Red Zone

Chiefs’ film room: Poe’s big push, plus other defensive observations

Updated: 2013-09-13T22:55:27Z

By TEREZ A. PAYLOR

The Kansas City Star

Before we dive into the defensive film room, feel free to check out part one, which ran Wednesday morning and focused on the offense.

A sports reporter always has to be careful about saying whether an interior lineman had a good game. Even when it's fairly obvious, like it was with Dontari Poe on Sunday, the truth is the game is often moving too fast to really know whether a guy is executing at a high level on every play. I've found that you tend to only notice a defensive lineman's good plays, much like you tend to only notice a good offensive lineman's bad plays.

That said, after Poe's six tackle, 1 ½ sack performance in the Chiefs' 28-2 win over Jacksonville on Sunday, I was eager to check out the defensive game film and review Poe's performance. Though we still won't ever know the calls or what he's being asked to do, it's obviously a good sign if a guy is being very disruptive, and Poe was definitely that Sunday.

It was a really nice start for the second-year pro, who is listed as a nose tackle in the Chiefs' 3-4 defense. It's a scheme that traditionally calls for the nose to line up directly on the center, control two gaps by reading and reacting and occupying blockers. However, I noticed Poe was often shaded toward the center or guard's shoulder on Sunday and sometimes appeared to attack one gap, a principle commonly associated with 4-3 schemes.

“The coaches are allowing him to be a player, to express himself and basically I think, just allowing him to go through gaps instead of waiting and reading,” defensive end Tamba Hali said.

Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said Poe's versatility gives him great flexibility when gameplanning.

“He's blessed that he can do both of those and do them very well,” Sutton said.

Here's an example of Poe lined up against the center in what appears to be a traditional 3-4 front on Sunday:

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Now here's an example of Poe lined up in a three-technique like a defensive tackle in a traditional 4-3 front.

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Though he mixed in some one-gap stuff against the Jaguars, Sutton said the Chiefs still used a lot of two-gap stuff, too.

“We're more similar to that than people maybe would realize,” Sutton said. “We do a lot of two-gapping, but we certainly get on the edge of blockers and try to take advantage not just of (Poe), but anybody's ability to disrupt.”

Yet Poe was the Chiefs' most disruptive interior lineman on Sunday, repeatedly pushing past veteran center Brad Meester and collapsing the pocket with his power and strength. Here's an example at the end of the first half, when Poe just bullrushed and rips past Meester for the sack.

poepush

A few other Poe highlights from Sunday:

· The two times he quickly diagnosed passes to the running back, sped to the ball and almost made the play. Shades of Sheldon Richardson at Missouri last season.

· His pass deflection in the first quarter, when he read a quick pass by Jacksonville quarterback Blaine Gabbert and reacted in time to swat it out of the air.

· The time he looped around the right guard on a stunt with Tyson Jackson and barely missed out on a sack because Justin Houston flew in after he ran around right tackle Luke Joeckel (more on him later).

· I noted eight times where Poe discarded or disengaged from Meester with particular vigor in an attempt to make the play. It was pretty eye-popping, though Poe wasn't double-teamed as much as you might think.

Poe also shared a sack with safety Eric Berry, but I think linebacker Derrick Johnson ― who flew in practically untouched on a blitz ― made that play. He forced Gabbert to step up right into the waiting arms of Poe, who was lingering near the line of scrimmage with his blocker.

Lastly, Poe really does deserve kudos for the amount of time he spent on the field during a really hot day. The 6-foot-3, 346-pounder played 62 snaps on Sunday, more than every down lineman, which means his conditioning allowed him to stay on the field and rush the passer on third down. In all, he participated on 86 percent of his team's defensive snaps.

“He's a (well)-conditioned player for a big man,” Sutton said. “He played most every play, had two really super-effort plays. We all understood what kind of talent this guy had, and to his credit too, he's worked really hard to become a technician in there.”

I suspect the two plays he's talking about are the tipped pass and one early in the first quarter, when he sniffed out a screen to running back Justin Forsett and nearly made a play near the numbers. Men his size aren't supposed to be able to move like that, and they darn sure shouldn't be able to be three-down players in sweltering Florida heat.

How you become a two-time Pro Bowler

I fear in the midst of all the other storylines that came to the forefront after the game ― Poe, Jamaal Charles' injury, etc. ― Johnson's steady seven-tackle performance got lost in the shuffle.

After re-watching the game, I think the two-time Pro Bowler is one of the biggest reasons the Chiefs were able to hold star running back Maurice Jones-Drew to 45 yards on 15 carries.

“There were a couple runs I thought I had a chance to break,” Jones-Drew said. “Those guys closed well.”

Jones-Drew also didn't get much help from his offensive line, which really struggled to get any movement up front. But Johnson's heady play, sturdy tackling and ability to sift through trash and get to the ballcarrier also played a role in that. In the still below, check out the way Johnson fends off the blocker and meets Jones-Drew at the point of attack to keep him to a 3-yard gain.

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It was an example of the kind of steady plays Johnson made all game.

“We stopped this running back and he's pretty stinking good,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said.

Berry in the box

The Chiefs' first-string defense logged about 61 plays, by my count, and on about 25 of those, they used a defense that featured two down linemen, three linebackers (Derrick Johnson and pass-rushers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston) and six defensive backs (the four starters, plus a combination of cornerback Dunta Robinson and safeties Quintin Demps and Husain Abdullah).

