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Kansas City Chiefs – Arizona Cardinals defensive trends and tabulation

Sometimes winning against minimal resistance can help cure what ails you.

That’s exactly what the Kansas City Chiefs defense did this past weekend at home against a poor Arizona Cardinals offense. Quite simply… they won.

The Chiefs just beat up the Cardinals. Arizona had two scoring drives — both on their first possessions of a half — but averaged a paltry 3.1 yards per play outside of those drives. The Chiefs did well stopping the run — holding Arizona to 3.7 yards per carry on the day — and they rushed the passer very well, logging twenty-nine pressures and five sacks.

This week — as I do every week — I’ll break down the numbers from Sunday’s game. We’ll hit the highlights, find where the Chiefs won, lost and bucked trends, and then we’ll move on to some clips of their good, bad and under-the-radar plays.

The numbers

Quarter/Down/Distance – Week 10

2018 Avg 2018 Success Week 10 Avg Week 10 Success
2018 Avg 2018 Success Week 10 Avg Week 10 Success
Q1 5.33 55.70% 4.47 53.33%
Q2 6.43 47.95% 3.50 70.00%
Q2-Under 2:00 6.63 53.57% 2.00 100.00%
Q3 6.14 50.35% 4.20 60.00%
Q4 5.56 54.84% 3.14 58.62%
Q4-Under 2:00 6.05 55.81% 3.22 66.67%
1st Down 6.48 50.60% 4.71 61.29%
2nd Down 5.74 49.76% 1.48 66.67%
3rd Down 4.18 64.17% 5.29 50.00%
4th Down 6.10 40.00% 1.00 50.00%
Yds remain 0-3 4.36 38.10% 3.57 28.57%
Yds remain 4-6 5.11 47.19% 4.36 36.36%
Yds remain 7-10 6.28 53.78% 4.56 63.41%
Yds remain 11+ 6.39 76.79% -0.78 100.00%

No two ways about it — this was a full and complete beat-down by the standards of the 2018 Chiefs defense. Holding the opponent to under a yard and a half on second down? That’s fantastic. Teeing off and forcing negative yardage when in 11+ yard downs — especially when they saw more than average this week? That’s ridiculous. Even the weaker quarters of the game were better this week, strengthening when the Chiefs offense was struggling to move the ball.

The only real nitpicks in these splits are third downs and medium yardage situations. This year, the Chiefs have typically been good on third down — and pretty good in medium yardage — so we’ll watch those two going forward. And short yardage? Yeah… there, they’ve just been bad all year.

Defensive Formation – Week 10

2018 % 2018 Avg 2018 Success Week 10 % Week 10 YPP Week 10 Success
2018 % 2018 Avg 2018 Success Week 10 % Week 10 YPP Week 10 Success
1-4 1.10% 8.75 62.50% 0.00% N/A N/A
2-3 14.03% 4.64 57.84% 43.66% 3.19 64.29%
2-4 54.75% 5.54 51.26% 30.99% 1.77 72.73%
3-3 3.30% 3.75 33.33% 2.82% 5.00 0.00%
3-4 24.62% 6.46 41.34% 22.54% 6.56 43.75%
4-3 0.96% 0.00 71.43% 0.00% N/A N/A
4-4 0.96% 0.29 57.14% 0.00% N/A N/A

Sub-package STRONG!

The Chiefs held the Cardinals to 1.77 yards per play in their two-down-linemen, four linebacker nickel defense this week. Read that again, because it’s ludicrous. We’d normally be praising numbers like these for the Chiefs dime defense — which was also very good at 3.19 yards per play. Instead, numbers for the dime look just okay by comparison.

For the first time this year, the dime defense — featuring Dan Sorensen and Dorian O’Daniel — out-snapped the nickel defense. This was largely due to 20 consecutive dime snaps at the end of the game — while the Chiefs were protecting their lead. The 2-4 defense saw a lot of snaps with Reggie Ragland and Dorian O’Daniel together, with some Ben Niemann mixed in on early downs. Niemann and Ragland got the call in the base 3-4 defense.

As I pointed out last week, the Chiefs defense once again played poorly against 12 and 21 personnel, which is primarily where the Chiefs implement their 3-4 defense. This week, 12 personnel gained 7.8 yards per play for a 30 percent defensive success rate, while 21 personnel gained 5.83 yards per play for a 33 percent defensive success rate. It still needs to be cleaned up. It’s just that this week, the Cardinals just couldn’t commit to it.

