The Kansas City Chiefs defense had their worst points outing of the year against the NFL’s No. 1-ranked offense, the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens pulled out all the stops — going for fourth downs and two-point conversions throughout the game — but the Chiefs were able to hang on in the fourth quarter to close out the victory.
We know the rush defense was bad, and we know the fourth quarter led to the bulk of the Ravens’ scoring drives. Let’s dive into the numbers to find where things went wrong, what the defense did right and the situations Steve Spagnuolo put them in this week. We’ll follow that up with some Frank Clark, a series of events that went awry and a coverage call you may have missed.
Quarter/Down/Distance - Week 3
|Yds remain 0-3
|Yds remain 4-6
|Yds remain 7-10
|Yds remain 11+
The defense found success early in the game, showing adjustments to take away the run and forcing some tough passes through the first and second quarter. Baltimore was able to capitalize on their first drive out of the half, but the Chiefs shut down the second drive of the third quarter. The fourth quarter — discussed below — was poor execution.
It’s also worth noting that the Chiefs were pretty good on third down, coming up with a stop 62 percent of the time.
Defensive formations - Week 3
The Ravens utilized more 11 personnel this week than in previous weeks, spreading the defense out to try to catch up — particularly in the fourth quarter. Because they utilized lighter personnel, the Chiefs countered with more nickel and dime personnel to slow down the offense.
It was nice to see a 74 percent success rate and 1.43 yards per play out of the 4-2 under nickel. That will be something to build on going forward.
Pass rushing - Week 3
Spagnuolo is starting to find his groove with his blitz packages. He brought extra rushers on 23 percent of the snaps this week and was able to find success on three-quarters of those blitzes. Baltimore was the first team not to play a quick passing game, and Spagnuolo made sure to bring pressure from all over to try to force mistakes.
Pass coverages - Week 3
Another week, another zone-heavy scheme. Like the rest of the passing numbers, Spagnuolo was able to mix it up and keep the Ravens passing game in check. This week did see a little more man coverage mixed in — not just primarily on blitz packages — and that definitely resulted in the quarterback having to hold the ball longer to diagnose the coverage.
With all due respect to the excellent performance by Emmanuel Ogbah this week, Sunday’s game necessitated a discussion about Frank Clark.
There’s been much hand-wringing and worry about Clark over the past three weeks. He registered an interception that most didn’t see, but the number of pressures from the $100 million pass rusher weren’t as prevalent as some were expecting. Sure, teams were throwing quickly, chipping/doubling him with an extra blocker, and running misdirections and screens to his side of the field — but he didn’t appear to be making the kind of impact on the game that some wanted.
Then came the Ravens’ game plan on Sunday afternoon. For most of the day (and the vast majority of the scoring drives), Baltimore focused on taking away Clark’s involvement on the game. They ran stretch plays away from him. They bootlegged away from him. They double-teamed him in the run game. They sent chipping blockers at him in his pass rushes. They even took a page out of the first two weeks of the season and threw quickly on passes where Clark didn’t get extra attention.
On a staggering 44 percent of the plays run with Clark on the field, the Ravens actively tried to nullify his involvement. That’s a ridiculous amount of focus placed on a single player to limit their impact on the game — and they still weren’t able to do so.
Clark managed to make an impact on almost 24 percent of his total snaps — just shy of half of the snaps where the offense wasn’t trying to remove him from the game. He set edges in the run game. He executed the slant on stunts that resulted in pressures (hello, Ogbah!). He got pressures and run stuffs of his own.
It wasn’t a perfect performance. He allowed a scramble by climbing the pocket early, missed setting an edge in the middle, and missed a tackle late that stick out. However, the offense felt his impact on the game on 68 percent of his snaps.
BAL actively tried to avoid Clark on 44% of his snaps, so Spagnuolo moved him around to try to nullify the gameplan. Even with that movement, Clark was still able to set up a rush plan.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) September 24, 2019
Climbs the arc, gets OT to vertical set. Swats outside hand into counter spin for the sack. pic.twitter.com/soKf7PyMnd
That impact culminated in a crucial third-down sack, shown above. Spagnuolo moved Clark around to try to force changes in the Baltimore game plan — succeeding in doing so — and Clark was finally able to get his rush plan set up.
After climbing the arc and getting chipped by the running back on multiple plays, Clark gets the right tackle to vertical set. That set allows Clark to swat the tackle’s outside hand, throwing the tackle’s momentum further up the arc. Clark plants his foot and spins back inside to counter, further driving the tackle up the arc and meeting the quarterback in the pocket.
For a team to invest $100 million in a defensive player, you expect an impact or a player that tilts the field opposite him. On Sunday, Clark had four pressures and a sack — and almost half the snaps trying to take him away. This week he certainly earned that respect.
Rather than focusing solely on the run defense — which was bad — I decided to look at three plays from the fourth quarter that would have drastically changed the narrative on the day had the execution been just a bit better.
A series of events in the fourth quarter made this game closer than it needed to be.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) September 24, 2019
3rd and 5, KC up 17 points. Outside zone, and Clark sheds the TE to help Breeland get out in the flat. What should be a TFL results in bad tackling and a 6 yard gain to extend the drive. pic.twitter.com/oSDMKioL9Y
At the start of the fourth quarter, the Chiefs were protecting a 17-point lead and trying to stop the Ravens drive at the 38-yard line.
