Facing inclement weather and a good AFC foe, the Kansas City Chiefs lined up against the Buffalo Bills on Monday afternoon for a rescheduled football game. Both teams were coming off a poor performance in a loss — and both teams were looking forward to proving their rightful spot as an AFC contender.
When the dust settled, the Chiefs were fairly dominant on both sides of the ball — and the defense looked to have its mojo back after a bump in the road against the Las Vegas Raiders.
In this post, we’ll take a look at where the Chiefs defense showed well — and where it didn’t — and then we’ll find the good, the bad and something you may have missed during a rainy Monday afternoon game against the Bills.
Outside of some penalties — we’ll get to that later — the Chiefs defense played very well on the day, with the exception of the Bills’ last touchdown drive. The Chiefs maintained a defensive success rate above 60% and less than four yards per play through the first three quarters of the game. While the offense had a costly turnover and a penalty to wipe a touchdown off the board, the defense was able to keep the Bills at a distance.
Then the fourth-quarter drive occurred. The Chiefs allowed 11 yards per play on the drive and had a 0% defensive success rate. They played a soft zone and allowed easy completions for the first time all night, making the score look closer than the game actually was. Part of that was due to just a single blitz on the drive, despite sending five or more rushers on 39% of the dropbacks this week.
Chris Jones led all pass rushers with a ridiculous 25.81% pressure rate on the day. Unlike some other higher numbers throughout the year, Jones had a high snap count — making that pressure rate all the more noteworthy. Of players that saw significant run snaps this week, Mike Pennel led the Chiefs defense with 2.75 yards per rush while he was on the field.
Spags came out with a blitz heavy script to limit the Bills vertical passing game. Even their PA shots -- and the flea flicker below -- had pressure.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) October 20, 2020
Field CB blitz, two man route from BUF. Hitchens processes quickly and lays a big hit on Allen, Thornhill contests the vertical. pic.twitter.com/LYaXZzhXo5
Steve Spagnuolo’s plan of attack early was to hit Josh Allen often and disrupt the Bills’ vertical passing offense. In the first 10 passes attempted by the Bills, Spagnuolo rushed five or more on seven plays and registered six pressures. Those dropbacks resulted in just 24 yards of total offense, 13 of which came on a scramble and a pop pass.
I said in my game preview that the Bills would try to attack downfield and stretch the Chiefs defense vertically with their superior speed on the outside, which they attempted to do early. It just so happens that Spagnuolo dialed up some terrific early pressures, which forced the Buffalo offense to adjust in the second quarter to protect their quarterback.
Derrick Nnadi continues to make an impact from the NT position for KC, and had a great game this week.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) October 20, 2020
BUF with a pin/pull leaves Nnadi 1v1 with the RG. Extends and gets eyes in the backfield while flowing with the play. RB commits, and he sheds to make the tackle. pic.twitter.com/72bm8b3ycX
Full disclosure: I love Derrick Nnadi. The Chiefs’ nose tackle does the dirty work time and time again for this defense and rarely is heralded for his efforts. He’s a solid presence in the middle of the Kansas City front that does his job — and sometimes a little bit more.
That was definitely the case this week, as Nnadi held his gap responsibility well and even made some plays in pursuit. After Spagnuolo forced a more run-heavy offense through his pressure packages, Nnadi helped shut the door and keep the Bills at arm’s length through the first half.
The play above might have been his best of the day. He starts by stacking the left guard, then squeezing the outside gap while maintaining inside leverage before shedding to make the tackle for a short gain. While the Chiefs were rallying to the ballcarrier — something they did significantly better this week — Nnadi almost singlehandedly made this play himself. That’s top-shelf play for the Chiefs’ third-year nose tackle.
Chris Jones had a phenomenal game, highlighted by a 3rd and short run stop -- beating the LG across his face and into the backfield.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) October 20, 2020
However, keep your eye on the scrape exchange between Kpassagnon and Hitchens. TK on the spear takes a double, freeing Hitchens to make the stop. pic.twitter.com/B8zXMEm2XN
A week after I criticized the Chiefs defensive line for a lack of contribution, Chris Jones was an absolute terror in every facet of the game. Jones not only led the team in pressure rate, he also lived in the backfield against the run this week, as the critical third-down play above shows.
Jones’ lateral agility and burst are exceptional, and this snap showcases both of those attributes. He knifes across the face of the left guard, plants his foot, and shoots upfield to force a cutback from the running back well into the backfield. Anthony Hitchens and Tanoh Kpassagnon work a nice scrape exchange off the weak side, and that results in a massive stop for the Chiefs defense.