Rush Numbers – Week 10

2018 % 2018 Avg 2018 Success Week 10 % Week 10 YPP Week 10 Success
2018 % 2018 Avg 2018 Success Week 10 % Week 10 YPP Week 10 Success
Rush 3 13.18% 5.60 50.77% 2.17% 9.00 0.00%
Rush 4 74.24% 6.04 51.91% 91.30% 3.64 67.50%
Rush 5-6 12.37% 4.90 57.38% 6.52% -0.67 100.00%

Another week with excellent blitz success rate? Check. Not having to use it because your four-man rush is getting the job done? Check. These are good problems to have.

Justin Houston was back this week — going up against the Arizona left tackle almost exclusively — and the Cardinals had fits trying to block him. Dee Ford got the lion’s share of snaps against the Cardinals’ right tackle — also creating havoc — and Chris Jones absolutely destroyed the poor Arizona interior offensive line. Allen Bailey, Breeland Speaks, Tanoh Kpassagnon and Derrick Nnadi even got in on the pass rushing action in four-man rushes. The pass rush practically lived in the backfield for the whole game, and that definitely contributed to an abysmal 3.8 yards per passing attempt from the Cardinals.

Bob Sutton deployed one 3-man rush this week — a play we’ll cover below — and it didn’t find success. Sutton dropped an outside linebacker on 19.5 percent of the passing snaps.

Coverages – Week 10

2018 % 2018 Avg 2018 Success Week 10 % Week 10 YPP Week 10 Success
2018 % 2018 Avg 2018 Success Week 10 % Week 10 YPP Week 10 Success
Man 52.54% 5.68 51.35% 41.30% 3.05 57.89%
Zone 46.86% 6.05 54.11% 58.70% 3.78 70.37%

Sutton kept it pretty diverse this week, showing Cover 1, 2, 3, and 5 looks fairly interchangeably — even mixing in a couple of quarter/quarter/half looks! With the killer pass rush in front of them this week, the secondary had quite a bit of success — regardless of the coverage call.

Of note, the Chiefs were in press-man coverage 67.5 percent this week, and quarterback Josh Rosen’s average time to throw was 2.19 seconds — the third-fastest the Chiefs defense has seen all year.

Something good

With Justin Houston out for the previous four weeks, the Chiefs leaned heavily on rookie Breeland Speaks to get the job done. While Speaks’ high motor and effort were nice to see in spot duty, it just wasn’t in the same ecosystem as what Houston brings to the table in an every-down situation.

Houston’s pass rush terrorized Rosen and Arizona left tackle D.J. Humphries for the whole game. One of the major advantages Houston has over the rest of the outside linebackers is his play identification. We saw a prime example of this on his interception, but this play went a bit under the radar.

Here, the Cardinals run a tunnel screen, getting blockers out in front of the wide receiver screen. They block for a screen on the opposite side of the play, freezing the back-side inside linebacker. This leaves Arizona with good numbers into the secondary. Houston recognizes the screen, pivots and takes a great angle to the ball carrier. He makes a stop for a gain of a yard on a play that could have gone for big yardage.

This is a play the other linebackers who rotate in for Houston simply can’t make. Even though he isn’t the same player he was prior to his injury, Houston’s superior play processing and pursuit speed still make him a very valuable component to the Chiefs defense.

Don’t look now, but over the past two or three weeks, Reggie Ragland has looked more like the linebacker we thought we were getting this season. He still has moments of hesitance attacking gaps, but he’s showing aggressiveness and attacking well against the run — especially against 11 personnel.

In this play, there’s obvious confusion on the offensive line. The center/guard exchange isn’t executed well, and the center isn’t able to release his block quickly to climb. Ragland sees the hole in the line and plays downhill, shooting the gap to the back. As the center releases, Ragland’s already through the gap and makes a secure tackle to bring down David Johnson for minimal gain.

In a vacuum, this kind of play doesn’t seem like much — it’s just a linebacker reading his keys and executing — but these kinds of plays have few and far between this season. As Ragland is picking up his game, they’re happening more frequently, and we’ve seen more second and third downs with long yardages to go. That puts the Chiefs defense where they need to be — in a position where pass rushers can pin back their ears and get after the quarterback.

