Now that we have all had time to decompress and recover from the loss, we can have an honest conversation about it. Having to watch it multiple times since then, I can tell you it wasn’t all bad. But there was a hell of a lot of it. Patrick Mahomes was under siege most of the night and although the OL only gave up two sacks, it affected the offense. The Chiefs game plan seemed to abandon the run game as the second half approached and the Chargers knew it. Only running the ball for 21 yards in the entire half, and throwing the ball on almost every down, the Chargers teed off on Mahomes with no consequences.
Watching the Chiefs defense was the most frustrating part about this game; with Eric Berry playing in the first half we all got a taste of how the defense should look. Holding the Chargers to seven points, sacking Philip Rivers four times, and picking him off twice. In the second half they only had one sack and allowed the Chargers to move up and down the field at will, scoring 22 points and beating the Chiefs by one point.
The offensive line struggled with the speed of the Chargers front and it showed on tape. There wasn’t a specific issue with the line either, everyone had their issues, and that resulted in Mahomes being pressured a lot for the second week in a row. The depth on the OL is nice, but with the problems in the last two games rearing their heads, it would be even better if they could get healthy over the next couple of weeks. Andrew Wylie had a rough game and early on it would prove to be a sign of things to come.
The Chargers do a lot of pre-snap movement and Wylie finds Isaac Rochell in his B gap, between himself and Mitchell Schwartz. On the snap Wylie’s feet get too squared up and his weight is on his heels, Rochell seems to realize this. He pushes Wylie up on his shoulder pads which adds more weight going backward and he falls on his butt. Forcing Mahomes out of the pocket, luckily for the Chiefs, he is athletic enough to make the play for the first down.
For an offensive lineman, your feet need to be staggered and always moving in a direction. Having your feet squared up is going to get you pushed over nine times out of ten, especially when you’re basically standing straight up. Wylie has been consistent for most of his time as a starter and was due to have a bad game. Hopefully, he sees this as an opportunity to improve and take this bad taste that was left in his mouth into the game against the Seahawks.
There was one thing that the Chargers continued to find success doing to the OL throughout the game. It was giving the line fits and allowed the Chargers to blow up some run plays and get after Mahomes, and that one thing was the Swim Move.
The Chargers must have seen this as an opportunity to exploit when they watched film. On this play in particular, Eric Fisher has a great get-off and drive-catch technique to get to the leverage point before Joey Bosa. The problem is that Fisher turns his shoulders, facing Bosa. That allowed him to swim inside while Fisher is still moving to his left. Bosa gets around to Mahomes and luckily, Allen was able to block down on Bosa and get him to the ground. Mahomes gets out of the pocket, and he runs for the first down.
On multiple occasions the Chiefs OL fell victim to the Chargers swim moves, forcing Mahomes to escape the pocket before he wants to. Also breaking up some of the run plays the Chiefs tried to execute. It was poor effort from everyone up front and when the Chiefs needed one first down at the end of the game, they couldn’t get it because of the speed of the Chargers front four.
Although the Chiefs were able to run the ball effectively when they did, they only had 12 rushes with running backs in the whole game against the Chargers. The Chiefs also found a lot of success in the screen game in the first half. The Williams backs were able to pile up yards on screen plays in the first half, even scoring a touchdown on one. The screen game was a big part of the game plan for the Chiefs, even if it disappeared in the second half.
The Chiefs knew they could have big gains with screens the way they were drawn up. They take both Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce and bring to the opposite side of the field on the snap, using fake handoffs to Damien Williams and Hill to draw in the defense. With all the motioning, the defense locks in on Kelce and Hill, allowing Williams to sneak out to the right flat, with 30 yards of green grass in front of him. Big play Chiefs.
The ability go scheme players open is a big benefit for an Andy Reid offense, and Williams was a huge benefactor of this ability, especially with Hill and Kelce on the field. Why the Chiefs went away from both the run game and the screen game in the second half? I have no idea. With the defense struggling in the second half, the running game would keep the Chiefs defense on the sideline, and the screen game would take advantage of the Chargers rushers getting up field quickly. Hopefully the offense learns from this going into the playoffs and the last few games of the regular season. Running the football will keep Mahomes cleaner and in the pocket longer, in theory.
On a night where the offense didn’t click but still scored 28 points, the defense failed to pick up the slack, as it so often doesn’t. I’ll get to the second half ineptitude in a bit but I want to talk about the return of Eric Berry. In the half that he played, the defense played with an edge that only Berry can provide. He was putting guys where they need to be, there’s footage of him yelling at Orlando Scandrick to get in position. He moves around pre-snap taking in the offense and it doesn’t allow the QB to figure out exactly what he is doing and when he comes down in the box, he is looking to stick it to someone.
This play embodies the player that Berry is and shows his mindset. Pre-snap he tells Dee Ford to set the edge because he is going to shoot the gap and get in the backfield. Ford gets to the outside shoulder of the tight end, which opens up the C gap a bit wider. Berry sees the fullback coming to lead block and he closes quickly to the back and takes on the block, not allowing himself to be moved. With Berry in the C gap and the other defenders collapsing to the ball carrier, there’s nowhere to go and the run is stopped for little to no gain.
