Happy New Year’s weekend, friends. Today, we re-digest the Kansas City Chiefs, hoping to avoid the rare situation of going 3-0 on the road in the AFC West, and 0-3 at home. Everybody knows this, I think, but if the Broncos win on Sunday, they’ll be division champions. If they lose, and the Raiders lose to San Diego, the Broncos would still back into winning the division. We shouldn’t be counting on that to happen, though, because the Raiders have a habit of beating San Diego, having taken 3 in a row from the Chargers. It’s a tough matchup for the Chargers, and it served as the first hint that their grip on the AFC West was slipping.
The Broncos, however, match up very well with Kansas City, and these matchup situations are a big part of what makes the AFC West interesting and competitive. (No, dumbass ESPN people – having a dominant team, two average teams, and a hopeless loser isn’t more interesting than having 4 closely matched teams in a division race, even if none of the closely matched teams are likely to compete for a Super Bowl. First things first.) The Broncos are a craptastic performance by Kyle Orton from last December away from having won 3 in a row against the Chiefs. The Broncos defend the Chiefs well, and their running game works really well against the Chiefs defense too.
You should refer to the Digesting piece for the first game, because most of what I said there still stands. I’m going to highlight the key differences between then and now, and I’ll update the participation statistics to see if we can spot any differences there as well.
Game Watched: Week 16 vs. Oakland
a. Not much has changed for the Chiefs defense in 6 weeks, other than some improvement by a few key front seven players. The Chiefs are doing the same things they always do, so there’s not too much to address in terms of scheme innovations. They’re strong against the pass, and weaker against the run. Teams that insist on throwing the ball, like the Packers, are playing right into the Chiefs’ hands. To begin with, here is the basic snap data for the Chiefs defense:
|Pos||#||Name||Snaps||% of Total|
|Total Defensive Snaps||990|
At a high level, the Chiefs have been much better in the pass rush, and it’s been because who is playing has changed. Rookie DE Allen Bailey has been playing well late in the season, and he often subs in for Glenn Dorsey on passing downs. DE Wallace Gilberry was briefly out of favor (6 snaps) when the Broncos played the Chiefs last time too, and he’s been back in the mix lately.
b. The emergence of rookie OLB Justin Houston as an every down player for the Chiefs has been very important. In the first half of the season, he played about half the snaps. In the last four games, he hasn’t missed one. Houston has become the solid Sam LB that the Chiefs envisioned, a guy who can cover a TE or rush the passer with equal quality.
c. In the secondary, Nickelback Javier Arenas looked like his snaps shot way up, but that was really a function of playing nearly the entire game against both New England and Green Bay. He played only one snap on defense against the Broncos in Week 10, as Denver played a lot of big personnel.
d. Normal SS Jon McGraw looks like he’ll miss Sunday’s game, so the Chiefs will feature the puu puu platter of Donald Washington and Sabby Piscitelli as his replacements at Safety. I figure Washington starts, but Piscitelli plays a lot. In either case, it’s bad news for the Chiefs. As a funny side note, I’ve beaten up on Piscitelli a lot, because he’s a lousy Safety, but I think he has an ideal skill set for covering TEs man-to-man, kind of similar to old friend Josh Barrett. With both those guys, if you don’t put them at Safety, and let them focus on that one job, you might have something. Just a thought to file away – it won’t have much bearing on Sunday’s game.
e. Here’s an update in the rush vs coverage numbers:
|Pos||#||Name||Rush||Coverage||% Rush||% Coverage|
The major change is that Houston is rushing a lot more than he was last time we looked at it. Then, his split was 39% rush, 61% cover. Now, for the whole season, it’s 55% rush, 45% cover. That drastic change has been accomplished by the fact that 139 of his 215 passing down snaps have come as a rusher, which is 65%. Consequently, the Chiefs have gone from anemic in the pass rush, with 9 sacks in the team’s first 8 games, to pretty solid, with 18 in the last 6, after posting zero against the Broncos, and never coming close, over the whopping 8 dropbacks they saw.
a. Here’s an update on the Chiefs’ participation data:
|Pos||#||Name||Snaps||% of Total|
The major difference here is at QB. In the last Digesting article, I said that Matt Cassel was a more athletic Kyle Orton. I guess that makes Orton, the Chiefs’ new QB, a less athletic Cassel. Orton has been himself since coming to KC, showing a strong competence to complete passes when separation happens on time, and the protection keeps defenders away from him. When anything breaks down at all, though, he’s still completely inept. Orton is the anti-playmaker, so defenses try to take away the initial intent of a play, and force him to improvise, because there’s not a lot of success to be found there. Make the dude step away from his initial intended launch point, and you’re usually going to be in good shape.
