college safety Kyzir White or linebacker Drue Tranquill to help with coverage. Thomas Davis is the constant in the group, while Denzel Perryman — if he plays — is a good run stuffer but a liability in coverage.
The Chargers secondary is led by cornerback Casey Hayward. The rest of the secondary, however, can be exploited. Desmond King is a very good nickel cornerback, but he has athletic limitations when he is forced to turn and run vertically. Safeties Jaylen Watkins and Rayshawn Jenkins are trying their best to fill in for the losses of Derwin James, Adrian Phillips and Nasir Adderley. Outside of Hayward, the Chargers secondary doesn’t have the pure talent to play man coverage against Chiefs receivers. This should force them into zone coverage — which the Chiefs have shown they have the ability to beat.
Attacking zone coverage
The Chiefs had a lot of success attacking the Chargers Cover-3 by going vertical, especially outside— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) November 15, 2019
They'll take their deep shots with speed but they found a ton of success with the deep over routes. Slot WR crosses the field while outside WR occupies the deep third defender pic.twitter.com/rgv2oLeiie
One of the most effective ways the Chiefs have attacked Cover-3 — especially against the Chargers — is with deep over routes. Having a back-side receiver come across the entire field behind the underneath defenders — occupying the third of the field already occupied by another receiver — puts the defenders in a bind.
On this play, the wide receiver to the field side runs a deep out — which forces the cornerback to sit on him — while one of the back-side receivers slide in right behind him.
The Chiefs will use these over routes with wideouts and tight ends, but they are the most effective when the receiver has the speed to run away from the centerfield defender.
Trying to defend these over routes with man coverage requires a defender to match the receiver’s pace across the entire field. But these routes take a while to develop, so the Chiefs will have to protect Mahomes long enough for that to happen.
The design here was fantastic (ignore Hill's illegal motion brought on by the offsides then drop).— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) November 15, 2019
Miscommunication by LAC but you are getting two verticals - and no one is keeping up with Hill from that close to the LoS - into the same third. Force LAC defenders to choose a man pic.twitter.com/V3jsQv0cXK
The Chargers don’t always drop the same three players into their deep zones, but will often use both safeties deep while a cornerback sits underneath.
On this particular play, there appears to be a coverage mix-up — but regardless of who is supposed to be in the deep third of the field, they are going to have to cover two receivers. Again we see that using an opposite-side receiver to threaten the zone across the field is incredibly hard for a defense to track in real time. The Chargers safety does a good job of identifying this — trying to run with the receiver on the slice route — but from that close to the line of scrimmage, he has is little to no chance.
Raiders aren't much for vertical passing but they dialed up this TE fade behind the post that stressed the CB two ways.— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) November 15, 2019
Tight window, maybe a little late/too much air on the throw but the window is still attacked. Flash a route in front of the CB and run another in behind him. pic.twitter.com/pJbH01m1s1
Other teams have been able to exploit this coverage, too — but the route combination doesn’t always have to be a long-developing crossing route.
Here, the Oakland Raiders use a simple two-man concept that forces the cornerback to push the wide receiver inside on the post before coming off to the fade by the tight end. The window to the tight requires a good throw, but based on the route combination, there is a lot of space in which the tight end can operate.
If the Raiders had sent a player into the flat, it would have pulled the hook defender forward earlier — opening the tight end’s route sooner.
The bottom line
The Chargers are another team the Chiefs offense should be able to handle — but that was also the case against the Titans in Week 10.
The Chargers secondary isn’t as good as it was last year — and the Chiefs have the weapons to take advantage. They should continue to flood the Chargers’ deep zones with multiple routes on the same third of the field. In last year’s second meeting, the Chiefs were able to get their running backs involved in the passing game. If they can do that again, it will help set up the deep over routes and vertical shots up the sidelines. The key will be the Chiefs’ pass protection — especially at offensive tackle — holding up against Bosa and Ingram, giving Mahomes time to find his receivers.
As long as the Chiefs can handle the pass rush at even a mediocre level, Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, and Mecole Hardman should have big games — as the Chiefs light up the scoreboard in Mexico City.