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2019 Opponent Scouting Report: Chiefs Defense, in a world of bend, don’t break they’re very flexible.

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AFC Championship - New England Patriots v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Overview

On October 6, 2019 the Indianapolis Colts will travel to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs. In this Week 5 match-up I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea of how they may attack our Colts.

Since moving to Indianapolis the Colts are 13-5 against the Chiefs, which includes a 4-1 record in the playoffs. Unfortunately the Chiefs have a very real chance to even that record over the next decade and they will likely start this weekend.

Let’s figure out what we can expect in Week 5.


Defense

During the 2019 off season the Chiefs made the decision to move in a new direction on defense, bringing in former Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo to be their new defensive coordinator. Spagnuolo (who will be called “Spags” for the rest of this article so I don’t have to keep typing that name) was the man who helped the 2007 New York Giants stop the 18-0 New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, giving them their only loss of the season. After a great 2008 season for the Giants defense, Spags was hired to become the head coach of the St. Louis Rams. To make a long story short, that didn’t work out for anyone. After a short stop with the New Orleans Saints, Spags found his way back to New York to implement his brand of defense. Once the wheels fell off in New York, Spags came to work for Andy Reid, the man who gave him his first NFL job in 1999 with the Philadelphia Eagles.

So what will his defense look like? Truth be told, there’s not a lot that’s interesting about this defense, schematically. Traditionally Spags has used a 4-3 base set, now, like everyone else the Chiefs will be in nickle or dime the vast majority of the time. They mix zone and man coverage, the defensive line will mostly have one gap responsibilities. All things considered this is probably the least complex defense the Colts have seen so far this season and given the fact that they’ve faced two 4-3 under Seattle style defenses, that’s kind of impressive. I did notice a few interesting things to watch for on Sunday, and please note I am using the term “interesting” loosely.

4-3 Under

Going deep into the well for “interesting” facts about this defensive scheme.

I noticed in multiple games (more against the Baltimore Ravens) that the Chiefs would sometimes come out with three down defensive linemen, one stand-up defensive end and a linebacker dropped down on the line of scrimmage. This is also known as a 4-3 under. The Chiefs like to try to confuse opposing offenses before the snap and the 4-3 under provides another opportunity to do so given the fact that you have five defenders and the quarterback will have to figure out if all five are blitzing or if one (or more) of them will be dropping into coverage. Which brings me to my next point.

Spags likes to mix things up and will often show blitz before dropping the would-be blitzers into coverage. If Jacoby Brissett is on top of these looks it could result in a nice day for the young passer. On the other side of that, Frank Reich and the entire offensive staff needs to be ready for the protection meetings this week. In obvious passing situations these Chiefs do like to bring the blitz.

Had Matthew Stafford had just a split second more he would have probably gotten this pass off to an open receiver for the first down. Instead Tyrann Mathieu chased him down for a big sack.

Ultimately this Chiefs defense doesn’t do anything that Jacoby Brissett hasn’t seen. It’s not complex, it’s not going to fool anyone with “exotic” looks. Instead they will occasionally show blitz before dropping seven into coverage and other times they will bring five or six rushers.

So far this season the Chiefs defense hasn’t put up numbers that would lead you to believe that Steve Spagnuolo’s scheme is more effective than Bob Sutton’s. They have given up the third most total yards with 408 per game. Only the Cardinals and Dolphins have given up more. They are the second worst defense against the run, giving up nearly 150 yards per game on the ground. The Chiefs, somehow, do their best work against the pass as they have only allowed 258.8 yards per game which is good enough for 20th in the league.

The craziest stat of all about this defense is the fact that despite the crazy yardage numbers teams have averaged the Chiefs are only allowing 23.5 points per game. They rank 19th in this area and you’re probably thinking “19th is in the bottom half, genius” and you’re right it is but they’re one point per game away from being very firmly in the top half of the league in points allowed, it’s a tight window and the season is still young. This Chiefs defense is the definition of “bend but don’t break”.

Although, I’m guessing they would like to be a little less flexible.


Defensive Line

The Chiefs do have a deep rotation on the defensive line. Defensive ends Alex Okafor and Frank Clark should get the start but backups Emmanuel Ogbah and Tanoh Kpassagnon will be part of the rotation. On the interior Derrick Nnadi and Xavier Williams will see plenty of playing time themselves but the best player on this line, and probably the entire defense is Chris Jones. Last year Jones broke out with 15.5 sacks, five batted balls and a pick six. Chris Jones is really good.

I’m not sure how it would happen but I really want Blake Bortles to start for the Titans.

