Kansas City Chiefs: Visual Breakdown & Analysis of Bob Sutton's 3-4 Defense

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Kansas City Chiefs: Visual Breakdown & Analysis of Bob Sutton's 3-4 Defense
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Image edited by Brett Gering

Off the top of your head, which offseason acquisition was the most critical for the Kansas City Chiefs? Andy Reid? John Dorsey? Alex Smith? 

The lion's share of Arrowhead aficionados could make solid cases for each respective answer. 

Reid crashed the local pity party like a walrus-whiskered Kool-Aid Man and directed Extreme Makeover: Arrowhead Edition. At the end of the day, he's the trigger man who greenlights or vetoes every major decision. 

Throughout 2013's limited action, the Chiefs' starting lineups have performed infinitely better than their counterparts in last year's season-long slump—a sizable chunk of the credit is attributed to Dorsey. Kansas City's general manager has meticulously scouted talent that, thus far, has snugly fit into Reid's 53-piece puzzle. 

As for Smith? He isn't the best quarterback in the league, but he's more than a run-of-the-mill game manager. His predecessor, Matt Cassel, avoided tossing an interception in only one of nine contests last season. On the other hand, Brady Quinn failed to record a touchdown in all but one. Those kind of numbers make Smith look like the second coming of Willie Beamen

But in Week 1, the offseason addition who made the most impact proved to be a fourth candidate: defensive coordinator Bob Sutton. 

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The Jacksonville Jaguars averaged a measly 3.1 yards per rush last Sunday. Their aerial endeavors were even more deplorable, averaging just 2.6 yards per pass. 

What spurred the Chiefs' defensive shutout? One word: diversity. 

Meet Chiefs cornerback and part-time fortune-teller, Sean Smith. 

Eight plays from Week 1's artistic onslaught depict Sutton's unpredictability and the defense's offseason improvement. 

 

Defensive Line

Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Pro Football Focus Position Rankings (2013)

DE Mike DeVito—No. 6

NT/DT Dontari Poe—No. 15

DE Tyson Jackson—No. 28

 

Jaguars Run Play-Action, Jackson Doesn't Bite

This sack would be impossible in 2012's defense. 

Why? Two reasons.

Firstly, the formation is alien to recent Chiefs teams. Kansas City positions itself in an unbalanced defensive line: Poe, the nose tackle, lines up in a 1-technique—shading the center's right shoulder—a slight variation for someone who is normally square over the center. 

However, the most notable alteration is that Kansas City's defensive tackles, Jackson and DeVito, are playing beside each other on the strong side of the formation. To compensate on the weak side, the Chiefs slide their linebacking corps over. 

The second striking difference lies in the aggressiveness. On a 2nd-and-7 last season, Romeo Crennel's defensive line would've read the offense and reacted. In other words, the trio of 300-pound sponges would've absorbed blocks while preventing any push. 

That's not the case in 2013. The defensive linemen stampede ahead like a war-painted William Wallace was howling behind them on horseback, screaming, "They can never take our freedom!"

Jacksonville's strong side is anchored by twin tight ends (one being designated as the H-back). The Jaguars will attempt to execute a play-action rollout, calling for the interior tight end to release into a route while the H-back down-blocks Jackson.

If effectively carried out, the offensive coordinator is banking on the back end of the defense to gravitate towards the running back(s), creating an open field into which Gabbert is to roll out after the fake.

Right outside linebacker Tamba Hali, while a dominating pass-rusher, has been known to overpursue. Even if he maintains discipline and keeps containment, he doesn't perform up to his lofty standards when he's caught in space. 

Jackson promptly tosses a wrench in the works, though. He shoots off of the line, blowing past the H-back assigned to thwart his efforts. 

Gabbert turns around to a mobile mountain charging at him, which results in Jackson tossing the quarterback like he was throwing one of his children on the bed during a play fight.

 

Poe Wreaks Havoc During a Three-Man Pass Rush

Scheme-wise, there's isn't anything special in what you're about to see, but I'm affectionately naming Poe "Red Bull" after it. 

With a 19-point lead and only 45 seconds between them and halftime, the Chiefs line up in quarters package (seven defensive backs). Jacksonville's offense has 15 yards to gain in order to move the chains.