The other issue with Orton, the big issue, is that he struggles when the field shrinks, and he’s never shown good scoring area throwing efficiency. He doesn’t throw interceptions much in the scoring area, but he struggles to throw TDs down there either. His teams, therefore, have a tendency to put up good yardage numbers, and lower-than-par scoring numbers vis-à-vis those yards. This trait has followed Orton throughout his career, and it’s just a matter of “it is who he is.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. Getting yards between the 20s has a lot of value, and it’s a lot better than going three and out. We watched the Bills win a game last week by getting a bunch of yards between the 20s, and kicking field goals, and then relying on TDs from their defense and special teams to make the final score lopsided.
We should consider Orton to be a competent QB, who is an executer-of-the-system. If the system can work, he’ll do well. There’s a book on Orton, and on the system, and defenses need to work to make them both break down.
b. RB Jackie Battle is out for this game, and that takes away the Chiefs’ most physical runner. That means more snaps for Thomas Jones and Dexter McCluster. McCluster is the dangerous one, because he’s like a poor man’s Percy Harvin. He can play RB or WR equally well, and his presence on the field should always dictate an extra CB, even if teams consistently screw that up.
c. Not much has changed anywhere else, really. Here’s an update on how Kansas City protects the passer:
|Pos||#||Name||Pattern||Protection||Snaps||% of Total|
I didn’t include this information last time, but the Chiefs play a lot of six-man protections, with a RB or TE generally being the sixth guy. This is mostly due to the fact that the RT Barry Richardson is lousy, and they need to help him a lot.
Beating the Chiefs Defense
a. This is a very easy one – run the football at them. The Chiefs lack the power guys up front that they need to play the Fairbanks-Bullough scheme, but they play it anyway. As such, they give up 4.1 yards per carry. The Broncos got them for 4.4, even as it became painfully obvious that they were bent on pounding the ball.
b. I’d like to see a return to the true zone read. The Broncos ran the shotgun handoff look a number of times in Buffalo, and Tim Tebow never kept the ball. I can only assume that those were no-read, handoff-dictated playcalls, because at least 4-5 times, the backside edge was WIDE OPEN. We’re talking about 25-30 yard gains were there for the taking. The Broncos need those plays badly.
In the last game against the Chiefs, coming off of the zone-read success against the Raiders, the Broncos running game was very traditional. I suspect that was because Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno got hurt early in the game, and Lance Ball stepped in, and he wasn’t really up to speed with the zone read yet, as the third-stringer. It’s time to see a return to it, because keeping Tamba Hali and Justin Houston at home, worrying about the backside is a very good thing.
c. I liked the way the Broncos mixed in play action on their scripted opening TD drives of each half last week. I’d like the see the Broncos do more of that, because it’s going to help the running game, and vice-versa. In the last Chiefs game, they settled into stopping the run when it got obvious, and did better in the middle part of the game. The Broncos need to never let it get obvious on Sunday.
d. I want to address the notion that Cover-1 Man-Under with a spy is the answer to stopping Tebow. No, it isn’t. That’s an easy defense to beat if all 11 players do what they’re supposed to do. If the line protects against 4 rushers, you’re in great shape. If the receivers can beat single man-to-man coverage, you’re in great shape. If Tebow can manipulate the single-high safety with his eyes, and then make a good throw away from where he sent the guy, you’re in great shape. If the defense wants to use a guy who could be a rusher or coverage player as a spy, hey, vaya con dios – playing 11 on 10 is fine with us.
