Welcome to another retro film review, as we look at the 2017 Wild Card Game, with the Tennessee Titans vs. Kansas City Chiefs. This article highlights the negative aspects of the defensive game. I wrote this article a couple of days after the game happened (however, the site wasn’t launched by then), although it’s important to see some of the defensive issues.
Negative Defensive Plays:
This play has the vibe of a prevent defense in the first quarter because I’m not sure why the defense is playing so far back from Tyreek Hill. The Titans are in zone cover with Tye Smith playing well off the line, yet he starts backpedaling as the play takes off, which leaves Hill to be wide open in the middle of the field. Wesley Woodyard does a bump and run on Hill, but he has to worry about the running back out of the backfield. This is just a terrible call from the defense, because the only route covered by Smith on this play is the go route. If Hill goes in any other direction, he will be wide open on the play. Of course, Hill flat out drops the ball, at which point the defense gathers around him with coupons to Vanderbilt Eye Institute.
After taking the insults from the defense, Hill comes back to refer defenders to the Vanderbilt Burn Unit. The play is another example of bad communication within the defense, because Johnathan Cyprien is whispering in the ear of Woodyard, yet somehow still makes the wrong read on this play. The safety is acting as the zone defender near the first down marker, but he follows Woodyard towards the running back, which causes him to be out of position. Notice how Cyprien realizes his mistake, tries to correct it, but puts him in a worse position to defend the crossing route. You can see Jackson hand-off Hill in the middle because it’s zone cover in there, but Cyprien blows the play, and then misses the tackle as well. Once Hill gets past Cyprien, the defense lets the receiver run down the field like a punt return and gain major yards. This should have been a play that is held for short gain, even a first down, since they only needed three yards. However, miscommunication between the defensive players causes it to balloon into a disastrous play. As you have read in the past negative defensive play articles, miscommunication is a major issue with the team.
Travis Kelce is probably the most dangerous weapon on the Chiefs, yet Avery Williamson lets him run right past him while staring down Alex Smith. I understand that Smith does run quite a bit, but the Titans dedicate three linebackers for staring him down in the middle, once every eligible receiver had vacated past the line of scrimmage. This is another example of how the defense just doesn’t communicate, letting Kelce just run right past them into the second tier for an easy pass. The corner back is playing too far back which allows for a big gap in the zone. While most people complain about the lack of ingenuity on offense, this form of miscommunication on defense happens far too often.
This play is just here because they scored a touchdown, as there isn’t much I can say about this play. When Hunt moves in the backfield, Avery Williamson follows him to the other side. In the end, Hunt goes right at Williamson and gets enough yards to cross the line. Barring a great defensive line play, there aren’t many occasions where the runner is stopped short of the line.
Once again, we have evidence of bad spacing and communication in the defensive ranks. The Titans have seven defenders dedicated to stop the run, with six blockers. Yet, when the play unfolds they mangle the spacing on this play badly enough that had this been a run, Hunt would have ran for a first down. The linebackers run to the outside to contain a running lane, but leave a cutback lane for Hunt. You can see the safety seeing the mix-up and run frantically to the line of scrimmage, only to realize the pass is going to Hill. As far as the pass goes, Hill has one on one match up with Jackson. The dynamic receiver makes a move on Jackson, and becomes open down the middle. Notice the dual step move by Hill because it’s the second step that makes Jackson hesitate. The second step causes Jackson to slightly turn his hips to the outside, which allows Hill to create separation to the inside. Jackson makes a good recovery, shows off his speed and tackles Hill before the receiver could run for a touchdown. Once again, this is another example of the defense just being out of position with bad matchups with late movement. Prior to the snap, Kelce moved towards the line of scrimmage, and becomes an extra blocker, but the defense just doesn’t adjust. The Chiefs perform a pull block from the other side, which causes the defense to over-react and leave the cutback lane open for Hunt if he was indeed running.
You can legitimately argue that all five receivers are open on this display of defensive ineptitude. The defense is in zone cover, but every single receiver is open for a pass, and Smith just happens to pick the best option. I’m at a loss to explain this defense, so if someone can explain this in the comments or Twitter, I would love to hear it.