Odds are that the Jaguars will run a draw, set up a screen or cross their fingers that a receiver finds a soft spot in the coverage and can make a play after the catch. 

This is a case when zone blocking falls on its face. 

Kansas City only rushes three players: Tamba Hali and Mike Catapano on the edges and Poe in the middle. Jacksonville's guards are responsible for repelling the edge-rushers if they attempt to cut inside of the offensive tackles. The same applies if the nose tackle threatens either A gap. 

So, Poe does the only feasible thing: he bull rushes. It's nearly impossible for nose tackles to generate pressure in this situation, but squaring up and propelling the center backwards doesn't alert the guards. 

Poe obviously isn't most nose tackles. 

Kansas City's mini minotaur bulldozes the center, Brad Meester, into the backfield with ease. The right guard tries to salvage the protection at the last second, but it's a lost cause.  

Chiefs Standouts—Defensive Line
TACKLES SACKS QB PRESSURES
Dontari Poe 6 1.5 3
Mike Catapano 0 0 3
Tyson Jackson 2 1 1

NFL.com, Pro Football Focus

 

Linebackers

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Pro Football Focus Position Rankings (2013)

OLB Justin Houston—No. 3 (tied with Hali)

ILB Akeem Jordan—No. 10

ILB Derrick Johnson—No. 1

OLB Tamba Hali—No. 3 (tied with Houston)

 

Houston Registers the Easiest Sack of His Career

Houston is a handful of pass rushes away from making his Old Spice debut.

Here, Kansas City deploys a 3-4 and stacks the line of scrimmage, which periodically sent the Jaguars' zone-blocking scheme into disarray throughout the afternoon.  

Johnson and Jordan drop back into zone coverage, as does the secondary. The right tackle, Luke Joeckel, locks onto Jackson, leaving Houston with an unabated path to Gabbert.

Instead of throwing the ball away, Gabbert rolls the dice by trying to elude the pressure. 

Snake eyes. 

 

Defense Collectively Stuffs a Wildcat Attempt

If you run the Wildcat in 2013—and in Week 1, at that—you might as well snatch Blaine Gabbert's hand towel and throw it in. Spray paint a white coat over the Jaguars flags out in the parking lot.   

Nothing pounds the panic button and screams quarterback issues like lining up in the Wildcat formation. 

It's not that Denard Robinson couldn't develop into a viable read-option threat (don't be fooled, though: The receivers' routes indicate that this is a designed run from the start). He's a dangerous runner, and his quarterbacking background adds enough credibility to make defensive backs stay honest. But there's a reason why he's entering his rookie season as a receiver: Robinson can't dissect coverage nor complete passes with any semblance of consistency. 

In other words, if he's taking the snap, Jacksonville is running. 

Robinson reads the unblocked bookend—in this case, Hali—who stonewalls Maurice Jones-Drew and forces Robinson inside. The pulling right guard is tasked with blocking Jordan but looks half-confused, which results in Jordan and Johnson filling the C gap. 

An unimpeded Houston bolts down the line of scrimmage and stymies the Jaguars plans. 

 

Houston Welcomes Joeckel to the NFL

During the preseason, Joeckel, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft, was heralded by supporters. He was performing noticeably better than the man who was selected before him, No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher. 

Joeckel faced off against the Miami Dolphins, Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons. Fisher, while battling three concurrent injuries, lined up against the New Orleans Saints, San Francisco 49ers and Pittsburgh Steelers

Obviously, Fisher's tasks were a notch up on the difficulty scale, and the two rookies' performances served as proof. Joeckel wasn't as fortunate last Sunday, allowing two sacks and one quarterback pressure. One of his cut-block attempts also led to a pick-six, but we'll get to that in a minute. 

Imagine a quarterback after the fifth step of a five-step drop and freeze your thought. Draw a straight line, stretching from sideline to sideline, that crosses the heel of the quarterback's planting (back) foot. Ideally, offensive tackles aim to prevent pass-rushers from turning the corner before they reach that imaginary line. 

In the above play, Joeckel allows Houston to round the corner two yards prior to Gabbert's position in the pocket. No. 50 is already beelining towards Gabbert by the time he gains the edge on Joeckel.

