How Steve Spagnuolo uses pressure to create havoc on opponents

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From the FanPosts -- JD

This might be the biggest question in Kansas City right now: how are the Kansas City Chiefs going to create pressure after losing Dee Ford and Justin Houston in one offseason?

Last season, the Chiefs had 52 sacks -- with the two of them combining for 22 of them. And the Chiefs still had a terrible defense! Without them, will they get worse?

But looking at the tape from Steve Spagnuolo's New York Giants showed me different things, and I now have a different perspective on the situation. I understand the concerns, but analyzing the tape shows that the Chiefs can still create pressure -- but in a new and more modern way.

The Numbers

I watched five games from each season for the 2016 and 2017 Giants -- some against high passing attacks and some against teams emphasizing the run -- to understand what a game plan would look like against different styles. And let me say this: it is the polar opposite of Bob Sutton.

While watching the tape, I charted three types of pressure: blitzes, stunts, and regular four-man rushes. There was some overlap -- for example, stunts were generally run from a four-man rush. Anything else was either a three or four-man rush. What I found was interesting.

Blitzes - 2016 Giants

Against Blitzes DBacks Pct
Packers 12 46 26.1%
Steelers 6 28 21.4%
Ravens 14 51 27.5%
Cowboys 11 39 28.2%
Eagles 15 50 30.0%
TOTALS 58 214 27.1%

Blitzes - 2017 Giants

Team Blitzes DBacks Pct
Eagles 13 37 35.1%
Chiefs 3 45 6.7%
Rams 5 21 23.8%
Redskins 6 40 15.0%
Lions 5 27 18.5%
TOTALS 32 170 18.8%

The 2016 Giants went 11-5. The defense was ranked 10th in yards, and second in points allowed. The 2017 Giants went 3-13, ranking 31st in yards and 27th in points.

After analyzing the tape, there were a lot of reasons for that drop in production (mainly coverage related -- stay tuned!) but the drop in blitzing definitely was a major factor.

To put it simply, the 2017 Giants just didn't blitz much -- especially as the season went on. Maybe it was due to the terrible coverage, but they weren't aggressive enough. This allowed many more big plays -- and when more big plays are given up, the worse your defense is.

While blitzing is a common way to get pressure, you can't blitz one guy and expect to get pressure. Spagnuolo said it once: the more guys you send to rush, the more windows there are to throw from. So you have to get creative about when (and how) to blitz.

So when Spagnuolo blitzed, was it effective?

Giants Blitz vs. Pressure 2016-17

Team BlitzPct PressPct
2016 Giants 27.1% 46.6%
2017 Giants 18.8% 5.9%

Now... you can't use these numbers to simply say that more blitzing gives you a higher pressure percentage; coverage shells and personnel matter. But as I showed in my personnel article, the personnel was similar. So while there are other factors involved, you can clearly see something: as long as he had a good secondary, the more Spagnuolo blitzed, the more pressure he created.

When studying tape, I slowly gravitated towards blitzing. If you only send the same front four -- which is what the Chiefs have done for six years -- opposing teams can take those guys away. That's what New England did. This allowed them to shuffle between two plays -- based on the personnel on the field -- and destroy the Chiefs defense.

Blitzing is not perfect. It leaves fewer guys in coverage. But the NFL is changing. You can't be stagnant. I think Andy Reid knows this, and this is why he hired Spagnuolo. He is nowhere close to perfect -- in fact, he has had multiple bad seasons. But he will try anything.A nd with an offense like the Chiefs possesses, that is a formula to win.

I'm not going to dive too deeply into stunts, but here are some basic numbers.

Giants Stunts vs. Pressure 2016-17

Team StuntPct PressPct
2016 Giants 8.4% 50.0%
2017 Giants 7.1% 25.0%

I charted 18 stunts in 2016, and 12 in 2017. So Spagnuolo didn't run them often. I think part of the reason why is that he had Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul on the edge, so he could win with four rushers. But in Kansas City -- without elite edge rushers -- scheming pressure will probably yield more results than rushing four.

So I feel that is one thing that will change with the Chiefs. With Brendan Daly as defensive line coach, I think he will bring more stunts that he did with the New England Patriots -- perhaps 15-20% of the time instead of 10%.

This is a small sample size, but I find it encouraging. New Chiefs defensive ends Alex Okafor and Emmanuel Ogbah don't have many moves when they rush forward, but they perform well laterally -- which means they will be able to perform well in any stunts that are called.

The Tape

How creative can Spagnuolo get with his blitzes, and which ones are effective?

I chose many different examples -- none that are the same -- to show how creative Spagnuolo can get in his pressure packages.

When it gets to third and long, Spagnuolo loves to get smaller. Without strong-side defensive end Pierre-Paul, Spagnuolo decides to get smaller in his front and run a well-executed stunt to create havoc on Aaron Rodgers. He puts Sam linebacker Devon Kennard at EDGE, and moves rotational end Shane Wynn inside to 1-technique. He slants into the right C gap, while Kennard loops into the right A gap. While Spagnuolo doesn't run many stunts, when he does they are very effective.

Spagnuolo loves corner blitzes -- especially from his nickel corners. It is a major tendency for him. Here on second-and-11, he sends the corner to get pressure, and it works well. I expect Kendall Fuller to blitz a decent amount this season, and if it goes right, he could have two or three sacks -- which would help alleviate some of the Chiefs' pass rush problems.

