Anytime a top tier quarterback is up on the schedule, NFL pundits take notice. No matter how mediocre a team might be, playing Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, or Drew Brees will garnish attention toward the opposing defense. A test of scheme, functionality, and endurance is thrown at any defense who plays through the gauntlet that is one of these top quarterbacks. From first half to second half, veteran quarterbacks will lead and change their offense to push ahead; and a mental test is what Drew Brees attempted to deliver to the Kansas City Chiefs in week seven. However, just as the New Orleans Saints attempted to march their way into Arrowhead Stadium, the Kansas City Chiefs defense stood resilient and taught Brees a lesson. The offense was the epitome of managerial, the defense was prominently dominant, and the Arrowhead defense record now stood at nine straight home victories.
When the Kansas City Chiefs Defense Comes Marching Home – Week 7 Retrospect
Defense: Synonym for Arrowhead Advantage
The Chiefs defense was facing their most difficult challenge of the year in quarterback Drew Brees. Although the Saints were holistically mediocre (2-4), Brees has the ability to win against game-managing offenses. He chunks away yards and milks the clock until the last minute in an advanced understanding of how defenses are trying to stop him. The Chiefs may have had a better team on paper, but their offense needed to play keep away from Brees and let their defense stay fresh.
In the typically (frustrating) fashion, the Chiefs offense came out struggling with their opening series. After pushing for two first downs, the Chiefs stalled at the Saints 38 yard-line. In a short season, the trend of not finishing a drive continued.
Immediately, Drew Brees took control of his offense and made the Chiefs pay for falling flat. Pushing Mark Ingram in the run game, and using succinct and quick passes to wide receivers Brandin Cooks and Michael Thomas, the Saints worked their way up field in a frustrating four and a half minutes. Cooks made the Chiefs secondary look uncannily silly as he caught a nine-yard pass for the score.
The Saints were marching strong into enemy territory, and the Chiefs were on their heels. However, this time, Alex Smith would be the hero needed to steal momentum. Smith connected on a critical third down with Jeremy Maclin. Next play Tyreek Hill scampered for an athletic 18-yard gain. With momentum on their side, and the young Saints defense confused, Smith sorted through a linebacker corps that had pulled away from the play prematurely and connected with Spencer Ware for a 46-yard touchdown pass.
As a leader, Drew Brees has the gumption to convince his team that they have the momentum despite the fact momentum is not in the Saints favor. However, this drive, the Saints wide receivers were critically rattled. Penalties on Michael Thomas and offensive guard Jahri Evans derailed any attempts. Ingram was stuttering to run the ball thanks to a great push from Tamba Hali and Frank Zombo.
Thus, a frustrated Brees tried to fit a ball into an Eric Berry window and immediately regretted his decision. Berry landed an incredible pop as Daniel Sorensen came from behind and caught the ball mid-air, powering his way through incoming offensive players for a 48-yard interception returned for a touchdown.
Momentum only continued for the Chiefs as they failed to get moving again and had to punt. With momentum in hand, even defunct plays could not stop the Chiefs. They powered through and worked up the field through a big Travis Kelce gain. However, Tyreek Hill flashed his speed and versatility again, catching a 38-yard touchdown pass to take a 21-7 lead.
The next four drives all took place in the last two minutes and 15 seconds of the first half, all ending in punts and finally the clock running out. The Chiefs defense dominated and confused Drew Brees. His usual leadership was ineffective, and the Arrowhead advantage proved true. However, an entire second-half was left for battle.
Defensively, the Chiefs weakened in the second half. Not to their own demise; defending Drew Brees from editing his own offense is a tall task. Eight minutes into the third quarter, and Brees showed why he stays in so many games. Ingram was a juggernaut in the A gaps, and Brees opted for short passes instead of the typical deep bombs and over the middle cash-ins.
