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Let's Take a Deep Breath on the Chiefs Defense


Seth Keysor

Yes, things have been a tad rough lately. But there's a chance it's not as bad as the hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing would indicate.

The dismantling of the Raiders (that's very, very fun to say) marks the second game in a row the Chiefs have utterly destroyed an inferior opponent. Can anyone remember the last time we won back-to-back games by 25+ points? Me neither.

It's a good time to be a Chiefs fan. Of course, as always, there seems to be something of a fly in the ointment. The Chiefs defense (under much criticism as of late) gave up 31 points to a Raiders offense that can best be described as "bad."

Obviously, this is more than a little ironic, seeing as 5 weeks ago we were talking about whether this defense was going to break the sack record and carry our anemic offense to the Super Bowl.

Now? People are openly wondering whether or not our defense will be able to hold up its end in the playoffs. How quickly the narrative changes week to week in the NFL.

It's all a little overwrought, though. Has the defense struggled in spots (sometimes for long stretches) as of late? Absolutely. However, the complete meltdown people are having over the defense ignores some interesting facts.

For 3 of the last 5 games, our defense has played top quarterbacks

Peyton Manning (as much as I hate to admit this) is playing lights-out football. He's on an offense that possesses more weapons than he's ever had (at least until Welker's injury. They looked very different without him. Stay tuned) and is still as dominant as ever. Most defenses are going to give up points to Fivehead and his minions.

And Philip Rivers (now this one KILLS me) has been back to upper-tier-QB form this year. Against us, especially, he was absolutely lights out, placing throws all over the field. People are angry (and rightfully so) at Quintin Demps for his blown coverage to end that game, but remember that Rivers had to make an AWESOME throw to take advantage of it.

Giving up points to guys like Manning and Rivers is just going to happen sometimes. It just is. When we went up against a Washington offense that isn't nearly as dominant (in conditions tough on a defense), our D did pretty well (yes, I know, Oakland. We'll get there in a minute).

The Defense was still playing pretty well... Until Justin Houston went down

Somewhere along the way, Justin Houston became one of our best 2 defensive players. It's well known by now that prior to Houston going down against San Diego we'd only given up 3 points in half a game. We then proceeded to give up 38 in the other half. Rivers spent so much time carving us up later on that people forget he was getting hit and hassled prior to us losing Hali and Houston to injury.

Our defense was predicated on pressure. Even when we weren't getting sacks, our pressure forced quarterbacks to get rid of the ball quickly and didn't give them time to scan the field. Teams had to gameplan to get the ball out quickly or they paid the price.

A great deal of that pressure wasn't necessarily schematic, but just a matter of personnel superiority. Dontari Poe, Tamba Hali, and Justin Houston are all three guys who win one-on-one matchups a majority of the time. As such, they placed offenses in difficult situations. Do you allow one of them to be singled up and possibly ruin your play? Do you keep 7 guys in blocking and only send 3 receivers? Do you curl into a ball and give up?

Frank Zombo is a decent player. However, he doesn't present the matchup problem Houston does. He can't get pressure nearly as often, and can't do it nearly as quickly. And so, teams don't double team him, and he rarely makes them pay.

His presence leads to a domino effect where Poe can be doubled every play, and Tamba can either be doubled and/or the quarterback can move right or into the pocket (with no Houston shrinking the pocket and Poe doubled). Additionally, an extra receiver can be on the field with no double required on the right side.

So to sum up, you've got (on many plays) a QB with more time, more room to move, less chance of being hit (and thus no "happy feet") and an extra receiver to throw to. Houston's absence is much, much more important than a sack a game. It throws everything off.

Our secondary, it's not clear, is not as good as we thought it was early in the year (well, besides Eric Berry). They clearly benefitted from QB's having few options, and from only having to account for 3-4 receivers on passing downs. Now, receivers have time to run routes, quarterbacks are stepping into their throws, and more guys are running loose into the secondary.

That's a long road to a short thought; Justin Houston's absence is a HUGE deal, and to write off our defense before he returns would be silly.

About that Raiders game

Yes, I know. I the defense gave up 31 points to a bad offense. The defense gave up 31 points to something called a McGloin. Just a few things to note, though (besides the obvious fact that Houston is still missing).

