Chiefs Colts Defensive Review: Interior Defensive Lineman Concerns

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Nate expresses concern with the state of the Chiefs defensive line play following their loss to the Colts.

That loss was ugly. All three phases were beat, if not dominated, which is ridiculous for a Super Bowl contender. While the defense wasn’t at fault for the entire game, they had issues, mainly in their run defense. So, that’s what this article is about. Let’s break down what the Colts did to the Chiefs this week against the run.

The Numbers

Generally, I don’t include any numbers in my articles, because I’m usually behind on my charting, and don’t have enough time to get it done before I write. This week though, it seemed more important to do so more than any other week.

PlayerAttemptsYardsYards Per CarryMissed Tackles
Clark4133.31
Jones331.01
Nnadi12847.00
Williams11111.01
Tanoh221.00
Ogbah3311
Hitchens144.00
Lee1221
Wilson5163.26
Mathieu1-8-8.01
Niemann22010.01
Saunders6162.70

A couple of disclaimers. This table is sensitive to cutbacks, so for example, the Colts may have ran to one side, but the running back cut to the other side and created a big play. Also, holding penalty yards were a part of this, because those yards do matter, even if they aren’t in the box score.

A few things should stick out to you. The main thing I took away from this data is that the interior defensive lineman were bad on Sunday, mainly Derrick Nnadi. The Colts continuously ran at Nnadi, and it made sense why. He was getting blown 4-5 yards off the line of scrimmage, into opposite gaps. Anytime the Colts ran at Nnadi, it was a big play for them. That’s unacceptable. As a nose tackle, he needs to be able to hold gaps, take on double teams, and plug holes as a run defender.

Next should be Damien Wilson. I’ve loved the way Wilson has played this season, but he was bad on Sunday. 6 missed tackles is unacceptable. He needs to wrap up better. Besides that, Ben Niemann was bad, and Xavier Williams wasn’t very good either. The defensive ends were solid though, only giving up 2 yards per carry.

Now, let’s dive into the film and see where the Chiefs struggled against the Colts.

Film Review

Let’s start on the first drive of the game, with the play that made the eventual touchdown possible. This play was bottled up for short, but little details make this play bust for huge yardage. First, Nnadi, who gets blown 5-6 yards off the ball and is driven back into the linebackers, who can’t press a gap since Nnadi is getting piled back. Next is Wilson, who needs to press his gap and try to make a tackle instead of standing still, waiting for someone else to make a play.

This play is on Darron Lee though, who is in perfect position to make a play, but doesn’t wrap up and tackle. That one missed tackle led to a 30 yard play, instead of a short gain. This was the worst play of the day, but what bothers me is that it isn’t a scheme issue. Spagnuolo is setting these guys up for success, but guys needs to make plays.

Another play, another interior lineman getting completely blown out of a gap. The Colts draw this up for their center to come over and double Williams, who should be holding the A gap, but the guard pushes Williams enough out of a gap where the center just needs to finish the block off, then he can climb to Ben Niemann. The reason why this play goes for yards is because Williams can’t hold his gap, he loses leverage, and that creates a massive hole.

The problem with the Chiefs run defense mainly falls on the interior lineman. Nnadi, Williams, Chris Jones, and Khalen Saunders are all getting completely blown off the ball every single snap, which isn’t allowing linebackers to come free to make plays. You can blame linebackers all you want, but if they can’t get to holes to make plays because interior linemen are in the way, that’s not their fault. It falls on the lineman to hold leverage and require double teams.

Are you getting a sense for what the issue is with the defense? On this snap, Derrick Nnadi is getting blown off the ball again, this time against a double team and ends up getting pushed back out of his gap. While Emmanuel Ogbah does get inside to fill the B gap, he doesn’t get enough depth to force a backwards cut from the running back.

This play is on Damien Wilson though, who needs to recognize where Ogbah is going pre-snap, and be there in the C gap in order to make the play. He gets too lateral, takes a poor angle to the ball, and misses the tackle.

The problem with the Chiefs’ linebackers are since they aren’t fast, if they ever take a poor angle, it turns into a big play. They lack the range and recovery speed to make plays from behind, and that’s what creates the big plays.

This play was the most aggravating for me, because this was the easiest play for the Chiefs to make all night. The Colts are running Z sweep on 3rd and 1, but they mess up the assignment, since their tight end should be holding the edge against Wilson. He fails, and this should be the EASIEST tackle for loss in the world. This should be a 3-4 yard loss, and force the punt team on the field. But Wilson completely loses track of the ball, doesn’t see the motion, and gives up the big play.

This is my issue with the interior lineman. The scouting department/defensive coaches wanted smaller, quicker lineman in the interior of their line, but the issue with that is guys that can’t hold leverage on the snap. Derrick Nnadi is a big dude, but he’s getting blown off the ball, since he lacks the lower body strength that bigger guards have against him. This leads to him getting mauled every snap all night long.

We can’t change the offseason now, but going into the future, the Chiefs need to pursue bigger, heavier stalwarts against the run. Yes, you do sacrifice pass rush, but similar to New England, you can rotate defensive lineman to get pressure. If you can’t stop the run though, you can’t call the blitzes you want, since you have to sell out against the run.

I’ve had a lot of emotions writing this article, but this one just depresses me. Frank Clark should be getting praise for this play. The explosion and split to get in the backfield are elite. This was an excellent play by Clark, but he doesn’t wrap up and finish the play. I want to defend and praise Clark, but plays like this make that hard. As the front 7 leader, he needs to make a tackle for loss, and give the offense time to move the ball.

