The NFL might want to rethink any preconceived notions it has about the Kansas City Chiefs defense.
In a potential trap game against the Chicago Bears, the Chiefs defense showed no signs of slowing down. For the second week in a row, they didn’t allow a touchdown, vaulting up the rankings to seventh in the league in points per game allowed.
As we do each week, we’ll take a look at the numbers to see where the Chiefs found success and failure. Then we’ll then take a look at something good, something bad and something you may have missed in the Bears game.
Defensive formations - Week 16
|Success||Wk 16 |
|Wk 16 |
|Wk 16 |
Quite simply, the Chiefs defense was dominant for the majority of Sunday night’s game. In the first quarter, Kansas City gave up just 1.50 yards per play, which was its lowest YPP for any quarter of the season. Every quarter posted a defensive success rate of 50% or higher — and the Chiefs were able to stop both the run and the pass fairly successfully.
Throughout the game, the Bears opted to try to spread the Chiefs defense, relying on 11 personnel — or with 21 personnel featuring Tarik Cohen aligned as a receiver. So Steve Spagnuolo didn’t have to utilize a 4-3 alignment. Instead, Kansas City leaned heavily on its dime defense, which gave them lighter boxes and rangier defenders to counter the spread offense. Despite these light boxes, the Chiefs still had a 62.5% success rate out of the dime — a testament to the good work the defensive front did against the Bears.
Pass rushing - Week 16
|Success||Wk 16 |
|Wk 16 |
|Wk 16 |
Rushing splits against the Bears were similar to the season-long numbers. Spagnuolo relied on his four-man rush to get the job done against Mitchell Trubisky and a poor offensive line. The Chiefs were largely able to create pressure up front with four rushers, but their blitz packages were very successful as well. The three-man rushes were when the Chiefs were in their quarter defense near the end of the second half, preventing the Bears from ripping off chunk plays.
Pass coverages - Week 16
|Success||Wk 16 |
|Wk 16 |
|Wk 16 |
Spagnuolo leaned heavily on man coverages against Chicago, running quite a bit of 2-Man and Cover 1 looks while the game was still within reach. From 2-Man looks, he often bracketed Allen Robinson with a safety, forcing Bears receivers to beat the Chiefs cornerbacks. As the Chiefs pulled away, Spagnuolo switched it up with more Cover 2 and Tampa 2 looks — often while dropping the slot cornerback into a deep half zone.
In last week’s defensive recap, I discussed the impact that Tyrann Mathieu was having on the Chiefs defense. This time, it was Juan Thornhill’s turn to be an impact player.
Juan Thornhill continues to develop as a player and has shown glimpses of top safety play.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) December 25, 2019
CHI in 3x1, KC showing pressure off passing strength. CHI checks to a bubble. Mathieu rolls deep, alert to Thornhill. He drives downhill, forcing WR back inside then sheds to make tackle. pic.twitter.com/9ytglfTVBB
Thornhill was able to thrive in multiple roles. As a deep safety, he was able to keep a lid on the defense and prevent explosive plays. He was able to help bracket Robinson. He also took away Trubisky’s comfort throws by collapsing underneath, robbing the routes. And he flashed in run support and against the screen game — as we see in this play.
Spagnuolo clearly trusts his safety tandem to clean up a lot of what the Chiefs do on the back end. When he’s blitzing, he trusts both Mathieu and Thornhill in man coverage against receivers of all talent levels. He also trusts his safeties in zone — whether they’re in deep coverage, the flats or the hole. He knows he can get run support from them, too — allowing him to take more risks with some run fits on the interior.
Last year, the safeties were arguably the weakest point of the defense. This season, it’s arguably the strongest point of Spagnuolo’s unit.
Suggs and Fuller were both solid additions to run fits this week.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) December 25, 2019
CHI Power read, Suggs keeps eyes in backfield and stays home until after the handoff. Clark strings the play along, and Fuller willingly engages the pulling OT to turn RB back. Suggs pursuit results in short game. pic.twitter.com/KREq7x4STC
As the Chiefs were primarily playing dime defense against the Bears, run fits and execution were very important. But on Sunday, the Chiefs added two key ingredients: Terrell Suggs and Kendall Fuller.
In my initial film review of Terrell Suggs’ 2019 season, I highlighted his quick play identification and his ability to capitalize on it. That aspect of Suggs’ game showed up immediately against the Bears — as shown on this play.
