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Major Pass Rush Problems


U. G. L. Y. You ain’t got no alibi, you ugly, yeah yeah you UGLY! Look it would be easy to take a total doom and gloom approach after that game because it was in fact very, very, ugly. Was it horrible? Yes. Did it look WAY too much like the first two games of the season at times? Yes. Does it mean that the Chiefs are back to being one of the worst teams in the NFL again? No. Just last week the Saints lost to the winless Rams. It happens. It is definitely a disappointment though and makes the odds of the Chiefs pulling off a playoff birth or division title that much smaller.

Can you come up with reasons (excuses) as to why the Chiefs lost? Sure. The Chiefs were on a short week. The Chiefs were coming off a very emotional overtime win. The Chiefs were coming off back to back physical division games. The Chiefs were missing two DBs in Arenas and McGraw and their replacements were exploited. Are all of those things true? Yes.

So that means this loss was the result of a one time set of circumstances and we don’t need to worry about this happening again, right? Ummm….No.

I would guess that the title of this piece is probably a pretty big clue that I think there is a larger problem (or problems) at play. In my opinion this loss was not about short weeks or the huge hole left by an injured Jon McGraw (yes, that was sarcasm). See on paper (not looking at records) the Chiefs and Dolphins actually looked like a pretty even match up. The difference between the two had been that the Dolphins had found ways to lose games and the Chiefs had found ways to win some.

So how were the Dolphins able to dominate the Chiefs on their own home field?

Simple, the Dolphins sacked, pressured, knocked down, and harassed Matt Cassel all day long and Matt Moore’s jersey probably didn’t even need washed after the game. That was the difference.

Don’t think it’s that cut and dry? More after the break.

Coming into the game the Dolphins only had 15 sacks in 7 games (that’s 2.1 per game). On the other side of the ball the Chiefs had only given up 13 sacks in 7 games (1.9 per game). So it wouldn’t have taken a master of statistical data to predict that Miami would sack Cassel a couple of times in this game. The Dolphins didn’t total 2 sacks against KC, they totaled 5. That’s over double what the numbers say they should have done. And that 5 sacks doesn’t even begin to show how many times they pressured Cassel. At the time I’m typing this I can’t find anywhere that has the totals of hurries and knock downs for the game, but they were numerous. Cassel had 9 rushes on the day. That’s 9 more plays where Cassel bailed on the called pass play right there.

The pressure clearly got into Cassel’s head. After being hit enough times he lost the composure in the pocket that we had seen in previous weeks. He bailed on some plays before he needed to. His accuracy regressed. The cool and calm leader that we had started to trust again disappeared and the jittery, happy feet Cassel of old returned. Now it would have been great if Cassel would have been able to not let the constant pressure get to him, but one can’t really blame him considering how terrible the protection was.

I place the blame here more on the offensive line and the offensive play callers. The offensive line just got flat out embarrassed by an 0-7 defense. They couldn’t handle the speed or power of the Dolphins defense. The other problem was that the KC offensive staff seemed unwilling to adjust their play calling and protections even after it was clear that the offensive line couldn’t keep Cassel clean. My worry is that Miami has given the rest of the league a blue print as to how to shut down the KC offense, blitz them, a lot.

If KC can’t find a better way to handle the blitz they are in for a long season.

I wish I could say that was the only pass rush problem that this game exposed. KC’s own pass rush was pitiful on Sunday. The worst part about it is that Miami had given up 27 sacks in the seven games leading up to this one. That’s almost 4 per game. The Chiefs got ZERO. Tamba Hali has been the ONLY pass rush presence all season. This week he was matched up with one of the best LTs in the game in Jake Long. Long did a good job against Hali and when they moved Hali to the opposite side the Dolphins almost always had a TE or RB assigned to help out so that the RT wasn’t on his own. With Tamba controlled the Chiefs had no answer and Matt Moore had all day long to pick apart the KC secondary. The result was that Moore had far and away his best game of the season and maybe of his career.

Prior to Sunday, Moore had completed 59.1% of his passes at 6.1 yards/attempt with 1 TD and 4 INTs.

Against the Chiefs he completed 73.9% of his passes at 10.6 yards/attempt with 3 TDs and 0 INTs.

