Kansas City Chiefs rode a roller coaster up and down the last several weeks, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
After allowing the Pittsburgh Steelers to come to Arrowhead Stadium and run all over the Kansas City defense, the Chiefs found the script flipped in Oakland the following week. The defense battened down the hatches against the run while allowing the Raiders to pass for an alarming amount of yards, completions and points.
Much of the scorn targeted Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, yet the argument that Sutton runs an ineffective defensive scheme does not match the facts.
The problem rests with how he runs it.
Sutton’s use of cover-2 man-under scheme against the Raiders was sound. Unfortunately, he continues using players in ways that limit their success.
The secondary is the largest outstanding issue with the way the team deploys its personnel, particularly the safeties. Bob Sutton wants to continue playing his top three safeties as though they were interchangeable. The defense evolved that way due to the safeties they’ve had in the past.
Today the Chiefs have one true free safety, a converted corner learning to play free safety and a strong safety. They are not interchangeable.
— Ryan Tracy (@RyanTracyNFL) October 25, 2017
To get the Chiefs defense back on track, Bob Sutton must deploy the safeties to their strengths. Ron Parker should play deep and not come up to the line of scrimmage in man coverage. Period. Daniel Sorensen, likewise, should not play deep in either a cover-2 or cover-1 shell. Using Sorensen as the deep safety or robber contributed heavily to the Raiders passing explosion. Sorensen would have been best used in another role where he could use his strength and 6-foot-2 frame as an advantage.
Eric Murray also struggled against the Raiders. He doesn’t have the same strength Sorensen does. In fact, Murray lines up as the smallest of all the Chiefs safeties. Murray has experience and the ability to cover slot receivers. Had Ron Parker played deep with Sorensen on the tight end, Murray could man-up on the slot receiver when needed and found more success than he did against Cook.
It falls upon the coaching staff to bear responsibility for matching their players’ strengths with the team’s needs. Against Oakland, that wasn’t accomplished. The game plan must adapt rather than continue to call plays as though the team has the same personnel as the 2015 Chiefs.
Getting to the quarterback
Another healthy debate and outrage centers on the amount of time Justin Houston spends dropping into coverage this season. While the effect can be argued there are two aspects that go unmentioned for the most part.
First and foremost Houston remains very productive despite rushing less than other premier pass rushers. When looking at top 20 players in applying pressure in the NFL, Houston ranks tied for 16th. However, he pass-rushes a dramatically lower percent of passing snaps than his contemporaries, rushing only 75.6 percent of his passing snaps. Houston rushes the lowest passing snaps in the top 20. Despite rushing 20 percent less than Von Miller and Khalil Mack, Houston still produces at a level within reach the most productive pass rushers in the NFL.
In addition, Houston may be better off playing forward than in reverse. Houston came up with a slight calf injury in the week preceding the defenses recent two-week slide. The team listed Houston with a knee injury this week, and at the very least Houston probably suffers the wear and tear and NFL player sustains midway through the season. He may stand better served by not trying to play in reverse.
Dropping Houston into coverage certainly remains a useful change-of-pace tool. Extracting the most useful production from Houston, however, means he must rush the passer significantly more than he is. Houston’s contemporaries around the league rush the passer much more often. Sutton needs Houston rushing the passer on more than 90 percent of passing downs.
Returning to these core concepts can help this defense make a much-needed turn around.