First, while Oakland IS ranked 26th in the league in scoring at 21.1 points per game, it's worth noting that since McGloin took over at quarterback they've been averaging a more respectable 24.5 PPG (not including the game against us). That would put them in the top half of the league. While not a powerhouse by any means, it's not quite as desperate as "we let a garbage offense score 31."

McGloin may not be a world-beater at quarterback, but it's worth noting that the Chiefs were the first team to hold his QBR rating below "average." He gets rid of the ball quickly and runs the offense very efficiently. Of course, when we got pressure we saw his glaring weakness; poor decisions when pressured. But without Justin Houston around, we weren't able to exploit that weakness as much early on.

Looking at the box score yes, it's grim. But McGloin was making very good throws to beat our defense. It's not as though he was taking advantage of awful defensive play (well, not the whole time). He just played well for much of the game. That's going to happen at times, even against quarterbacks who aren't well known. Sometimes you play decent defense and give up a reception regardless because of a good throw and catch (Marcus Cooper got victimized by that a few times).

And for those who wan to use the Raiders game as a reason to write off our defense, consider how the Raiders final 4 drives went.

 

 

01:20

3

01:39

OAK 20

4

11

Intercepted Pass

13:53

4

02:53

OAK 35

5

7

Intercepted Pass

08:19

4

01:21

OAK 18

3

8

Punt

03:58

4

01:08

OAK 1

5

29

Intercepted Pass

When push came to shove, our defense came through (as our offense continued to do terrible things to the Raiders).

While the Raiders game was certainly discouraging to an extent (remember when Sean Smith and Marcus Cooper were locking fools down?), I can't help but wonder what the reaction would be had we not come off a recent stretch against Manning and Rivers. Might we be a tad more willing to wait and see what happens down the stretch?

Overall, there ARE reasons to be concerned about our defense. It's definitely taken a step back. But it might be a bit premature to completely panic.

For more Chiefs coverage, follow me @RealMNchiefsfan


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Overall, there ARE reasons to be concerned about our defense.  It's definitely taken a step back.  But it might be a bit premature to completely panic. 

 

Well, I wouldn't totally panic. The Chiefs have been good...and they've been bad.

 

The problem is, injuries happen to everyone. That's a common narrative. The good teams find a way to overcome that roadblock though. Chiefs (like the Broncos, for fairness's sake) need to step up and make it happen on defense.

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Agreed.  Injuries DO happen.  Of course, not all injuries are created equal.  Houston is arguably the worst player for our defense to lose, especially given Sutton's over-reliance on pressure.

 

But yeah, they need to be better than they've been as of late.  Sure would be nice to see both the offense and the defense show up at the same time. 

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But yeah, they need to be better than they've been as of late.  Sure would be nice to see both the offense and the defense show up at the same time. 

 

Yours and mine both.

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I watched that game. McGloin gifted ya'll those INTs, for the record. I wouldn't call them forced.

It's to be expected by yet another backup or UDFA rookie QB

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I watched that game. McGloin gifted ya'll those INTs, for the record. I wouldn't call them forced.

It's to be expected by yet another backup or UDFA rookie QB

 

... who has had an above average QBR in every game prior to the last.  To say, "he's undrafted, therefore he was bad" is not sound.

 

As far as those INT's, I've watched the game as well, multiple times.  Several of the INTs were just poor reads/throws, but to act as though all were "gifts" is completely inaccurate.  The truth lies in the balance.

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I watched that game. McGloin gifted ya'll those INTs, for the record. I wouldn't call them forced.

It's to be expected by yet another backup or UDFA rookie QB

Aren't all turnovers gifts? I mean, if a guy fumbles, why didn't he just hold onto the ball? Why did the qb not throw to the open guy? Calling them gifts and not forced is semantics really.

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The way I see it, the offense has stepped up in recent games even if the defense is struggling. If there's ever a game where both play great, Chiefs would be scary in playoffs. I think that likely losing the division and having to play on the road will hurt them ultimately. As long as they don't face the Ravens, I'm hopeful they get their first playoff win since '93.  

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It's hard to say where the Chiefs will end up. One could argue that the one team Denver shouldn't want to play in January would be KC. A week's rest more than likely for Denver and a game at home against a team that should have beat them in KC. Which D shows up for both teams will make the difference. I saw a stat a couple of days ago that blew my mind...KC is averaging 41.2 points over the last 4 weeks...#1 in the NFL

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Aren't all turnovers gifts? I mean, if a guy fumbles, why didn't he just hold onto the ball? Why did the qb not throw to the open guy? Calling them gifts and not forced is semantics really.

