Attacking Protections with the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Chiefs were able to sack Tua Tagovailoa three times last Sunday. Steve Spagnuolo, their defensive coordinator, has a deep bag of Trap 2 pressures and none are better than their 1st Quarters sack.
It only took a decade, but the Chiefs’ defense has finally surpassed the offense as the top unit on the team. Patrick Mahomes is the QB and a catalyst for the team’s success. Where he goes, the whole franchise goes, and Andy Reid has built an offensive juggernaut around the future Hall of Famer.
Kansas City’s defense currently sits 5th in DVOA, which rates overall efficiency (FTN). Last year, the unit was 14th, and the year prior, it was 22nd. The defensive unit has steadily grown over the past three years, and much draft capital has been infused into the roster.
Three starters in the secondary, CB Trent McDuffie (1st), Safety Bryan Cook (2nd), and CB Joshua Williams (4th) were all drafted last year. DE George Karlaftis (1st) and LB Leo Chanel (3rd) are starters from that same draft class. The growth in the Chiefs’ defense clearly stems from their identification and talent selection in last year’s draft. To have five starters in one draft class is pretty amazing (CB Jaylen Watson gets a ton of playing time, too).
Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was hired by Head Coach Andy Reid in ’19 to be his defensive stalwart opposing him. Coach Spags has a unique brand of defense that uses five-man pressures combined with Cover 2 and Cover 6 (QQH). The Chiefs run the highest middle-of-the-field open (MOFO) coverage in the NFL at 58.4% of their snaps (PFF).
Spagnuolo uses timely pressures to disrupt the passing of the QB and attack protections. Currently, KC sits 14th in Blitz Rate (BR) and uses coverage disguise on a third of their snaps (22.7%/19th). When blitzing, the Chiefs still hold the highest MOFO coverage in the league (52.3%) and raise their use of post-snap secondary movement to 33% (PFF). The Chiefs do not use coverage disguise as much as others, opting to show a two-high shell or other variations and holding that contour post-snap (41.9%/1st). Kansas City is squarely a ‘Trap 2’ defense when it sends pressures.
Under Spags, the Chiefs have been known for exotic coverage rotations, though they are not typically the norm. Kansas City focuses on attacking protections using five-man pressures. In many cases, the pressures are simple overload concepts that use the front’s alignment or the placement of their star DT, Chris Jones, to manipulate the protection.
Against Miami, Kansas City used the Dolphins’ affinity for Combo, or Half-Slide, protection against it. The NFL is a protection league, with many coaches on both sides working long hours to create ways to protect against the match-ups they will face the following week. For the Chiefs, utilizing Chris Jones as an anchor to create manipulation was vital to getting pressure against the Dolphins.
Miami’s offense is built to go fast. Even the passing game is designed to get the ball out quickly to their speedy weapons. The Chiefs needed to create ways to gain free runners at the Dolphins QB to get him to hold the ball. Kansas City does not have an elite pass rush.
According to ESPN’s Pass Rush Win Rate (PRWR), the Chiefs sit 27th in the metric. Even with DT Chris Jones being #9 in the individual metric, Kansas City must run pressures to disrupt the passing game. Against the Dolphins, Spagnuolo raised the blitz rate to 36.5%, which would have put them in the top 10 across the league.