Jones got paid big money this offseason. For some players, that can lead to a step back in play. That’s not been the case this season for Jones. He’s been the Chiefs’ best defender in multiple games this year and looks to be developing into an even better player under Spagnuolo and Brendan Daly’s tutelage.
KC kept Allen's timer sped up for most of the day with good pressure, but the officiating crew called the game tight -- and the Chiefs struggled to adjust.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) October 20, 2020
Defensive penalties extended Buffalo's two TD drives and another before the half. Clean those up, and the game isn't close. pic.twitter.com/gZq72KDL9L
The single biggest problem for the Chiefs defense this week was their propensity for penalties in the secondary. This officiating crew was calling a particularly tight game — especially when the Chiefs were on defense — and Kansas City didn’t make an adjustment to avoid those calls.
Charvarius Ward and Bashaud Breeland are physical cornerbacks that lined up opposite of a set of speedy vertical threats. Naturally, Spagnuolo had them try to play physical to disrupt timing so the blitz-heavy attack could get home. There’s nothing wrong with that strategy, and with a different officiating crew, I’d expect Spagnuolo to execute a similar gameplan.
However, when the flags start flying, an adjustment needs to be made. The Bills were able to score two touchdowns on drives extended by defensive penalties. Another drive just before the half was extended by a penalty that would have given the ball back to the Chiefs offense with over two minutes remaining on the clock. The Bills offense is terrific at converting third downs this season, and the Chiefs handed them two this week that would’ve gotten them off the field.
Football is a game of adjustments, both in coaching and in execution. Make no mistake, I want these physical cornerbacks to get after the opposing wide receivers week in and week out. But when they run up against a crew that has a propensity to throw laundry on the field, the Chiefs defense needs to make a slight adjustment to avoid extending drives.
Something you may have missed
When BUF went 20p (2 RB, 3 WR), KC countered with the DIME defense this week.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) October 20, 2020
Pistol arc read from BUF. FB peels around the outside, looking for MIKE. QB reads Clark slow playing the mesh, pulls ball when he sees Jones will swallow up the dive. Clark stays home for the TFL. pic.twitter.com/x7pxLc6Y3R
There has been a fair amount of discussion about the Chiefs utilizing two running back sets with Le’Veon Bell now in the fold. It’s an interesting concept that Andy Reid hasn’t utilized often in his coaching career but might have some traction — especially if Sammy Watkins continues to miss some time.
One of the advantages most will tout is the ability to get good matchups with both running backs, typically with both on linebackers and the defense in a base formation. While the defense may stay in base in some instances, typically the defensive coordinator will deploy a nickel sub package that puts a safety in or near the box to counter the two-back set.
This week, Spagnuolo went one further, deploying a dime defense against the Bills 20 personnel (two running backs, no tight ends, three wide receivers). Buffalo had only utilized that personnel for four snaps on the year prior to Monday’s game, and they’d thrown the ball for three of those snaps. Spagnuolo and his staff adjusted their game plan to incorporate a lighter, rangier package to combat this personnel grouping.
The bottom line
While penalties and a soft zone drive in the fourth quarter show that there is still room for improvement, I was largely content with the way the Chiefs defense played against the Bills offense.
The Bills weren’t able to run the ball particularly effectively with two backs that are difficult to bring down, and the vertical passing offense that beat up the Chiefs the previous week was largely stifled. The Chiefs defense allowed a paltry 3.28 yards per play outside of the aforementioned penalties and singularly successful offensive drive.
It was nice to see the pass rush return to form, and even nicer to see the secondary rebound from an abysmal performance against the Raiders. The Chiefs run defense has also improved over the last two weeks, allowing just 3.9 yards per carry against two teams that have a focus on running the ball.
At this point in the season, the defense has held its own. Sure, the Raiders game was a poor outcome and a poor performance by the defense, but it looks to be a bit of an aberration compared to the rest of the season to date. Furthermore, the front end of the schedule was quite difficult for this side of the ball. Moving forward, the opponents — at least on paper — appear to offer less of a threat to run up the score against the Chiefs defense.
While it’s still early, I think that we’re seeing what Spagnuolo can build upon given the foundation that he laid last season. The next few weeks against some less dangerous teams could actually tell us quite a bit about this defense. For now, Chiefs fans should relish in these good defensive performances that complement the Chiefs’ terrific offense.