When Berry comes down into the box as an extra defender, he is not afraid to initiate contact and make a play. He takes on blocks and the rest of the defense can learn from the way he plays the game. He changed the defense and it showed, only allowing the Chargers to score seven points in the first half. Going forward, the addition of Berry is going to be huge in the playoffs, if Bob Sutton can’t get his players lined up before the snap, at least there will be someone out there that can.
Once again, the Chiefs front four got after the QB and the one that stood out was Chris Jones. He is my favorite defensive player on the Chiefs because he is so versatile and can get after a QB in so many different ways; he can be lined up anywhere on the defensive front, there is no one OL that can block him on their own and he’s shown it all season, now only two sacks behind Aaron Donald for the league lead. He has all the tools but his speed is his biggest asset.
The Chiefs were in their base 3-4 defense on this play, and Jones was directly in the left side B gap between the guard and the tackle. With Houston to the far outside of the tackle, Jones knows that if he can get around the guard he will be free to go after Rivers. On the snap Jones shoots inside the B gap, forcing the guard to try and reach block Jones. This doesn’t work with Jones speed, unless you can keep him in front of you, Jones will bend the edge and get around you quickly. As he shows here, Jones’ speed is second to only Ford on the Chiefs front and Rivers has no time to react and goes down for the sack.
Jones had two and a half sacks in this game and although it wasn’t called, he was held numerous times by the Chargers OL, showing just how dangerous he is. He said before the season that he wanted to lead the NFL in sacks and even if he doesn’t get there this year, he clearly has the potential to do it, this being his third season in the NFL. Jones’ potential is off the charts and locking him up for the future has to be a priority for the Chiefs front office, ensuring that their defensive front is one of the best for the foreseeable future.
With the bright spots of the defense staying in the first half of the game, the defense showed it’s true colors after Eric Berry left the game. Without him on the field in the second half to align players and set the defensive tone, there were tons of communication breakdowns and Rivers was able to create mismatches the rest of the night.
Ron Parker comes down inside the box, just next to Anthony Hitchens and the Chiefs are showing a Cover-3 shell. Scandrick, Sorensen, and Nelson are all covering deep and with typical Cover-3 schemes, the linebackers are in a shallow zone and Parker should have flat responsibility. But as Tyrell Williams comes across Hitchens’ face both Parker and Hitchens run with him, allowing Detrez Newsome to sneak out to the flat and gain 11 yards.
Regardless of who has flat responsibility, communication during a play is just as important as pre-snap. Hitchens doesn’t have the speed to run with Williams so he should have traded him off to Parker and gone to the flat. This would have forced Rivers to buy more time in looking for options and could have allowed the pass rush to get home.
The communication issues reared their head throughout the rest of the game and were very prevalent on the two-point conversion the Chargers completed to win the game, two defenders running with one receiver and leaving one wide open. As much of a problem as this was, not having Berry on the field allowed Rivers to find mismatches in coverages on running backs and tight ends.
Rivers found a lot of success putting Antonio Gates against Dorian O’Daniel and any running back against Hitchens. In the clip above, Gates has never had elite speed and O’Daniel has a lot of speed and athleticism, but Gates is a savvy veteran and putting a rookie on him in coverage is a big problem. Gates runs a pivot route; running directly to his inside then quickly pivots to the outside. That creates the separation Gates needs to find the ball and then shake the oncoming O’Daniel. He stops on a dime and O’Daniel overruns him, and then no other defender comes to help. They stand around letting Gates get free for 14 yards.
This is a terribly embarrassing look for the Chiefs defense, not only does O’Daniel get abused by Gates but Sorensen just lets Gates get away, he doesn’t even attempt to tackle him. Hitchens jogs toward Gates and then he gets blocked by an offensive lineman because he doesn’t seem to care if he gets to the tackle.
Week after week I am embarrassed by what the Chiefs defense shows on film, and not trying to tackle someone is really the top of that. If you don’t want to be out there, then don’t bother playing. Someone on the bench will gladly take your spot, especially when you shouldn’t be on the field anyway *cough* Sorensen.
The bright spot was that with Berry on the field, there seemed to be a better understanding of where everyone needed to be and that leaves me with some optimism going into the last few weeks of the season. Hopefully this week sees the return of Cam Erving, because the OL needs him. Getting healthy going into the playoffs is huge and the Chiefs have an opportunity to be the number one seed in the AFC.
Coming up are the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday Night Football, in Seattle. The Seahawks are the best rush offense in the NFL averaging 154 yards rushing per game. It is going to be more important than ever that the linebackers fill gaps properly and everyone swarm to the ball carrier. Allowing the Seahawks to run at will, will let Russell Wilson use the play action pass for big gains.
Getting off to a fast start offensively is going to be a huge advantage for the defense; the Seahawks are 27th in the NFL in pass offense. They are not equipped to come back like the Chargers did last week. Eric Berry playing most of this game is going to be key for the defense in getting lined up, and he is a huge asset in run defense. Look for Mahomes to have a bounce back game, aided by the OL keeping Mahomes in the pocket and on his feet. Dee Ford will need to use his speed to track down Wilson and get back on his game; Ford is going to have a big game with two or more sacks. Chiefs win a close one in Seattle and keep their number one seed hopes alive. Time to show this team’s resilience and ability to win big games.