Another interesting thing: Sutton moved safety Eric Berry around a lot, but he was almost always in the box or near the line of scrimmage, and seven times, he was lined up almost like an inside linebacker:

berrylb

Sutton clearly is in love with Berry's versatility, which can be very valuable in a pass-happy league.

“Eric, in his career, has played the dime role a lot in the past,” Sutton said. “He's a unique player because he has the ability to play deep, he has the ability to match up on a tight end, match up on a running back. Has a good feel in the running game, just can kind of dart in and out...he's worked really hard at his underneath coverage skills, not just man-to-man but all the other things we're doing.

“He gives us great flexibility. Usually people are trying to find a way to get a positive matchup on offense, but with he and D.J. down, we can match up pretty good.

By the way, Berry finished tied for the team-lead in tackles with seven. He also had a half-sack, a tackle-for-loss and a quarterback hit.

Attacking scheme pays off

The Chiefs seemed to know that new Jacksonville coordinator Jedd Fisch wanted to work the short passing game, so it looks like they really attacked short routes, which kept those quick completions from turning into big gains.

Obviously, a team can take advantage of this by hitting the defense with some big plays down the field, but Jacksonville was incapable of exploiting that aggressiveness Sunday for a variety of reasons (a shaky offensive line, drops, inaccurate passes, etc.).

Anyway, I charted all the deep passes thrown by quarterback Blaine Gabbert, which are listed below. Six of the seven were thrown toward the left or right sidelines, where the Chiefs' corners were often left on an island with no help. Here's the quick rundown:

· B. Gabbert pass deep right intended for Shorts intercepted by B.Flowers at KC 47.

· B. Gabbert pass incomplete deep right to receiver Ace Sanders (who blew past a flat-footed Sean Smith but couldn't hold on to it).

· B. Gabbert pass incomplete deep right to receiver Cecil Shorts. Knocked away by B. Flowers.

· B. Gabbert pass deep right to Sanders pushed out of bounds at KC 43 for 33 yards (the play is called back due to pass interference penalty on Shorts, who essentially set a pick on safety Kendrick Lewis, who was guarding Sanders).

· B. Gabbert pass incomplete deep middle to Sanders (thrown into double coverage because of a strong pass rush).

· B. Gabbert pass incomplete deep left to Shorts (blame this one on left tackle Eugene Monroe, who got pushed back a little too far in his pass drop by Tamba Hali and backs directly into his quarterback right as he tries to deliver the ball. Predictably, Gabbert threw a wobbly pass that that landed several yards in front of his receiver).

Jacksonville finally completed a deep pass late in the fourth quarter, when backup quarterback Chad Henne hit Shorts for a 24-yard gain against backup cornerback Ron Parker. It was their seventh downfield try of the day, and they finally got something out of it.

Jags attack Flowers, to no avail

Brandon Flowers has established himself as one of the NFL's best cornerbacks, but that didn't keep the Jaguars from targeting him a game-high 11 times. Maybe it's because the Chiefs really seemed to leave him on an island, but either way, it wasn't a very profitable approach for Jacksonville, which completed four passes at him, including two in the fourth quarter, when the game was well out of reach.

Flowers, by the way, had an interception ― he benefited from a clear miscommunication between Gabbert and Shorts ― a pass breakup and another near interception. It was a solid effort for him, though he did give up one very legit completion on a quick slant to Sanders that went for 18 yards.

Houston stars

Defensive end Justin Houston was named the AFC defensive player of the week for his three-sack effort on Sunday. We've spilled a lot of ink on him this week (with more to come this weekend), so here's a quick rundown of how he got his sacks.

· Houston races past Luke Joeckel untouched from the right side ― the Chiefs overloaded that side and Joeckel chose to block the inside man. Gabbert never had a chance.

· Houston bull-rushes poor Will Rackley, who was also beat badly on one occasion by backup defensive end Mike Catapano and also allowed a sack to Poe and a hurry to defensive end Mike DeVito. I think Rackley was playing hurt ― he left the game clutching his left leg after an innocuous play in the second half and didn't return. Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said afterward that Rackley, who was banged up in the weeks prior to the game, suffered a knee sprain.

· Houston got his final sack by attacking Joeckel's outside shoulder and running around him. (If you couldn't tell, the No. 2 overall pick had a rough day. Aside from the sack he gave up, I had him down for allowing at least four quarterback hurries).

Tamba's big day

· Defensive end Tamba Hali had a nice game. He had the pick-six, of course ― which I didn't diagram because he beat a cut block by Joeckel and Gabbert literally threw it right to him ― but I also had him down for four quarterback hurries, and all four came against left tackle Eugene Monroe, who allowed only 22 all of last year, according to Pro Football Focus.

Catapano gets his chance

Defensive end Mike Catapano received 31 snaps, three more than fellow end Tyson Jackson, the former No. 3 overall draft pick.

Catapano logged a bunch of snaps because he was filling the role of pass-rush specialist on third down, which means he joined Poe on the field as an interior lineman when the Jaguars fell behind and the Chiefs knew they had to throw. He had no tackles, but he did finish the game with nice hit on quarterback Chad Henne after he was left unblocked.

To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to tpaylor@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/TerezPaylor.

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