The end of the season is upon the NFL, aptly timed to come on New Year’s Eve. The Kansas City Chiefs will usher in 2018 by battling the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium – an opponent who is spinning in quarterback controversy and impending changes. Yet, with one game left, there is nothing more the Broncos would love to do than end the year by forcefully usurping a bitter rival. Whether the Chiefs sit their starters heading into a wild card playoff, bench them in the second half or play them throughout, the scheme ought to rely foremost on the running game and defensive creativity. Paxton Lynch will be the starting quarterback for the Broncos after returning from injury; in other words, Bob Sutton has the opportunity to cue up creative blitz packages. With a base offense, a relentless, pursuing defense and proficient football, the Kansas City Chiefs week 17 scheme will breakdown a bitter rival with a more jovial spirit.
Kansas City Chiefs Week 17 Scheme Breakdown – Finishing the Right Way
Delivering Via Ground Mail
The Chiefs can use week 17 to bounce into the playoffs on a high note; they can also use the regular season finale to send a resounding message to the Broncos by delivering through the run game. Kareem Hunt has been running resiliently over the past few weeks, and this is a great opportunity to grind another 25 to 30 carries for a quick victory.
However, the verbiage ‘quick victory’ is a misnomer – the Broncos will be looking to end their own season on a high note. Head coach Vance Joseph thrived off utilizing two puzzles to create one picture for the Miami Dolphins in 2016. Now, to save his job, Joseph will be turning to what he knows best to end his rookie head coaching year with confidence.
The Broncos defense, despite owning a 5-10 record, cannot be undersold. Yes, Derek Wolfe and Shane Ray are on the injured reserve, hurting their overall blitz programming. Conversely, they have thrived at stopping the run, allowing a mere 3.3 yards per carry to opponents. Furthermore, they allow only a 23.2 yards-per-drive average. However, due to equal offensive ineptitude creating short fields and the defense faltering in the second, they allow 1.78 points per drive. The implication of the analytics and scheme will be another week where Harrison Butker kicks a plethora of field goals for points.
Moving to the tangible scheme, the linebacker corps takes the responsibility of the run game by letting the nose tackles throw the offensive line out of the way. They line up with multiple fronts, epitomizing the versatility of Brandon Marshall, Todd Davis and Von Miller. Furthermore, they love to bring up the safety to assist as a box, rush defender.
Darian Stewart has taken the onus of the Broncos aggressive, floating safety. Either he or Justin Simmons will rotate closer to the line of scrimmage, adding to the confusion. That confusion is exactly what Joseph loves to create and how he succeeds. He takes multiple pieces, defines a new context every drive and brings incredible pressure.
The first time the Broncos played the Chiefs, they surrendered just 79 yards rushing, containing Hunt at the point of attack. While Hunt will most likely see his momentous bevy of runs through the interior, Matt Nagy has opted to run in all directions of the field. Last week against the Dolphins, the Chiefs had a run in every lane of the line of scrimmage. Charcandrick West has been used more on third downs, but in the second half, he may see more outside runs to preserve Hunt.
Furthermore, rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes will get the start on Sunday. Mahomes is significantly more athletic than Alex Smith, and thus there may be some experimentation with the playcalling options. The run will also be essential in establishing the play-action pass.
During the pre-season, Mahomes operated out of single-sided field play calls. He rolled to one side, simplifying the route concepts while removing linebackers based on play action. However, in the season’s final game, there may be more route concepts to both sides of the field. Travis Kelce and Demetrius Harris will be featured as tight ends with dig routes and occasional deep routes over the middle. The Broncos box safeties have been devastated by tight ends often throughout the season, and Kelce can utilize his physicality to create chaos.
One opening point on the offense from almost everyone who watched Mahomes at Texas Tech is to watch his arm launch deep progressions to Tyreek Hill. With Hill’s prominence on deep passes, he may be featured in isolation against Aqib Talib breaking over the top of the defense.
Even if not Talib, one route concept which may be featured is a play action on third down to deceive the linebackers and remove the emphatic blitz. The play action also freezes the corner on Hill. However, due to that corner being on the outside in a wide defensive set, the safety who is responsible for zone will observe one of the tight ends running a dig route to the outside. Hill then has even one more second to use his burning speed to evade press coverage and escape the zone box. If Mahomes is on point, this play might even put Albert Wilson in an empty zone in the middle of the field on a crossing route.