Dee Ford was excellent this week, constantly forcing Rosen out or up into the pocket. Ford hit Rosen early and often and was an absolute terror for right tackle Andre Smith all day long. Ford was inches away from multiple sacks on Sunday, but this play was the only one that was marked down on the scoresheet.

Here, Smith is exhausted from having to chase Ford all day — getting beat both outside and inside — and he doesn’t get into his set deeply enough. Ford times the snap perfectly, and by the time he hits his third step, he’s on Smith’s outside hip. Ford dips his inside shoulder, plants the fourth step, and slides past Smith. All the tackle can do is try to shove Ford to the ground, but Ford’s excellent bend/balance allows him to absorb the block and explode to the quarterback for his only sack of the day.

Simply put, Ford has been a revelation this season. Because the focus has been on how bad the Chiefs defense has been, he’s been criminally overlooked as a pass rusher. Ford is just one sack shy of his career high — with six games left on the schedule. Considering some of the teams on the back end of the schedule, Ford has a legitimate shot at doubling his career total of 17.5 this season.

Something bad

For me, one of the more confounding developments of this season is Sutton’s failure to allow defenders in coverage to switch off. Just as he’s done in previous seasons, Sutton has had his players try to follow — and fight through — picks and rub routes, instead of passing receivers off to better-suited defenders. The Cardinals first touchdown is a prime example of this.

Here, Arizona runs a simple pick play to the boundary out of a Y-Iso look on third-and-short. Ford is in coverage against the running back should he leak into the flat on his side of the field, and the tight end runs a slant route directly into Ford’s body. Murray — in man against the tight end — sticks with the tight end and doesn’t kick out against the running back. Ford can’t get off the pick play, and Murray is flat-footed as the pass is thrown. It’s an easy touchdown for the Cardinals.

With several teams left on the schedule that like to exploit man coverage with pick routes — especially the Rams — an adjustment needs to be made. And in a hurry, too. With a simple switch, these kinds of touchdowns could easily be prevented.

Something you may have missed

After weeks of being relied upon to play a significant number of snaps, behind Houston this week, Speaks found himself getting more of a rest. But when he did get in the game, he still acquitted himself fairly well.

Speaks loves to bull rush. That’s no secret. We also know that he likes to go to the two-handed swipe as an alternate move — something he’s added since the preseason when he looked like a lost pass-rusher.

On this play — after Speaks has used a handful of bull rushes — the left tackle gets into his set quickly to catch and anchor against the bull. Instead, Speaks sees the tackle shift his weight to brace and times the swipe perfectly, sending the tackle’s weight forward. This frees Speaks to clear the corner and pursue Rosen, and he notches a quarterback hit that rushes Rosen’s throw and forces if off-target.

Speaks isn’t there yet as a pass rusher. He still needs time and coaching. However, the growth that we’ve seen out of him since the preseason — where he struggled to stay upright — is a very positive development. Even two weeks ago, his timing on that swipe wouldn’t have been good enough to knock the tackle off-balance. He seems to be picking things up quickly — and if he can continue this arc, we might just see a guy who can be a contributing pass rusher in the future.

The bottom line

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Kansas City Chiefs

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Chiefs defense beat up on a bad football team, which is exactly what they’re supposed to do.

Forget the rankings. Forget the points per game. This is how the defense is supposed to look. With Houston back in the mix, Ragland returning to form, and the communication on the back end improving week-to-week, we’re starting to get a clearer picture of what this defense can be.

Yes, their run defense is largely poor. The tackling still needs work. The Chiefs are still struggling to cover tight ends and running backs. There are still some large holes on this side of the ball.

But for the first time this season, we can see the plan. With Ford, Houston and Jones, the Chiefs have a legitimately terrifying pass rush combination that even the third-fastest time to throw of the season couldn’t beat. The Chiefs defense won’t see an offensive line like the Cardinals field every week — but then again, not every week will need a performance like this from the Chiefs defense to protect a lead.

Realistically, in most games, the Chiefs need a small handful of stops to put their offense in a good spot to keep or extend their lead. Right now, with a healthy pass rush, healthier safeties — and corners that have continued to play at a high level for most of the season — this defense can offer that against just about any offense in the league.

This week showed us what it can be. If this is what the defense actually is, then come January, this team is legitimately scary.

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