Let’s run back the Jairus Byrd interception from last week, while wishing NFL.com would give us some embed code, so you could watch it right here. This was Cover-1, with Bills SS George Wilson man-to-man on Decker in the slot. The pass concept was 4 verticals. Tebow had to love the Decker-Wilson matchup from the jump, and had to know that Decker was almost certainly going to beat Wilson deep. A veteran QB sees that presnap, and knows it's where he wants to go, but he looks to his right at the snap, and maybe pump-fakes slight right to draw Byrd that way.
As it turned out, Wilson squatted for some reason, like he was playing zone, and Decker was WIDE OPEN for what would have likely been an 89-yard TD that got the Broncos right back into the game at 26-21. Cover-1 only works against 4 verticals if the FS makes the right read, especially when a SS is manned up on a good WR, so Tebow has to learn to lead the guy into the wrong read. I bet that gets worked to death this week, and it should.
The overarching point is that Cover-1 isn’t unsolvable, it just requires some plays to be made by some players. There’s this prevailing thought among tradition-humpers that an answer exists which will finally put an end to the travashamockery of Tebow. He'll get "exposed" and they'll all be vindicated. I’m here to tell you, the most basic defense ever devised isn’t the answer, in and of itself.
e. Let’s run some more QB sneaks in short yardage, for the love of Tebow’s personal savior, or anybody else’s for that matter. Sometimes it takes a long time to come to the obvious answers, I guess.
f. Finally, some thoughts about dictating personnel groupings. If I send out 10 personnel, with, say, Willis McGahee, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Eddie Royal, and Matt Willis, and you match me with Base 3-4 personnel, and show Cover-1, I have to make you pay for that.
Even if the original play-call was a run, I have to run something like 4 verticals or smash, or flat-7, and beat your overmatched Safety or Linebacker with my inside receivers. I have to do that until you go to Nickel or Dime. At that point, I’m going back to the run play, and your CBs are going to have to tackle McGahee. Any offensive coach worth his salt knows this, and has this attitude. The offense has the ball, and therefore dictates to the defense, and that’s non-negotiable.
The Broncos have to take shots deep against overmatched defenders whenever the opportunity is there. I expect the Chiefs to match the Broncos with their sub packages, because they tend to trust Arenas as a Nickelback. If they don’t, Tebow and the other 10 guys have to make Kansas City pay.
Stopping the Chiefs Offense
a. This game is all about tight man-to-man coverage. The Chiefs have one WR who’s any good at separating from man coverage, and that’s Steve Breaston. Dwayne Bowe is good against smaller DBs, but Champ Bailey has a good history against him, and Jonathan Baldwin struggles to get separation at this point of his career. His size can cause Andre’ Goodman some trouble, but Goodman is a much savvier player.
b. It’s imperative that the Broncos pressure the Chiefs, because if they don’t, we know Orton can make the throws. I feel like Dennis Allen has gone conservative with his pressure packages over the last month, likely because of some injuries at Safety, but I think it’s time to bring some heat, and let the fallout be what it is. Orton is one of the worst QBs in the NFL at handling pressure, and I’m certain that the Broncos know this.
c. The Broncos need to be very aware of McCluster, and must assign a CB to cover him at all times. I feel like if I write this enough times, somebody in the building will notice it, and tell somebody who’s involved with defensive game-planning.
d. I think this is a prime game for 7 in the box, because Thomas Jones isn’t too scary at this point in his career. That will help Quinton Carter, David Bruton, and Rahim Moore not get out of position as much as they have been lately. I’m still hoping for a healthy Brian Dawkins, but it doesn’t look too good right now.
e. Tackling will be crucial in this game. The Chiefs only big play threat at this point is McCluster, or somebody missing a tackle on a Bowe or Breaston. None of those guys is taking the top off a defense vertically, so it’s important for the Broncos to stay in good tackling position, and to wrap up all the way to the ground.
f. The Broncos should remember that Orton likes to throw the ball to the other team, and be ready to catch the football. An underrated problem this year has been the Broncos’ propensity for dropping easy interceptions.
g. Let's see about getting some of that kick-blocking magic going. The Raiders blocked two field goals last week, and it's the only reason they won the game.
I think the Broncos should win this game, and the AFC West. If they don’t, we’re going to have to endless hear the “same old Broncos collapse” narrative for another damn year, and I know that nobody who has been around that team for very long wants to go through that again. I expect a focused and intense effort, and a Broncos victory.