The potential improvement of Dontari Poe is one of the biggest "X-factors" for the Kansas City Chiefs. How did he do against the best line in the NFL?
Dontari Poe got a lot of fans excited last week in just 4 plays. That's partly because Chiefs fans are starved for good news, but also because he looked like he'd taken the fabled "next step." Ah, the next step. It's all we ever want from players like Poe, isn't it? That step where they go from "OK" to something more? Something that makes us happy he was our 1st round pick last year?
Like I said, Poe only played 4 snaps last week. That's not even kind of enough of a sample size to get an idea of where he is as a player. Also, the Saints offensive line isn't known to be any kind of great. This week, however, that all changed. We got a chance to see Poe take nearly 20 snaps against the biggest, baddest offensive line in the NFL; the San Francisco 49ers. And since I have issues and can't stand unanswered questions (for me or anyone else), I decided to go back and break down every one of those snaps.
I'm not interested in the outcome of any given play here. Nor am I interested in showing off my football vocabulary or knowledge of players' names. I just want to show, in as simple a way as possible, how Poe did on a given play.
Snap 1- Engages with the RG briefly, then recognizing the run right disengages easily and moves to his left long the line, becoming one of a multitude of Chiefs preventing Gore from having any running room. Of course, because of a terrible mental error by Tamba Hali and Mike DeVito, Gore is able to cut back and gain a third of the Niners rushing yards from that night. A nice job recognizing the run and getting away from his blocker.
Snap 2- After an initial hesitation, beats the center rather easily to move toward the QB. Of course, it was a screen, so it's very likely the center wasn't really going for it. Off topic, Justin Houston is a monster.
Snap 3- Run left, engages center and moves toward where the run is going. When the RB cuts back, Poe basically shucks the center off him and helps Tjax meet the (already hit by DJ) runner. Again, not having any difficulty going where he wants and doing what he wants against Goodwin.
Snap 4- The long incompletion to end the first drive. Poe is hit initially by Iupati, then briefly doubled before Goodwin breaks off to engage Bailey. Doesn't do a thing.
Snap 5- Gets by Goodwin with ease, but is hit from the side by Iupati and loses his footing, with the RB running right by home while he's on the ground. Needs to be more aware of a pulling guard doing that to him if he wants to be a gap-shooting force against the run. Of course, he never had to worry about pulling guards before in Romeo's 2-gap system.
Snap 6- Now THIS is the kind of play that will never win you Pro Bowls but can help make a defense great. It's Akeem Jordan's sack. Now it's easy to get distracted by our new addition getting the sack, but the reason Jordan was able to run right at the QB unhindered is that Poe drew THREE blockers on the play. Yep, Iupati, Goodwin, and Boone all looked to block Poe, and Jordan went right on by. That's the domino effect of having a DL who scares teams. Great, great play. Too bad there's not a stat for "drawn blockers" or something.
Snap 7- 3rd and 10. The Niners try the same tactic they've used twice now by having Iupati engage Poe rather than Goodwin (which gives Iupati a running start and the element of surprise). It had worked before, but this time Poe uses a FANTASTIC club to send Iupati (a certified stud) flying. The LT covers for Iupati, as he had no one to block. But it's great seeing Poe learn from what had happened the previous plays. It's even more great seeing that he can send a guy like Iupati flying with his club move.
Upon watching it still another time, Poe (after being engaged by the LT) moved into the throwing lane while watching the QB and made an appropriately-timed jump to make the throw more difficult. Nice awareness. Also, how great was Sean Smith's coverage on that play? That guy is starting to look like a heckuva signing. We could legitimately have found our Brandon Carr replacement.
Snap 8- Fumbled snap. Not really much to report other than it must have really hurt Colt McCoy when Poe landed on him. That's a whole lotta dude to come crashing down on you.
Snap 9- Takes on the C individually on a run and allows himself to be moved to the right. It looks as though he thinks the play is going that way, because when the runner goes through the spot vacated by Poe he has no problem disengaging and makes a solid diving tackle to prevent a longer gain. As it is, gain of 4. I can't make up my mind if this was a good play or a bad play. On one hand, Poe allowed the gain by moving laterally to his right. On the other hand, he recognized the run, disengaged, and made a nice tackle much more quickly than a 340-pound man should be able to.
