Seven weeks ago, the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders battled in what would become a pivotal loss for the Chiefs. The Thursday Night showdown not only created the Marshawn Lynch incident and subsequent ejection, but revealed a schematic nuance the Raiders paved for other teams to pound the Chiefs defense. The late game letdown featured the Chiefs defense giving up penalties and detrimental mental errors. Alex Smith utilized a crew of receivers on his way to three touchdowns, and Kareem Hunt netted efficient yards on 18 carries. However, that was not enough as Derek Carr put up 417 yards to the tune of three touchdowns and no sacks. The methodology for the Raiders ought to stay the same as the Chiefs defense is now spiraling into the worst of worst trends. The Kansas City Chiefs week 14 scheme revolves around maintaining the Matt Nagy offensive attack, while putting an emphasis on pass rush to save the AFC West lead. A failure in sacking Carr will implicate the Chiefs defense completing a sacking of their own season.
Kansas City Chiefs Week 14 Scheme Breakdown – Raider Week Round Two
Maintaining the Nagy Plan
Last week against the New York Jets, the Chiefs offense came out with an electric and adjusted scheme. To the shock of the Jets and analysts, Smith completed two quick touchdowns to Travis Kelce, and two more bombs to Tyreek Hill later in the game. With a mere 17 minutes of ball control, the Chiefs embarrassed the Jets single coverage by utilizing Kelce’s superior physicality and Hill’s blistering speed.
In week seven, the Raiders were already proven susceptible to the speed of Hill. However, that came on a different lane of the field. Hill’s two deep pass touchdowns were set up on the onus of quick dump offs to the flats. Under Nagy’s plan, Hill was featured more as an isolated receiver on his own premise. And to the shock of nobody, Hill’s speed kills.
The Chiefs game plan starts on picking the Raiders deep zones. Since week seven, the Raiders have fired defensive coordinator Ken Norton, replacing him with John Pagano, while rookie cornerback Gareon Conley went to injured reserve. The secondary is now comprised of David Amerson, T.J. Carrie, and Reggie Nelson with Karl Joseph playing the free safety role.
As described in the first matchup, the Raiders have the personnel identity to slot in against any opponent, which has made them vulnerable to any opponent. Their one consistent identity that permeates is the goal to rush the passer from different alignments. Between Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin, and Mario Edwards, they have the potential to paint multiple attack fronts.
One of the ways this looks against a team like the Chiefs front is establishing Mack as the spy backer. Irvin will show blitz from his side, thus shifting protection toward his gaze. However, Mack’s speed and versatility allows him to separate from the offensive line on a delayed blitz. When accomplished, Mack will be able to hit the quarterback without disruption.
Additionally, between Irvin and Edwards, the Raiders can dial up a twist or stunt blitz. When attacking the Chiefs offensive line, Irvin and Edwards will line up on the same side, overpowering and demanding concentration. Upon the snap, the two will simply stunt over each other, catching the offensive line out of position.
Although the Raiders pass rush has struggled in consistency, the importance of the battle at the line of scrimmage cannot be understated. The Chiefs offensive line ought to play smart, with the focus again on Mitchell Schwartz and Eric Fisher. Separate from the deceptive blitz packages, Mack and Irvin can also purely bull rush. No matter how fast Hill is, he cannot catch a pass that is dead upon Smith being sacked.
The next dimension to the Chiefs offensive attack is the run game. With only 17 minutes of control, the Chiefs never had a chance to efficiently use Hunt or De’Anthony Thomas. The Raiders intrinsic scheme makes them prone to motion runs, so this week may be a return to a traditional Andy Reid run presentation.
The Raiders front seven makes the counter run and sweeps an enticing way to puncture the Raiders for a waltz into the secondary. With rookie Eddie Vanderdoes and Justin Ellis demanding the onus of the interior line, the counter run established on consistency is enticing based on the lack of experience.
No matter how the Chiefs deem they attack best, responsibility falls upon pulling guards to pin linebackers, so Hunt can get one-on-one with less finesse corners. As seen earlier in the year, Hunt has the technique and agility to win once a dance in the open field occurs. The Chiefs drives need to not only put points on the board, but be substantive in tenure and efficiency. The longer Smith and Hunt have the ball, the less chance the defense has to be running in circles.
With the pass game in focus, one of the methodologies that can truly sustain the Chiefs for a revitalization is continuing longer routes to the likes of Albert Wilson and Demarcus Robinson. Against the Jets single coverage, Nagy exploited the soft under routes of the field by intrinsically designing longer downfield routes. Thus, Wilson and Robinson would naturally gain more yardage without having to catch and fight a mere three yards away from the line of scrimmage. The difference between a seven-yard catch and a four-yard catch may not seem like much, but those extra three yards make third down that much easier.
In synthesis, Nagy designed the play calling to help Smith instead of making him prone to intrepid, forced plays.
Sacks and Adjustments
The Chiefs defense has a tall task: play decent football. It’s a unit that has been anything but good during the 2017 season, and to have a hope of resurrection now is a flippant dream. The Chiefs are in the bottom tier of defenses, and nothing at this point will change the dysfunctional, lazy, and bewildering play except the very players themselves. And trends typically do not flip in December.
