How Brett Veach can maximize Steve Spagnuolo's scheme

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

From the FanPosts -- JD

The Kansas City Chiefs are going through a defensive transition.

The 3-4 base defense the Chiefs have been running for years under former defensive coordinator Bob Sutton has been thrown away. Old faces -- such as Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, Eric Berry, and Dee Ford -- have been shown the door.

Under new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, this is a new era in Kansas City. Instead of the rigid scheme Sutton ran, the Chiefs have a new 4-3 Under hybrid scheme that is built around getting pressure.

This style of defense will be refreshing for Chiefs fans. But how is the defense going to be built?

Since we lost so many key defensive players in the past couple of years, how can the Chiefs build a defense quickly enough to help its offense win?

In this -- the first of a series of articles -- I will provide an overview of this process.

First, we must understand the scheme and the personnel behind the scheme; we need to have an understanding of what a good Spagnuolo defense looks like, and the personnel required to run it.

But before getting to players and their roles, we must have a firm understanding of the 4-3 Under scheme Spagnuolo uses. Arrowhead Pride writers Craig Stout and Matt Lane have had great articles describing the 4-3 Under, but I will explain it in my own words.

The front seven

In this scheme, we ditch the two outside linebackers who are standing up at the snap, and replace them with two bigger ends with their hands in the dirt.

The front starts out in the center of the defensive line with our one-technique nose tackle, who lines up on either side of the center. The nose tackle's job is to force double-teams, clog the inside runs, and push the pocket on passing downs.

To his right, we have the other defensive tackle -- a three-technique player. Because he can use multiple moves to gain pressure, he will have better pass-rushing ability. He only has one gap to fill; he just pushes straight forward.

To his right of the three-tech defensive tackle, we have the weak side defensive end -- known as the Leo. The Leo's job isn't so much to hold up against the run, but to be a pass rusher. He does have responsibilities against the run -- especially if the tight end motions to his side -- but this role is generally for a smaller, faster player who can win quickly on the edge. The Leo is also sometimes known as the Wide 9 Tech, which means he lines up far off the offensive tackle's shoulder, and moves around the edge with speed.

To the left of the nose tackle, we have the strong side defensive end. His job is kind of the opposite of the Leo. He is a five-technique player. He needs to set a great edge to force runs back inside. While he does have pass rush responsibilities, his basic job is against the run. On passing downs, he can line up farther outside, but generally he is lined up directly across from the offensive tackle, but on his outside shoulder -- that is, not as wide as the Leo.

To the left of the strong side defensive end, we have the Sam linebacker -- but for Spagnuolo, this is much more of a hybrid player. The Sam can line up anywhere -- but in the base front, he lines up as that Wide 9 Tech off the tight end. The Sam has many roles. He can rush the passer from many different angles, but he is also asked to set an edge and carry a tight end vertically. This role can be confusing -- but if you want an example, think of Minnesota Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr.

Then we have the middle linebacker -- called the Mike linebacker. The Mike is the quarterback of the defense; his job is to get everyone lined up, and then be a great tackler who can stop the run. In passing downs, the Mike also needs to be able to cover the Curl/Flat zone or the Hook/Curl zone. He isn't asked to drop into coverage as much as in a 3-4, but he still needs to be able to cover some ground in the short zones. (Don't worry -- Spagnuolo won't ask his Mike to drop 30 yards downfield to cover a tight end).

Finally we have the Will -- that is, the weak side linebacker. The Will is a coverage linebacker who can blitz quickly, but also cover the curl/flat zones. He can also be tasked to run with a running back in coverage -- essentially as a shadow.

The secondary

In this article, I'm not going to get too deeply into the secondary, but here's a quick overview:

Spagnuolo runs a pattern-match zone, which I will address in more detail in a later article. For our purposes now, the cornerbacks can either play off-man, press or zone; it just depends on shells. Spagnuolo generally runs more zone-coverage shells than man-coverage shells.

But I do want to talk about the safeties a little.