Snap 10- SF in shotgun on 3rd down. Poe vs. Iupati, one of the best guards in football. It's not even a contest, but not in the way you'd expect. Poe performs a fantastic rip move and goes right by Iupati, forcing the RB (who stayed back in protection) to dive for his legs to slow him down. The throw was made, but it was a forced throw that would've been short of the 1st down even if Dunta Robinson hadn't knocked it down. That's what having a giant screaming toward you will do to you when you're playing QB. He made Iupati look silly that play.
Snap 11- Run right goes absolutely nowhere. Brandon Flowers does Brandon Flowers stuff, but Houston already had the runner dead to rights, with Tyson Jackson absolutely owning his blocker as well. Iupati was attempting to block Poe, but Poe moved too quickly laterally and was able to be a part of the wall of Chiefs defenders preventing the runner from going anywhere. He's just way, way too fast for Iupati.
Snap 12- Poe goes against Goodwin on a run to the right, with Iupati coming in to assist. Poe's worst play so far in my opinion, as he loses form and turns sideways. He still doesn't really get moved out of the play, but he doesn't do much to help. Of course, DeVito grabs the runner with one hand and throws him to the ground. So there's that.
Snap 13- Colt McCoy's first big run. Lost in the large gain on a scramble is the fact that Poe was matched up individually against Iupati and beat him AGAIN, this time with a swim move after engaging with a great initial punch. Iupati gets away with a slight hold as McCoy runs by, which may well have prevented Poe from snagging the QB. It's a frustrating play to watch, as it should've been a stop.
Snap 14- Poe engages Goodwin and holds him up, almost appearing to be 2-gapping. He gets a hand on the running back as he goes by to Poe's left, but doesn't get a quick stop and ends up basically falling on the guy for a gain of 4 or so.
Snap 15- On a run right, Poe doesn't get any ground, but doesn't give any either moving laterally along the line. No gain for the runner, as Tjax was similarly standing fast and there was nowhere to run. Houston makes the play because he's Justin Houston and all should fear him.
Snap 16- 3rd and longish, another big Colt scramble. Poe draws the double team and keeps them engaged, but doesn't really get closer to McCoy. However, taking on that double allows Poe, Bailey, and a blitzing DJ to all be one-on-one. They get about as close to a sack as you can get, but McCoy does his best Kap impersonation to escape and gain big yardage on the scramble. Hopefully they're working on keeping an eye on the QB this week in practice.
Snap 17- Poe rushes against the C, gains a little ground, then is engaged by Iupati as well and is stonewalled on the pass.
Snap 18- Run right. Poe moves left along the line briefly then sheds his blocker, but it doesn't matter as the ball carrier is already on the ground. That run defense looks STOUT against a very, very good run-blocking Niners line.
Snap 19- Niners in shotgun on 3rd and 5. A pretty quick throw (and the shotgun) negates the fact that Poe had Goodwin stood up and was moving him back with the certainty of death and taxes.
On the next drive, the Niners took out their starting offensive line group. However, there are more than enough plays there to get a decent grade on Poe. And that grade, if it's not an A, is something close. I got a chance to watch Poe multiple times against a guy who is considered the absolute class in the NFL at his position, and Poe kept up.
After the Saints game I tried to keep a level head about Poe. After all, the guy only appeared on 4 snaps, and it's not like the Saints offensive line is considered top notch. Here, it's different. He played tons of snaps against a line commentators are constantly drooling over, and he still looked better than he did at any point last year. He's gone from "not bad" to... Well, something more than that. He's making plays and forcing offenses to account for his presence.
He's way too quick for the huge, powerful types like Iupati. He's way too strong for everyone else. He's developed a really solid club and rip move to go along with a great first step. I won't even start in on how great TJax looked against that same Niner line, because I don't want to drown everyone in Kool-Aid (but really, he looked great as well. As did DeVito). But Dontari Poe's improvement is not a mirage. It's real, and it's drastic.
Yes, Alex Smith is the key upgrade for us this year based on positional importance alone. And yes, Sean Smith looks to be a tremendous upgrade on what we had at CB last year. But our biggest upgrade in play might just come from a position where the name on the jersey remained the same. Dontari Poe just might have taken that "next step."