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There are still reasons to be worried about the Chiefs defense

A week after a great performance against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Kansas City Chiefs defense had some serious struggles this week.

Allowing a mind-blowing 189 yards rushing on 6.3 yards per carry to a team missing its starting running back and right tackle?

Yeah, that’s bad.

Allowing the NFL’s 20 ranked passing offense to storm down the field in fifty-four seconds to score just before the half?

Yeah, that’s bad.

Forcing two turnovers and a three and out while protecting a ten point lead when the offense was struggling to move the ball late in the game, though?

OK… that’s good.

The Chiefs defense was a roller coaster this week, and the numbers reflect it. So just as I do every week, I’ve charted the defense to get the numbers. We’ll review some of the good, some of the bad, and something you may have missed.

Let’s dig in.

The Numbers

Quarter/Down/Distance – Week 8

2018 Avg 2018 Success Week 8 Avg Week 8 Success
2018 Avg 2018 Success Week 8 Avg Week 8 Success
Q1 5.65 54.84% 8.33 26.67%
Q2 6.68 47.10% 5.69 62.50%
Q2-Under 2:00 6.76 52.17% 13.20 60.00%
Q3 6.75 45.79% 6.38 46.15%
Q4 5.85 54.24% 4.30 56.52%
Q4-Under 2:00 6.73 54.55% 0.00 100.00%
1st Down 6.90 48.15% 6.16 46.88%
2nd Down 6.31 47.02% 8.00 40.91%
3rd Down 3.85 66.67% 1.75 66.67%
4th Down 6.53 46.67% 4.00 0.00%
Yds remain 0-3 4.24 39.29% 6.08 38.46%
Yds remain 4-6 5.54 47.69% 3.83 50.00%
Yds remain 7-10 6.59 51.83% 5.41 53.66%
Yds remain 11+ 7.76 71.43% 10.57 42.86%

Another week, and another struggle with defending long down-and-distance situations for the Chiefs defense. This week, the Broncos were able to chew up some major yardage on first and second down — and in 10+ yardage situations — keeping themselves in striking distance on third downs after penalties or sacks had backed them up.

However, the most appalling statistic concerns the Chiefs first quarter defense. The Chiefs forced a three and out on the first drive of the game, then proceeded to give up chunk yardage, allowing 8.33 yards per play over the course of three first-quarter drives. For a defense that has performed better in the first quarter than most, this week was a major letdown.

Defensive Formation – Week 8

2018 % 2018 Avg 2018 Success Week 8 % Week 8 YPP Week 8 Success
2018 % 2018 Avg 2018 Success Week 8 % Week 8 YPP Week 8 Success
1-4 1.37% 8.75 62.50% 0.00% N/A N/A
2-3 10.31% 4.78 58.33% 5.48% 6.75 66.67%
2-4 58.59% 5.90 49.27% 50.68% 4.19 60.61%
3-3 2.75% 3.06 31.25% 4.11% 1.67 33.33%
3-4 24.57% 6.60 39.16% 36.99% 7.78 30.77%
4-3 0.86% 0.00 60.00% 0.00% N/A N/A
4-4 1.20% 0.29 57.14% 2.74% 0.50 50.00%

By looking at this week’s formation usage and success, we can see that the numbers support the eye test. The Chiefs tried to counter the Broncos 12, 21, and 22 personnel with their 3-4 defense to stop the run — and they simply couldn’t.

Achieving a pitiful 30 percent success rate out of their base defense — on which they had to lean harder than normal — the Chiefs allowed the Broncos to routinely move the ball on the ground throughout the day.

The Chiefs nickel was a little stronger than usual this week, showing a success rate 11 percent higher than their average. That’s a small bright spot this week, as the Chiefs have leaned heavily on that formation against 11 personnel, which they’ve seen 68.9 percent of their snaps this year.

Rush Numbers – Week 8

2018 % 2018 Avg 2018 Success Week 8 % Week 8 YPP Week 8 Success
2018 % 2018 Avg 2018 Success Week 8 % Week 8 YPP Week 8 Success
Rush 3 14.57% 5.50 48.28% 14.29% 4.83 50.00%
Rush 4 72.11% 6.31 50.87% 71.43% 5.73 64.29%
Rush 5-6 13.07% 5.83 51.92% 14.29% 3.50 60.00%

As we’ve progressed through the season, one of the more interesting elements of this process has been seeing how the numbers align based on how many players the Chiefs use to rush the passer on a given play. We’re officially halfway through the season, and on average, there’s not a serious outlier in any method the Chiefs have utilized.

Bob Sutton seems content to keep his rush numbers pretty standard. Instead of pushing for big blitzes, he chooses timely ones. He also chooses to rush from different positions on the field, trying to keep the pass rush from being predictable. This week, he dropped a linebacker into coverage 35.7 percent of the time — despite the fact that he rushed three on just 14.3 percent of the snaps.