Spagnuolo likes to have a box safety: a guy closer to the line of scrimmage who can cover a tight end, blitz or cover short zones -- while also holding up against the run. Spagnuolo loves having this chess piece.

At the other safety position, Spagnuolo doesn't have the conventional free safety -- one who must have great range to cover the full field. His safeties usually only get one-third or one-fourth of the field, and play more man-coverage than deep-coverage.

But since the Chiefs were apparently close to getting Earl Thomas this year, it's possible Spagnuolo is going to change that role a little bit. Still -- based on his past -- his free safeties don't generally have to cover a large piece of the field.

The personnel

So what kind of players is Spagnuolo looking for when he's building a defense?

For the purposes of this article, I decided to look at three teams; the 2012 New Orleans Saints, and the 2016 and 2017 New York Giants. The 2016 Giants were one of the best defenses in football, but fell off hard the next year. I had to choose between the 2010 St. Louis Rams and 2012 Saints for the third team, but on NFL Game Pass, there isn't coaches film for the 2010 Rams. So I decided the 2012 Saints would be a better option.

2012 Saints

Pos Player Hgt Wgt Exp Avg/Yr
SS DE Will Smith 6-3 282 1 $9.0M
1-tech NT Sedrick Ellis 6-1 308 4 $6.7M
3-tech DT Brodrick Bunkley 6-2 295 6 $5.0M
Leo DE Cameron Jordan 6-4 287 8 $1.9M
Sam LB David Hawthorne 6-0 230 4 $3.8M
Mike LB Curtis Lofton 6-2 238 4 $5.5M
Will LB Jonathan Vilma 6-1 230 8 $6.8M
CB Jabari Greer 5-11 169 8 $5.3M
CB Patrick Robinson 5-11 191 2 $1.9M
SS Roman Harper 6-0 195 6 $7.1M
FS Malcolm Jenkins 6-0 204 3 $3.8M

2016 Giants

Pos Player Hgt Wgt Exp Avg/Yr
SS DE Jason Pierre-Paul 6-5 275 6 $15.5M
1-tech NT Damon Harrison 6-3 353 4 $8.3M
3-tech DT Jonathan Hankins 6-2 325 3 $1.0M
Leo DE Olivier Vernon 6-2 262 4 $17M
Sam LB Devon Kennard 6-4 256 2 $591K
Mike LB Kelvin Sheppard 6-2 249 5 $840K
Will LB Jonathan Casillas 6-0 225 7 $2.67M
CB Janoris Jenkins 5-10 190 4 $15.5M
CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie 6-2 203 8 $7.0M
NB Eli Apple 6-1 203 0 $3.8M
SS Landon Collins 6-0 218 1 $1.5M
FS Andrew Adams 5-11 205 0 Min
DS Darian Thompson 6-2 211 0 $863K

2017 Giants

Pos Player Hgt Wgt Exp Avg/Yr
SS DE Jason Pierre-Paul 6-5 275 7 $15.5M
1-tech NT Damon Harrison 6-3 353 5 $9.3M
3-tech DT Dalvin Tomlinson 6-3 317 0 $1.1M
Leo DE Olivier Vernon 6-2 262 5 $17M
Sam LB Devon Kennard 6-4 256 3 $591K
Mike LB BJ Goodson 6-1 241 1 $730K
Will LB Jonathan Casillas 6-0 225 8 $2,67M
CB Janoris Jenkins 5-10 190 5 $15.5M
CB Eli Apple 6-1 203 1 $3.8M
NB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie 6-2 203 9 $7M
SS Landon Collins 6-0 218 2 $1.5M
FS Darian Thompson 6-2 211 1 $862K
DS Andrew Adams 5-11 205 1 Min

If you examine the players on these defensive rosters, you can see some clear themes;

  1. Strong side defensive ends are bigger, longer players.

  2. Younger players in the secondary

  3. A lot of money is spent on the front seven

The 2016 and 2017 Giants spent a lot on defense; even adjusting for increases in the salary cap, the 2012 Saints didn't spend nearly as much. Spagnuolo does, however, seem comfortable with not spending a lot on secondary, which bodes well for the Chiefs; it looks like Spagnuolo would be OK playing guys like Charvarius Ward and Jordan Lucas

If the Chiefs can have a good secondary without having to break the bank on cornerbacks, the team looks all right. I will touch on this later, but I expect for the Chiefs to draft a lot of secondary in the draft, so they can have many players from which to choose.

