Even at the ripe old age of 31, Cowboys tight end Jason Witten is still causing problems for NFL defenses. He's a big target, at 6 feet 6 and 261 pounds, and he still has the hands and quickness to be a menace, as the Giants found out when he racked up eight catches for 70 yards and two touchdowns in the season opener.
So like many, I was eager to see how the Chiefs would match up with the big tight end on Sunday. Before the game, I asked defensive coordinator Bob Sutton what makes Witten ― who now has 817 career receptions, second all-time amongst tight ends ― so difficult to stop.
“Well you can match up with him and do that,” Sutton said. “The problem is when you get into any other stuff, you try to double a guy like (Jason) Witten, there’s somebody who’s left free on the outside.”
“Like most of the good teams, you can’t just go in and do one thing or they’re going to carve you up and do that,” Sutton added. “You just have to mix it up, mix up man and zone. You have to try to get your hands on him a little bit, but more than anything, I think, you just need to change up what’s happening out there so the quarterback’s not comfortable, Witten’s not comfortable.”
After watching the all-22 film of the Chiefs' 17-16 win over the Cowboys, I feel comfortable saying the Chiefs adequately hit on all those points while holding Witten to only three catches and 13 yards. Chiefs' safety Eric Berry certainly played a large role in that effort. Indeed, the two were matched up often; by my count, Berry lined up across from Witten 20 times Sunday, although at varying depths. Check out the photo below, for instance:In the above photo, Berry is maybe five yards off of Witten. But the Chiefs mixed it up throughout the game; sometimes he played a couple yards off him, sometimes he played 10 yards off him. Sometimes Berry blitzed, sometimes Berry played Witten man-to-man. When Berry did the latter, he was quite good; by my count, Romo threw it to Witten three times with Berry on the coverage, completing only one beautifully-executed slant over the middle. It's also worth noting that Berry also had the following interception that wasn't, due to a defensive holding call. Check that out below: Berry, however, was far from the only Chief on Witten duty on Sunday. Kendrick Lewis, Quintin Demps, Derrick Johnson and Husain Abdullah all got their shot at the Dallas star in coverage, and all seemed to fair adequately. Of Witten's two other catches, one came when Witten blocked and leaked into the flat for a 4-yard gain, while the other came when Lewis ― who was lined up maybe 10 yards off the ball at the snap ― still managed to sprint to the ball and hold Witten to a loss of two yards on a hitch. To be fair, there were at least other four occasions where Witten was open and Romo just missed him — he seemed determined to make quick decisions to nullify the Chiefs' pass-rush — and there were two more times where Romo targeted Witten and simply delivered a bad throw. In other words, Witten was open sometimes. However, the combination of the coverage, pass rush and Romo's own mistakes kept Witten from posting better numbers. By the way, the Chiefs mixed up their coverages on Witten. When he wasn't seeing man coverage, he was being suffocated by a zone. Check this out: The Chiefs also added a really fun wrinkle: on a few occasions, the Cowboys attached two tight ends to the same side of the line of scrimmage, and the defense adjusted by shifting a defensive end — exclusively end Tyson Jackson, if my memory serves me correctly — over to face Witten head up. Check out the photo below: One one occasion, this actually led to a really fun scene when Jackson literally bull-rushed Witten straight on and seemed to have little interest in actually getting to the quarterback, at least until Witten leaked out into the flat. You can see that below: Anyway, enough rambling. All in all, I feel comfortable saying Sunday's game was a solid defensive effort for the Chiefs against one of the game's top tight ends. Flowers vs. Bryant I wrote Monday that Sutton stubbornly stuck with cornerback Brandon Flowers vs. star Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant in 1-on =1 coverage. That's not inaccurate ― the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Bryant feasted for a nine-catch, 141-yard day in which he routinely overpowered the 5-foot-9 Flowers by creating separation with his athleticism (and subtle pushoffs)― but upon further review, it looks like Sutton did provide Flowers help at times. Check out the play below. This came with the Chiefs leading 17-13 with nine minutes, 12 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Bryant, located at the bottom of the clip, is matched up against Flowers, who has no help over the top. He proceeds to burn the Chiefs' top corner with a sick juke, and it would have been a huge gain if he could have held it in. This kind of coverage is the reason Bryant balled out for most of the game. However, after Bryant dropped this pass, Flowers received over-the-top help on four of the next seven passing plays (including the Berry interception, which was overturned). Check out the screen below to see what that coverage looked like: Bryant only caught one more pass the rest of the game, and guess what? It was in single coverage on Flowers. After the game, Flowers' coaches and teammates praised him for hanging in there and battling against Bryant. While he may have done that, just know that when it came down to crunch time, Sutton gave him some help in an effort to keep the Cowboys off balance. More defensive observations *I covered Dontari Poe's emergence last week, so I won't rehash that. But I have to present to you one of the nastiest pass-rush moves I've seen in a while. He's right in the middle of the screen, matched up with rookie center Travis Frederick. Enjoy. *Tyson Jackson was really solid at the point of attack, anchoring a defense that held Dallas to 37 yards rushing. As proof, I offer you this easy-to-miss clip of him dominating former Chiefs guard Brian Waters at the point of attack on a running play. Just look for No. 94 on the left.