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Scouting Report: Chiefs’ Defense Overcoming Horrible Start

As we’ve been doing for several years now, we’ll break down the Pittsburgh Steelers’ opponent each week, telling you what to expect from a scheme and individual standpoint. Like last year, Tom Mead and I will cover the opposing team’s defense. I will focus on scheme, Tom on the players.

Today, previewing the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense.

ALEX’S SCHEME REPORT

CHIEFS’ RUN DEFENSE

The run defense, similar to the Minnesota Vikings, has been a bit of a weird one to figure out. On paper, it doesn’t look great, a 4.7 yards per carry average which ranks tied for 29th in the league. Pittsburgh, for comparison’s sake, sits at 4.9 yards per carry. But the Chiefs don’t rank terribly in runs of 10+ yards (37 – ninth) or runs of 20+ yards (seven – tied twelfth). Not great, to be sure, but not among the worst in the league. The longest run they’ve allowed this year is just 31 yards, third best in football, which suggests they’re allowing teams to consistently turn out 4-5 yard runs given that 4.7 average against.

Schematically, it’s a hybrid front that can play its EDGE guys with their hand up or hand down. Rookie LB Nick Bolton leads the team with 102 tackles this season though as of this writing, he’s on the COVID list and his status for Sunday’s game is unclear. Their DBs are very active overall. Safety/slot Tyrann Mathieu and L’Jarius Sneed are second and third in tackles with 65 and 62 respectively.

On the X’s and O’s side of things, they are gap sound to the frontside. The Chiefs’ defense runs hard and rallies to the football, playing hard 11-man defense. Check out this example from the first snap of the Raiders’ game two weeks ago. Frontside flow with the DT punching the ball out, recovered by Kansas City and raced into the end zone for the touchdown. And in the second clip shown below, watch them spill this run to the outside, forcing the back laterally and going nowhere.

 

I would define them as a “fast flow” group vulnerable to the cutback. On gap schemes, if Najee Harris can intentionally run out of structure a bit here and cutback a gap instead of fully following the puller, he may be able to find a crease. Here’s what I’m talking about.

 

On paper, I think you can have more success on the outside with perimeter runs and those cutbacks. Of course, the Steelers just have a lot of problems on their own up front.

Some other defensive stats. They’re eighth in points allowed at 21.1 points per game. Some wild splits with this unit. Over the first five weeks, they allowed 32.6 points per game, worst in football. Since Week 6, they’re down to allowing 14.8 points per games, the best in football. Literally gone from worst to first in the course of one season. Pretty wild. They allowed more points over their first five games than they have in their last five.

Trading for Melvin Ingram has certainly helped in that matter. Ingram has played well and it’s allowed Chris Jones to play from the interior more on passing downs, allowing him to get after the QB.

Their third down defense is average, 14th at 39% while their red zone defense is 20th at just under 61%.

CHIEFS’ PASS DEFENSE

The pass defense has been below average overall this season. They’re tied 20th in YPA at 7.3 and the pressure has been poor. They have just 24 sacks this season. Chris Jones leads the way with seven. The next closest has just three. They’ve allowed 43 completions of 20+ yards, tied for 17th in the league. They’ve struggled more against the big deep ball, tied 29th with eleven completions of 40+ yards.

Nine different Chiefs’ players have at least one interception this year, including Mathieu with three of them. Compare that to the Steelers who have nine interceptions total defensively. The Chiefs have 25 total takeaways, tied fifth most in the league. They have some guys who can punch the ball out. Four different players have 2+ forced fumbles with CB Mike Hughes topping them all with four of them. So ball security by the Steelers’ receivers and runners will be extra important.

The Chiefs are a pretty aggressive defense, ranking eighth in blitz rate at 29.3%. Their pressure rate is even better at 27.7%, tied fourth best in the league.

Generally speaking, they are a two-high safety team. In theory, that should make them easier to run one because you’re seeing fewer eight man boxes and it’s one reason why the team’s run defense from a YPC standpoint isn’t great but also why they’re not allowing big runs. The safeties are cleaning up the messes pretty well. They are generally a two deep zone coverage team.

They can also play man-free, Cover 1 as well. They’ll add some wrinkles to their coverage too. Check out this “Cone” coverage with the safety cutting the crosser by #1 as the corner replaces him in zone coverage. That way the corner isn’t out-leveraged as the receiver runs over the middle.

 

Unlike the Tennessee Titans, who ran man coverage in the low-red zone (inside five yard line), the Chiefs play much more zone coverage down near the goal line.

Blitz-wise, I didn’t see any recurring trends other than they are willing to send pressure. Will say to watch out for when their DTs are both 3T. Good sign a stunt is coming. Watch the twists on each side here.

 

TOM’S INDIVIDUAL REPORT

No team in the NFL is hotter than the Kansas City Chiefs coming in with seven straight wins and their defense has been a big part of that. Just once during that streak they have given up more than seventeen points. They have created turnovers with fourteen picks and eleven fumble recoveries. The defense features two Pro Bowler players in Chris Jones and Tyrann Mathieu and has a couple of young linebackers that may make you jealous. Let’s look at the Chiefs defensive players.

