One of the biggest story lines to come out of the Sunday Night Football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos was the complete lack of pass rush from the Chiefs. Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning had been sacked eight times in the Broncos three previous games, and the Chiefs led the league in sacks coming into the game.
Therefore it was obvious to believe the Chiefs would be able to get some kind of pressure on Manning in the game, but that didn't happen.
So how the did the Chiefs, who led the league in sacks and posed the leagues top-ranked scoring defense, manage to finish the game without a single quarterback hit?
Well, a combination of reasons.
After charting all of the passing plays from the Broncos there are a few things that really stood out.
Manning got the ball out quick.
This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who watched the game because it was constantly mentioned.
But not only did Manning get the ball out on an average of 2.18 seconds per pass attempt, he was also in Shotgun or the Pistol formation on 37 of 40 drop backs. The extra five or six yards a pass-rusher would need to go in order to get a hit on the quarterback is even more difficult when you're combining a quick release.
Chiefs Andy Reid said as much after the game, via Randy Covitz of the Kansas City Star.
“They did a good getting the ball out fast,” Reid said of the Chiefs’ inability to get to Manning. “They work the pocket pretty well. There were times we had pressure, but he would slide and throw opposite, which isn’t an easy thing to do."
One of the plays Reid is talking about is below.
Manning initially sees that Justin Houston drops back and Derrick Johnson is coming on the blitz. He then just easily away from where the pressure is supposed to be coming and buys enough time to see Decker coming open across the field.
Outside linebacker Tamba Hali gets beat on the play.
Manning has always been known as a quarterback who got the ball out of his hand quickly. Maybe it was the combination of a quality pass-rush and his , but Manning got the ball out much quicker than most of his previous games.
According to Pro Football Focus, Manning got the ball out the second-fastest time of the season against the Chiefs. (My charting had Manning at 2.18 seconds and PFF had him at 2.17)
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Pro Football Focus
The speed at which Manning got rid of the ball would make it tough for anyone to get pressure on him.
More charting statistics
Of the 40 passing plays the Chiefs faced on defense, they were in their "dime" defense 33 times. They were in their base defense twice and a 1-3-7 defense on five plays.
Each time the Chiefs were in their 1-3-7 defense, meaning one defense lineman, three linebackers and seven defensive backs, it was 3rd-and-five or longer each time. Manning completed 2-of-5 passes against that 1-3-7 defense.
Manning completed 7-of-12 passes on 3rd down overall.
There were 20 plays where Manning got rid of the ball in less than two seconds, and only three attempts were made after three seconds.
Manning's first pass attempt on first down was his tenth passing attempt in the game. The Broncos did a good early in the game of keeping the Chiefs off-balance.
The Chiefs sent at least five rushers just six times in this game, as the plan was obviously to put as many guys in coverage and try and get pressure with the front three or four.
Manning was in the Shotgun on 35 of his 40 passes, the Pistol formation twice and he was under center three times.
Two of the three times he was under center they ran a quick slant, with the third time running a shallow cross.
The Broncos were in 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three receivers) on 37 of the 40 plays, 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends, two receivers) twice and 10 personnel (one running back, no tight ends, four wide receivers) just once.
The Chiefs didn't send more than four pass-rushers after Manning very often, and the play below might show the reason why.
The Chiefs send Eric Berry on a delayed blitz from the linebacker position.
Houston beats his man to the edge and has a chance to get in Manning's face.
The ball is thrown in 2.21 seconds from 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage after Manning gets deep in Shotgun.
Berry comes through just a half-count late and Manning is able to get the ball off for the big gain in front of both of them. The ball was delivered right over the spot where Berry had been before he had blitzed.
There's a reason people don't often blitz Manning, because not only does he get rid of the ball quickly but because he always puts the ball in the right place at the right time.
This was never more evident than against the Chiefs on Sunday night.
Despite much of the talk surrounding Manning and his performance, the Chiefs defense held the Broncos to their lowest point total of the season (27). It was also the first time Manning hadn't thrown more than one touchdown in a game this season.
This next play shows that sometimes it's not about trying to get Manning to guess wrong about where you're going to blitz, but about where Manning will go with the ball once he sees what you are doing.
If you assume Manning will figure you out, which he will, you can try and steer him towards throwing certain routes. You can then try and hop those routes to make a big play.
That's seems to be what safety Quintin Demps did on this play below.
The Chiefs send Derrick Johnson on the blitz and drop Justin Houston into coverage. Manning immediately sees this and knows where he's going with the ball.
Manning gets the ball out a step before Johnson gets there and Julius Thomas is open on the simple out route.
Then you see Demps come flying in and try to pick off the pass, which he doesn't, and Thomas is able to turn it up-field for a big gain.
Demps had his eye on this route from the beginning of the play, and trailing by seven with under two minutes to go in the first half, this play had game-changer written all over it.
The Broncos game plan
The Broncos had a perfect game plan for their hobbled quarterback and the team they were facing. The easiest way to negate a good pass-rush is simply to get rid of the ball quickly. But that's nothing new for Manning and the Broncos, they're used to getting the ball out early.
The amount of "pick plays", "rub routes" and "shallow crosses" the Broncos ran on Sunday night made it tough for any defender to blanket their receiver in man-coverage defense. These are their go-to plays and it just happens to be a good fit for attacking this Chiefs defense.
The Chiefs love being physical with receivers at the line of scrimmage but it left them exposed at times, and Manning took advantage.
The biggest play of the game was the 70-yard completion to Demaryius Thomas over Marcus Cooper, and that ball was thrown in 1.98 seconds. That was against the Chiefs 1-3-7 defense and they only rushed three and Cooper had no help over the top. The Chiefs were trying to take away all of the intermediate routes and they got caught.
Also, there wasn't a single Broncos offensive lineman that finished with a negative pass-blocking grade according to PFF.
Pick your poison
The Chiefs could have made more of an attempt to blitz Manning to get more pressure, although that's never been proven to be a wise move. According to PFF, Manning is completing 68 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns to just one interception when blitzed this season.
When you're having a tough time getting to the quarterback because he's getting rid of the ball so quickly, and finding success doing that, it limits your options.
If you send extra guys you have to be absolutely certain they'll get to Manning because if they don't, all you've done is take a defender out of the back field to take up space.
Maybe it's about shifting focus to the outside and finding ways to limit the quick passes from a secondary perspective, obviously that's easier said than done. It'll be interesting to see how the Chiefs adjust in their next meeting in two weeks at Arrowhead Stadium.