Chiefs Defensive Review: Secondary Comes Together

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Nate reviews the Kansas City Chiefs defensive performance in Super Bowl LIV against the San Francisco 49ers

We won the Super Bowl! After a rough performance defensively in the final 10 minutes we got 3 stops in the most critical spots of the game. Congratulations to Andy Reid and the Hunt family for pulling it off.

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This isn’t a love letter, though. We’re breaking down film here. I’ll be writing many articles about this game for months to come, so I won’t cover everything here. This week, we’re just focusing on the secondary. A lot of credit for our performance was attributed to them. How did they play so well? We break that all down here.

The Good

In order to open up the middle of the field the 49ers like to run a lot of bubble screens out of tight splits. With really good blocking receivers and George Kittle as well they’re able to open a lot of space for one of their speedy receivers to get upfield. Overall though, Kansas City did a great job defending these screens.

Assignment-wise, it starts with the Apex defender, Tyrann Mathieu. Mathieu has to line up pressed on the receiver in order to set the edge. He has to keep everything to the sideline. The hook defender, Anthony Hitchens, pushes the bubble inside out, constricting space to the sideline. Bashaud Breeland’s the key player here, who has to fill the alley and make the tackle. If he gets washed out of the alley, it’s a touchdown.

Breeland doesn’t allow himself to get blocked here though, getting under the hands of the tight end and wrapping up. Mathieu sets a hard edge, and Hitchens is able to close a back-side hole. This turned into a -2 yard loss, essentially ending the drive with a field goal.

On 3rd down Spagnuolo mainly turned to a single-high shell, playing man coverage underneath. To deal with George Kittle, he went with a basic bracket, keeping the middle of the field contained. He didn’t call too many blitzes and games upfront, relying on more 4 man rushes, maybe with a simple blitz from the WILL. Our cornerbacks did a pretty good job in press coverage, allowing our pass rushers to get home. They weren’t burnt by speed.

Bashaud Breeland played a really good game in possibly his last one as a Chief. Mainly asked to play man coverage, he had two TFLs and a pick. On this pick while the pass rush got there, Breeland made the play.

Breeland stabs at the line of scrimmage, then against this corner route, he stays on the outside hip on the receiver, while gently holding. This forces the WR to drift with more depth on the route. Then, he tracked the ball well for the easy pick.

I don’t think we’ll be able to afford to keep Breeland this offseason, but I was satisfied with his performance this year. He helped stabilize a sketchy cornerback room. I wish Breeland nothing but the best and I hope he finally gets his payday.

The 49ers called a lot of quick slants for Garoppolo, taking advantage of our linebackers vacating their zones so easily. After a while though, our safeties took advantage of this by driving underneath on these slants.

Kendall Fuller does a really nice job here, driving underneath to nearly pick up the interception. This forced the 49ers into 3rd and 10, where the Chiefs could turn up the heat.

Kansas City kept it pretty simple up front, relying on more simple four-man rushes to win. In the 4th quarter, Spagnuolo turned up the heat though, bringing many more complex stunts. This play was an excellent design.

Tanoh’s going to cross up on the guard, forcing Garoppolo to step up into the pocket. He can’t drift as far on his drop. Jones does an excellent job of slanting the center out of his gap, opening up the middle of the line. Frank Clark comes looping around for the sack that won the game. Overall, really good design and execution by the Chiefs’ front 4.

Kendall Fuller made a bunch of big plays this game, and here was a good example of one. The Chiefs are playing Two-deep here, trying to take away anything on the deep seams. Fuller works the rules of Cover 2 well, working from the #2 receiver back to the #3 receiver. Once he sees the vertical route developing he quickly transitions into the middle of the field.

Nice ball skills get him the easy interception that wins the game. I hope we find a way to keep Fuller, as that allows Juan Thornhill to slowly work his way back from injury. With Fuller we can play single-high coverage without Thornhill. He may be too expensive, but I hope he stays.

The Bad

Only one bad play today, which was a poor linebacker play. That has plagued the Chiefs all year, especially in coverage. Ben Niemann, the dime linebacker, doesn’t belong on a football field, especially against San Francisco.

It’s man coverage, but Niemann is showing blitz. Once he comes off, he has to identify the back in man. Niemann is expecting a route in the flat, but he outruns the Angle/Texas route, getting caught in the dust. The middle of the field is wide open for a massive gain.

This team needs a coverage linebacker. If our defense wants to progress to the next level, we need more speed at that position. Looking at you, Brett Veach…

Game Ball: Kendall Fuller

I could hand this to many players, but Fuller has earned it. He truly had a great game. Whether it was deep or on a receiver, he didn’t allow anything in coverage.

Like I said, I hope we keep him. If he does leave though, I’m glad Fuller’s time in Kansas City ended on a high note. After two years of mightily struggling to find a role, Fuller found his place as a safety, and with Juan Thornhill hurt he helped fill the void. I’ll never forget what Fuller did for this Super Bowl run. Thanks, Kendall.

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I see it as the sum of the whole is better than its parts – they played some true team ball and everyone contributed. Ward was cannon fodder for AG earlier in the season but grew as a player. Breeland had some bad plays but had the knack for making some great ones as well. Thornhill got off to a rough start but had a good season as the deep safety until his injury. Fuller had some struggles but blossomed as the deep safety in the playoffs. Fenton came in and really balled, surprising everyone. Dirty Dan did a great job as the third safety as long as he was not stuck in single coverage. Mathieu was the glue that held this all together with his versatility and leadership. Mathieu was just as vocal as Mahomes in the big games. He earned his team MVP honor.


Fuller might’ve found his calling as a deep safety.

He did struggle some as a CB in Spags’ (and of course Sutton’s) system. He had his moments, and he’s overall an excellent football player. But as a starting CB, I’m not sure he made himself a whole lot of money with his overall performance over the past couple seasons.

However, as a safety…. I know it’s a stigma for a CB to convert to safety (even thought that makes absolutely no sense), but I wonder if Fuller’s best move might be to play FS here this season while Thornhill heals up, on a kind of prove-it deal. And then next season, having probably proven-it, go get the biggest contract for a FS in the league.


interesting take … I do hope he stays


If Fuller doesn’t stay, then we might need to be looking for temporary FS help. ACL surgery on January 14…I don’t think there’s any way Thornhill is back for the beginning of the season, and maybe won’t be able to be an effective starter until 2021.


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That poor train. Crashes every day, seems like.

Every time I see that pic, I wonder how I’d clean that mess up. Explosives? Engineering? Slave labor? Release a rumor that there’s gold inside it?