Twenty-five years was a long wait for a Chiefs home playoff victory, and Mother Nature added a bit of intrigue by dropping a snowstorm on the greater Kansas City area on the eve of last Saturday’s game.
With that backdrop, the Chiefs snapped their four-game playoff losing streak to the Indianapolis Colts and lifted the playoff curse at Arrowhead, and they did it largely behind a stifling defense.
That defense, which has largely been viewed as the team’s weakness and potential downfall of this postseason run, dominated a Colts offense that ranked among the top 10 in the NFL during the regular season in scoring (fifth), yards per game (seventh), yards per play (10th), offensive DVOA as calculated by Football Outsiders (10th) and expected points contributed (eighth).
What gives? Let’s take a look.
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The coaches’ film is courtesy of NFL Game Pass. The game-day television broadcasts, a condensed 45-minute version of every game, and the coaches’ film are available with an account at www.nfl.com/gamepass.
Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton alluded to the idea that bringing extra pass rushers would be a tool to assure one-on-one matchups for guys like Dee Ford, Justin Houston, Chris Jones and Allen Bailey. That quartet accumulated 43.5 of the team’s 52 sacks during the regular season.
However, the Colts’ offensive line allowed the fewest sacks of any group in the NFL this season.
“First, you don’t listen to what everyone else is saying,” linebacker Anthony Hitchens said of the Chiefs’ success rushing Andrew Luck. “Everyone has weaknesses and strengths, and we found them. We did a good job of putting our guys in matchups and playing good ball.”
On this Justin Houston sack (above) on third-and-6, Houston and Ford lined up on the same side of the formation — as they did multiple times in the game. The tight end and running back both released into the pass pattern, so Ford got to work against the tackle without help on the edge. Meanwhile, Chris Jones lined up over Colts rookie Pro Bowl left guard Quenton Nelson and attacked the A-gap between the center and guard.
The center doubled Jones, which left Houston one-on-one with right guard Mark Glowinksi (64). Regardless of whether or not Ford got a one-on-one matchup, the defense dictated a one-on-one for Houston by alignment and design.
Houston pressed Glowkinski’s outside shoulder, gave a head fake and hard step outside before he cut inside across Glowinkski’s face while using his hands to maintain separation and create pressure right in the lap of Luck. Houston dropped Luck for a 12-yard loss.
Earlier in the game, on a third down, the Chiefs put Ford and Houston on the same side. Luck got the ball off quickly, but the pass was completed shot of the first down and Charvarius Ward and Hitchens combined on the tackle.
“That’s just us believing in each other and playing as a cohesive unit,” Ford said of the Chiefs’ pass rush getting to Luck. “I don’t think Luck got outside the pocket too much. He’s going to make plays. But we played as one today and that is what we look for.”
The Chiefs also inverted their pass rush at times to keep Luck in the pocket. Interior rushers like Jones and Bailey lined up over the tackles and bull-rushed to close the pocket in on Luck from the edges while Houston, Ford and/or Breeland Speaks rushed up the middle.
The Ford strip-sack (above) came on a play where the Colts went with an empty backfield and no receiver lined up tight to the formation in a 3x2 set with three receivers to the top of the formation.
The Chiefs rushed five and Ford got to Luck off the edge.
From the end zone view, you see the design of the rush created a one-on-one opportunity for Ford. Nose tackle Derrick Nnadi lined up outside shoulder of the guard on the same side as Ford. Hitchens came up from his linebacker spot pre-snap and showed blitz in the A-gap to that same side.
At the snap, Hitchens made a hop-step towards the A-gap to draw the center’s attention. Hitchens then looped around the opposite edge working off of Jones and Houston.
Indy’s offensive linemen were forced to try to pass off their blocking assignments to the inside man, and left tackle Anthony Castonzo had to disengage with Houston in order to attempt to pick up Hitchens. Houston ended up with the fumble recovery.
For those who attach significance to numbers, the ball was snapped with 55 seconds remaining in the quarter — Ford’s uniform number.
“This pass rush up front is by far the best front four guys that are in this league,” Jones said. “We’ve got Justin Houston, Dee Ford, Allen Bailey and me. We harp on getting after the quarterback.”
The Colts fired offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo on Tuesday. He’d been one of the coaches originally hired to work on Josh McDaniels’ staff before McDaniels backed out of an agreement to become the Colts’ head coach.
Making your own Luck
Luck had the seventh-fastest time to throw in the NFL this season. Part of the Chiefs’ plan included making Luck have to hold the ball longer by giving him different coverages to identify.
In another empty formation example (above), the Chiefs match up with Hitchens (53) going out to play man-to-man on the running back, Nyheim Hines (21), who lined up detached from the formation like a wide receiver outside the numbers. He motioned back into the formation where he could run a route combination with the receiver on that side.
Hitchens and cornerback Steven Nelson (20) covered the route, with Nelson remaining tight to his man and Hitchens working over the top. The Chiefs had Jordan Lucas playing deep safety in the middle of the field, and inside linebacker Reggie Ragland floated in the middle of the field — in position to help on crossing routes or if Hines continued his route into the middle — while Hitchens worked over the top.
On the above first-and-10 example, the Chiefs corners jammed receivers at the line and then passed them off as they dropped into zone-coverage responsibilities. The middle linebacker, Hitchens, dropped deep to impact any deep in-breaking route over the middle. Eric Murray played deep safety in the middle.
A simple tackle-end game or twist allows the combination of Ford and Jones to move Luck off his spot and dump the ball off to a receiver with Ward closing in on him.
The Chiefs used a zone blitz on a third-and-10 to apply pressure up the middle despite sending just five rushers. They mixed it up by sending inside linebacker Hitchens and Ward off the corner, but still used just five rushers.
Ford dropped, which gave the Chiefs six defenders in coverage. Luck threw quickly to the receiver, who chipped and released. A rushed throw with blitzers up the middle forced the receiver to go down to make the catch. That left Daniel Sorensen, a safety playing linebacker in this alignment, to recover to the ball.
“We were just giving them different looks, but at the same time keeping it simple,” starting cornerback/nickel Kendall Fuller said. “Just trying to make them think. Just drop back, think, give our rush time to get there, play some good coverage ...”
Being able to pressure Tom Brady up the middle and disrupting his pre-snap and post-snap reads will be crucial for the Chiefs’ success this weekend against the Patriots.