While there is no quick fix to the Chiefs struggles on that side of the football, finally putting pressure on quarterbacks is a start. The Chiefs have been abysmal in landing sacks on the season, netting a mere 21 – putrid enough to be 27th in the league. The aspect of this that is wholly frustrating is the intrinsic design by (now former) general manager John Dorsey and defensive coordinator Bob Sutton to rely on pass rush personnel. The talent is there, they simply have not executed.
Realistically, the Raiders will be dropping back to attack the secondary 35 to 40 times. To win, the Chiefs need to put Carr on his back three times minimum. The Raiders run a mix of quick attack and deep, progressing routes. The intrinsic routes that take time to set up will be the bane of the Chiefs, but opportunity to land sacks.
Amari Cooper will be returning from injury, and Michael Crabtree will be returning from suspension. The dual combination down the sideline ties up the Chiefs safeties in concentration of zone and under routes. For example, Cooper can be unleashed on a deep post route, while Crabtree runs toward the interior of the field and settles in underneath the safety box.
By settling in that area of the field, Crabtree will draw the attention of safety Ron Parker. However, that puts Cooper in either single coverage, or double coverage based on ‘catchup’ zone. Without Marcus Peters, the Chiefs do not have a cornerback talented enough to be trusted in technical combat down the side line. If Parker’s attention is drawn upfield, then a slower Daniel Sorensen will be left attempting to run down Cooper in ‘catchup’ coverage.
Hence, if utilized correctly, the Raiders dual receiver threat will spell disaster for a Chiefs secondary that got overwhelmed with basic concepts presented by teams such as the Jets and New York Giants. Mix in tight end Jared Cook and the ticking time bomb Cordarrelle Patterson, and the Chiefs have a legitimate third target to focus on. A failure to pivot and shift will definitively end the Chiefs hope of winning this game.
However, beyond sacking Carr, or playing with more definitive will, there is a responsibility on Bob Sutton as a coach to coordinate a strategy that intrinsically covers up a lack of talent. The Raiders have four weapons to poke the Chiefs with, justifiably forcing the Chiefs to cover in four different zones of the field.
A palatable presentation of the Chiefs pass defense scheme will involve heavy use of zone concepts that put Sorensen and Parker in assumed positions to make up for their lack of athleticism when compared to the Raiders. Putting them in this type of situation begets an intrinsic risk once Carr foresees the coverage. However, an unprecedented plan from the start of the game will give the Chiefs an advantage to get ahead and manipulate the Raiders to falling in a trap.
To mitigate Sorensen’s weaknesses, he should play up in the box, while Parker plays a nickel role on pass downs. Hence, Parker will be able to roll over and assist Steve Nelson, the likely candidate for single coverage, in covering post routes. Sorensen will then be put at an advantage to play the soft spots of the field when Cook and Crabtree run those irritating curl or out routes.
The Chiefs principle of bending but not breaking will surely ring true on Sunday. Allowing more under routes to be caught is a necessary evil to protect the deep routes. Sorensen does have a powerful pop built into his attack, and might be able to jar a pass or two free. If the Raiders are held to mere field goals, then Smith will have more time to execute a sustainable offense.
The next part of the pass coverage involves Phillip Gaines or Eric Murray putting a hard press on the slot receiver. Patterson will be motioning around a lot, looking to obtain linebacker coverage in a flat route where he can utilize speed after the catch. Once aligned, if the Chiefs use more corners set up from the inception, then Gaines and Murray can swallow the slot by pressing him at the line of scrimmage before dumping off to the zone.
Gaines and Murray both have struggled throughout the season, and by utilizing press and zone tradeoffs, their singular, pass interference prone nature will be covered up. Furthermore, the Chiefs could take this to another level by putting Sorensen as a glorified linebacker, and dropping Terrance Mitchell or Darrelle Revis as a zone, nickel back. In particular, this heavy use of corner packages will cover up Revis’ obvious lack of consistent speed throughout the game.
This is only a mere idea for how Sutton can help his defensive backs protect their weaknesses while adhering to the bending, but not breaking assertion. However, the resounding point ought not be any specific scheme but instead the fact that the Chiefs secondary is limping and wounded. Sutton as a coach has the responsibility to shift and pivot based on the personnel he has now, not the personnel he had at the beginning of the season.
Summarizing the Plan of Attack
The Chiefs offense needs to stick to the Nagy set of plays they saw last week while conceiving more run plays. A mere 17 minutes of control is an anomaly, and Smith should be able to come out with a more balanced offense. However, with Hill lined up in isolation the Chiefs can still strike quick. Intermix longer intrinsic routes and a balance of run and the Chiefs have a tempting offense to buy into once again.
Defensively, the Chiefs are wounded and playing without purpose. The pass rush has been especially bereft of creativity, and without sacking Carr, the Chiefs will be spending their afternoon spinning in circles. However, Sutton needs to realize he no longer has the talented network of cornerbacks and linebackers he once had. Whether due to injury or lack of intrinsic athleticism, the Chiefs need to adjust their scheme to cover up for weaknesses. No matter how that looks, the Raiders have a litany of weapons waiting to explode on a secondary dampened by a lack of willingness to adjust.