Entering this week, the Kansas City Chiefs defense was determined to show that the Week 5 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders was an anomaly. They wanted to keep a lid on explosive plays and pressure Derek Carr — something they struggled with in the previous matchup.
While the Chiefs made the Raiders work a little bit harder, Las Vegas was able to hit on chunk plays and move the ball at will with minimal pressure. It was another poor defensive performance against a good play-caller and a comfortable quarterback that leaves the Chiefs defense with more questions than answers this week.
With that said, let’s 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 the Week 11 game against the Raiders.
The Chiefs defense was poor in most game situations this week, but it especially struggled on second downs against the Raiders. Las Vegas had a 61% success rate on second-down plays, consistently staying ahead of the sticks and setting up for third-and-manageable situations. The Chiefs were unable to contain the league’s top-ranked third-down offense in those situations, allowing a 60% conversion rate on the critical down. The Raiders averaged 9.1 yards per play on third down and consistently got the matchups they wanted in the secondary.
The Chiefs were able to find some success on first downs, posting a 54% defensive success rate on the day. Those early-down stops were mostly undone on the very next play, as I’ll show in an example below.
If there’s any solace in the numbers this week, it is that the Chiefs defense was able to make some stops down the stretch to help the offense gain the lead. The Raiders offense put up 10.4 yards per play and a 69% success rate in the first quarter, moving the ball at will against the Chiefs defense. However, the Chiefs were able to hold the Raiders to just 3.5 yards per play in the fourth quarter for just a 47% success rate — despite allowing a late touchdown drive.
KC's defense played well against the run this week, with a lot of solid team defense and sound fits.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) November 23, 2020
LV tries to cut #64 and pull RG and OC. TE holds #51, but #95 exchanges to help set the edge. #64 stays on his feet and closes the cutback. #53 stacks puller and #50 helps finish pic.twitter.com/53cBoT05Q1
If the Chiefs can hang their hats on anything, it’s that they played good team run defense. Steve Spagnuolo largely committed an extra safety to the box, and the Raiders played with enough heavy personnel for him to counter with a base defense. This helped provide some condensed look for the Raiders with lots of Chiefs defenders in the box.
The reason the Chiefs can be happy about the run defense is that they largely stayed gap sound on the day. Defensive tackles were able to routinely keep linebackers clean and filled cutback lanes. This allowed the Chiefs linebackers to get downhill quicker and plug gaps that they haven’t been able to plug in previous weeks. Josh Jacobs and Devontae Booker consistently had to dodge Damien Wilson, Anthony Hitchens and Willie Gay Jr. in the backfield, which helped a swarming defense to finish the play.
The Chiefs may not be able to play with as many defenders in the box — nor with the heavier personnel that the Raiders afforded them — on a week-to-week basis. However, it was good to see this group come out and stop a talented rushing offense in their tracks.
LV were on point this week, getting the matchups they wanted often.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) November 23, 2020
Man ID early with motion, LV knows #49 in man on Waller. Cover 1 Robber coverage with #22 cutting the slot drag. Backside dig and double move hold #32 deep. Carr has Waller 1v1 with space to throw into. pic.twitter.com/wqYzrpC8t1
There was a lot of “bad” this week for the Chiefs defense, and it came in one of their early-season strengths: their passing defense.
Spagnuolo leaned on more single-high safety coverages to clog the intermediate areas of the field and stop the run. It wasn’t quite as aggressive of a game plan for the Chiefs as the Week 5 matchup against the Raiders, but Spagnuolo still ended up relying on his coverage defenders to make plays on the boundary without much safety help.
Jon Gruden recognized that he had those one-on-one matchups all game long, and he was able to exploit them. Deep overs, post routes and back-side vertical releases meant that the Chiefs’ deep safety had to stay home in the middle of the field for a lot of their coverage snaps. Carr was able to manipulate the safety with his eyes on a lot of these plays, forcing that player to cover a lot of ground to get over the top of some of the outside routes.
That led to too many plays like the one shown above, where Darren Waller was isolated on Daniel Sorensen in man coverage. Waller is an outstanding tight end that is going to win matchups against a litany of safeties and cornerbacks in the league, let alone one like Sorensen that doesn’t have top-flight speed to carry the vertical route.
The Chiefs’ scheme didn’t do itself many favors in coverage this week, but Gruden and Carr were outstanding at getting the matchups they wanted and executing at a very high level.
The not-so-hidden yardage this week came from an abundance of missed tackles. Spags had defenders in the flat on all of these plays, and all went for critical first downs when the Chiefs were ahead of the sticks. Just a really rough tackling day. pic.twitter.com/vSnktzuEtx— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) November 23, 2020
Spagnuolo was worried about his defense’s ability to tackle in a truncated offseason. Without the live reps against non-Chiefs offenses, the concern was that some yardage would be left on the field due to poor tackling in space.
