Bob Sutton’s scheme is doing exactly what the Kansas City Chiefs need

KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 16: Defenders Nico Johnson
KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 16: Defenders Nico Johnson /

The Chiefs run defense might be frustrating to watch, but it’s actually the best way for Kansas City to play defense in 2017.

I don’t think I’m saying anything new when I say that the Kansas City Chiefs run defense is not good. But what is new is that I think it is the best way for the Chiefs to play defense in 2017.

That’s right, I’m saying the fact the Chiefs run defense ranks 28th in the league by giving up 131.1 yards per game is not a big problem. I know that sounds crazy and goes against what everyone else in KC is saying, but hear me out.

The 2017 Chiefs defense is not like the defenses of the 1985 Chicago Bears or the 2001 Baltimore Ravens. They are not good enough to shut a team down, no matter what the other team wants to do. There is lots of talent on the Chiefs defense, for sure, including a top five corner in Marcus Peters and top three outside linebacker in Justin Houston. Chris Jones is a future star and Bennie Logan is s solid big man in the middle. But there are some big holes on this defense as well, like outside linebacker opposite Houston, the corps of inside linebackers and the depth in the secondary. It’s these holes that make the defense the weak link in the 2017 Chiefs season.

Because they are the weakest link, they need to be managed in a way that lowers their impact on the outcome of the game. Keeping the defense from losing the game is the same way the Ravens offense was designed to be just good enough while not costing the team a chance to win. On offense, it means not turning the ball over and playing to your strength. If you are the Patriots, it means put the ball in Tom Brady’s hands. Nobody complains that they don’t have a feature running back. If you are a team like the Jaguars, it means lean on the running game because nobody wants Blake Bortles throwing the ball 50 times a game. This same theory applies to the Chiefs defense.

Like I said before, the Chiefs offense is by far the strength of this team while the defense is the weak link. This means the Chiefs defense needs to be played in a way that they don’t cost your team a chance to win. This defense is good enough to shut down one part of an opposing team’s offense, but they can’t do both. So if you could choose which part of a game to stop what would you pick: passing game or the running game?

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Stopping the running attack means leaving corners all alone and bringing safeties into the box. This leaves you open to big plays, faster drives and more scores. Think of the Thursday night game against the Oakland Raiders as a good example of what this would look like. The plus side to this is drives tend to be quick whether the team scores on big plays or defense holds with incomplete passes. With more passes also comes more opportunities for turnovers if you are playing a bad quarterback. The downside to this kind of defense is, more often than not, it will give up more points and quicker scores so a lead is never safe.

In the last two seasons, the Chiefs have given up 275 yards a total of 7 times. The Chiefs are 4-3 in those games giving up an average of 27 points per game. The same games the offense averaged 24.8 points per game.

Stopping the passing means running a mostly nickel or dime package dropping seven to eight in coverage most plays. This means a lighter lineup that is easier to block and make running lanes. Think of the Sunday afternoon game against the Pittsburgh Steelers for examples of this. When you stop the pass, the offense has to go slow and methodical down the field. The same 80 yard drive that may only take five plays and two minutes passing will take 10 plays and seven minutes running. Upside is they won’t put up as many points. Downside the other team wins the time of possession battle and the Chiefs offense won’t have as many drives to score points. The other downside is turnovers don’t happen on fumbles as often as interceptions and strip sacks, so turnovers will likely be hard to come by.

Over the last two seasons, the Chiefs have given up over 125 yards rushing a total of 11 times. In those 11 games, the Chiefs have a record of 7-4 while giving up 23.7 points per game. In those same games the Chiefs offense is averaging 24.5 points per game.

When you compare the stats you see my point. The offense scores about the same points on average no matter what the opposing team does. So they are going to do what they do, but the difference comes in the defense. When the defense plays the run, they give up more points than when they play the pass. I know watching teams average six yards a carry is incredibly frustrating, but there isn’t an offensive coordinator in the league who will run it 50 times in a game that it would take to really bury a team. On the flip side, every offensive coordinator in the league would be happy to pass it 50 times if you give him open wide receivers. In other words playing the run is what offensive coordinators want you to do. It’s my experience that it’s better to do what the opposing team dislikes rather than what they like.

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So yes it may sound crazy and it goes against how we were all raised on football. But in 2017, and especially with this Chiefs team, they are better off letting the opposing team get their rushing yards. As long as Alex Smith plays an average game for him, the offense will score enough points to give the Chiefs a lead. Once they have that lead they have the passing defense good enough to keep a team in the rear view mirror. So as frustrating as it is, and as boring as it is to watch Ezekiel Elliott run this weekend, don’t be mad. Instead appreciate that defensive coordinator Bob Sutton is playing the defense that gives us the best chance of winning the game.

If the defense holds Dak Prescott to under 225 yards passing and Alex has a good game, Zeke can rush for 200 yards and the Chiefs will still win.