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Steelers Film Room: Kansas City Chiefs’ Defensive Scouting Report

This year, Jon Ledyard and I will be collaborating our scouting reports. We’ll play to our strengths – he’ll be focusing on the individuals while I’ll be looking at overall scheme. These reports will be broken down into two articles, one for offense and one for defense.

Our reports for the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense.

ALEX’S SCHEME REPORT: 

The Chiefs’ defense has 13.5 sacks on the season. Allen Bailey leads the team with 4.5 while Justin Houston is is second with four. They have no sacks from their defensive backs. Jaye Howard is having a nice year with 6 TFL and 1.5 sacks.

Rookie cornerback Marcus Peters is having an outstanding year. His 10 pass deflections tie for third in the league while his three interceptions tie for fourth.

They are struggling to punch the ball out. Their 3 forced fumbles tie for 24th in the league. Bailey has 2, Houston with one.

Derrick Johnson is just one of eight defensive players in the NFL to play 100% of his team’s snaps (Lawrence Timmons is the other, with nearly identical snap counts). Bailey is a big defensive end but is playing a large amount of snaps, 81.3% of the time. For reference, Cam Heyward is at 83.8% and we all know how little he comes off the field.

Houston and Hali both play a majority of the time, each over 85%. Dee Ford plays LOLB and ROLB and will spell each but his snap count is usually low. Just over 20% on the year and he only saw 5/70 snaps last week against the Minnesota Vikings.

Overall, the thing that makes the Chiefs’ defense so tough is ho multiple it is. In its personnel and its alignments. A lot hinges on the health of nose tackle Dontari Poe. They need him, especially with RDE Mike DeVito likely out. With Poe, they are much more willing to stay in their base 3-4 – without him, they’ll be in nickel a lot more. They love to get him as many snaps as possible and let him dominate the interior.

Staying with the defensive line, they do a nice job rotating pieces. Guys play every technique and flip left to right. When asked to defend extra gaps (12 personnel, two tight ends to a side, for example) they will shift to an over front, with the nose tackle head up on the center. They will react to motioning back to balanced set, sliding the nose tackle to the three.

An example. Also worth pointing out that in the over shift, in order to keep their nose tackle (Poe, #92) over center, they will take who is normally the RDE and have him play in the “middle.”

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Their linebackers and defensive backs can be just as multiple. They ask several players to wear many hats. Husain Abdullah (#39) can act as a faux-linebacker, playing next to Derrick Johnson in their base 3-4, play the deep safety, or act as the nickel corner.

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When they desire to stay in their base against 11 personnel, they will roll a safety – usually Ron Parker – to cover #2. Steven Nelson became an active part of the Chiefs’ sub-package game last week, playing 14 snaps as the nickel. They came at the expense of Tyvon Branch’s playing time (3 snaps) but he has also been used at corner and safety. They sure love their hybrids.

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Marcus Peters is the LCB and Sean Smith is the RCB. Rarely do they switch sides or play receivers, preferring to play sides.

They are not a heavy blitz team…until you get into 3rd and long. Then they’ll throw some fire zones and overload blitzes at you. They love to stunt their DL/LB, pairing them well, as well as bringing DB pressure off the edge and drop defenders away from the blitz. Several examples of this. We’ll start with Week 5, the Chiefs sacking, forcing a fumble, and scoring against Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears.

Gap + fire stunt to create havoc and get to the QB.

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Here is another version vs the Vikings. Stack Houston/Hali to the defense’s right, blitz both, and have the away side end, Allen Bailey, drop.

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And a Cat blitz while dropping the away side OLB into coverage.

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Like a lot of teams, they will sugar gaps versus empty sets . Cover each one with a defender. Attempt to stress your protection and force you to slide, leaving someone unblocked. WILL linebacker free here against Chicago and the pressure forces a lame duck throw and incompletion.

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Kansas City Cbiefs’ Special Teams

Safety Daniel Sorensen is the upback on punts. Fullback Anthony Sherman and Abdullah serve as the wings. Sorensen leads the team in special teams snaps with 151. Linebacker Frank Zombo is right behind him with 149. Sorensen’s 151 snaps equate to 84.8% of the total, tied for fifth most in the league.

JON’S INDIVIDUAL REPORT: 

If you look at the Chiefs defensive numbers; 24th in PPG, 22nd in total yards per game, 25th in passing yards per game, you see a unit that doesn’t appear to be very impressive, at least on paper. But few defenses in the league can boast the talent Kansas City possesses all over the field.

We’ll begin up front, where edge rushers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali combine to create one of the fiercest pass-rushing duos in football. They aren’t just pass rushers though, as both players are outstanding against the run. Watch Houston set the edge brilliantly here, work through the blocks of two tight ends, and make the stop for no gain.

That’s just textbook stuff. Honestly hard to run at either of these guys. They are so stout at the point of attack, use their hands so well, and never get pushed around. If you ever want to see edge defender play at its finest, just watch the Chiefs Week 2 matchup against Denver. This tandem is fun to watch. Here’s Hali just tossing aside the left tackle on his way to ringing Peyton Manning’s bell.

I’m only gonna say this once, because it should go without saying, but if you try to block Houston with a tight end, you’re going to lose, EVERY SINGLE TIME. Here’s him bench pressing Owen Daniels off his frame with one arm, maintaining outside leverage.

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Running back cut the ball up into the B-gap, and Houston, with D-gap (edge) contain, shed his block, came down the line and made the tackle for no gain.

I haven’t even gotten into Houston as a pass rusher, simply because there really isn’t much reason to go to the tape. He’s got every tool in the arsenal, quickness, hand usage, strength, moves, and the ability to set up offensive lineman to fail. His speed-to-power conversion is absurd, he can toss lineman aside like chaff. This will easily be Marcus Gilbert’s toughest test of the season.