Defensive Line

The defensive tackles have some players who are tough to move. Jarran Reed (90) has got sand in his pants and can hold his ground. He has very good play strength, stays square to the line of scrimmage and sheds blockers well. He’s a power rusher and can force fumbles. Derrick Nnadi (91) is another stout defender with good technique versus double team blocks. He’s tough to block one-on-one, is aggressive with his hands and plays with his eyes up. Tershawn Wharton (98) is the primary backup and he’s from a different mold. He is undersized and uses quickness and uses his hands well to avoid blockers. He has good lateral quickness, pursues well and even has some bend when looping on the edge.

Reed (90) puts one hand on the left guard and one on the left tackle with eyes in the backfield and sheds to make the tackle

 

Defensive Ends

Chris Jones (95) has an unfair advantage compared to offensive lineman. He’s just better than them. He has very good play strength, quickness to work around blockers and uses his hands well. He can reset the line of scrimmage or shed blockers with strength and is an excellent pass rusher from the edge or inside. Frank Clark (55) is a smart player with a good first step. He handles block well and can set the edge, has good athleticism and is good at block destruction. He also has he agility to bend around the edge.

Alex Okafor (97) is a strong side player with a good motor who is best when power rushing. He uses his hands well, has a good stab move rushing the passer and will be asked to cover in the flat as well. Midseason addition Melvin Ingram (24) mixes up his pass rush plan well using speed and power. He likes to attack the inside gap with rips and spins and is adequate versus the run. Mike Danna (51) is a solid young player who sets the edge well. He plays with good pad level and has a solid rip move and despite less playing time than others he leads the defensive ends in tackles.

Jones (95) will take on the left guard and use a swipe and then lifts the blockers hands to get him off balance and gets around him for the sack

 

Inside Linebackers

This is a strong group and if healthy you’ll see all of them in the game. Rookie Nick Bolton (54) leads the team in tackles with 102 and will make plays all over the field. He is a quick twitch defender and a very good processor playing with good physicality while being a strong tackler. He has solid awareness in coverage and good change of direction. Anthony Hitchens (53) plays under control and smoothly flows to the ball. He’s not a physical as Bolton but will fill gaps. He will over pursue on runs to the outside and is adequate in coverage.

Willie Gay (50) is a very good athlete who has good mental processing and quickness and is aggressive taking on blocks. He is solid in Man coverage, plays with his eyes on the quarterback in Zone coverage and has good acceleration to the ball. Ben Niemann (56) is a versatile linebacker and is the linebacker in dime. He has solid mental processing, adequate physicality and is better attacking downhill than flowing to the outside. Dorian O’Daniel is a core special team player with good agility, hustles and is a good tackler.

Bolton (54) processes this quickly, accelerates downhill and makes the tackle in the backfield

 

Corners

Physical with ball skills is the type for the Chiefs. L’Jarius Sneed (38) is a physical corner who plays with a chip on his shoulder. He is strong in Press coverage, has good ball skills and plays with an aggressive mentality. He supports the run well and leads the corners in tackles. Charvarius Ward (35) has good size and ball skills leading the team in pass breakups with eight. He’s a willing player in run support and takes on blockers well. He is solid in Man coverage and processes routes well in Zone. Mike Hughes (21) will play in the slot or outside if needed. He has good aggressiveness and physicality at the line of scrimmage to disrupt routes. He too has ball skills, closes on the ball quickly and is solid in Man coverage.

DeAndre Baker (30) is a former first round pick with good speed and physicality. He shows good aggressiveness to the ball in the air and is a solid tackler but has struggled in Man coverage. Rashad Fenton (27) is a slot corner who will play on dime. He has good size and physicality at the line of scrimmage. He’s a willing tackler but is a little stiff when trying to stick with receivers.

Ward (35) at the top does a nice job to mirror the receiver and stay in phase and gets his head around to break up the pass

 

Safeties

Tyrann Mathieu (32) does a little bit of everything. He’ll play deep, in the box or in the slot. He has very good route awareness and plays the ball well. He’s a strong tackler, leads the team in interception and is used to blitz as well. He’ll make plays all over the field. Juan Thornhill (22) is a young free safety who is strong on the back end. He has good speed, supports the run well and is a good tackler in space. The will blitz him off the edge or play Man coverage on tight ends.

Daniel Sorenson (49) is versatile player who always seems to be around big plays. He can play the single high, in the box in dime or linebacker in goal line defense. He’s has solid range, can cover tight ends in Man and is a good tackler. Armani Watts (23) plays primarily on special teams and has good athleticism. He is a strong tackler and has good awareness in Zone. He supports the run and good acceleration to the ball.

Thornhill (22) from the top left will fill the gap versus the run and make the tackle in the backfield

 

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