Even in limited time, we got to see how the starters performed in a new scheme. How did the players execute their assignments?
Even though it’s just the first game of the preseason, we were fortunate to see a new defense. With Spagnuolo’s 4-3 Under scheme on the field we were able to see a glimpse of what the defense will look like in 2019. Even if the games don’t matter, these reps are valuable to get the starters a chance to work together and the backups to see if they can play a role on the team. For the front office, these games are even more valuable than training camp, as they can get an early preview of the team’s potential strengths and weaknesses.
Finally, for fans the preseason is a good way to see if we need to panic about anything before the regular season comes. For example, anyone remember David Amerson? The preseason game reps showed that he was not a good fit for our team, so we had to release him later. Here’s a short review of some of the trends I noticed on the field, and what we could expect for the Chiefs in 2019.
Even though the first-team defense only played a couple of drives we were able to see a bunch of trends of what the defense will look like in 2019. Obvious disclaimer, this is just preseason, none of these reps count. So while I may notice some trends, just because it shows up in preseason doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll see it when the season starts.
The Chiefs definitely executed very well slanting against the run. First, the defensive lineman move laterally against the run, with both interior guys taking on double teams and holding their gaps. Next, the linebackers read the wide run coming, and slant into their gaps, with Ragland squeezing the C gap. Finally, Dirty Dan reads the run quickly, sprints downhill to attack the D gap. While he failed to bring the running back down, he was able to hold him up long enough for Niemann to come and finish the play.
The Chiefs definitely look better in this one-gap simplified run scheme, where they read a quick block and attack the assigned gap. Ragland, Lee, and Niemann all looked significantly better against the run, moving around explosively to their gaps.
The Chiefs definitely looked good in Spags’s Cover 3 zone scheme. Wade does a good job with the “zone shuffle”, where his back side is pointed to the sideline and he’s covering the boundary. Lee and Ragland also do well, keeping their outside shoulder slanted and robbing routes at the sticks. While they give up the first down, the Chiefs weren’t trying to rob these short hitch routes very much, trying to keep their coverages simple.
Overall, the defense looks much better in a simplified zone scheme. The communication on the back-end looks drastically better, as well. Guys were pointing out routes with their hands, and they were going through their checks very well pre-snap.
I understand why some people really like Ward. He is a long player with good vertical speed and a willingness to tackle. The problem is that he just gives up too many plays deep to be able to play on the boundary. I know he stays step-for-step with Tate here, but he doesn’t turn his head to the ball and gets beat by their 6th-7th receiver. Ward struggles against deep balls on the boundary, and he gives up way too many big plays out there.
Playing in Spags’s quarters based scheme means Ward is going to have to cover the boundary one-on-one a lot, so if he doesn’t learn to turn his head to the ball well, he will be picked on all year by good quarterbacks.
Ward’s closing speed on out routes is not great. Even in a limited sample size from last year, it was noticeable that he wasn’t mentally fast enough to close on out routes, his click was too slow. Ward doesn’t appear to have improved on that at all.
His zone shuffle is alright, and he reads the out route, but he doesn’t close on the route fast enough to force the incompletion. Against good teams, Ward is going to be picked on all day if he can’t click and close quickly on out routes. The Patriots are an example of a team that would destroy Ward on these routes in the past.
Overall, Ward was pretty bad in this preseason game. Obviously, this is a very small sample size, but he needs to show improvement soon, or he will get benched for Mo Claiborne as soon as his suspension is lifted.
The Chiefs already look way better in the red zone, specifically with their one-gap scheme. On this play, the defensive lineman and MIKE crash the A Gap, leaving the B gap open for Darron Lee. Lee does a great job of reading the gaps that open, attacking downhill, and wrapping up.
Lee was really impressive on Saturday. He looked quick in the run game, reading gaps quicker than any linebacker on the field, while tackling at a high level. If Lee shows this consistency in the run game all season, it may be hard for Steve Spagnuolo to keep him off the field as the season progresses. Even if Lee doesn’t fit the base WILL Spagnuolo has used in the past, if Lee continues to flash this play, he should earn the role of a starter quickly.
Tanoh Kpassagnon definitely looks better. While I didn’t do a full article about Kpassagnon this year, I did my review on Twitter. What I concluded was that he didn’t have any developed rush plan at all. He didn’t understand how to club, extend his arms into a rush, and how to maintain balance. I just didn’t feel he could ever play pass rusher in the NFL, he was too underdeveloped as a player.
This year, Tanoh looks significantly better. At defensive tackle this time, he uses a swim move to move inside, and he bends around the guard well on the play, using his arms to get off the guard. His length already give him a physical advantage, so learning some pass rush moves will make him a serious contributor in 2019.
Breeland Speaks doesn’t look great on the edge very much, but if he has one pass rush move that works well, it’s his two-hand swipe move to move around the edge. He does this by having a good get-off, getting the tackle to need to get wide, and then swiping the hands of the tackle.
I like Speaks on the edge a lot more than most people do. He has good enough bull rush and swipe moves to work on the edge, and while he will never be a star there, I think they can use him in different Tex stunts to get pressure. And against some match-ups, he can win as a rusher, as well. I’m excited to see if Speaks can rush on the outside consistently, because if he can, combined with his skills rushing from the interior, he can be a pass-rush force in 2019 and into the long-term.
Is this a good starting point?
After reviewing the “first-team” defense, I ended up being really encouraged with what I saw. Players were flying around the field and the communication and energy were much better than they were a season ago.
The front 7 looked much quicker against the run, with defensive lineman holding gaps and double teams well and linebackers free to sprint to the ball. The entire group looked more comfortable against the run and has already shown major signs of improvement from a season ago.
There were coverage ups and downs, but the Chiefs looked good in the middle of the field. The linebackers looked fine in zone coverage, the safeties did well in zone, but the boundary corners struggled. They did poorly whether in man or zone, so they need to keep working on that this week.
Overall, I think this is a great starting point for the defense. They looked good against the run, the depth pieces on the defensive line looked good, and the early returns on the linebackers are very encouraging. This game was a great foundation piece for the Chiefs to build on, and they should only continue to get better.