Also, on the interior, Sutton calls for a stunt that results in Jackson—playing a 2i technique—angling a pair of linemen to his right, which allows Poe to swing behind the trio and apply pressure through the newly forged crease.

 

Hali Dances with the Stars

There are a few notable nuggets from this third down.

Firstly, another non-defensive back makes a play out of pass-oriented sub package. In this instance, it's Hali, and he creates a turnover in a quarters alignment. 

But before touching on that, there are two other points of interest. No. 1: Berry comes up in the middle of the box and gradually glides across the line, hinting that he's blitzing. That, in addition to how frequently the Chiefs blitzed throughout the game, obviously convinces Gabbert that the strong safety is coming for his head. 

In reality, Berry is assigned to cover the halfback, who would've been gored like an unsuspecting Pamplonian if Gabbert's pass was completed.

You're now about to witness two of the most ineffective, flunked cut-block attempts of the season. 

One is authored by Jacksonville's left tackle, Eugene Monroe. The big man charges toward Houston, who effortlessly sweeps by him like someone rocking a handlebar mustache and yelling "Toro!" After he feints outside, Kansas City's pass-rusher cuts inside so quickly that Monroe whiffs his way to a fall from grace.

On the opposite side of the line, Hali rushes ahead with the same intentions as Houston. Unlike his teammate, Joeckel at least manages to create contact, but Hali calmly removes him like an obese kitten hugging up against his leg. 

Gabbert seemingly fails to spot the pass-rushing Pro Bowler (or assumed that Joeckel would cause him to lose his footing) and subsequently leads Hali on his route to the end zone. 

Also, just for your viewing pleasure, after No. 90 rope-a-doped Gabbert, here's a GIF of him capping the play off with the Hali shuffle (Samba Hali?). 

Chiefs Standouts—Linebackers
TACKLES SACKS QB PRESSURES INTERCEPTIONS
Justin Houston 5 3 2 0
Tamba Hali 2 0 5 1
Derrick Johnson 7 0 2 0

NFL.com, Pro Football Focus

 

Secondary

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Pro Football Focus Position Rankings (2013)

CB Brandon Flowers—No. 8

CB Sean Smith—No. 15

S Eric Berry—No. 3

S Kendrick Lewis—No. 27

 

Flowers Reminds Gabbert Why QBs Don't Test Him

This play reveals an alignment, Cover 1, that Kansas City will frequently use, and the reason that enables the defense to do so. 

The nomad lined up roughly 18 yards away from the line of scrimmage is Lewis: the (free) safety valve.

Smith effectively jams his receiver at the line and alters his release, allowing no potential throwing window. 

Flowers shadows Cecil Shorts stride for stride. The budding wideout initially makes an impressive adjustment to a subpar back-shoulder throw. However, a last-ditch effort by Flowers separates the ball from its intended target. 

 

Berry Blows Up a Screen

During Jackson's sack, the linebacking corps shifted over to the weak side. This time, the Chiefs break the huddle in a dime package, and Johnson, Houston and Hali shift under to the strong side. 

Berry lines up on the opposite edge of the linebacker trio, and all four Pro Bowlers give off the impression that they're blitzing. However, when Gabbert takes the snap, Johnson and Berry drop into zone coverage.

Jacksonville's right guard eventually slides out to set up a screen. As soon as Gabbert turns his head to locate the halfback, Berry launches forward and (somehow) evades the guard while wrapping up then slamming the tailback.

Two years removed from his ACL tear, Kansas City's Pro Bowl safety mirrored the play of 2010's promising rookie—not the reluctant, rehabbed No. 29 who struggled throughout the first six games of 2012. 

If Berry was fully healthy and I was assigned to run a crossing route in front of him, I'd laugh, walk off the field and sue my coach for conspiracy to commit murder. 

Berry is fully healthy. 

Get well soon, receivers.   

Chiefs Standouts—Secondary
TACKLES INTERCEPTIONS SACKS RECEPTIONS/TARGETED YARDS
Eric Berry 7 0 .5 3/4 9
Brandon Flowers 4 1 0 5/11 49
Sean Smith 1 0 0 0/4 0

NFL.com, Pro Football Focus

 

Statistics provided by Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

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