No. A QB throwing directly into an opposing defender = gift. A well placed, violent hit that causes a fumble = forced. Strip sacked QB = forced, etc.

KC has forced plenty of turnovers this year but the Raider game was a comedy of errors perpetrated by 2 bad QBs.

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Aren't all turnovers gifts? I mean, if a guy fumbles, why didn't he just hold onto the ball? Why did the qb not throw to the open guy? Calling them gifts and not forced is semantics really.

Calling it semantics is simply wearing red and yellow colored glasses or wishful thinking

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No. A QB throwing directly into an opposing defender = gift. A well placed, violent hit that causes a fumble = forced. Strip sacked QB = forced, etc.

KC has forced plenty of turnovers this year but the Raider game was a comedy of errors perpetrated by 2 bad QBs.

Not to get into a whole thing here, but again, a violent hit still means someone didn't hold the ball. How is a bone headed qb play throwing a pick a gift but a boneheaded left tackle playing poor and giving up a strip sack earned? Oh yeah, I forgot, cause its the chiefs. Much more on that in a day.

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Personally, I think the Chiefs could be very dangerous in the playoffs if they get Houston back and Smith continues to ball

And I agree. But your guess is as good as mine if we are mature enough to handle the moment. That's my fear. We're inexperienced in those games and it shows.

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Not to get into a whole thing here, but again, a violent hit still means someone didn't hold the ball. How is a bone headed qb play throwing a pick a gift but a boneheaded left tackle playing poor and giving up a strip sack earned? Oh yeah, I forgot, cause its the chiefs. Much more on that in a day.

I would say the same thing were it regarding a Broncos game or play. For example: Manning's interception at the end of the Chargers game was a forced turnover, because he was pressured and hit as he threw the ball and it was picked off by the defense. That was a forced turnover. 

 

Take Manning's interceptions in last year's game vs the Falcons. Those were gifted. Floaters down the seam. 

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I would say the same thing were it regarding a Broncos game or play. For example: Manning's interception at the end of the Chargers game was a forced turnover, because he was pressured and hit as he threw the ball and it was picked off by the defense. That was a forced turnover. 

 

Take Manning's interceptions in last year's game vs the Falcons. Those were gifted. Floaters down the seam. 

 

Looking at those picks via Rewind...

 

1st pick-  I'd lean this more toward the "gift" category than "great play by the defense, but it was a nice defensive play too.  Berry read McGloin like a book.

 

2nd pick- This is the definition of a forced turnover.  Flowers and DJ had pressure on the blitz and Poe had beaten two blockers to apply his own pressure and prevent a scramble.  Berry makes a good read and steps in front of the receiver.  Not even close to a gift.

 

3rd pick- Terrible decision to throw, but that bad decision was forced by pressure that got there due to great coverage all over the field.  Not allowing an open man and getting to the QB is a good defensive play.  He compounded that with a really stupid back foot throw, but it was about to be 3rd and long (or much longer) at best regardless.  No JUST a gift, unless good coverage is unimportant in your book (Zombo did a great job maintaining ZC and watching McGloin's eyes.  He accounted for 2 guys by doing that).

 

4th pick- I'll give you that one.  All DJ had to do was get a little depth and watch the eyes.

 

That's why in my opinion you're more wrong than right.  To try and pass every single one of those plays off as nothing more than a "gift" is inaccurate and fails to take the tape into account.

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A lot of people ignore the idea that Marcus Cooper is a rookie...
 
This same time last year he was going against the stars of Virginia Tech, after a November going against WR's from Army, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Louisville.
 
There is a difference there... The guy played in 28 games in college with his final season his only full college season played... then moved on to the NFL where he played in the preseason and then nine high level NFL games before losing his legs a little.
 
It's to be expected. 
 
Marcus Cooper is a solid player that will continue to improve over time. 
 
Heck, he wasn't even supposed to make the team... and got cut from a Super Bowl contender.
 
Our expectations need a little gravity to pull it back down to Earth. Coop was born in '90 and was taken in the 7th, give him quality situational awareness as fans, when evaluating his season.
 
That's a tangent though, probably an article...
 
Great read Seth.

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