Despite their reputation, the Chiefs pass defense is not bad, especially against play action.
Despite their reputation of being the weak link of their team, this Kansas City Chiefs defense that Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints will face Sunday really does some things well — especially against the pass.
While they are overall pretty average, you can tell they have resources dedicated to players in the back-end who specialize in coverage, rather than run defense. And they have a lot of defensive linemen who are better at rushing the passer than defending the run.
This is borne out by the numbers. Here is what their yards-per-play numbers look like against the run, pass and total.
- Pass — 6.6 YPA allowed — 9th-lowest
- Rush — 4.7 YPC allowed — T-30th lowest
- Total — 5.6 total yards per play allowed — T-15th lowest
They have guys in the back-seven like Daniel Sorenson and Anthony Hitchens who are kind of disasters against the run and get moved, but are athletic and versatile in coverage.
They also just play a lot of defensive backs. According to PFF, they have the third-highest rate of Dime personnel (6 DBs) usage in the league and one of the lowest Nickel (5 DBs) rates.
This is partially because they’re almost always up on teams, and their opponents have to spread out and pass, as a result. But it’s also just due to their commitment to stopping the pass with more DBs.
Their effectiveness and commitment to defending play action is also an indicator of their prioritizing of stopping the pass. I mean look at these numbers.
Some interesting numbers on how good KC’s defense is at defending Play Action, with more to come in Pass O article.
– 5.4 yards per play allowed – best in the league
– (-)0.093 EPA per play – 2nd best in the league
– 45.3% positive EPA rate – 3rd best in the league
— Andrew Bell (@AndrewBell_98) December 17, 2020
The reason they’re so effective against PA is how adept their linebackers and safeties are at getting depth after the fake and anticipating it on early downs.
Watch how quickly the backers and slot corner get depth after this fake, blocking the window for the crossing route.
They give up some extra yards in the run game because of it, but overall, they give up less chunk plays.
I guess the good news is the Saints don’t run nearly as much play action with Brees under center as they do with Taysom.
They ran PA 31.2% of their offensive snaps with Hill under center, as opposed to 17.1% from Weeks 1-10. This a bit of a silver lining, as PA is a very effective way to catch defenses off balance if you run it at the right times, however, it’s nice to have a QB under center who’s not reliant upon it.
The Chiefs run a lot of two-high-safety coverages, whether it be Tampa 2 Zone, 2-Man or even some Cover 6 Zone.
And with their heavy Dime personnel usage, they find ways to disguise it.
This is what a third down against this defense looks like.
On the first play, they show a normal two-high look pre-snap, then rotate the weak-side deep safety (Tyrann Mathieu) down to be the middle-of-the-field player in Cover 2 Zone. Sorenson, who looks like he’s going to be playing the slot, retreats back to be the strong-side deep half player.
Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins actually counter this pretty well with a flood concept that goes for a first down.
On the second play, it’s the same type of look on 2nd-and-15, but the Chiefs bust coverage underneath. There’s no Curl/Hook defender to the strong-side of the field, which Tua recognizes.
With Brees under center, this should create some favorable looks for Michael Thomas, Jared Cook or Emmanuel Sanders on the quick game stuff.
If you noticed, on the first play above, they’ve got a linebacker over the top of Devante Parker in the slot. If they want to give MT the opportunity to get a free release and run his option routes on – checks notes – Ben Niemann, they’re asking to give up chunk yardage.
However, I did also notice them bracket Parker in a similar situation later in the game from a Cover 1 Man look.
This shouldn’t be a problem, because this is a pick-your-poison offense. If they want to double MT, the Saints remaining weapons will just have to continue stepping up, like they’ve done all year.
And if Brees recognizes them in Cover 2 Man, as they are on the play below on a 3rd-and-4, then bunch sets and pick routes are going to be the way to go.
The last point I wanted to make about this defense is that they blitz a lot.
Cover 0 rates (blitz-man with no safety help)
% of opponent dropbacks
1. KC — 8.8%
2. MIA — 8.5%
3. BAL — 7.9%
4. TAM — 5.1%
5. NE — 4.4%
28. CLE — 0.7%
29. GB — 0.5%
30. LV — 0.4%
31. IND — 0.3%
32. LAC — 0.2%
— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) December 2, 2020
These numbers are from after Week 12, but the point remains that they love to blitz.
In addition, they’ve got some monsters up front, none more frightening than Chris Jones. Jones is 4th among interior defenders in pressures (50), and believe it or not, is the only DI in the league with a PFF pass rush grade ahead of Aaron Donald (92.7 vs. 92.6).
He is an absolute train wreck for an offensive line to handle. That, combined with the heavy blitz rate, can cause some panic for QB’s. Watch how quickly Jones beats this left guard here.
Tua does a good job here of reacting and getting the ball out hot for a first down.
If Taysom were starting, I’d be pretty worried about sacks and errant throws. But Brees gets the ball out so darn quickly, it might not matter.
Taysom’s time to throw was 2.62 seconds, while Brees is at 2.46 this season — via PFF.
While that may not seem like a big difference, there are 12 QBs in between them in the rankings. Those extra couple tenths of a second can make all the difference between a big play and a sack.
My main worry is Brees taking hits from a guy like Jones due to the ineptitude of the Saints interior O line lately. Especially with him coming off of a brutal injury like this, he’s got to be kept clean.
Andrus Peat and Nick Easton have given up a combined 15 pressures since Week 11, Cesar Cesar Ruiz has given up four in less snaps than Easton and even Erik McCoy hasn’t quite been himself this year in pass pro.
That doesn’t exactly bode well considering what they’re facing in Jones. But the good news is the Chiefs typically don’t stunt a lot on the D line a lot, so maybe it will be easier to double Jones without having to worry as much about communication amongst each other when reacting to stunts.
Overall, I obviously feel a hell of a lot better with a Hall-of-Famer taking snaps this Sunday than Taysom Hill. He’ll be up to the challenge, and win or lose, he’ll keep this team in the game.
All of those turnover-worthy plays, late reads and mishaps on two-minute drills — yeah, we won’t be seeing as much of that this time around.
Brees gives this team the best shot to win, and for one of his final acts this season, it sure would be cool to see him pull off some magic against the juggernaut that is Kansas City.
What are you expecting to see from Drew Brees and this passing offense on Sunday? Let us know in the comments. Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC, “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @AndrewBell_98.