That fear came to fruition this week against the Raiders.
While the defense has not been particularly good at tackling this year — they rank seventh in the league in missed tackles — there were some especially poor efforts when the Chiefs had a chance to force third-and-long or get off the field. When the Chiefs shifted to softer zones, that left the flat open for the Raiders tight ends to operate. This space would not have been an issue, if not for the Chiefs’ tackling woes that allowed a number of 2 to 4-yard gains to turn into 7 to 10-yard gains.
Spagnuolo will rightfully catch some heat on some defensive miscues this week, but there was plenty of hidden yardage that could have drastically changed the game simply by finishing some tackles.
LV had a focus on #95 and #55 this week, and KC's pass rush struggled with other 1v1's.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) November 24, 2020
Chiefs in nickel, #64 as a shade nose. #92 chips the TE, RB chips #55. Center rotates and pushes #95 out of the pocket, and Carr has acres of space in the pocket. Easy completion. pic.twitter.com/QglyGxLbim
The Chiefs pass rush has been the hot topic since the final whistle sounded on Sunday night. Kansas City has invested significant contracts and assets into their defensive line, and opposing quarterbacks have been far too comfortable in recent weeks.
The offensive game plan seems simple: double Chris Jones, chip Frank Clark, and pressure is largely avoided. With the Raiders ahead of the sticks for most of the day, Spagnuolo was forced into utilizing more of Derrick Nnadi and Mike Pennel on second and third downs. Both players are fantastic run-stuffers but don’t offer much in the pass rush department. The same can be said about the defensive ends opposite Clark, as Tanoh Kpassagnon, Alex Okafor and Mike Danna have struggled to consistently win one-on-one matchups and pressure the quarterback.
Clark and Jones are good players that receive a lot of attention from the offense, but they too are not absolved of blame in this department. They’re not winning their one-on-one matchups consistently enough, either. This defensive line has been the focus for Brett Veach, and he’s largely ignored significant additions to the Chiefs secondary because of that focus. The group as a whole needs to produce at a much higher clip down the stretch if the Chiefs are going to make a significant run in January.
Something you may have missed
When KC came up with an early down stop, LV wasn't afraid to hurry to the line and stress the communication on 2nd down.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) November 24, 2020
Great play by #91, #54, and #92 on 1st down, but Carr hurries to the line. Before #53 can get everything set, ball is snapped, & Waller is uncovered in space. pic.twitter.com/ORMEo6CRD9
The Raiders had a focus on switching to a hurry-up offense when they were stuffed on first downs. When the Chiefs would come up with a big play on first down, Carr would hurry to the line against the base defense and try to catch defenders in conflict.
On the above play, the Chiefs come up with a terrific run stop to force the Raiders into second-and-long. Carr gets his heavy personnel lined up quickly, and he’s snapped the ball as Hitchens is still signaling the call to the rest of the defense. We know this defense is full of smart players that put in the work in the film room, and this was a terrific way to prevent the Chiefs from identifying some of the play-calls and making the necessary adjustments.
The Raiders didn’t utilize it on every first-down stop, but they mixed it in enough to keep the Chiefs defense reeling — to great offensive success.
The bottom line
I expected the Chiefs defense to come into this week ready to execute a game plan that pressured Carr, forced mistakes and got the defense back on track. We didn’t get that. Carr was comfortable for most of the day and Gruden had Spagnuolo on his heels for almost the entire first half.
The Raiders are significantly better than most predicted they would be this season. Carr has shown the ability to hang in the pocket and throw downfield accurately. He looks like the best version of himself, and he’s very comfortable in Gruden’s system. To Gruden’s credit, he’s pulled out all the stops against the Chiefs and dialed up some top-notch offensive plays that the Chiefs have struggled to identify quickly and defend well.
That doesn’t excuse a poor performance from the Chiefs, however.
The Raiders have a good offensive line, but the lack of pressure from this group — through a four-man rush or fabricated through blitzing — is unacceptable. The missed tackles for the Chiefs seem to be looming larger and coming at worse and worse times as the season goes along. Finally, Spagnuolo is finding out that he can’t trust his secondary in consistent man coverage against above-average weapons without safety help over the top.
The Chiefs have a lot of teams that can do to them exactly what the Raiders offense did coming up on the schedule. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are next week and can run the ball effectively, have terrific offensive weapons and a smart quarterback that can kill a defense if he’s lacking pressure. There’s still time to figure things out for the Chiefs defense — and they’ll need to with some of the opponents coming up — but they’ll have to start showing the necessary improvements very soon.