1-0 baby! The Chiefs traveled to Jacksonville and pulled out a victory, winning 40-26. Sammy Watkins looked the best he ever has, Patrick Mahomes is well, Patrick Mahomes, and LeSean McCoy was awesome.
But this isn’t an offensive review, unfortunately. This is about the defense, which showed some positive signs, but looked rough from the broadcast view. What does the all-22 say though? Where do the Chiefs look better? Where do they need to improve?
Some Good Plays
If the Chiefs are going to be really good at one thing on defense in 2019, it’s going to be at stopping the run. When covering the Jaguars this week in my preview of their offense, I said that it was crucial for the Chiefs to close holes in their counter blocking scheme, and not give Leonard Fournette a big hole to run through. On this snap, they are effective at stopping the counter play.
First, Frank Clark sets a great edge against the seal from the left guard, which already makes this play go nowhere. Derrick Nnadi makes sure it doesn’t go anywhere as well, by destroying the zone block of the right guard, and pushing him back into the pile, closing the hole. Finally, Anthony Hitchens has a quick read downhill and takes a fantastic angle to the ball, collecting the tackle by getting low and wrapping up Fournette.
The run defense did exactly what I hoped they would do, and Fournette was pretty ineffective for most of the day. The reason? The defensive line and linebackers did a great job constricting space. Even though Fournette had 5 yards per carry, a lot of them came in garbage time, so overall this was a great start for the run defense.
In case you’re wondering, Derrick Nnadi is a monster. Against 21 personnel, Nnadi gets single-teamed, and he takes advantage. He pushes the center back, anchors, and fills both A gaps. When Fournette sees the left A gap is closed, Nnadi disengages to the other side, sheds the tackle, and finishes the play. This play is blown up by Nnadi being able to hold both gaps.
Nnadi wasn’t the only player who did well on this play. Darron Lee also helped make this play possible. He looks noticeably quicker reading plays. He sees that the play is 24 power, and recognizes that he needs to get downhill to fill the A gap. When the left guard climbs to block Lee, he sheds by using his hands to push off, and wraps up well.
There is much better cohesion in the run defense in the 4-3 scheme, and it already is showing immediate results. I was very impressed with the run defense today.
On 3rd and 2, Spagnuolo dials up a Cover 0 blitz. This puts every player in man coverage on each receiver, leaving Damien Wilson on the running back out of the backfield. He sticks with the running back well, and Wilson forces the fumble by timing the strip well, changing the momentum of this game.
I really like Wilson. His speed, aggressiveness, and tackling all impress me in a linebacker. If he can stick with running backs in man coverage, this should help Spagnuolo be more aggressive with his blitzes. I wasn’t super impressed by the blitzes that were called against Jacksonville, but this one was well-timed to force the turnover.
Miscommunication in the secondary, mainly between Thornhill and Breeland/Ward, really bit us hard this week. This is Cover 3, and the reason why Westbrook is this wide open is bad communication. Ward is responsible for carrying the cornerback upfield, while reading his break. If he breaks short inside, he passes to the linebackers. When the receiver gets to the deep middle, he tries to pass off to Thornhill, but they miscommunicate, leaving Dede Westbrook WIDE open, since they didn’t include that route switch. Ward’s mental and physical recovery speed is slow, and this is a busted coverage.
With 3 brand-new starters in the secondary, there will be an adjustment period for their communication. I was disappointed to see so many errors this week, so Spagnuolo needs to work more on their communication.
The Chiefs are in Cover 1 on this play, and Jacksonville attacks them for that. Simple play action makes Tyrann Mathieu bite for the run, and the Jaguars run a simple high-low play action post and crosser, with the free safety, Juan Thornhill, biting on the short crosser when he sees that Breeland doesn’t change directions well.
This opens up the deep post, where D.J. Chark destroys Ward out of the top of his break, and Ward can’t recover. This turns into a 69 yard play, since Ward bit hard on that post route and Breeland couldn’t recover, either. I won’t lie. I’ve been majorly disappointed in the front office’s inability to get corners. It’s obvious Ward isn’t the answer, so I still hope we will find one at the deadline, but it’s obvious Ward isn’t a starting NFL cornerback. Let’s hope Veach has something in mind.
Oh look, another miscommunication between players. This is Cover 4 coverage, where the defense splits the field into four, with each guy responsible for covering each of their boundary. This play all falls on Breeland and Fuller’s terrible communication.
First of all, Breeland should be carrying the #1 receiver, especially when he stems vertically. He’s always responsible for his man deep, but he doesn’t realize that, and tries to pass him off to Fuller. Clearly, they both didn’t realize they were switching, so when Breeland takes the #2 receiver, Fuller can’t recover quick enough to contest.
It’s annoying that two players with this much experience and chemistry are communicating so poorly. This can’t happen again next week. They need to work this out all this week. Regardless of scheme, these are NFL players, they should be able to execute simple coverage assignments.
This is my favorite section of the week, where I give a game ball to the best player of the defense during the week. This week, my game ball was given to Emmanuel Ogbah.
Let’s start with his very impressive sack. Ogbah starts by having perfect timing on the snap, and getting a very explosive get-off. After setting up rookie Jawaan Taylor with bull rushes and spins all-day, Ogbah shows a very impressive two-hand club to get around the tackle. He bends around the edge, and pursues well for the sack.
Last year, Ogbah didn’t get to play defensive end much in the dirt. If he was playing outside, he was most likely in a two-point stance, which isn’t his strong suit. But with his hand in a three-point stance all the time now, he should be much better this season as a pass rusher. I’m excited.
Ogbah is very good, if not elite against the run. His play recognition, power, and shedding are all very good for a defensive end. Aligned as a 4i technique, Ogbah works the inside shoulder of the tackle, holds his gap, disengages and wraps up well. His strength to anchor is really good, and he knows how to shed well.
He got a lot of time playing on 1st and 2nd down this week and he made great advantage of his snaps. With his impressive tape today, Spagnuolo should continue to give him some more opportunities to play and see if he can remain consistent.
I get why everyone is panicking. The pass defense was really bad this game, the blitzes called weren’t effective, and Chris Jones and Frank Clark made zero pass rush impact. But I’m not freaking out. At least, not right now. People forget the defense had seven new starters from last year. Spagnuolo’s defenses have always generally struggled at the start of seasons. This is going to take time to jell. The reason why I’m excited is because the run defense already looks really good. The fact that the immediate returns on the run defense are mostly positive should be a great sign for the future.
I will say again that we need to replace Charvarius Ward. He looked awful on Sunday. I still believe we will. Claiborne is coming back in just 3 short weeks, and I truly believe we will trade for a cornerback at the deadline. A.J. Bouye and Xavien Howard both come to mind as potential candidates. Communication in the secondary must get better soon, or we are looking at 2018 all over again.
For now, I would say the defense lost this week, but it doesn’t mean we should panic. This will take some time. With Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid on offense, they can afford some time. Let’s hope for some more progression next week from the defense.