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Film review: Chiefs’ pass defense was out of sync against the Chargers

The secondary struggled to contain Los Angeles receivers, which prevented the pass rush from getting home.

Los Angeles Chargers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

In the Kansas City Chiefs’ Week 3 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, the defense was consistently put in bad positions because of offensive turnovers. Otherwise, they did fairly well, forcing punts on the first two Chargers drives, forcing another on their opening possession of the second half — and late in the fourth quarter, getting a badly-needed red-zone stop.

For most of the game, the unit’s run defense was impressive. Its downfall was its inability to defend against the pass. We saw coverage busts — and sometimes, a nonexistent pass rush.

Let’s look at what went wrong when the Chargers dropped back to pass.

Miscommunication in coverage

On Sunday, the pass rush was inconsistent; there were times that Los Angeles quarterback Justin Herbert had plenty of time to sit in the pocket and wait for an open receiver. But a handful of coverage lapses also led to Herbert frequently being able to get rid of the ball quickly.

On these two touchdowns, the Chargers put the Chiefs’ red-zone defense in a bind; they came to the line quickly, preventing the Chiefs from seting up correctly before the snap.

On the first play shown here, cornerback L’Jarius Sneed and safety Daniel Sorensen both follow the same player to the flat. It is man coverage — so obviously, one of them should be staying with wide receiver Keenan Allen, who catches the touchdown with no one guarding him. Linebacker Nick Bolton does his best to block the throwing window — but Herbert’s pump fake gets him into the air, allowing an easy completion.

On the second play, there’s clearly a miscommunication; no player defends the flat where running back Austin Ekeler is wide open.

On Monday, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo tried to explain the play, saying that if the Chiefs had correctly executed the play-call, Ekeler would have stayed in to block. He didn’t give further details, but it’s another sign that the Chargers’ up-tempo offense led to confusion on the Chiefs’ defense.

These two chunk plays through the air appear to be on rookie linebacker Nick Bolton. We’ve seen Bolton make coverage mistakes before — it was never his strength coming out of college — but these appear to be simple mental mistakes.

On the first play — a play-action rollout —there needs to be a defender ready to sink to the intermediate area of the field to find the drag, which is a route where a player from the back side of the formation runs to get into the quarterback’s line of vision.

It’s clearly Bolton’s responsibility to find this route — but instead, he stays at the line of scrimmage, covering a receiver Sorensen has already taken.

On the second play, the Chiefs are running a zone coverage — but no one covers the flat. It appears that Bolton sinks into a hook zone — one that Sorensen and linebacker Anthony Hitchens are already patrolling — which leaves Ekeler wide open. After Bolton recovers to make the tackle, he shows frustration; he knows he didn’t cover his area.

Coverage execution

Even when the coverage appeared to be on the same page, there were instances where players flat-out failed to execute their responsibilities.

Early in the game, this pass breakup by Hitchens proved inconsequential. But it could’ve been a huge play that might have shifted the game’s momentum after an offensive turnover.

Hitchens reads Herbert’s eyes well, giving him the chance to jump the route and intercept the ball. But he hesitates — and can only bat it away.

On this play — after being beaten over and over on slant routes — the Chargers pick a perfect time to run a slant-and-go; the receiver quickly fakes a slant before going vertical. Cornerback Mike Hughes is so ready for the slant route that he is unable to recover when it goes vertical. The easy touchdown also wipes away Chris Jones’ chance to sack Herbert; his quick work getting past the right tackle is wasted.

This 43-yard gain is the longest play the Chiefs allowed — and the Chargers execute it very well.

The Chiefs disguise their Cover 3 shell pre-snap — but once the play begins, they are clearly in it. The outside cornerbacks have the outside thirds of the field, while safety Tyrann Mathieu has the deep middle.

Los Angeles runs two vertical routes to the left. As he should, Deandre Baker picks up the route that’s furthest outside — but Mathieu takes steps towards the line of scrimmage, keeping him from getting over the top of the second vertical route being run by wide receiver Mike Williams.

Mathieu’s pre-snap alignment also doesn’t help — he’s quite far from the left side of the field — and with no vertical threat on the right side of the offensive formation, you’d like to see Mathieu show more urgency to get over to where the route combination is being run.

The bottom line

In Week 3, the Chiefs faced a very good passing offense — but failed to rise to the occasion. The back end could have used more help — the defensive line wasn’t penetrating the pocket often enough — but they also allowed a lot of open windows where Herbert could throw quickly, eliminating chances for the pass rush to get home.

In fairness, the unit was without cornerback Charvarius Ward — and Rashad Fenton, who started in his place, left the game in the second quarter. That said, each level of the pass defense needs to improve; there are plenty of explosive passing attacks on the schedule ahead.