But we're not there yet. If the season started today, what would the defense look like?

Honestly, I feel this is a solid foundation.

Clearly there has been a theme on the defensive line: get long, strong defensive ends with good lateral agility. Alex Okafor, Emmanuel Ogbah and Breeland Speaks all fit that description. Yes... they aren't natural pass rushers. But like I said at the beginning, this is a transition era. No longer are the Chiefs going to have guys who can get around the edge quickly, but can't hold up against the run; the team now has guys who can do that -- and who have powerful hands to bat balls down.

I understand the Chiefs had 52 sacks last season, but did they touch Tom Brady once in the AFC Championship?

Clearly, Chiefs general manager Brett Veach, Spagnuolo, new defensive line coach Brendan Daly and head coach Andy Reid have watched the tape and decided to go cheaper and younger, and depend on a committee to get pass rush pressure -- rather than highly-paid stars.

I'm not sure I like this, but I do like the concept. Honestly... in a league where of 60% of teams run a 4-3 scheme, 3-4 outside linebackers are starting to become relics. I'm not saying I loved trading Ford or cutting Houston, but I see the concept that is at work. I was on board for cutting Houston; his cap number was just too high. I still don't really like the Ford trade, but clearly, Veach has different philosophies than Dorsey; he isn't going to spend $35 million on 3-4 linebackers.

And I can get behind that. Veach and Spagnuolo prefer the big bodies. This isn't to say, for example, that Ford wouldn't fit in the new scheme -- he would -- but Veach and Spagnuolo clearly prefer a different kind of player.

I also believe this is going to be Chris Jones' best season yet. Instead of having two-gap responsibilities -- as he did in Sutton's 3-4 -- he will now only have one gap to cover. With his powerful hands and strength, he should be much-improved against the run. That is an exciting prospect. He should be able to play more snaps next year, and while I don't think he will play every snap, he should play more in short yardage situations.

I am also excited to see the development of Derrick Nnadi. At the end of the year, Nnadi was playing really well. With far-better coaching under Daly, I am really excited to see what he can do in the new scheme.

It's an interesting situation with the Chiefs linebackers, Spagnuolo doesn't really care about linebackers as much as other teams. He isn't reliant on linebackers to make as many plays; the scheme relies more on the front four and back end to create pressure and plays.

In a certain sense, this is really good for for the Chiefs. The team has invested a lot of assets in the linebacker group. Hitchens makes around $9 million a year, and Damien Wilson makes around $3 million. Dorian O'Daniel was a third-round pick, and Reggie Ragland cost a fourth-round pick to acquire from the Buffalo Bills.

Many Chiefs fans thought the team should enter the Anthony Barr sweepstakes, but honestly, the team has already invested way too much at linebacker.

This is both good and bad. It is good because it isn't a major need this year, but it's bad because I feel shaky about the Chiefs' linebackers group; I don't have a great feeling of confidence about them. But I like O'Daniel somewhat, and Anthony Hitchens should be better in this scheme. There should be enough talent -- as long as Matt House has the magic to turn the group around.

Likewise, I both like and dislike the secondary. While I LOVE the Honey Badger -- Tyrann Mathieu -- and I am on the Lucas Locomotive with Jordan Lucas, I don't like the Chiefs' safety situation that much; I just feel they are one guy away. I am not much of an Armani Watts fan, and for me, Dan Sorensen is just another guy.

But it is clear the Chiefs are looking for a prototype: a safety with corner skills; a guy they can use as a chess piece, moving him around the field at will to confuse offenses.

I like the Chiefs cornerback group, but I still feel we are one or two more players away. While I like Bashaud Breeland, he is inconsistent. Kendall Fuller should be better, but I'm still iffy on Ward. While his tape was good, is he just another Terrence Mitchell? I have a feeling he just isn't the guy we can rely upon.