Coverages – Week 8

2018 % 2018 Avg 2018 Success Week 8 % Week 8 YPP Week 8 Success
2018 % 2018 Avg 2018 Success Week 8 % Week 8 YPP Week 8 Success
Man 54.02% 5.97 51.63% 52.38% 3.14 59.09%
Zone 45.23% 6.34 50.00% 47.62% 7.65 55.00%

Sutton dialed it up pretty evenly this week, with just a slight edge to the Chiefs man coverage — primarily a Cover 1 shell. Much like the last time the Chiefs and the Broncos faced each other, the Chiefs laid off their press coverage more often than their season average of 72.6 percent, only utilizing press for 61.9 percent of the man coverage snaps this week.

The man/zone balance wasn’t the problem this week. Regardless of the called coverage shell, the Chiefs were blowing coverages in the secondary that led to big plays.

Something good

Kendall Fuller’s impact was felt beyond the interception this week. While still having some issues covering crossing routes — especially in keeping his footing — Fuller flashed a few examples of splash play on Sunday.

For the rest, can we get this kid some cleats!?!?

With the Broncos backed up against their own goal line, they try to get some quick yards on a wide receiver screen. Lining up initially in a 2×2 formation with 11 personnel, the Broncos motion a receiver across the formation, setting up a 3×1 where the weak number three can down block on Fuller. When the ball is snapped, Fuller gets upfield rapidly to track the screen, slips the block, and makes a very secure tackle at the line of scrimmage for no gain.

Fuller looked a little more comfortable on Sunday than we’ve seen so far this year. Here’s hoping this is a sign of things to come for him.

This is a nice rush design on Chris Jones’ sack. Showing pressure from the linebackers, the Chiefs then drop three linebackers into short zone and blitz the two slot cornerbacks. On the right side of the offense, the tackle stays with Jones and the guard loops behind him to pick up Fuller. O’Daniel drops and takes away the hot route to that side while Breeland Speaks drops in the other throwing lane.

Because the tackle is trying to pursue Jones, he’s able to beat his blocker to the gap and gets a free run at the quarterback while the Chiefs’ linebackers have taken away the quick pass. Case Keenum is forced to eat a sack, and the Broncos are forced to punt the ball away.

Something bad

Listen… we have to talk about Ron Parker.

It seems like almost every week, Parker lets a man get behind him in his deep zone. It’s now happening frequently enough that teams are trying to exploit it, sending underneath routes across his face to freeze him in place while the boundary receiver runs free without a lid on the top of the defense.

In both of the above examples, Parker doesn’t go through his proper keys to identify the route combinations. Rather than working the deep seam, then the deep boundary, and then the underneath seam and boundary, Parker has his eyes squarely in the backfield to try to jump a route and make a play. While that has paid dividends twice this year, it cost the Chiefs a touchdown and was the major play in another scoring drive in this game alone.

The Chiefs secondary didn’t exactly shower themselves in glory this week — the second play is particularly confusing from a cornerback perspective — but the deficiencies would have been covered up with better deep safety play. It’s happening often enough that teams are purposely targeting Parker, knowing that he’s not getting the depth he needs to or identifying the route combinations quickly enough.

But that’s only one element of what Sutton asks his safeties to do.

As I wrote during the preseason, the Chiefs ask a lot of their safety group. They have to be able to play deep, cover in man out of the slot, or play as a box defender against the run. It’s why some versatile safeties make sense for Sutton’s scheme, and others with more specific skillsets don’t.

Parker has never been a particularly good tackler — especially not as a box defender. His lack of ability to defend well from that position is the primary reason why Sutton utilized Dan Sorensen in the box as much as he did in 2017. This year, however, Sutton hasn’t avoided putting Parker in the box.

There are many problems with the run defense this year, so putting the blame solely on Parker is simply incorrect — but you’ve got to have more tenacity and willingness than he shows on the majority of the plays in which he’s asked to be an overhang in Sutton’s system.

Parker was a key component of several past Chiefs teams, filling in admirably and going above and beyond in Sutton’s scheme. Unfortunately, it appears that time and ability have largely caught up with him — which is undoubtedly part of the reason he was cut by two teams this past offseason.

I don’t blame him for that, and I appreciate his time with the team.

But I do blame Bob Sutton.

The implementation of Sutton’s personnel has always been my number one problem with the coordinator, but this week’s safety rotation was baffling. When Jordan Lucas is putting in better effort and execution both spinning down late in the box against the run and as a box defender on the goal line — as well as showing significantly more range as a deep safety and a better ability in man coverage — at this point, there is zero excuse for Sutton to fail to utilize a healthy Lucas over Parker.

The run defense sucks. Full stop.

