The Denver games were bad, and so was the first San Diego game, but it’s safe to say the Chiefs turned in perhaps their worst defensive outing in their 23-7 loss to the Colts on Dec. 22.
And it wasn’t just that they got beat on defense; it was the way they got beat. Mental errors. Blown coverage. Penalties. By the time it was over, at least two veterans — cornerbacks Brandon Flowers and Dunta Robinson — called the performance unacceptable.
Interestingly enough, Indianapolis offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton — who tortured the Chiefs with a variety of stack formations and quick throws — said this week that he respects Chiefs coordinator Bob Sutton so much (the two have worked together before) that he decided to start this week’s gameplan from scratch.
“I know how smart and how committed and how good of a coach Bob Sutton is,” Hamilton said. “So we expect that they’re going to have some new wrinkles. We started from scratch, we didn’t just copy and paste the game plan from a couple weeks back. We went back and we looked at how they played us defensively in the first game and went back and studied some of the earlier games that they played in the season and just hit the reset button. I think it’s important that we do that just so that we have the right mindset going into it and we feel good about the plan.”
We’ll just have to see about that. I’m sure they'll throw some more wrinkles in, but the Colts simply exploited the same things the Chiefs have been unable to consistently cover all year. Let’s dive into some of the coverage troubles the Chiefs had, from formations to pick plays to outright bad plays.
Trouble with the stack
The Chiefs have been unable to consistently defend bunch or “stack” formations that place at least one receiver off the line of scrimmage, and Dec. 22 was no different.
Check out this third-and-nine call in the first half. At the bottom of the screen, T.Y. Hilton (13) motions to his left and left corner Brandon Flowers goes with him. Hilton runs a go route and both Flowers and nickel cornerback Dunta Robinson take him, leaving Da’Rick Rogers (16) wide open underneath for a 17-yard completion.
Here’s another example. At the bottom of the screen, Rogers is aligned on the line of scrimmage and bumps Flowers, who is taking the trailing receiver. Rogers proceeds to settle into an open area for an easy catch.
Here’s one more example. At the top of the screen, receiver Griff Whalen (17) is aligned on the line of scrimmage and gets a free release from Robinson, who is taking the trail receiver. Whalen then runs an inside dig and settles right into the middle of the zone for an easy catch.
Here’s the rub
Teams have been torturing the Chiefs with pick or “rub” plays for the last half of the season and there’s no reason to think it will stop now. Refs aren’t going to call offensive interference unless it’s blatant and let’s face it, the NFL isn’t terribly interested in helping defenses become more competitive these days.
It takes communication, anticipation and physicality to snuff out these plays, and while the Chiefs have improved a bit in recent weeks, you can bet they will keep seeing picks.
Here’s an example of an effective “rub” play. Look at the top of the following screen grab. Rogers, the outside receiver, “runs” an inside route and essentially takes out Sean Smith. Robinson is playing off coverage but does a decent enough job flying to Hilton, who has the ball. The Colts still got a six-yard gain.
Here’s another. Look at the top of the screen. The Chiefs actually defend this adequately, but it doesn’t matter because cornerback Sean Smith is called for defensive holding.
Look, Bob Sutton has forgotten more football than you or I will ever know. But even I can see that the following plays are embarrassing. Players make mistakes and that’s fine, but for there to be three of these in one game is unacceptable.
Start with Donald Brown’s 33-yard touchdown catch. This is really good execution by the Colts — Brown really sells the block before he slips out. But Brown is safety Quintin Demps’ man, and because Demps abandoned his position, Brown is left wide open.
This is also pretty bad. Good luck finding out who to blame on this one, but I think this was a mixup between Smith and safety Kendrick Lewis. One of them should have taken Hilton, who was streaking down the field unencumbered and would have scored with a better and more timely throw.
This is pretty bad, too, and I feel pretty comfortable blaming Smith for this. Check out the top of the screen. Watch as Hilton starts on the left of the formation and motions to the right. Smith doesn’t follow him, which Lewis immediately notices. Lewis then starts yelling and gesturing his way before finally running toward Hilton himself, but not before the receiver has picked up six yards. Smith was benched for the remainder of the drive on the very next play.
In short …
In short, these were the biggest problems that plagued the Chiefs’ secondary the first time against the Colts. If they hope to win the rematch, they better be more disciplined and clean this stuff up. It won’t be easy — Indianapolis will be even faster on the turf — but it is doable.
Heck, even though the pass coverage in the first game was largely a trainwreck, they still had a few nice moments. Check out their coverage at the bottom of the following screens.
In the first play, the Colts use a stack formation and the Chiefs actually do a good job defending it. In the second play, the Colts use another stack and Robinson — who has been rather decent since his return from the bench in recent weeks — reacts appropriately and make a play on the ball.
The Chiefs will need more of this type of play Saturday if they hope to keep their Super Bowl dreams alive.