Game Ball

Finally, something positive. This week, we give our game ball back to Tyrann Mathieu, who had his best performance under the bright lights of Arrowhead Stadium.

Ever since Eric Berry in 2016 the Chiefs haven’t had a single safety with ball skills and instincts. That’s why we needed Mathieu, and it’s starting to show up in every game he’s played in. The Chiefs are playing cover 2, and this is just a basic play that Mathieu makes, but it’s so important. He reads Brissett’s eyes the entire play, and is able to hide behind the tight end, and close at the perfect time. While it seems like an easy skill for a safety to have, the Chiefs haven’t had someone who could process plays as quickly as Tyrann Mathieu, and by just having him around makes this defense dramatically better.

Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time situations. Mathieu is that big time player. The Colts are running a crack sweep to the field side, but Mathieu sees that instantly off the snap, and flashes his exceptional closing speed and tackling to make a play. Nobody else, not even Eric Berry, is making that play for the Chiefs. While Berry was an awesome run defender, he didn’t have that quick of a closing speed.

I regret never getting an Eric Berry jersey when he was in his prime. Berry was my favorite player, someone who seemed invincible to any type of threat. Unfortunately, he was human, and did break down. I didn’t make that same mistake with Mathieu. I’m glad I got his jersey early, rather than late.

Conclusion

The run defense isn’t great. While I had hopes for it coming into the season, I’ve been disappointed with the results. My main issue is with the interior linemen, who are getting destroyed off the snap. The Chiefs have spent too many assets on interior linemen for them to be this bad. The fact is, through all 5 games, the Chiefs are getting destroyed in the trenches, mainly in the middle of their defense. That isn’t scheme dependent, or something opposing teams are doing against us. They are just getting heavy, and trying to run it straight down your throat.

I think we need to trade for an interior defensive lineman. With Xavier Williams and Chris Jones both likely out for multiple weeks, it would make sense for the Chiefs building up more depth for the long-haul. We don’t need a star, just a veteran who can play the run well. Some options could be Corey Peters, Andrew Billings, and Dalvin Tomlinson.

That being said, I’m not panicking. The defense did exactly what they need to do every week to win, which is to hold teams to less than 24 points. The Chiefs were great in the red zone again, and they continue to force turnovers. I’m still optimistic, and not in full-panic mode yet.

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ArrowFan
ArrowFan

While the Interior DL is getting blown out of their gap it is being done by two linemen on a double. When that happens it leaves the LB unblocked and in position to make a play. I agree that the play starts with the guy on the line but the LB’s are missing tackles and not filling the wide-open holes. We need some LB’s and we need them badly this is the trade that needs to be made. I miss DJ we were so spoiled it just goes to show you don’t know what you got till it’s gone.

Tyrone

Good review. Painful stuff.

Tyrone

GIF 6: Fucking Frank.

Tyrone

GIF 4:
Not sure I can watch any more. Wilson is terrible.

Tyrone

Gif 3:
Yes Nnadi get blown back, but hes getting double teamed (not a Frank Clark double, a real one), and one of those guys is the best guard in the NFL. The play wouldn’t have gone anywhere if Wilson didn’t completely miss on an easy tackle

Tyrone

Second gif:
Niemann. WHERE ARE YOU GOING?

legal_kush
legal_kush

I’ve said it before, run support is not Niemann’s strength. There is a reason he was an UDFA.

Tyrone

First gif:
Pitiful tackling “attempt” by Lee, but before that, Wilson should have attacked and hit the runner in the backfield. He had a perfect gap.
Standard play from Clark. Just gets completely dominated.

SCKSChief
SCKSChief

Man…I really hate the LBs too. LOL

APtransplant25
APtransplant25

Nice review Nate, I second the suggestion to pursue bigger bodies in the middle. It all starts from there.

EAFOX

Coaches could have helped out more with some run blitzes. Hopefully, McClain helps out on the defensive line. Have Ivie on practice squad. Did anyone sign Justin Hamilton when we released him? I like him better than the X man.

Jdklks
Jdklks

With the disclaimer that I do not expect any kind of positive result, Speaks needs to be pushed inside when he’s back to see if he has any value to this team at all.

Simtex
Simtex

Sounds funny, but I think speaks is too light to play inside. Nnadi has more than 30lbs on him and being pushed around like Shuffleboard.

REMOVE
REMOVE

Weight isn’t everything, nor can you go by listed weights. Those are only accurate at the combine, they are never updated. There were reports that he was slimming down all season last year, but never looked like it. This year he looked as pudgy as he always did.

EAFOX

Pudgier

stjoechief

Nnadi getting pushed around is concerning, but with the injuries his snap count was up significantly (62 this week vs. 40 against the Lions). Has this been a big problem all year or did he just get tired in this game?

tsv0728
tsv0728

Quinten Nelson is a bad man so Nnadi was getting his ass kicked more than usual, but he has been weak all year.

Simtex
Simtex

Yes, it has been an issue all year. He has flashed maybe twice all season. I’ve seen him get moved a lot off the line.

SCKSChief
SCKSChief

Really not satisfied with Nnadi this year, at all. I get that Nelson is a monster, but the guy hasn’t really been good all year.

legal_kush
legal_kush

Nelson had ZERO impact in the playoff game last year.

Mahomer
Mahomer

Would Geno Adkins work for us. Seems like he would upgrade both run D and pass rush

REMOVE
REMOVE

Geno is a 3 tech like Jones is in this system. Neither is great on head up double teams, which is what Nnadi did pretty well last year, and the NT is supposed to do. The 3 tech is a quicker penetrating DT.