I know a lot of people want to know the reason why the run defense has been so awful this year, but quite plainly, it’s a little bit of everything. I’m keeping a running thread — pinned to the top of my Twitter feed — that I will update each week. It demonstrates the various ways the Chiefs are getting gashed in the run game.

In the first of several examples from this week, here Parker once again doesn’t want to attack a gap, and three Chiefs defenders end up in the same gap. Dorian O’Daniel actually fares pretty well here initially — one of his few good interior run snaps — and Anthony Hitchens reads the gap to the running back. Allen Bailey gets driven back by two offensive linemen into Hitchens, and without any back-side pursuit, the running back is able to spin out and go for a massive gain.

On this example, Jarvis Jenkins — the play side defensive lineman — is able to gain penetration off the snap, but cannot make a play on the ball carrier. Pursuing from the back side, Derrick Nnadi is about to swim through, but he can’t make a pursuit tackle, either.

This leaves most of the play side offensive linemen free to climb to the second level, where they can block the off-ball defenders, and it leaves Fuller having to absorb the block by the fullback. Both Reggie Ragland and Eric Murray climb to the backside blockers, eliminating their chance to make a play in pursuit.

This is infuriating to watch. Hitchens takes an absolutely horrific angle to the ball carrier from the snap. He was never going to get to the back with that angle, and he gets washed out of the play immediately. Speaks was likely not going to be able to get upfield far enough — or be able to chase laterally quickly enough, as we saw on a few other plays this week — but he’s sealed out of the play by a receiver from the slot.

Meanwhile, Murray stands flat-footed and waits for the offensive lineman to climb 10 yards downfield, then also takes a horrible angle to the back. Finally, Parker gets to the sideline ahead of the back but just turns his back to the play while the fullback collects him for a downfield block.

These are three vastly different plays, all with the same outcome — absolutely horrid execution by the defense.

Something you may have missed

Of course, we have to talk about Dorian O’Daniel this week, and we’ll touch on some good and some bad.

He’s still definitely learning his keys and his run fits between the tackles, and when an offensive lineman gets his hands on O’Daniel… well, it’s not great. However, he’s also shown some difficulties with the play calls coming in.

The above example showcases a situation where O’Daniel is lined up as an edge defender, then drops to chip the weak number three in the Broncos 3×1 alignment. After chipping, O’Daniel releases — either because he thinks he’s in zone, or because he’s looking for a running back in the flat.

However, the Chiefs are in man, and he shouldn’t have released the weak number three. So he spins and chases to catch up to the coverage. Dee Ford’s sack covered up this error, but it shows some of the reason O’Daniel hasn’t been able to see more consistent time on the field so far.

Where O’Daniel continues to shine is in man coverage, and in stretch plays against running backs. Last week, I said that when O’Daniel was on the field, the offense can assume that the Chiefs are largely in man coverage, because O’Daniel is still learning his zone responsibilities.

And of course… Sutton had to go and prove me wrong again.

This week, Sutton threw out a handful of zone looks with O’Daniel spying the Broncos running backs out of the backfield — as shown in this example. This puts O’Daniel in his best chance to succeed, while still allowing the Chiefs to use a zone coverage shell when protecting a lead. It’s a great way to get one of the Chiefs’ defensive playmakers on the field — while still throwing in a schematic wrinkle.

The bottom line

NFL: Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Giving up 23 points is not a bad performance for the Chiefs defense. This Chiefs team can win with a defense that closed the game like it did on Sunday, coming up with turnovers, crucial sacks and three and outs — and allowing clock-killing field goal drives.

While the result each week will still largely depend on the efficiency of the offense, getting timely stops is typically going to be enough to win for this Chiefs team. The record shows that.

However, this is a week that I walked away from a game legitimately worried about the future of the defense. The circumstances screamed that the Chiefs defense had a chance to take the step forward: a mediocre Broncos offense with a few backups, a game in Arrowhead, and a good performance last week against a better team. Putting together a second quality performance for a full game was key to gain confidence and move this side of the ball forward.

Instead, we saw a defense that was gashed on the ground, gave up big plays through the air, and appeared to unceremoniously bench one of the few players — Jordan Lucas — who has shown some semblance of quality, energy, and understanding of the defense in favor of two others that were flat-footed and behind the plays.

Sutton called a fine-enough game this week, bringing some good blitzes and working in O’Daniel once again — something the Chiefs will need to be able to do since Hitchens is likely out with a rib injury for the next week or two.

However, he’s not utilizing the personnel correctly. Some of the issues are definitely due to injury, but eight weeks into the season, we’re seeing Sutton leaning on some players as safety blankets rather than trying to implement younger, faster, and more physical players that could have a bigger impact on the game.

The issues shift week to week, so it’s hard to pinpoint one exact problem, but we’ve seen enough out of this personnel grouping through the first half of 2018 to say that they’re not getting enough done.

We’ll see if the requisite changes get made by the defensive coordinator when they travel to Cleveland this week.

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