Baltimore gets a run play out to the D-gap on a condensed formation with multiple blockers. Clark sheds his lighter blocker and moves laterally along the line of scrimmage while Bashaud Breeland sets the edge to force the running back to cut back into the teeth of the defense. It’s a fantastic read and execution to this point, and the Chiefs defense looks to set up for a tackle for loss or no gain on third down.
Instead, Clark throws his back into the ballcarrier and Breeland doesn’t wrap up. The pursuit dies out behind the play, and Mark Ingram is able to regain momentum and drive forward for a gain of 6 yards.
If the defense comes up with that tackle, the Ravens have a tough fourth-and-5 decision to make — one that easily could have killed the game off if the defense came up with a stop.
Later that drive, KC got BAL into a 4th down situation. BAL checks to empty. Spags has a blitz on and Thornhill creeps into the box, knowing he's going to get a free rush at the QB.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) September 24, 2019
He isn't able to haul down Jackson, and Fuller can't locate the prayer floated to his man. pic.twitter.com/mVE5OqLlKO
Later in that same drive, the defense found themselves in a fourth-down situation. Baltimore checks to an empty look with the Chiefs showing blitz. Juan Thornhill creeps up into the box and blitzes into the open gap to have a free shot at Lamar Jackson. It’s an incredibly well-designed blitz and good initial coverage to stop this scoring drive in its tracks.
Instead, Thornhill goes low and can’t bring Jackson to the ground. Jackson throws up a prayer to Kendall Fuller’s side of the field, and the push-off goes uncalled as the receiver hauls in the pass to convert and set up the touchdown on the next set of downs.
If Thornhill brings down Jackson on that blitz, the Chiefs offense takes over with 13:21 on the clock and a 17-point lead to try to help kill off.
The next drive, BAL in a 3rd and 17. A well-worked stunt on the left side of the line between Okafor and Jones results in Jones getting a good pressure on the QB.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) September 24, 2019
Jackson rolls away from pressure and throws it up. Ward doesn't use his length and doesn't high point the ball. pic.twitter.com/MZP29c7fqw
Instead, the Chiefs are victimized by a Sammy Watkins drop and forced to punt the ball back to Baltimore — now down 11 points. Aided by an offensive pass interference penalty, the Chiefs defense gets into a third-and-17 situation.
Another well-executed stunt between Alex Okafor and Chris Jones sees Jackson forced out of the pocket, rolling right. Jones continues pursuit, and Jackson chucks the ball across his body directly toward Charvarius Ward. All Ward has to do is swat the ball down to force a fourth-and-17 or intercept the ball to kill the drive right there.
Instead, Ward misdiagnoses the ball in flight and times his jump incorrectly. He’s unable to utilize his superior length at the catch point, and the Ravens move the sticks on a prayer of a pass.
These three plays alone could have wiped away nine points from the Ravens total on Sunday. Simple tackling techniques and being able to play the ball in air make this a comfortable victory for the Chiefs on a day where Spagnuolo called a pretty good game.
Something you may have missed
BAL used a lot of motion to help Jackson w/ pre-snap ID, and Spags was able to play off of that with some man/zone mixup.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) September 24, 2019
3rd and 12, TE motion followed by Fuller to passing strength. KC showing 7 man pressure. Shift to 2-invert with Fuller back to the MOF carrying TE seam. pic.twitter.com/PZ6YiDxIH4
Baltimore utilized quite a bit of pre-snap motion to help out with Jackson’s man/zone coverage identification this week. Spagnuolo tried to make him think just a little bit more by messing with that pre-snap call.
On this third-and-12, the tight end motion sees Fuller come across the formation, signaling man coverage to Jackson. The Chiefs are showing a seven-man pressure. When the ball is snapped, the Chiefs outside defenders drop to deep half zones. The two apex defenders kick out into the flats, and the two players showing interior blitz drop into hook zones.
Fuller drops into the middle of the field to take the seam route by the tight end, and Jackson has to double-clutch and check down underneath. The Chiefs force a punt and the offense scores the next drive to go up 17 points.
The bottom line
After three quarters, the defensive narrative of the game was clear: the run defense struggled, and the pass defense was great.
Baltimore had rushed for 143 yards on designed running plays for 6.5 yards per carry at the end of the third quarter. They found success with stretch runs and outside zone, rushing for 117 of their 143 yards through the C and D-gaps. The Ravens made a concerted effort to get horizontal against the Chiefs’ slower linebackers and make them chase their faster skill-position players. It was a solid strategy that paid major dividends. The Ravens racked up 128 total rushing yards at 8.53 yards per carry on their first drives of each half.
However, the Chiefs had only given up 113 yards through the air to that point, excluding sacks and scrambles. The Chiefs defense had pressured or sacked Jackson on 39 percent of his dropbacks. Spagnuolo came out with the focus of taking away the Ravens aerial attack and forcing Baltimore to make the tough decision of playing catch-up on the ground or in the air.
It all fell apart in the fourth quarter due to poor execution. Spagnuolo put the defense in a position to ice the game with some well-timed blitzes, twists and stunts to free up pass rushers, and better run fits to help take away stretch runs. A game that should have been completely out of reach in the middle of the fourth quarter ended up being much closer than it should have.
The run defense is worrisome, no doubt. However, the narrative this week would be about holding the NFL’s top offense to under 20 points had the Chiefs defenders just executed slightly better in the fourth quarter. It’s a better situation to be in than prior years, but still not an entirely comfortable one.
Let’s see if it clears up as the year goes along.