The importance of the empty zone in the middle of the field is emblematic, again, of confusing the linebackers. Joseph loves to blitz out of those aforementioned multiple fronts – hence, everything starts with Zach Fulton calling a fantastic game from the center position. If blitzes are picked up, other wide receivers to watch in the empty zone are rookie Jehu Chesson and Demarcus Robinson. Both Chesson and Robinson saw positive growth with Mahomes during camp and pre-season, and Andy Reid may option to see how that experience plays out battling one of their most thrilling rivals.
The Chiefs defensive attack ought to be very similar to the Broncos. Just as Joseph will be looking to disrupt Mahomes’ youth with insistent pressure, the Chiefs can aggravate Lynch with principled blitzing from the inside and outside. The chess strategy will be folding the pocket from the interior, so Tamba Hali and Justin Houston can collapse the outside as the game goes on.
The Broncos offense places emphasis on protecting Lynch on timing routes. Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy is best when allowed to call timing routes in which Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders can create separation and windows for whoever is at quarterback. However, without perfect protection, that plan deteriorates. As the bevy of Broncos quarterbacks lost confidence throughout the year, a noteworthy drop-off from Thomas and Sanders has been observed.
To further speed the collapsing pocket, which the Chiefs have done so slowly, press coverage will manipulate the ideal Broncos routes. Darrelle Revis and Marcus Peters have stepped up their assertive technique and play style over the past two weeks; that ought to continue in their disruptiveness of the Broncos wide receivers.
Combining floating zone safeties and Steven Nelson to seal up zones early in games, Lynch could be seeing an early demise. He has been unsubstantial when playing, but he has a stronger arm juxtaposed to Trevor Siemian. Hence, the Broncos may go all out and attempt to gun sling the ball for points. The Chiefs defense has been egregious in tacking and stopping explosive pass plays – further emphasized by the wide receiver screen.
Although McCoy does not favor screens, the more mature (and likely) strategy from the Broncos will be screen and swing plays to running back C.J. Anderson. Once blockers have been able to get out on the Chiefs safeties and linebackers, they have displayed an institutional lack of willingness to shag those blockers.
By widening out the Chiefs linebackers in either play-action or split-receiver screen plays, the Broncos will be able to rush through the middle. Anderson and Jamaal Charles have had disappointing seasons, but they have gashed awful rush defenses for major yardage. The Chiefs are a particularly awful run defense, as they were gashed for 177 yards in the first battle with Denver.
The implication is the Chiefs linebackers (now an emphasized question for the 14th-straight week) needing to get out on the edge and seal by playing proper run-to-fit. McCoy runs a zone blocking scheme that creates different concepts with pulling guards. Intelligence and foresight will take the onus, backed up by fundamental tackling and block shedding.
And that point passes onto the entire Chiefs defense. No matter the scheme, this is a team that has befallen due to a lack of institutional tackling and poignancy. Their inability to finish has resulted in games lost, and games being closer than they ought. Analytically, they thrive on creating turnovers. In the first matchup against the Broncos, they won by prematurely stopping drives with five takeaways.
The turnovers will need to keep coming for the Chiefs to beat the Broncos and win in the playoffs. However, they also ought to dial more sack opportunities and destroy Lynch’s sense of stability. Creativity in blitzing in week 17 may hint at a simplified concept of their battle against whomever the fifth seed is in the playoffs.
Summarizing the Plan of Attack
The Chiefs offense will be operating with Patrick Mahomes getting his first NFL start. As exciting and enticing as that news may seem, the play concepts will be more conservative, tuned to running first and subsequent play action. If Hunt and the use of play action can confuse the Broncos zones and linebackers, then Mahomes’ gunslinger nature may see a deep shot to Robinson, Chesson or Hill isolated. However, against a bloodthirsty Broncos defense, the emphasis ought to be on establishing a safe plan first and foremost.
The defense can take their battle against Lynch to be a functional pre-playoff practice in confusing quarterbacks. First, they must play responsible football to stop the run; that goal is undeniable. Second, with proper run-to-fit, wide conceptual screen and corner plays will end the Broncos function to score on explosive plays. Under those tenants, the Chiefs can create unique blitz packages that confuse Lynch and result in a bevy of interceptions. Now is go time for the Chiefs entire front seven to bring consistent pressure.