Moore didn’t suddenly become Aaron Rodgers, he just had time to find the holes in KC’s coverage. Look, I get it. When you have guys that aren’t great in one on one coverage like Piscatelli, Washington, etc. you need to drop more guys back to help get the job done. That’s what KC has been doing. Drop a ton of guys back into coverage and only blitz 3-4 guys. This has worked when Tamba has single handedly been able to hurry the QB. When Hali forced the QB to throw in a hurry the Chiefs were able to take advantage of all those players dropped into coverage and create some turnovers. The Dolphins have now showed that if you contain Hali your QB will have time to expose the poor coverage of some of KC’s DBs. Yes Arenas and McGraw might have made a few more stops then Washington and Piscatelli, but let’s not pretend those guys are great in coverage. The Chiefs would have still been picked apart even with those guys on the field.

Going forward, if the Chiefs run up against a team that either has an elite LT or is willing to commit multiple blockers to Hali then Romeo Crennel HAS to come up with some blitz packages that can disrupt the opposing QB. If you look at teams like the Steelers they get to the QB not by “sending the house” but by confusing the offense. They may only send 5 guys but the offense doesn’t know where those 5 guys are coming from. It seems like the few times the Chiefs have blitzed they just send multiple guys right at the line and just hope that someone beats their guy or the o-line blows the coverage.

It would also be SO helpful if KC had a real pass rush threat opposite of Hali. That was suppose to be Justin Houston. I think we all thought that he may struggle in coverage or not be comfortable with all the schemes, but I don’t think I was alone in thinking that he would be able to contribute on clear passing downs where they could line him up outside and turn him loose. This hasn’t happened at all. He’s been a non factor. I don’t know if that’s because Houston isn’t the pass rusher we thought he was or if the Chiefs aren’t using him correctly. Either way its been a disappointment.

Now my fellow blogger Big Matt would lead you to believe that the main problem the Chiefs are having is that the base defensive line is not getting enough of a pass rush. While I agree that these guys are weak in that area, I don’t believe that is our main problem. The real problem, skill or scheme wise, is that all the Chiefs LBs not named Tamba Hali have done a terrible job of getting to the QB. Derrick Johnson, Jevon Belcher, Justin Houston, Andy Studebaker, and Cameron Sheffield have a total of 1 sack between them. For a 3-4 scheme that is TERRIBLE. Yes, it would be nice to get more pass rush (or even just some push) from the defensive line, but in a 3-4 scheme the pressure should come from the LBs. The problem with Matt’s stance (in my humble opinion) is that it implies that our base 3-4 defensive line is useless on passing downs. That couldn’t be less true. The idea is that those base d-linemen engage the offensive line so that the LBs can break through and hit the QB. Look at teams like the Steelers and Ravens, their d-lines may have a couple more sacks then ours but the real difference is that all their LBs have a few sacks. That’s not happening in KC. I’m just not sure who is to blame. I think part of it is the ability of the LBs to get to the QB, part of it is that our “block eaters” may not be occupying as many linemen as they should, but I also think part of it is that Romeo just isn’t sending these guys. I think he’s so worried about the bad safety coverage that he feels he has to drop the LBs in passing situations to help fill the voids and clog up the passing lanes. As I already mentioned, this works when Tamba can get pressure, but when he is neutralized even those extra LBs can’t stop the opponents passing game. In those cases I think they might as well send one more LB (not always the same one, switch it up and keep the offense guessing) to try and knock the QB off his rhythm.

I really hope that KC can address these two issues before the Denver game next week. Denver has some good pass rushers on their roster and since I’m pretty sure they’ll take a look at the Miami game footage I would assume that they’ll come after Cassel, I would. The Chiefs better have an answer.

I would like to say that the Chiefs won’t have to worry about Tebow picking them apart, since Tebow has struggled so far, but would Tebow having a big day against KC really be that much more of a surprise then Matt Moore doing it? Don’t get me wrong, I think that KC will win next week. I still believe in this team. I think they have enough play makers on both sides of the ball to get the job done. I just think that the KC staff has some work to do to deal with these pass rush problems. For all Haley’s talk about not having a let down this week I think the biggest let down was that the coaching staff didn’t make adjustments at half time of this game to fix the problems that were more then evident in the first half. They were able to turn this team around from an 0-3 start, so I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt that they’ll get this fixed too.

Let’s sure hope so.

As always, thanks for reading and GO CHIEFS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tags: Kansas City Chiefs Matt Cassel Matt Moore Miami Dolphins Tamba Hali