Chiefs defensive needs

1. Pass rusher

I feel the Chiefs still need a guy to rush the passer. People like the idea of blitzes and stunts, but offenses can game-plan against those, so you still need guys to get after the quarterback. I like our foundation, but we just need one more guy.

Personally, I don't think we can find that guy in a trade. Some people want to trade for Jadeveon Clowney or Frank Clark, but I just don't see Veach doing that at this point. Those guys are gonna want at least $20 million per year, and require a lot in trade. While they fill the need, I would much rather get pass rushers in the draft.

There will many elite pass rushers available in the draft. Nick Bosa, Josh Allen and Rashan Gary are among them; my own favorites are Brian Burns and Clelin Ferrell. If either of these guys drop past pick 16, Veach would be wise to go after them. The Chiefs have the assets to do it; Veach simply has to be willing. After trading for Ogbah, such a move would fill the need for next year; you wouldn't have to draft another one.

2. Cornerback

Again, I feel we need multiple bodies here. Spagnuolo loves to play corners a lot, so the Chiefs need the players. I like Fuller, and Breeland was a good signing. But do they have enough to push us over the top? I don't think so. I feel we just need one more guy to start, and then maybe a depth guy. Unlike others, I'm not super high on Charvarius Ward, so I feel that we need a starter there.

I could see Veach pulling the trigger for someone in a trade -- but who? Jalen Ramsey and Patrick Peterson are popular names, and while I like them, I feel they may require too much in a trade. If you can get them, go get them. But I like another guy: Xavier Rhodes. His value is really low right now, and while his contract isn't great, if you cut him in a year, you can save $9 million. If he returns to elite form, this looks great. I could almost see the Chiefs getting him for a third-round pick, which in my opinion is much more attractive than trading multiple picks for someone like Ramsey.

For the draft, I am not a Greedy Williams fan. I prefer Byron Murphy, Justin Layne, or Joejuan Williams as good options. I'm not a huge Deandre Baker fan, either. He is solid but has limited speed, which hurts his long-term upside.

3. Free safety

I like Jordan Lucas, but I don't love Jordan Lucas. I think the Chiefs need a guy to start back there, but he doesn't have to be a stud -- just a good player.

I will pound my fist for Tre Boston until the end of time. He is pretty cheap and a good player. Why has no one got him yet? He fills the role instantly, which allows the Chiefs to draft an offensive player much earlier. And he probably isn't getting paid a lot. So why not? I hate sitting on this much cap space anyway.

For draft ideas, Juan Thornhill is really good, but I badly want to see the Chiefs get Amani Hooker. And it isn't just because I am an Iowa fan; it's about his versatility, which could be a huge difference for the Chiefs next year. He would be a great value at the 63rd pick -- or even in the third round.

4. Sam linebacker

The Chiefs signed Damien Wilson, but I feel we still need a Sam -- just a different version. After looking at Giants tape from Spagnuolo's days there, I feel the Chiefs have a huge hole: a Sam who can line up on the defensive line. I don't see Wilson being able to do that. I will get into way more depth about in the next article about pressure, but that is a hole right now. Devon Kennard lined up everywhere for the Giants, and the Chiefs need a guy like that. Could Kansas City maybe justify putting a guy like Brian Burns there if they can get him?


Is Kansas City's defense better? Even after losing such recognizable names, are we technically better?

Personally, I say yes. I feel the Chiefs have assembled a great coaching staff, and I believe in Spagnuolo. He has had many bad years, but at his best, he has taken down the Patriots in the Super Bowl -- twice! The Chiefs still need some more players, but I trust Veach enough to get them. I trust some of the young Chiefs defensive players -- Lucas, O'Daniel, Nnadi and even Speaks -- will improve. For most of these players, playing in more suitable roles should help out the overall roster.

This is going to be be a long offseason, but with new coaching blood and a great leader in Mathieu, the Chiefs can turn this around. I can almost guarantee the Chiefs won't be that bad again.

I mean... can you really get worse?

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.