The Pass Rush
Joe Burrow entered Sunday’s game having been sacked 33 times. He’s been the fourth-most-sacked quarterback in the NFL this season. And yet… the Chiefs couldn’t get to Joe Burrow at all on Sunday. Yes, they were credited with one sack on the day when Burrow gave himself up on a questionable passing play call before the two-minute warning. When it mattered, the Chiefs couldn’t do anything to get pressure on Burrow, and the few times they did he easily escaped and made plays with his legs.
The Chiefs have 36 sacks on the season, which actually ranks in the top ten in the NFL. That number is deceiving though. Outside of Chris Jones the Chiefs don’t have a single player that demands special attention as a pass rusher. You can spin the fact that the Chiefs have 11 players that have combined for 25 sacks as a positive if you talk about how they’ve got a bunch of guys that are contributing, but the bottom line is that when your best edge rusher is 33-year-old Carlos Dunlap who is a rotational player with 4 sacks on the season, that’s not a positive thing (although he did have a great 4th down stop in this game).
The Bengals did a good job of neutralizing Chris Jones on Sunday and making the Chiefs prove their “other guys” could get to the quarterback and they simply couldn’t do it. Not only did they not get Burrow to the ground on some plays they didn’t get any pressure on him at all on numerous others and he was free to step up into the pocket at will and deliver the ball to whoever was open.
Coverage and pass rush go hand in hand in the NFL. The Chiefs’ incredibly young secondary has done a pretty good job overall this year. However, they aren’t good enough to overcome a bad pass rush against a talented quarterback. If you give a quarterback like Joe Burrow enough time (especially with wideouts as talented as Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase) it’s not fair to expect rookies like Trent McDuffie and Joshua Williams to completely lock down their guys for an unlimited amount of time. KC’s young corners have proven enough to me to believe that they are good enough to win a Super Bowl this season if KC has a quality pass rush. On Sunday they didn’t.
The answer to KC not having enough talented pass rushers in the past has typically been to blitz more. However, in this game that didn’t work either. In the little bit that KC tried it, Burrow was able to recognize what was coming and get the ball out (usually to an open man) before the blitz could get to him. We’ve seen Patrick Mahomes do the same thing for years. You can get away with creating pressure against bad quarterbacks, but the best QBs (the ones you have to beat to win a Super Bowl) can take advantage of it. That’s why you have to be able to get a certain amount of regular pressure with your front four in order for most defenses to thrive.
I don’t know what the answer to this problem is. You can’t just make guys better pass rushers like you can clean up sloppy tackling or guys drifting out of position. The Chiefs’ pass rush will probably look better in the coming weeks against teams like the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans and we’ll go back to thinking that it will be okay, but Joe Burrow and the Bengals exposed some shortcomings in the Chiefs’ defense. I HOPE that they can clean the tackling and positioning issues up, but I worry that the pass rush could prove to be an issue again come playoff time. I just don’t see anyone stepping up their play enough to make it much different than what we saw on Sunday. That means that KC will have to rely on Steve Spagnuolo to come up with a better plan than he did on Sunday in order to overcome that shortcoming.
So what do you think Chiefs fans? Are you worried about this defense come playoff time? Do you trust them to clean up the tackling and overall sloppy play? Are you worried about the pass rush talent like I am or do you think this was just one bad game and that their overall season numbers prove that we are okay? Do you think there is anything that Spagnuolo could do differently to improve things? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below.