For this play, we take a look at the importance of outside contain, as Hunt runs for positive yards. As you can see from the pre-snap movement, the defense is in man coverage. The run blocking on this play suffers because Brian Orakpo gives up outside contain, as he’s looking to attack the B gap, but the Chiefs have Kelce run a pull block, which leaves the outside wide open for the running back. When Orakpo makes the move to the inside, he doesn’t expect Kelce to come around and block. When Kelce comes around, the linebacker is taken out of the play, at which point Hunt can easily get to the outside. This is another play where the team needs to understand defensive concepts better because there is no point for Orakpo to move inside here. He has to maintain outside contain, which should force Hunt to cut back inside, where more defenders are congregated, or run around him to the outside, which allows more time for the defense to recover. Over the weeks that I’ve done the review, Orakpo has been positive this season, so this is a bit surprising.
If you are wondering why an elite tight end is coveted around the league, this is why. Tight ends are nightmares for the defense, because you can’t put a defensive back on the tight end. If you put a defensive back on the tight end, then audible to a run and it’s a blocking mismatch. Therefore, the defense has to put linebackers on tight ends because they can match up with blocking schemes, and still stand a chance with covering them down the field. On this play Avery Williamson is matched up on Kelce, and it ends in a touchdown. The positioning of Williamson on this play suggests inside leverage, but Kelce runs up the field, while shading towards the outside, which forces the linebacker to turn his back to the quarterback. Once the linebacker has his back turned, Smith throws a great pass to Kelce for the touchdown. The Titans came into this game with absolutely no plan whatsoever to stop Kelce, and he makes them pay.
The throw is considered a lateral, so this one counts as a run, rather than a pass. On the outset, the Titans play this pass extremely well as the cornerback takes the outside angle, which forces Hill to run to the inside. The defensive linemen also take away the inside running path for Hill, and the play should have gone for minimal game. However, what happens next should be familiar to you. A runner cutting from right to left, cuts behind the QB, while the QB makes a big block on a linebacker, as the runner goes for a first down. Sounds like a famous play from this game, right? Enter joke about how the coaches stole this play during halftime film review. The defense can’t really be at fault here since they contained Hill with the intended path, but he just made a dynamic play.
Prior to reading about this play, please watch number six on the positive defensive article, because it’s the play that directly precedes this call. Why make you do the extra work, you ask? Because the Titans call roughly the same exact play in a display of ingenuity. Predictably, the Chiefs take advantage with an easy pass to Kelce. The key to this play is the same blitz as before, but in this case, the guard picks up the blitz, which leaves an easy pass to Kelce because the defense is playing conservatively. The Chiefs, and Alex Smith especially, are notorious for dink and dunk offense as their bread and butter (Yes, two metaphors in a sentence!), yet the Titans play right into it. Essentially daring the Chiefs to execute their optimal offense, like challenging a puppy in a cuteness contest. You aren’t going to win. As I mentioned, Alex Smith recognized the defense on the prior play and that the opportunity is on the right side of the field. Once the blitz is picked up, Smith can be patient and pick his weapon on the right side of the offense, as he’s reading the middle linebacker. If the linebacker moves laterally to stay with Kelce, then the pass to Hill behind him will be open. If the linebacker stays near Hill, then Kelce is guaranteed to be running open in the middle, and that’s the option Smith chooses. The biggest result of this play is Kelce suffering a concussion, and it’s unfortunate. It made a drastic change to the Chiefs offense in the second half, and really limited their options. I thought there was a chance that the play should have been reviewed since some replays seemed to show the ball starting to come lose. I’m wondering if the NFL decided against a replay to avoid continuous review of a star player getting a concussion to a national stage. I’m not saying that was the case, but that thought did cross my mind as I was watching the game, since anything relatively close is reviewed these days.
The play call on this drive is baffling because they allow receivers free release with ample space to work on the field. Adoree’ Jackson is matched up on Demarcus Robinson, but gives too much space to operate. The defense is in single high safety look, and with Jackson’s speed, they need him to play closer to the receiver. When Jackson is backpedaling here, he can’t be overly aggressive because it is under a minute, thus an easy conversion. The whole drive is textbook lack of aggression from the defense.
