At 3:25 p.m. Sunday afternoon, the Kansas City Chiefs welcomed the Oakland Raiders into Arrowhead Stadium in an almost winner-take-all scenario in the AFC West division race.
By 4:00 p.m., the Chiefs had all but ended the game over their most threatening divisional foe.
The Chiefs’ dominant victory was supported by another quality defensive performance, taking advantage of a poor Oakland offense. 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 from this win over the Raiders.
The Raiders were able to move the ball in spurts against the Chiefs defense, both on the ground early and through the air very late against backups. In turn, the Chiefs’ defensive success rates were not as good as other good defensive performances. The Chiefs were under a 50% success rate for all but the second quarter of the game and had just a 10% success rate with their backups in the fourth quarter.
The Chiefs defense did boast a strong second-quarter performance, posting a 69% success rate through the period. The Chiefs also continued to perform well on third downs — a 66% defensive success rate against Oakland.
Defensive formations - Week 13
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At Week 13 of the season, it’s safe to say that Steve Spagnuolo’s best “regular” formation is his dime defense. That held true once again against the Raiders, despite lesser usage than other weeks.
Unlike some previous performances, the Chiefs were better against the run out of their base defense compared to their nickel defense. Kansas City allowed 4.1 yards per carry on 12 attempts in its base, compared to the 6.5 yards per carry on 10 attempts against the nickel defense.
Pass rushing - Week 13
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Somewhat surprisingly, Derek Carr handled the blitz well. Quick passing concepts and dump offs into the flat worked wonders against the Chiefs’ extra rushers. That said, the Chiefs did their secondary minimal favors with their four-man rush against the Raiders. Alex Okafor’s return didn’t bring pressure off the edge, and Frank Clark’s early exit did nothing to improve an already-bad four-man rush.
Pass coverages - Week 13
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Spagnuolo dialed up more man-match coverages against Oakland than in previous weeks — helping to bracket wide receiver Tyrell Williams and sometimes tight end Darren Waller. When Waller did get one-on-one matchups, he was a problem, leading to an overall poor success rate in zone and man coverages.
Prior to the last drive of the game, the Chiefs had played well in zone coverage, finding success 66% of Carr’s dropbacks.
OAK's compressed splits meant KC ran more "cone" coverage to bracket receivers.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) December 3, 2019
Cover 7, Slot CB is man on #2 in-breaking, hook is man on #3 out. Cone between boundary CB and S, CB takes short and outside, safety deep and inside. S stays flat, reads break, and jumps route. pic.twitter.com/6c9ywZmscJ
Steve Spagnuolo pulled a few tricks out of his playbook this week.
WIthout having to contend with a serious vertical passing threat, Spagnuolo was able to dial up more horizontal-leaning coverages. Juan Thornhill’s pick-six interception was a well-executed example of one of these man-match coverages — Cover 7 with a cone technique.
Cone techniques are ideal for defending condensed splits. Oakland leans on those splits out of bunches, as I described in last week’s Advanced Scouting article. It aligns the boundary cornerback in off-man coverage, tasking him with driving on anything outside or short from the strong No. 1 receiver. The safety over the top stays over the No. 1 receiver, taking any route that is inside or deep. This technique helps to limit the amount of field that each player has to defend from the offense’s condensed splits, while still allowing the whole route tree to be covered quickly.
The technique is executed flawlessly by Thornhill. By sitting flat-footed, Thornhill is able to quickly drive downhill on the in-breaking route immediately upon recognition. Carr thinks he can squeeze the ball to Williams, but Thornhill is able to jump the route and is home free to the end zone.
Spagnuolo ran plenty of man-match coverages and cone technique this week and really focused on walling off vertical routes from the interior receivers. It was fantastic to see another wrinkle this late in the season for some of the horizontal passing attacks the Chiefs still have on their schedule.
OAK's run game just came too easy this week, as KC defenders struggled to beat a single block.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) December 3, 2019
8-man box, under front. Wilson mugging weak A. OC reaches Pennel while RG climbs to Hitchens. LT and TE seal Okafor and Ragland, FB leads to the gap and RB has way-too-easy yardage. pic.twitter.com/c7pHPatjne
If there’s one spot the Chiefs defense struggled against the Raiders offense, it was early in run defense. The Chiefs have allowed increasingly more explosive runs in recent weeks, and Oakland was able to continue that trend. Both interior and stretch runs found far too many 5-plus yard runs, and it wasn’t just limited to one side of the line.
Unfortunately, plays like the above are commonplace in the Chiefs defense this season. The defensive line isn’t winning its battles up front, and the linebacking corps is arguably one of the worst in the league at stopping the run. Teams are going to continue to pound the rock and try to dominate the game flow against the poor run defense.
Where the Chiefs can hang their hats is that they do create more negative plays against the run than they have in years past. This Chiefs’ front does force their fair share of stops on early downs, making teams throw into a superior pass defense. The run defense may be mostly lost for the 2019 season, but the occasional wins up front may be enough to force late downs and get off the field.
Something you may have missed
When we asked for questions on this week’s AP Laboratory Podcast, many people asked about Kendall Fuller’s role as a deep safety in his return to the Chiefs’ lineup. Fuller absolutely played some deep safety against the Raiders — and not just dropping from his slot cornerback role to that deep zone, as we’ve seen in multiple outings from Spagnuolo. Fuller started deep several snaps, saw a single-high safety rep and got a small handful of slot cornerback snaps. That’s versatility, and it’s a good thing.
However, these snaps still only came in the dime defense before the backups were on the field. On top of that, when the Chiefs went dime early, that spot was filled by rookie Rashad Fenton. It was only after Fenton exited the game that Fuller even saw snaps with the Chiefs defense. If Fenton didn’t get injured, I’m not sure how much run Fuller would have gotten this week.
Quite simply, Spagnuolo would rather use his well-paid safety — who is excellent in a robber role and can stuff the run — as his primary slot cornerback than utilize the slot cornerbacks on the roster. Even with Fuller’s return to health, Spagnuolo didn’t revert to his early-season tendencies. He instead chooses to utilize three safeties (also needed to cover deficiencies in linebacker coverage) in his nickel defense. It puts a little more perspective on what this defense is doing with the players they have at their disposal.
It came against KC's backups, but you may have missed OAK's "heavy mesh" concept to score their only TD of the day.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) December 3, 2019
Tackle-eligible and three TE's, the eligible OT runs the mesh concept with the opposite TE. Big body made it difficult to get through in traffic and an open TD. pic.twitter.com/6fePvKgPL9
Say what you will about Jon Gruden, but he puts some interesting things on tape.
The Raiders’ last offensive play of the game saw Gruden line up three tight ends and one eligible tackle with a single running back. Oakland then executed a mesh route concept with an offensive tackle!
The tackle forces Thornhill to have to tuck behind the opposite tight end in coverage with his rub route, and the result is an open touchdown. Despite losing big, Gruden got to put a little extra fun on the end of the game.
The bottom line
As I said against the Los Angeles Chargers and the Denver Broncos: good defenses make bad offenses look even worse.
Steve Spagnuolo came in with a good game plan to force mistakes from the Raiders offense. The adjustments in coverage allowed the strength of the Chiefs defense — their safeties — to be featured as playmakers. Those players turned the tide early and allowed the Chiefs to build a three-score lead before halftime and complete three scoreless quarters.
On a day in which the Chiefs defensive line and linebackers were hit and miss, Spagnuolo’s excellent calls allowed the defense’s best playmakers to ruin the Raiders plans for the day. Going into an important matchup against an AFC powerhouse, a quality game plan may make all the difference moving forward.