A week after passing the first major test of the year against the Baltimore Ravens, the Kansas City Chiefs head to Detroit to play the Detroit Lions in a battle of undefeated teams.
Against the Ravens, the Chiefs offense looked every bit as unstoppable as it had all season. They found success all over the field. The Chiefs were especially productive against the Ravens’ zone coverage; they were able to stress them vertically and take advantage of blown assignments.
Against the Lions, the Chiefs will likely see significantly less zone coverage and will be forced to challenge them in different ways.
Let’s look at the Lions’ defensive personnel — and a specific concept that the Chiefs can utilize to attack their defense.
The Lions defense starts with the front line into which they’ve poured monetary, draft and trade capital.
Damon Harrison holds down the middle. Among nose tackles, he possesses the best combination of pure size, quickness, and strength in the NFL. Mike Daniels — if he can play — and A’Shawn Robinson rotate with Snacks to provide an extremely stout interior against the run.
At defensive end, the Lions have Trey Flowers and Romeo Okwara, who provide some outside-inside versatility. Da’Shawn Hand is their main backup at defensive end. It’s an extremely flexible group that allows them to play the amoeba-like fronts that have given the Chiefs some issues in the past.
The Lions’ biggest weakness is at the linebacker position. Last week, Jarrad Davis was able to return from an ankle injury. The Lions hope he can provide some much-needed athleticism. Devon Kennard — who operates both as an off-ball linebacker and pass rusher — gets the most snaps at linebacker. Jahlani Tavai and Christian Sam are younger linebackers who have good size and excel in run defense. The overarching issue with this group is the lack of range and coverage abilities. Davis has the athletic profile to fulfill that role — but is still working on putting it all together.
The Lions secondary is very top heavy. Darius Slay locks down one cornerback slot. The Lions fully utilize his skills by having him shadow the opposition’s best receiver. Across from Slay is Rashaan Melvin. Justin Coleman is the nickel corberback. Slay and Coleman sit atop the rankings at their respective positions; Melvin is the weakest link. but he’s looked much more comfortable in Detroit than he did with the Indianapolis Colts.
Jet motion concepts
The Chiefs are among the NFL’s best in developing and utilizing pre-snap motion and action behind the line of scrimmage. The Lions — who primarily run man coverage — will have their defenders follow receivers across the formation in response to motion behind the line of scrimmage. While it’s not a major fault, there are ways an offense can take advantage of this style of defense.
Pick plays and basic passes
Early this year one concept that has shown to present some issues for the Lions is the jet motion.— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) September 28, 2019
Like any man heavy team, following jet motion puts strain on the coverage then the 2x pick? Impossible. Being in the RZ helps create this space but Andy Reid loves similar concepts pic.twitter.com/JskyZeoTmR
Here’s a simple, quick concept that uses the momentum of the player in motion to leverage the outside on a following defender.
As if it’s not enough to make a cornerback cross the formation then react to what the wide receiver is doing behind the line of scrimmage, the defender also has to work through two pick routes along the way. Being so deep in the red zone certainly helps this play be successful because safeties aren’t available to be playing over the top — but the real game-changer is simply stretching the man defense horizontally. Navigating through the stationary players would be difficult enough for the defender — but then the offense make it more difficult by placing two staggered pick routes in his path.
The Chiefs have used similar similar plays — and they are willing to test a defense’s speed with their athletes in space.
The Lions play aggressive on defense which fits their players strengths. Getting them downhill, reacting quickly, and playing with power.— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) September 28, 2019
The Chiefs will gladly try their hand at a race to the SL if the Lions aren't going to set hard edges on these jet motions though pic.twitter.com/KG04g2x3FK
Against the Lions, the Los Angeles Chargers ran a lot of jet motion pre-snap with Travis Benjamin — but mostly did it to disguise the play. If the Lions play as passively against the Chiefs’ motions as they did against the Chargers, then expect the Chiefs to challenge them at least once around the edge.
The Chiefs have one of the fastest receiving groups in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Lions’ middle field defenders aren’t speedy. If the Lions don’t hold a hard contain — or play someone into the wide gaps when these jet motions flash across the field — the Chiefs should be able to take advantage of the linebackers’ lack of speed.
Sleight of hand
Get their attention with the pre-snap motion, no worries just use it to your advantage. Again a major strength of Andy Reid is to set up defenses based on how they will react to his gameplanning and tendencies.— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) September 28, 2019
Chiefs love to utilize pre-snap motion but don't get caught peeking pic.twitter.com/0GjX4hv5zU
The Chiefs are second to none at capitalizing on a defender’s mind being preoccupied.
As the defense is forced to watch the motion player to account for the sweep or a quick pass from momentum, the offense can start to attack those conflict defenders vertically. When you combine a conflict defender with a speed mismatch, it ends up as a big play for the offense.
The Philadelphia Eagles didn’t run a lot of plays with this pre-snap motion. But they did just enough — with just enough involvement from the motion man — to make the linebackers stay in to read the play before carrying out their assignments. Here, the end result was a big play that was a just couple of feet from being a game-changing touchdown.
The trick plays
The Chiefs don't end the jet motion game with just the run game but will happily use that player in the passing game. Whether on a quick pass to work in space or turning up vertically the Chiefs will involve.— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) September 28, 2019
Lions will have to get on top of the motion player much earlier vs KC pic.twitter.com/Hs9ZvMMyO8
You’ve probably seen multiple variations of this screen play from the Chiefs over the years — but the way Andy Reid’s brain works, he sees a very open player for a potentially bigger play.
On this play, with so much misdirection leading up (and directly after) the snap, it’s entirely understandable why no one is on top of the motion player.
Reid will find a way to take advantage of this lackadaisical football. The Chiefs have run fake screens before — some even after jet motion like this — so seeing them try to bait a look like this out of the Lions and taking a shot on a wheel route would not be surprising.
The simple motion across the formation works but that's not where the Chiefs will end it. Like the Eagles here - who ran this same conceptmearlier - they will complicate the motion reads— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) September 28, 2019
The Eagles get "hat on a hat" blocks (Det does a good job beating them) making it a race pic.twitter.com/0ubEzTX6x6
Another Andy Reid special is the use of the shovel pass back across the middle of the formation.
On this play, with many defenders reacting to the running back’s motion across the formation — and the later movement by the wide receiver — the blocks align favorably for the Eagles. The Lions end up with a great divide right down the middle of the field while the Eagles have a free blocker — the left tackle — working up the field. The Eagles’ play design is to the outside, but the Lions are able to beat the blocking matchups and force a short gain.
The Chiefs can use this duo motion as well as anyone, but they have shown a tendency to attack the middle of the field with the shovel pass. If the Chiefs keep using this jet motion as a way to attack the edge, eventually the Lions will be forced into setting hard edges — and the middle will open up for these kinds of plays.
So far this season, the Detroit Lions have played very good defense — and their brand of physical man coverage is the style of defense that has given the Chiefs trouble in the past.
Without Tyreek Hill. the success of the Chiefs offense against that type of coverage may depend on how well they can scheme up mesh concepts and mismatches against Rashaan Melvin and linebacker/safety combinations. But the Chiefs will be able to take advantage of the ways the Lions have reacted to motion behind the line of scrimmage.
By failing to set hard edges — and pursuing players in motion — the Lions have almost dared teams to test them on the edge. The Chiefs are very willing to test their speed against opposing defenses — and the Lions don’t present the fastest pursuit players in the league.
If the Lions don’t make adjustments coming into this game, the simple plays should find success early. When the Chiefs hit a few dynamic plays off the edge, look for Reid’s play design to really shine as he attacks the Lions’ adjustments to speed.