Chiefs Film Room: Derrick Johnson dominates


Heading into the season, we all knew this Kansas City Chiefs defense was shaping up to be one of the league’s more formidable groups.

However, there was a nagging question a lot of us couldn’t shake: would Derrick Johnson be able to come back from his Achillies injury as an impact player? If not, our hopes for a feared defensive unit would be dashed. Well, considering this Chiefs defense is giving up 96 rushing yards per game with a healthy DJ (good for ninth in the league), while the DJ-less 2014 defense owned the league’s fifth-worst rushing defense at 133 yards given up per game, it looks as the answer to our question is a resounding yes.

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Don’t worry, I hear you, attributing that turnaround solely to the return of a 31-year-old linebacker seems a little too elementary. But like me, you saw how in shambles our ILB situation was last season with Josh Mauga attempting to fill the void. Getting Johnson back in the middle has not only given this defense a linebacker who is fantastic at diagnosing/shutting down run plays, but has also allowed Mauga to do more hitting and less field general-ing (sure, let’s go with that). Improving this defense at both inside linebacker spots.

Another point in favor of DJ’s return being the primary driver for a resurgent run defense: how about the fact that the only major personnel change between this defense and last season’s is the addition of Marcus Peters. Therefore with personnel basically unchanged, and Bob Sutton still in charge, giving Johnson a majority of the credit doesn’t seem that outlandish, no?

So with that being said, let’s talk about Johnson’s game against the Bills last Sunday. While the box score shows that Buffalo finished the game with 129 rushing yards, 46 of them came on five Tyrod Taylor scrambles. The Bills’ running backs were only able to muster a total of 83 yards on 23 carries (3.6 YPC – a number that is pretty darn good), and DJ had a tremendous amount to do with that. Off to the film we go!

I actually really like this play design by the Bills (and they ran it a few times against us): you have two tight ends lined up on the right side of the formation, with a fullback in the backfield on that side as well. When the ball is snapped check out how the entire line and fullback flow to that side, forcing the Chiefs players to follow suit.

Now look at the running lane that’s opened up between the center and guard. With Mauga following the fullback, LeSean McCoy has a ton of room inside if two things happen: the left guard cuts down Jaye Howard, and the center takes care of Johnson.

The guard took care of Howard, but the center? Oh man, DJ went by him like he it was nothing! He barely even got a hand on him! DJ then proceeds to meet McCoy right in the hole and absolutely cut him down. That’s the kind of play this defense didn’t get out of their ILB group last season. Look at the open field McCoy has if DJ doesn’t make that play:

Last season this play would be a 20+ yard gain at the very least. With a healthy Derrick Johnson, it’s a whhooole bunch of nothing.

DJ wasn’t done there, check out some of these other runs that he completely shut down before they even got started:

You know how people talk about a running back’s patience in letting the play develop? Well Johnson showed great patience here waiting for the pulling guard to commit to another defender, plug the hole, and funnel the RB into Tamba Hali for the assisted tackle.

I love this play because yet again DJ shows tremendous patience, diagnoses the play perfectly, and makes a sure tackle. Right at the beginning of the play, DJ has two holes to choose from:

If he chooses the circled one, there’s a good chance he doesn’t get to McCoy in time to make the play. Instead, he flows towards the hole the fullback is headed and makes another sure tackle. That’s the kind of savvy veteran play we missed so much last season.

But not only is he an incredible presence against the run, the guy is no slouch in coverage either.

Everything about DJ’s play on this third down was perfect: he avoids running into the slot receiver (who I’m fairly certain was looking to throw a pick), turns the corner with McCoy without losing any ground, and then locates the ball like a corner! What torn Achillies?

If there was one game last season that highlighted how important Johnson was to this defense, it would definitely be that Week 12 trap-game in Oakland. Well as luck would have it, the Chiefs visit the (much improved) Raiders this week, and while a win is far from certain, you can bet that DJ isn’t going to let Latavius Murray average 28 yards per carry this time around.

Chiefs GIF of the Week

Remember when Bacarri Rambo thought it would be fun to tackle Spencer Ware? Good times, gooood times.

Truck stick.