Sometimes we are left so enamored with Houston, that we forget about how quietly brilliant Hali has been throughout his career. Not the athlete that Houston, Hali has thrived technically for ten NFL seasons now, notching 80.5 career sacks. He’s missed three games during that time, and never more than one in a single season. The violence of his hands, as you can see in the earlier GIF of him working against Denver, is the best quality Hali boasts. Got a motor that can’t be beat as well.

I could write pages on Kansas City’s edge rushing duo, but that would be a disservice to the rest of their excellent front seven. Allen Bailey actually leads the team in sacks with 4.5 from his 3-4 defensive end position, while Jaye Howard is quickly establishing himself as a force with six tackles for loss this season, a mark that leads the team. The Chiefs can do some fun stuff up front with the tandem, as not many big men are quite as explosive as this pair.

The Chiefs send Bailey and Howard on a twist through the A-gaps, splitting the Bears center to collapse the pocket on top of Jay Cutler. Split sack, forced fumble, recovered for a defensive touchdown. Not many 290-pound and 305-pound defensive linemen can operate with that kind of quickness coming from a five and three technique, showcasing the versatility Kansas City has when employing these two in the lineup. The Chiefs will use both at various spots along the defensive line, along with key reserve Mike DeVito, who will even play the nose tackle spot at times. Everybody can rush the passer, even nose tackle Dontari Poe.

At 6’3, 350 pounds, Poe has unnatural short-area quickness and an active upper half. He’s a load to handle on the interior, but was limited in practice on Thursday with a high ankle sprain. Poe missed last week’s game against Minnesota, and I think he may be a bit of a long shot to play this week.

At inside linebacker, Derrick Johnson is one of the more athletic players at his position in the NFL, even after an Achilles tear ended his 2014 campaign in Week 1. Johnson is still rounding back into football shape mentally, but he’s is one of the top run-and-chase linebackers in the league thanks to his elite range. Chiefs feel comfortable with him matched up one-on-one with running backs or tight ends, even flexed out wide. Johnson’s isn’t the most disruptive linebacker, and can sometimes be a little bit hesitant to locate the ball and attack downhill, but he’s such a smooth athlete and won’t shy away form physical play. Great communicator before the snap, always making sure he’s got his guys lined up appropriately. Also the only Chiefs defender to be on the field for every snap this season.

Lot of guys to note in the secondary, especially with the return of Sean Smith and the season-ending injury to Phillip Gaines, but we’ll start with rookie Marcus Peters. Peters was my top corner in the 2015 class, due to his length, physicality, and top-notch instincts in coverage. He’s been victimized a bit as a rookie, but he’s also shown a knack for splash plays and continuing to get better each week.

Excellent click-and-close to arrive in time to make a play on the ball, showing great burst out of his backpedal. Peters is also fiercely competitive; after this play he was visibly furious with himself for just knocking the ball down instead of trying to intercept it. Didn’t make that mistake here.

This is just extraordinary football smarts and route recognition for a rookie. Eyes on the quarterback, Peters comes off his vertical carry as soon as Teddy Bridgewater releases the football and beats the receiver to the catch point. Peters a true ball-hawk with an impressive natural feel for the game. His aggressiveness will get him into trouble at times, but keep coming after him and he’ll make you pay.

Sean Smith, like Peters, will bump-and-run thanks to his length and physicality. He’s not the most fluid cover man, but he’ll contest everything and disrupt timing routes with his play at the line of scrimmage. Smith will tackle too, something the Chiefs missed when he was suspended for the first four games of the season.

Eric Berry’s battle to overcome cancer and return to the NFL is remarkable, and I’m happy to report his play has followed suit. He and Ron Parker can both play single high, in the slot, or in the box from what I saw on tape. Berry’s got serious range still, even after a lengthy list of health concerns. Parker has smooth cover skills for a safety, and made a number of good plays on the ball on tape. Both are willing run defenders. Have a feeling Parker is just scratching the surface of how good he’ll be, which is pretty impressive for a guy who has been waived seven times.

Steven Nelson sees time as the nickel corner with Gaines on injured reserve, but there is limited tape of him right now (14 snaps, all vs. Minnesota). Blitzed at least twice last week from the slot. Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton likes to bring safety Husain Abdullah onto the field in nickel situations, trusting his safeties in man coverage. He fell asleep on one play at nickel against Minnesota, getting beat off the line of scrimmage and giving up a 52-yard slot nine route to Jarius Wright. If I know Todd Haley, he’s moving his receivers around a ton on Sunday to get them in the matchups he wants. Abdullah will also play a pseudo-linebacker role in the box at times on obvious passing downs. Sutton trying to match up with athletic receivers by having he and Johnson man the linebacker spots against spread looks.

As a whole, the Chiefs strength is their pass rush, notching 13 sacks this year and obtaining plenty of additional pressures. The secondary has tons of talent, but is still gelling as a unit. Right now the defense as a whole is worse than the sum of its parts, but with a group this skilled, it is only a matter of time before they return to dominance. They’ll have to cut out the mistakes however, as 48 defensive penalties is far too many this season.

Punter Dustin Colquitt is averaging 47.1 yards per punt this season, while landing 14 inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, the second most in football. Has had four punts blocked in his 11 seasons, just one in the past five years (in 2013).

Defensive back Jamell Fleming and wide receiver Albert Wilson are the gunners. Wilson took a bad angle a time or two on tape and overran the return man. Fleming is fast and physical, worked through double-jammers a couple times.

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