Once again, the defense essentially allows the offense to get free yards, while playing extremely safe. I understand playing safely against big time weapons, such as Julio Jones or AJ Green because those guys can win one on one match ups consistently in press cover. However, the defense needs to step up here against Demarcus Robinson and make him beat the defenders. The defender is playing ten yards off the line of scrimmage, and then backpedals as the play starts, which makes this an easy pitch and catch. When the receiver makes the catch, the defender is situated further away from him than when the play started.
If you want proof towards a lack of situational awareness for the defense, here is your Zapruder film. This play starts with eight seconds on the clock for the Chiefs, which you should keep in mind as you watch the play unfold. The biggest culprit on this play is Tye Smith because a pass to the running back is EXACTLY what you want on this play, because they can stop him before he scores, at which point it’s a field goal attempt. The result that you don’t want? A wide receiver getting behind you towards the end zone with a free release. The defense isn’t expecting Robinson to be cut free, as you can see with Byard playing further back in the end zone, because he must account for a possible deep route from the slot tight end. When Smith leaves Robinson, Smith has a magnificent throwing lane, which is the perfect situation for the QB, since the receiver is near the sideline and the end zone. If Tye Smith drifts back with Robinson, he can keep the running back in front of him while still providing a disruption for the receiver and quarterback. Demarcus Robinson makes the easy catch as Kevin Byard does his best Marcus Williams impression, allowing for the touchdown. Tye Smith needs to think of the situation here and realize that the short pass to the running back in an inconsequential pass in this case, because they are well inside field goal zone, so it’s just a matter of keeping the players out of the end zone. The Chiefs have one chance to get into the end zone before they will attempt a field goal, therefore Smith needs to make sure no one gets behind him on this play.
The culprit on this play is Wesley Woodyard because he’s tasked with mirroring Hunt for this run play. You can see him mirror Hunt in their pre-game stance, but Woodyard is too worried about a cutback lane for Hunt, and allows the running back to hit the large hole in the B gap to the left side of the formation. Hunt also uses a stiff arm on the linebacker to avoid the tackle, and gains more yards after Woodyard engages him. In this case, the linebacker gets caught being conservative and it leads to a nine-yard gain for the running back.
I put in this play to highlight a small insight of playing QB, at any level of football. The Chiefs are in shotgun, yet Alex Smith makes a veteran move here with a hard count. The slight move is critical because it gives away Wesley Woodyard’s intentions. The linebacker is blitzing on this play, but gives away the defensive call which indicates a slot blitz. Alex Smith notices the linebacker, and calls out an audible calling the blitz to the attention of the offensive linemen and receiver. The Titans don’t change the call on this play, even after it became clear that the intentions of the linebacker had been discovered. Notice the offensive tackle on this play, he leaps at the snap to make sure he can cut off Woodyard, who is sufficiently blocked, because Alex Smith pointed it out. The route run by Albert Wilson is a simple out route, and Johnathan Cyprien does a decent job at making it a close play. Alex Smith hits Wilson with a good pass, and it gains eight yards. This isn’t a significant play, and in most cases, I wouldn’t even put it in the article because I might develop carpal tunnel from these long articles. However, I thought it was a great opportunity to show how hard counts can really make the life of a QB easier, and the slight adjustments that can impact the outcome. As Mariota matures, he should make more of these types of subtle moves to help him better assess the defense at the line of scrimmage.
A read option play from Alex Smith, which is something that should be fairly common for anyone that has seen Mariota in college. The read is simple here, Smith is looking directly at Derrick Morgan, and determining how far the linebacker will go towards Hunt. On this play, Morgan takes one too many steps towards Hunt, which gives Smith enough space for him to run to the outside and gain eighteen yards. This is one of the biggest benefits of having a mobile QB because defenses have to pause before going towards the running back. In this play, Morgan goes towards the running back, but in the future, he might have to hesitate just enough to benefit Hunt.
As you can see from the review, the Titans certainly had some trouble with the Chiefs, especially when Travis Kelce was in the game. The biggest issue with the defense last year was a clear lack of communication between the defenders, and zone reads that made it far too easy at times to move down the field. As the team heads into the new year, you should hope to see better communication, as the coaching staff has improved.
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