This is just a fun play, if you can’t appreciate a 300+ pound man catching a pass, juking a would be tackler and then scoring a touchdown, then we have no business being friends.

Jones will give us problems on the right side

Jones has an elite first step and is often the first guy off the ball by a lot. Jones uses his hands well and if he’s left alone with Mark Glowinski often enough, Brissett is going to get hit.

How embarrassing

I just want to point out, if you play football at any level and you wear number 97 you should never, ever, ever let someone wearing number 11 block you. But that’s exactly what Alex Okafor let happen on this play.

Chris Jones is the only guy on this defense that truly concerns me. Sure there are plenty of guys capable of making a play and you never really know what might happen but this is the only guy that I believe presents a real match-up problem for the Colts offense.


Linebackers

Anthony Hitchens and Damien WIlson will most likely be the guys you see most often on Sunday. Former New York Jet Darron Lee will likely see some time as well and the Chiefs seem to like Ben Niemann in coverage, though he seems to play sparingly. Something interesting to note is that former starter Reggie Ragland has only played in two games, made no starts and only has one tackle on the season. If not for this game, it will be interesting to see what happens with Ragland this season as he may be a poor fit schematically for this new defense. As a whole this unit hasn’t been very good against the run but have somewhat better against the pass.

You can find good plays where these linebackers show obvious ability and then sometimes they show up and do this:

Both Chiefs linebackers are met 3-4 yards downfield, to their credit neither overran their gap but neither man did much to even change the direction of Josh Jacobs on this play.

Gap responsibility is important

Here the Chiefs did a pretty good job playside, filling gaps and taking away running lanes. The reason this turns into an eight yard gain for the Raiders is because Damien Wilson decided he wanted to take on a block away from his gap.

Luck

Sometimes you make a desperate attempt to just touch the ball carrier so no one could say he went into the end zone “untouched” and sometimes in the process the running back trips on his tight end’s feet and when that happens you get credited with the tackle. At least Damien Wilson didn’t celebrate this “tackle”. Yes I realize Darron Lee or Tyrann Mathieu probably make this stop had the back not tripped. Also Wilson was taken out of the game with concussion like symptoms but later returned. It doesn’t sound like it will be an issue but I also haven’t been able to find anything about his status specifically so it’s something to watch for.

This team isn’t great against the run and watching the tape it’s really easy to understand why. Against the run these linebackers have a habit of not playing their gaps, reacting slowly or just being taken completely out of the play by an offensive lineman. When you hear people say that a football player doesn’t have great instincts you could probably just assume the Chiefs will add that football player to their linebacking corps.


Defensive Backs

This is perhaps the most average secondary group in the NFL. Here are the names to know: Charvarius Ward CB, Juan Thornhill S, Kendall Fuller CB, Bashaud Breeland CB and Tyrann Mathieu S/CB.

Based on what I have watched, Mathieu and Breeland are the best of this bunch but no one really stands out that far above the rest. If I were a Chiefs fan I would be encouraged by the play of rookie second rounder Juan Thornhill. He hasn’t been perfect but he is looking good in coverage this far, something he excelled at during his time at the University of Virginia.

This play could be relevant if T.Y. Hilton can play. Not that he’s the kind of guy that will go over the top of a defender and make a play that way, but if they do give him one on one coverage with no help over the top, I hope Brissett tests whatever cornerback Spags has led to slaughter.

I hope to see a lot of these kinds of plays

Between the Chiefs penchant for blitzing and showing blitz these kinds of plays could have a big impact, especially if they show blitz and drop into a zone. The linebackers will be out of position and the middle of the field could be exposed with the defensive backs covering downfield. This play is less about the quality of the Chiefs defensive backfield and more to do with how the Colts might look to exploit this scheme as a whole.

Bend, don’t break

When you have an offense like the Chiefs have you can win a lot of football games getting stops just like this one.

This isn’t a bad secondary. It really isn’t. For my money it’s probably the best unit on the defense top to bottom.


Final Thoughts:

This game isn’t winnable for the Colts. With that said they should still be able to move the ball and given what I believe about Frank Reich’s ability to design plays in the red zone I do expect the Colts to score a lot of points. If the Colts were 100% healthy going into this game I don’t think I would be as positive about a loss as I am. Unfortunately that’s not the world we live in. Our receivers are banged up, our running back is banged up I don’t feel this is a great match-up for our tight ends and I still feel like the Colts will have plenty of offensive production.

Also, if you want to discard everything I’ve said and you just want to believe in the team, do it. Be a fan, that’s really what we’re supposed to do, right? After breaking it all down, I’m left without much hope. Something, something, inspiration, rah... I can’t even fake it this week, this is going to be ugly.