Three third-down conversions and eight minutes later, the Saints found their way into the end zone. The short passing game proved most efficient against a confused Chiefs linebacking corps. The game plan had flipped on the Chiefs head – the defense was still strong enough to force stops, but not good enough to prevent short, three-yard gains, ultimately ending in a Mark Ingram touchdown reception.
The Chiefs next drive was underwhelming, yet important. Three and a half minutes, and only seven plays, the Chiefs managed to get to the Saints 21-yard line. Although sufficient for a Cairo Santos field goal, Smith failed to push for any more yards to convert a short third and two. In retrospect, Jeremy Maclin was proving to be of the utmost importance for middle of the field gains, but the more conservative push failed to get the Chiefs the short yardage downs. In summary, the Chiefs aggressive play calling was working, the short yardage situations were not.
After back-to-back Saints and Chiefs punts, the New Orleans offense was put into second level and looking for a comeback. A deep pass to Michael Thomas and Willie Snead put the Saints on the Chiefs 25-yard line, knocking at the door. The secondary was frustrated, and Ron Parker decided to take that frustration out on Mark Ingram. In a solid tackle, the ball popped out and Marcus Peters recovered. Again, the Arrowhead advantage turned the Chiefs defense into a raging bull.
Opposed to the momentum the Chiefs had just garnered, the offense turned around and punted at a critical time. Despite the need to score, the Saints door remained scarily wide open. Brees took the ball 80 yards in only two and a half minutes, a testament to his versatility as a quarterback. Composed of a plethora of 12-yard passes to Michael Thomas, the Chiefs had no answer. Brandon Coleman caught the touchdown that closed the game to a narrow 24-21 Chiefs lead.
The closing two minutes of the game were critical for the Chiefs to manage their mediocrity. After Saints kicker Will Lutz failed an onside kick, Ware and Charcandrick West puttered the ball around for two minutes before the Chiefs opted for a field goal. With 28 seconds remaining Drew Brees needed a miracle – but the Chiefs defense had marched hard that day and time ran out on a Saintly event.
This was a game of two distinct halves. The Chiefs offense played about as well as they could have in the first half, scoring on two of four drives, with the fifth being a kneel down heading into half-time. However, due to the quarterback they were facing, Andy Reid needed to move into more aggressive plays into the second-half to ensure touchdowns over two field goals. When he did not make this transition, Drew Brees could have easily stolen this game were it not for critical mistakes.
The time of possession (32:38 for the Saints – 27:22 for the Chiefs) shows why the Chiefs almost gave this game away. Brees is a magician with the football, and takes advantage of every play. The best defense could have been a great and aggressive offense. But alas, thanks to consistency in field goals, the Chiefs made what should have been a blow-out a nail biter in the second half.
The lack of aggressiveness may be a misnomer on third downs. Examining the successfully aggressive play calls, typically Maclin or Kelce are the recipients. However, Kelce will get double teamed and Maclin was inconsistently healthy. Thus, the Chiefs never had a true third-down receiver.
Chris Conley or Jehu Chesson must step into a possession receiver role this year. The importance of a third-down receiver was evident on a critical catch on the Chiefs first touchdown drive in the first-half. Had that catch not gone to a possession receiver, a smaller Albert Wilson or Tyreek Hill may not have been able to withstand incoming linebackers. Although this component may be overlooked, the micro third-down plays make or break champions.
Closing on a positive note, it became apparent by this point in the seasons that Hill is good. His athleticism resulted in three critical plays down the stretch of this game. Again, Reid going for aggressive plays with Hill is a critical component to winning in 2017.
The Chiefs defense is not only good, but great. Although they gave up 21 points, and could have given up ten more, they did not. They are an aggressive group of single-callers that unite to land big hits and confuse the best quarterbacks. Defense at Arrowhead is truly synonymous with victory. 2017 ought to show that again, with the likes of Frank Zombo and Daniel Sorensen taking a huge leap in their play. Another year together, another year better.
Keep on marching strong.