Suggs sees the handoff, making sure not to abandon his edge in case the quarterback keeps the ball, then pursues the ball carrier all the way to the back side to make the play. But Suggs likely doesn’t get the opportunity without Fuller’s willingness to properly fit in the run game.
While Frank Clark is fighting through a hold to try to get upfield and set the edge, the left tackle is able to pull around the formation and get into space. Fuller attacks the outside shoulder of a player significantly heavier than he is, forcing the running back’s cutback. That cutback into Clark allows Suggs to make the tackle for a short gain.
Quick play identification from a back-side defensive end — and the willingness to attack a block from a nickel/safety hybrid — were integral pieces toward the defensive front finding success against the Bears. If the Chiefs want to keep playing with light boxes to maximize their range, these kinds of plays will need to continue to have success.
With KC playing so much dime against a read-option offense, there were bound to be light boxes and running room.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) December 25, 2019
LG and OC seal the middle of the defense, Hitchens and TK both align wide to defend stretch. One of TK or Hitchens has to trigger on the dive, neither does. Big run. pic.twitter.com/lUgfWUiv0y
Even though the dime defense worked most of the time, there were some breakdowns against the run.
When defensive backs are asked to cover interior gaps in the run game — as Daniel Sorensen is doing here — expecting a win in a one-on-one battle against an offensive lineman is not reasonable. For this reason, mistakes by players typically involved in base defense run fits are magnified.
Here we see three defenders against two offensive linemen on the right side of the Bears offense. Firing off the snap, the right guard and right tackle move Chris Jones well off the spot with a double team. Initially, this leaves Anthony Hitchens and Tanoh Kpassagnon unblocked.
The Bears are running a read option, so both Kpassagnon and Hitchens float wide to defend a quarterback keeper. This allows the double team on Jones to blow the gap wide open and climb to Hitchens, leaving a wide-open gap for the ball carrier to hit at full speed.
Hitchens’ wide alignment before the snap makes me wonder if Kpassagnon was supposed to trigger on the running back dive, leaving Hitchens responsible for the quarterback. But Kpassagnon definitely plays the quarterback all the way. The confusion between these two players exacerbates Jones’ inability to hold at the point of attack — and Sorensen’s difficulty attacking an interior run gap.
If Spagnuolo wants to stay in the dime, this communication has got to be cleaned up — before the Chiefs play against a more dynamic opponent than the Bears. Luckily, these kinds of plays are fewer and farther between than they were early in the season. But these explosive runs could make or break the team in January.
Something you may have missed
Spagnuolo forced Trubisky to hurry throws, and a better throw is likely a pick six on this play.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) December 25, 2019
Fuller and Sorensen blitz off opposite edges while Hitchens loops around to cover the RB if he kicks out to the flat. Thornhill drives on drag, Sorensen's pressure forces short pass. pic.twitter.com/4B3XtWjXJI
Early in the game, Spagnuolo was definitely in Trubisky’s head. While he didn’t have to send the house for a heavy percentage of the game, the moments he did were very effective.
But you might have missed this play, where a forced throw is so poor that it actually saved a pick-six by the Chiefs defense.
Thornhill knows pressure is coming up front, so Trubisky is likely going to have to get rid of the ball quickly. Play action just exacerbates the situation for Trubisky; he has his back to the coverage and isn’t able to see the pressure or any of the routes coming open. Since it’s closest — and easiest for Trubisky to hit — Thornhill drives on the drag route. But Sorensen’s terrific pressure forces the throw into the dirt.
If Trubisky had been able to put a little extra on the ball, Thornhill probably would have had his second pick six of the year. It was a phenomenal blitz — and great coverage — by the defense.
The bottom line
This is the fifth week in a row that Spagnuolo’s defense has made the opposition’s offense look very poor — and the fifth week in a row that we’ve seen the Chiefs defense make the opposition’s offense look worse than the week before.
While the unit has been facing a string of poorly-performing offenses — some with almost nothing left to play for — the way they’re getting things done should continue to build confidence. The Bears were never really in this game — due in no small part to the efforts of the Chiefs defense.
The defense is definitely peaking at the correct time. Beating up on bad offenses and getting to try different looks that could pay dividends in January is exactly what we should want out of the team right now. This defense is also helping the Chiefs offense to sort out any issues they may have, allowing Andy Reid to call the type of game he likes to call at this point in the season: one that doesn’t reveal much of the playbook.
It remains to be seen what this defense will do against a more dynamic, better-executing offense. But with the way the defense is clicking against bad opponents, it’s hard to envision them not pulling their weight when the playoffs roll into Arrowhead.