Hot off the heels of their 28-2 drubbing of the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars last week, the Kansas City Chiefs are preparing for a challenge of a different caliber when the Dallas Cowboys come to town for the 2013 home opener at Arrowhead Stadium.
On offense, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is certainly a more accomplished and mobile signal-caller than the Jaguars Blaine Gabbert. And it's Romo's escapability that may be of greatest concern to the Chiefs on Sunday. Kansas City struggled during the preseason in containing mobile quarterbacks, especially on third down, and this game will present an excellent opportunity for the defense to show it has corrected that issue.
Defensively, Dallas will be running the Tampa 2, a scheme co-created by first-year defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. While some of the players in this Chiefs offense haven't seen much of this type of defense, head coach Andy Reid is certainly familiar with it, having regularly played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chicago Bears—teams that utilized the scheme heavily—as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.
For those unfamiliar, the Tampa 2 look is a traditional Cover 2 shell, meaning that the deep portion of the field is divided in half, into two equal zones, usually manned by the safeties. Some teams like to employ a "man under" look, meaning that man-to-man coverage is used underneath the zones.
The "Tampa" look, which gets it's name from the team that employed it (under then-head coach Tony Dungy and his defensive coordinator, the aforementioned Kiffin), uses zones underneath the Cover 2 shell, and generates its pass rush from the four down linemen. Here is a breakdown of the scheme, written in 2010 by new Bleacher Report featured columnist Matt Bowen.
With the right personnel, this defense is highly effective in keeping passing plays in front of the opposing defenders, forcing offenses to work their way down the field incrementally, picking up yardage in smaller chunks than they are used to.
Here are some keys the Chiefs will need to exploit, in order to take advantage of the defense.
The Draw/Delayed Run Game
Because the Tampa 2 generally rushes only the four down linemen and has the linebackers reading the play before dropping back into hook zones, the defense has been known to be susceptible to draw plays featuring speedy running backs.
The Chiefs have such a back in Jamaal Charles.
Kansas City will want to spread the field. Utilizing a shotgun formation, with a three-wide receiver, one-running back and one-tight end personnel grouping, the Chiefs will want to snap the ball having the outside receivers run vertically, and the slot receiver run a slant or out route to the sideline. Both the tight end and running back stay in to pass block. Quarterback Alex Smith sells the pass, then hands off to Charles.
As the linebackers read pass to start the play, they've dropped back into zone coverage leaving a clear seven-to-10-yard cushion for the running back to exploit once he's hit the line of scrimmage. From there it's one-on-one against each defender in his respective zone.
Obviously the Chiefs will be required to pass at times, as running the draw over and over would produce diminishing returns rather quickly.
Splitting the Deep Zones in the Passing Game
As an offensive coordinator (at the high school level), I used to see defenses employ Tampa 2 looks on occasion, and while there are several philosophies for breaking this defense, my preferred methodology was to "stress the zones." This requires receivers running routes that intersect a zone at the same time, forcing the defender to make a choice on which player to cover.
I provide the following as an example, with my apologies for the crude nature of the graphic.
As you can see this forces the strong safety to make a choice between the slot receiver running the deep post and the outside right wide receiver running the fly route, additionally the tight end provides an additional stressor splitting the cornerback's shallow zone and the safety's deep zone with a sail route.
While nothing is ever foolproof, utilization of these concepts will help the Chiefs have an edge on Sunday.
Defensive keys to the game
Though the season is still very young, the Chiefs defense seems to be much more aggressive under the new coaching staff, attacking with a relentlessness I haven't seen since Neil Smith and Derrick Thomas were on the field for the Chiefs in the 1990s. This aggressiveness allowed them to force two turnovers and sack Jacksonville's Gabbert six times in their Week 1 win.
The aggression and intensity will be imperative in keeping Dallas quarterback Tony Romo off balance this week.
While Kansas City has been superb in rushing the passer throughout much of the preseason and in Week 1, Chief defenders often seem to forget about their containment responsibilities. Mobile quarterbacks have burned them as a result.
This was especially evident in the preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers. Several times the Chiefs had the 49ers in 3rd-and-long situations, only for quarterbacks Colt McCoy and B.J. Daniels to escape and sprint away for first downs.
Tony Romo is deceptively fast and elusive, and the Chiefs will want to ensure they remember to keep him in the pocket, to not let him escape containment. They key to keeping Romo contained will be to generate a strong interior pass rush that forces him off his spot, allowing outside linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston to corral him as he tries to get away.
Coverage of the Slot Receiver
The Cowboys love to line up their star receivers, especially Miles Austin, in the slot to create mismatches. Kansas City has struggled covering the slot receiver both in the preseason and against the Jaguars. Jacksonville wide receiver Ace Sanders had one large gain while lined up in the slot and another nullified by a penalty.
Solid Fundamental Tackling
A lot of Dallas' offense is predicated on a receiver being one-on-one with a cornerback, and using their size advantage to break tackles after the catch. This allows the receivers to pile on additional yardage and sustain drives. Kansas City will need to make sure they wrap up and bring receivers down immediately rather than allowing them to get free and accumulate yardage after the catch.
As with any game, winning the turnover battle, managing down and distance, and keeping the chains moving will be of utmost importance. But these additional keys should give Kansas City the edge in Sunday's battle.
As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts, and any additional keys, in the comment section below.