Winning NFL postseason games requires being able to rush the passer — and against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday, the Kansas City Chiefs’ defensive line will have a distinct advantage.
According to ESPN’s team pass block win rate metric, Jacksonville ranks 31st with a 49% win rate, while Kansas City ranks 15th with 41%.
During their head-to-head matchup in Week 10, the Chiefs recorded five sacks in their 27-17 victory. Two months later, Jacksonville continues to have problems that Kansas City could exploit.
The Chiefs' best defensive player finished 2022 with 15.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, four passes defended, 29 quarterback hits and 17 tackles for loss. One of his best games was against the Jaguars, where he collected 1.5 sacks of quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
Jones was disruptive early and often.
Chris Jones blows up the RT and crushes the pocket on Lawrence. Gay with a spy and Karlaftis as the 0 put the OL on high alert. No slide to help either tackle. Creating one on one matchups for Jones this week will be the key. pic.twitter.com/wDZLghb8IY— Playoff James (@CJScoobs) January 17, 2023
Here, Jones lines up wide to the outside of right tackle Jawaan Taylor. On the snap, he comes charging out of his stance, hitting Taylor with a vicious bull rush. Taylor tries to anchor himself — but Jones is bringing too much power, so Taylor is shoved into the pocket. Lawrence — still going through his reads — feels the pressure and decides to bail, but Jones has already pushed Taylor out of the way. He finishes with a sack.
While that was an effective outside rush, Jones still made his biggest impact from the interior.
Jones swims back to the inside while Dunlap wins around the edge. Jones out wide in a 4 causes the guard to overset opening up the A gap. Danna is in a 0 over the center making it hard for him to vacate and go help out with Jones. Quick penetration gives the play no chance. pic.twitter.com/WyJtMJL9AM— Playoff James (@CJScoobs) January 17, 2023
Here, he is head-up in a 4-technique on the right tackle. On the snap, he engages right guard Brandon Scherff, beating him with a swim move — which takes advantage of an offensive linemen's aggression by getting past them with a swimming motion — to the inside.
Meanwhile, Carlos Dunlap gets around the outside edge against Taylor. Jones’ penetration forces Lawrence to move in the pocket — and Dunlap meets Jones in the backfield to share the sack.
There isn’t a lot of scheme in this play. It’s simply the Chiefs' defensive line beating the Jaguars one-on-one. As the more talented players, Jones and Dunlap won — as they should have.
As seasons progress, teams can find answers for persistent problems. Sometimes they can fix them with scheme adjustments — but more often than not, superior talent will prevail.
In their Week 18 win-or-go-home matchup against the Tennessee Titans, the Jaguars ran into second-team All Pro defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons. A player comparable to Jones, Simmons gave Jacksonville problems while playing on a bad ankle.
Jeffrey Simmons split the slide pro and forced a quick throw from Lawrence. Tart long arms the RG into the ground and Lawrence has to throw it to the checkdown man on third and long. pic.twitter.com/6VT0dO9Wpq— Playoff James (@CJScoobs) January 17, 2023
Here, Simmons is lined up over the left guard as a 3-technique — on the outside shoulder of the guard — and works his way back inside. The Jaguars have their slide protection — a method of focusing the line against the defensive line’s strength — going toward Simmons. But he is able to split the guard and center, penetrate the backfield and force a quick throw from Lawrence.
This is good news for Kansas City. In this win-or-go-home situation, the Jaguars’ offensive line was still having trouble blocking one of the league’s better defensive tackles — even though they were scheming to stop him.
Creating one-on-one situations
Even the league’s best offensive linemen can struggle to block dominant defenders. As we just saw, one way that offensive coordinators can scheme to help their guys against interior defensive tackles like Jones is using slide protection.
This can keep a defensive tackle consistently double-teamed — leaving it up to the defensive coordinator to come up with an adjustment to beat it.
Last drive of the game back in November. KC has five on the LOS. Bolton rushes left, giving Jones a 1v1 on Scherff. Wins the rep inside after lining up as almost a 4 tech. Lawrence gets the pass off for a completion, but he has to do so quickly. pic.twitter.com/1ZDkHJgPiM— Playoff James (@CJScoobs) January 17, 2023
On this play from the November matchup, the Chiefs hold a three-score lead — and are trying to get the ball out of Lawrence’s hands fast. The offensive line wants to use slide protection toward Jones, but linebacker Nick Bolton walks up over the center, creating a five-on-five situation up front.
Off the snap, Jones slants in toward the A-gap, presses the guard off of him and gets into the pocket. Although the play ends in a completion, Jones is about half a step away from his third sack of the game.
Similarly — in the Jaguars' matchup against the Titans — Simmons was able to take advantage of a one-on-one situation.
5 down linemen create 1v1 matchups across the board. Simmons lined up as a 3tech quickly wins to the inside to put pressure on Lawrence. Kirk has to turn back for the ball, giving the DB time to force an incompletion. pic.twitter.com/nrQdUYS1aj— Playoff James (@CJScoobs) January 17, 2023
But instead of having a linebacker walk up to the line of scrimmage, the Titans use five defensive linemen. Simmons also wins quickly to the inside, crossing the guard's face and penetrating the backfield. While Lawrence is able to get the ball off, its placement is off; it falls incomplete.
The Chiefs will likely not use this look, but the concept is the same as walking a linebacker to the line: the offense doesn’t have a chance to scheme protection for the quarterback, forcing him to make a perfect pass under pressure.
While Jones is fantastic, it will take everyone to take home a win.
Danna and Karlaftis run a T/E twist. Danna penetrates and Karlaftis comes around to force the quick throw. The center is a little indecisive about if he should help out on Jones or go protect the A gap. Hands up in the throwing lanes this week. pic.twitter.com/I82HtamDkv— Playoff James (@CJScoobs) January 17, 2023
On this play, we see that while the offensive line (and quarterback) are leery of Jones and Dunlap on the right side of the line, George Karlaftis and Mike Danna create penetration with a T/E twist: the defensive tackle penetrates the B-gap looking to press the shoulder of the offensive tackle, while the defensive end loops to the inside. It forces Lawrence to make a poor throw.
The double team goes to Jones as the C slides over. The TE gives a chip block to the RT. Saunders is one on one lined up as a 2i swats the outside hand down and wins the B gap. The guard has his shoulders turned to the sideline. Great effort to get around and finish the play. pic.twitter.com/jf5zjfTqJo— Playoff James (@CJScoobs) January 17, 2023
On this play, the slide protection and double-team goes to Jones, leaving Khalen Saunders one-on-one against the right guard.
Saunders uses some nice hand fighting to win the B-gap — between the guard and tackle — and forces the guard to turn his hips. That gives him a better angle to get to Lawrence. Saunders sticks with the play, runs the arc and is able to collect the sack.
The play illustrates what the rest of the Kansas City defensive line must do when Jones is double-teamed. That will create pass-rushing opportunities — and the team must take advantage of them.
The bottom line
For the Chiefs to have any kind of postseason success, they must be able to rush the passer. After a year's worth of player acquisitions and development, the team has a chance to show that the defensive line has come full circle — and is a much better unit than it was a year ago.
Kansas City’s defensive linemen are bigger, faster, stronger and more talented than the offensive linemen they’ll be facing; there will be no reason they cannot succeed. Playoff games are won in the trenches — and on Saturday, the Chiefs' front four can send a message.