Spagnuolo also likes to send two defensive backs on the same side -- an overload blitz. He'll make the protection shift one way and then blitz the other side -- which confuses the offensive line's gap assignments. Here on a third-and-8, the box safety Landon Collins blitzes to occupy the left guard, while the nickel back comes on a delay in the same gap.

I loved this play. Spagnuolo will do anything to win a football game; he isn't afraid to try anything -- unlike some defensive coordinators, I know. Yes, they give up the play, but this play sent a message.

Here's a good example of a NASCAR package. Spagnuolo puts four defensive ends on the line. They can all stand up or put their hands in the dirt. This is something that has carried with him forever, and that won't go away this season. For the Chiefs, these packages might include Ogbah, Okafor, Chris Jones and Tanoh Kpassagnon (or a draft pick).

I loved this blitz when I was watching that game; I literally watched it five or six times. Spagnuolo blitzed all three linebackers -- something I have never witnessed. Vernon -- the Leo -- kicks inside to 5-technique, which helps hold against the run. While I don't expect many three linebacker blitzes this year, be prepared to see Dorian O'Daniel and Anthony Hitchens to blitz a lot -- especially Hitchens -- to mask deficiencies in coverage.

This stunt/blitz was interesting, as there is only one down lineman. The nickel back and 5-technique end both show blitz, but drop into coverage. This makes the line shift to the right, but when those guys aren't there, they can't react to what is happening on the other side. The overload blitz confuses the offensive line, and I love it. The Baltimore Ravens under Don Martindale did this a lot to confuse Mahomes, and it was widely effective. (I am so glad we didn't pay Landon Collins that contract).

One thing I saw frequently is the use of a five-man front. While it isn't the traditional five-man front like in the 3-4, the Sam linebacker lines up on the line -- either to rush or to drop into coverage. The Chiefs desperately need a player who can do this; Jeremiah Attaochu and Damien Wilson don't have the skills to rush or drop consistently. I haven't analyzed Sam tape from the college level, but Brian Burns would be a player that could fulfill this role. While I wouldn't ask him to drop a lot, he can play that Sam linebacker spot on occasion, which would diversify the Chiefs' fronts.

My eyes opened so wide when I saw this, and I loved it! Eight-man blitz?! That is unheard of. And yes, I am aware that Vernon dropped into coverage, but he showed rush first. Watch how Baltimore has no idea how to block it. The running back gets lost trying to block Vernon wide, and leaves two people to go in the B gap. While there won't be many of these blitzes this season, I hope to see this at least once to make me happy inside.

I liked this blitz. I called it the Cross Linebacker Blitz. Like I said, Hitchens and O'Daniel are going to blitz a lot this year. This is one way to do it. Will linebacker Jonathan Casillas gets the center off-guard, and the Mike linebacker comes on a delay. While Dallas blocked this well, I liked the idea of O'Daniel sprinting into a gap quickly and Hitchens moving downhill -- where he is much more effective.

I liked this stunt a lot. The defensive end loops inside after the two other lineman slant to get blockers out of the way. Stunts take a while to execute, but if you can make the quarterback hold on the ball for a second longer, it makes a huge difference in the effectiveness of the stunt.

Even though it was only a three-man front, the double linebacker blitz on the right side -- then the double defensive back blitz on the left -- makes it so someone is rushing free. When that happens, the quarterback can't step up, which makes him lose his momentum throwing the ball -- which in this case, leads to a near-interception. Any time you can force a quarterback to throw on his heels, it is easier to create turnovers.

When watching this game (a terrible game by Alex Smith), I noticed a lot of three-man pressures. In fact, in 45 dropbacks, the Giants only sent three blitzes. They sent many three-man rushes, which forced Smith -- who likes to dump the ball to the flat -- to force balls into windows. This could be a strategy against a quarterback like Derek Carr, who does similar things.

This stunt was interesting to me. With three linemen lined up far right -- and only one left -- there is more freedom of movement up the middle. Since protection shifts wider right, they can loop into the middle with more space to win. This was the only time I saw this, but I liked it, and I wondered if we'll see something similar this year.


Is blitzing effective? Can the Chiefs win without great pass rushers on the edge?

I say yes.

I understand the Chiefs under Spagnuolo won't always win, but pressure is a complex mix; you have to be able to draw up many plays to get pressure. It will be interesting to see how creative Spagnuolo and Daly can be in drawing up pressure -- but without Ford and Houston, they will have to.

If I were Brett Veach, I'd draft an edge rusher early. I understand that stunts and blitzes can work, but you still need guys on the edge. For as much those Giants teams blitzed, they also had two elite edges in Paul-Pierre and Vernon. While this team is different, you still need a guy to win off the edge. We don't need Frank Clark, but we need a guy like Clelin Ferrell -- a guy who can play all three downs, and who has powerful hands and agility.

This defense will be different. We won't have as many good pass rushers any more, but with the change to more power and agility, expect better results against the run and in batting balls down. Given our playoff failures against the run, shouldn't we all want that? It could make the difference in finally getting the Lombardi Trophy.

Thanks for reading. A shout out to Daniel Harms for helping me with getting the plays on Twitter. Follow @Natech479 for more film reviews, and please comment with your ideas on other reviews of players or schemes.

And finally... GO CHIEFS!

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Arrowhead Pride's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Arrowhead Pride writers or editors.