From the Fan Posts. - PS
I remember talking to a friend of mine a few years ago about how we would construct an NFL defense if given a chance.
Both of us unequivocally agreed that you need pass rushers in today’s pass-happy league, and pressuring the quarterback would be priority No. 1. I remember going as far as arguing that I would spend almost all of my draft capital on the front seven and worry about defensive backs in the later rounds and free agency.
It felt like my NFL team would always be just a fantasy. Then something happened.
The NFL continued to change to an RPO, spread-heavy league and the ball was not only coming out faster but also at different angles; screens and misdirections were used to keep pass rushers from attacking a "spot" on the field.
"We know we have two seconds or less." Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham said before playing the Patriots in the Super Bowl. "After that, you have to get lucky."
Next Gen Stats show us how quickly the game's top quarterbacks were getting the ball out of their hands.
2018 Time to Throw (Next Gen Stats)
Drew Brees – 2.59
Tom Brady – 2.61
Andrew Luck – 2.63
Patrick Mahomes 2.91
Jared Goff – 2.94
I took a look into data regarding teams' pass-rush statistics vs. coverage statistics and I was blown away. Pro Football Focus released the New England Patriots defensive ranks for their past three Super Bowl wins:
After seeing the stats, I started to second-guess my beliefs about building a successful NFL defense. If quarterbacks are getting the ball out so quickly, does a significant pass rush even matter?
Digging a little deeper into this past season's playoff numbers (courtesy of PFF), the Patriots' pass rush exploded.
When they played Philip Rivers, they pressured him on 46 percent of his drop-backs, compared to only 36 percent during the regular season. When Belichick and company played Kansas City, Mahomes was pressured on a whopping 50 percent of his dropbacks, compared to 35 percent in the regular season. Finally, against the Rams, Goff was pressured on 43 percent of his dropbacks, compared to only 31 percent during the season.
After looking at statistics, we can make the argument that both coverage and pass rush play their part to play in any championship team. But how did the same players during the regular season have more success in the playoffs against better teams, better players and better coaching?
Against the Chargers, Belichick deployed a brand new defense that Rivers had not yet seen on tape. Belichick used stunts, delayed blitzes and A-gap blitzes all game long and the Chargers had no answer. While the front seven was doing something almost brand new, the defensive secondary was doing what they did all season long. Cover. The result was to be expected.
Against Kansas City and Los Angeles, Belichick did the same thing. He changed his scheme.
This is the one thing Belichick does better than anyone else in the league. He trusts his schemes and coaches to utilize players' strengths and puts them in good position throughout the game. Lastly, what do Lawyer Milloy, Richard Seymour, Chandler Jones, Ty Law, Mike Vrabel, Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan and Jamie Collins all have in common?
They were either let go or traded by Belichick because they would have commanded too much money and/or Belichick knew he could get a solid return for them. The players are a revolving door, but the defensive philosophy stays the same.
When Kansas City hired Steve Spagnuolo as their new defensive coordinator, I wanted to look at his history and his defense scheme before jumping to any conclusions.
Something that stood out to me right away was the praise (and eventual offer to be a head coach), primarily because of his defensive game plan against the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.
Spagnuolo typically has run a 4-3 Under scheme as a defensive coordinator, relying heavily on four-man rushes, mixed with a variety of exotic blitzes (typically coming from the defensive secondary). Keith Butler, the defensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers spoke about scheme this past year and how defenses can slow down these high-powered offenses."
"You have to throw false blitzes at them, then go into a four-man rush," Butler said. "You have to create some doubt in their mind because they have to hold the ball longer."
Reading and seeing these quotes has made me a believer in Spagnuolo for the upcoming 2019-20 season. Spagnuolo gets it.
Holding the ball longer, as Butler said, is imperative in winning games against top-tier quarterbacks. Create doubt. As a lifelong Kansas City fan, I have grown way too tired over the past few seasons, having watched Bob Sutton hardly create any confusion in the passing game. Tom Brady knew what was coming in the AFC championship game, and so did Tony Romo sitting in the broadcast booth.
Even though coach Spagnuolo has been away from the game for a year, his principles and game plans still work in today’s pass-happy league, and he is constantly tweaking his philosophy. After the Monday night game between the Chiefs and the Rams, coach Spagnuolo had some interesting thoughts.
"These offenses that are scoring a lot of points are doing it because they’re explosive in nature. Your [new] conventional wisdom is matching explosive plays with defensive explosive plays."
While training camp, coaching and getting the right players are all valuable in the NFL, scheme appears to be the one catalyst. It is the one difference-maker that a team does not see coming from week to week, especially in the playoffs.
Scheme can take a league rated 19th-best pass rush and have it destroy high-end, Hall of Fame and MVP quarterbacks in the playoffs. Creating confusion, doubt, uncertainty is something we in Kansas City have not seen in quite some time on the defensive side of the ball, but it is coming.
And hopefully a championship along with it.