Red Zone

Chiefs defensive film room: Pick plays, ‘pin’ routes and Holy Hali!

James-Michael Johnson, who had a Pro Football Focus grade of negative-1.9 against the run in the Chiefs’ 26-10 loss to Tennessee a week ago, bounced back to post a run-defense grade of 0.8 against the Denver Broncos. More importantly, he seemed a little less likely to overpursue and also found a way to make plays unblocked.
James-Michael Johnson, who had a Pro Football Focus grade of negative-1.9 against the run in the Chiefs’ 26-10 loss to Tennessee a week ago, bounced back to post a run-defense grade of 0.8 against the Denver Broncos. More importantly, he seemed a little less likely to overpursue and also found a way to make plays unblocked. The Associated Press

After a first half where the Chiefs got abused by pick plays over and over again, they showed significant improvement in the second half. I even wrote a whole story about it after the game.

Here’s the first example, where Marcus Cooper (31) shows a nice combination of anticipation in physicality in dodging a pick set by Emmanuel Sanders (10) and making a play on the ball.

Now check this one out. Based on the alignment, if linebacker James-Michael Johnson (52) and cornerback Chris Owens (20) were to simply take the man they are lined up against, it would create a natural pick, one that would spring one of the two tight ends.

So instead, JMJ and Owens communicated before the snap and decided to switch. Now watch how well they cover this.

Okay, one more. This was the biggest stop of the game. Check out Denver’s trips formation to the right. The two receivers who are closest to the right sideline will block their men, Cooper and safety Husain Abdullah (39), while Emmanuel Sanders (10) runs a flat route.

However, Owens (20) reads it all the way. He dodged the clutter in front of him and sprinted to the sideline to make the play along with Abdullah.

Heck of a play and a heck of a stop. The challenge for the Chiefs will be making their second-half performance against these type of pick plays the norm.

2. Pin routes

My friend Matt Bowen outlined what went wrong on the Chiefs’ very first defensive play here, which resulted in a 48-yard gain. I suggest you read him, by the way.

This is called a “Pin” route, and it’s a classic Cover 4 beater. It involves a wideout or tight end running a square-in in the middle of the field while a wideout runs a post behind it.

Denver quarterback Peyton Manning doesn’t miss anything, so after he exploited it on the first play of the game, he went to it again in the third quarter, this time with Ron Parker in Eric Berry’s place at safety.

This time, however, the big play never materialized because of some pressure up front that, quite frankly, the Chiefs should not have been able to get with a four-man pass rush vs. six blockers.

But no matter. The point is teams have clearly taken note of the Chiefs’ tendency to play Cover 4, because Indianapolis used the same route to exploit them in the wild-card loss in January.

Next time you see the Chiefs get beat on a post route, chances are you’ll know why, now. By the way, corners are taught to stay outside of the outside receivers in Cover 4, so the responsibility to help over the top is on one of the safeties.

3. JMJ’s run defense

Just a week ago, I noted how important it is for James-Michael Johnson to improve his run defense. Well, I think he answered the call on Sunday.

Johnson, who had a Pro Football Focus grade of negative-1.9 against the run in the Chiefs’ 26-10 loss to Tennessee a week ago, bounced back to post a run-defense grade of 0.8 against the Broncos. More importantly, he seemed a little less likely to overpursue and also found a way to make plays unblocked.

For example, watch him shimmy through the hole and make the play below:

Now, watch him make the play here unblocked:

I even love the fist pump afterward. Look, I like when guys show emotion on the field. Shows they’re having fun and enjoy playing the game.

Anyway, if Johnson continues to make progress in this area, he’s got a chance to be a pretty decent player. He’s fairly quick on his feet for a linebacker and already has some plus traits in coverage, which is important these days.

4. The Walker-Vickerson-Martin package

This isn’t a package, per se, but I enjoyed see three intriguing guys on the field together at the same time. I still believe Vance Walker can help this team in passing situations, particularly as a three-technique, but the coaching staff has been more apt to go with Allen Bailey and Dontari Poe in those situations.

Josh Martin, the second-year outside linebacker, showed improvement from last year as a pass rusher in training camp. I just think he’s an interesting player, a developmental guy worth keeping an eye on.

Finally, Kevin Vickerson only logged 12 plays Sunday, but the Chiefs showed a tendency to bring him in during obvious running situations. I like it. The guy is a mountain who is stout against the run. He can help this team with Mike DeVito being out. The staff still likes Jaye Howard, who got the start for DeVito, but he’s probably better shooting gaps upfield, even though he showed some improvement against the run Sunday.

5. Tamba’s effort

Tamba Hali played his tail off, which isn’t a surprise. He graded out as my highest-rated defender this week, and I was pleased to see that he was also Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded defender.

Here’s an example of Tamba’s effort. Watch him stave off the cut block, hustle to the ball and attempt a diving tackle. He doesn’t get there, but this is great hustle.

Here’s another play. With the game on the line, Hali manages to keep outside contain on this running play by fighting off the blocking and beating Montee Ball to the corner. This is a textbook stop on a crucial series and the cherry on top of an excellent day for the nine-year pro.

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

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