Thank you, Ryan Fitzpatrick! After the GOAT himself led a victory against the dying Patriots and the Chiefs took care of business against the Chargers, we got a bye week. We finished the season 12-4, 6-0 in division.
The defense, while not playing their best, were able to find a lot of success overall, and held the Chargers to just 4.9 yards per play. How were they able to find success, and how can they improve as we head for a Super Bowl? We break that all down here. Enjoy!
Reggie Ragland has had a strange career in Kansas City. In 2017, Ragland looked like a legitimate rising star, looking very fast as he made many plays in the backfield and nearly fixing the Chiefs run defense. Then in 2018, with injuries, weight, and being put in a bad scheme, he looked really poor. That led me to believing he would be cut this offseason, replaced for a faster linebacker. Then, when I watched more Spags tape, I thought he could be the MIKE linebacker in our scheme. So, when they put him at the SAM linebacker, I was shocked. So far this year though, he’s been able to do it.
As the SAM linebacker he’s mainly asked to key runs or blitz, depending on the play. He’s not asked to play coverage or read plays like a MIKE or a WILL linebacker, but to work downhill quickly and try to blow up plays.
The Chargers, especially out of 12 personnel, mainly run Zone, Counter, or Trap in their blocking scheme. Knowing this, Ragland slants upfield, instantly blowing up any type of front-side hole, and letting the other players flow to the ball.
Ragland has played really well since week 7, when he was brought into the lineup. He isn’t horrible in coverage, he fills gaps and plugs holes against the run while being a good blitzer. I’m shocked I’m saying this now, but I would find a way to keep Ragland this offseason. He fits exactly what Steve Spagnuolo wants out of a SAM linebacker.
Chris Jones played a great game Sunday, using play recognition more than athleticism. Here, the Chargers ran a screen to Jones’s side, but he sees this, using his blocker to close the space on the screen. This forces the running back wide, where Hitchens fills the alley and closes the screen.
Once Juan Thornhill went down Armani Watts was inserted into the lineup. While Watts hits hard and has good ball skills, he lacks the range to be a true centerfielder like Thornhill was. Due to this, Spagnuolo had to play a lot more two-high safety looks, playing man coverage everywhere underneath.
The cornerbacks did a good enough job underneath against the receivers, while being protected over the top. The issue is with the matchup of a linebacker against a running back. With a ton of space, teams isolate Ben Niemann on a running back, which is major mismatch for the Chiefs.
We see that mismatch here. Kansas City runs two-high again, but an inverse shell of it. The slot corner drops and the weak-side safety replaces the strong safety. The strong safety drops in that robber role, patrolling the middle of the field.
The Chiefs do a very nice job covering everything deep. The issue, again, is running backs. If we can’t tackle and stop running backs for short, we’re going to have issues. My suggestion is to play Dorian O’Daniel or Darron Lee. They help replace the loss of range that will be missed without Thornhill. This way, we can play more man coverage, while protecting over the top as well.
With Bashaud Breeland getting hurt and Mo Claiborne inactive, Rashad Fenton was asked to play on the boundary more this week. He looked pretty comfortable playing there as well. Without having to change directions as much, he’s able to show off his impressive vertical speed and ability to play the ball. His versatility will be much needed in the playoffs, with Thornhill’s injury.
The Chiefs sent the exact same corner blitz they used against Chicago. They drop the play-side of the formation into coverage, where the strength of the protection lies, and send the opposite boundary corner. Tyrann Mathieu makes a great play on the ball and forces an incompletion, but the blitz forces Rivers to step up and throw a poor throw.
Spagnuolo kept the rush plan relatively simple, using just simple Tex stunts up front, not wanting to reveal too much on tape. Still, moving his four best pass rushers around causes the offensive line to quickly change protection calls, which helps against stunts. Frank Clark slants upfield as the contain player, and Terrell Suggs loops around to exchange the gap, and gets the easy sack.
I would expect more complicated rush plans in the playoffs, but as the season winds down, the Chiefs are executing their stunts at a high level, which gives hopes for the playoffs.
This Game Ball goes to Tyrann Mathieu, who played another excellent game on Sunday. He made some excellent plays in coverage, including this interception. Teams try to highpoint Mathieu a lot, but he understands this, and is still able to make many plays on the ball.
Mathieu should be the defensive player of the year. I don’t care what anyone else says. What he’s done to fix the coverage in one year, the plays he makes on the ball, plus his football IQ should all make him the DPOY. Of course he won’t get it due to stats, but if I were voting he would be my vote without a doubt.
Overall, I felt Spags kept it pretty simple this week. More man coverage and four-man rushes, and fewer blitzes and stunts. He still called them, but there weren’t a lot of long-developing stunts for pressure. That’s something for the playoffs.
We needed this bye tremendously. Without Juan Thornhill, Spagnuolo is going to have to change his plans on defense. He’s going to have to protect Watts more deep. That will be an issue against Baltimore, where we need guys in the box. How Spagnuolo adjusts will intrigue me.
Overall, it was a good defensive performance. Not perfect, but for a week 17 game that didn’t really matter, it was good enough. Let’s see how Spags adjusts during this bye.