Welcome to the first edition of retro film breakdowns, as we look back at the playoffs last year. In this article, we break down the positive defensive plays for the Tennessee Titans against the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2017 Wild Card Game. I wrote this a couple of days after the game, but website didn’t launch for a few more weeks. I will be posting weekly game reviews here, so this one will come in handy to see the discipline level and concepts from the defense.
Positive Defensive Plays:
I watched this play about twenty times, going back and forth on including it or not. So naturally, it’s the longest gif placed on this site. I decided to implement it mainly to show how Alex Smith is reading the defense, and why he makes the audible. First thing to notice is the man in motion, and the defender going with him across the field, which usually indicates man coverage. At the same time, the single high safety also shades over to the right side of the formation. Smith is a veteran QB and realizes that the two defenders on the left side of the formation are on an island, and calls an audible, since the safety no longer factors into the play. The audible works because Smith has a receiver open on the outside crossing route for an easy pass, but decides to take the deep shot towards Tyreek Hill. In this case, Adoree’ Jackson plays the pass extremely well even though Hill is an explosive receiver down the field. The cornerback maintains inside leverage, stays right there with the receiver, and uses the sideline as an extra defender. These are the type of “perfect throw” situations, where some QBs (such as Brady/Brees/Rodgers) can make absolutely wonderful throws to the receiver. In those circumstances, you tip your hat and move on. In this case, Smith makes a good throw, but it’s not great because it leads the receiver towards the sidelines, and forces him to slow down. Jackson makes a swipe at the ball and it falls incomplete. So why did Smith take the riskier throw? Early in games, teams love to establish an aggressive nature, especially against young teams, to throw them off balance. In a regular season game, Smith might just take the easy pass here for a possible first down, but they wanted to rattle the defense with a long pass. It’s a great read by Smith, but good coverage by Jackson.
A great play by Sylvester Williams, blowing up the play in the KC backfield. The play is designed to be up the middle, but Williams gets by the guard and into the backfield. The guard most likely assumed the tackle was going to slide to his left as well, but the tackle is engaged in a block, which leaves Williams free to chase down the running back. If the guard does block Williams, then there is a chance this play goes for positive yards. Williams makes a good move to get around the guard and tackle the running back.
This is a great set up by the defense, and a great stop by Kevin Byard. The play set up is simple, once Hunt moves towards the QB, at which point they sent a blitz to the left side of the formation. The blitz by Avery Williamson is key here because they are guessing for the hot read to be Hunt or the receiver to the left side of the formation. The guess was correct on the Titans part, because Smith sees Kevin Byard play well off the line at the start of the play, leaving Hunt free to run in the open. Kevin Byard makes this play because he’s taking both options for a possible hot read. If the hot read is towards the receiver, Byard is in place for a possible interception, as well as tackling Hunt in the open. It’s a great design based on Hunt moving into the backfield, which prompted a blitz and trap. If Smith is going towards the right side, he had open options, but the blitz leaves him little time to scan the field. At this point, the Titans are trying to bait a turnover because they needed a game changing play.
The hero on this play is Da’Norris Searcy who recognizes the screen pass to Charcandrick West, and blows it up. Searcy recognizes the screen, and immediately takes to the outside to contain West, which is the key to this play as you can see. The Chiefs have linemen ready to block down the field, but Searcy works around them, which assures that West can’t get out in the open. Hypothetically, if West had gotten a lineman to block Searcy, then he had a chance to turn outside and have a one on one match up with Adoree’ Jackson to convert this third and long play.
I’m a fan of Adoree’ Jackson and his potential, so I’ll highlight this play in favor of him. The Chiefs send Hill in motion late in the play, and once again I highlight the defense not adjusting with a last-minute change. The reaction from the defense means that the offense has three receivers in an area with two defenders. It’s another example of the defense not having fundamental aspects of the defense down pat. Hill starts this play as a receiver at the left side of the formation, covered by a cornerback. Once Hill goes in motion to the right side of the formation, the cornerback goes back in coverage near the center of the field. The defense needs to rotate, have the safety on the right side of the field should get closer to the line of scrimmage, but rather he moves further back to provide more space for receivers. The defense doesn’t show any kind of rotation on this play, and Alex Smith makes the right read since he has two possible blockers with a safety positioned fifteen yards away. Everything is set up for this play to be a disaster, but Jackson saves their bacon because he immediately attacks the outside position against his blocker. This is very similar to a defensive end maintaining outside contain, because it forces Hill to move inside, where more defenders are converging. Notice the second receiver on this play, because he’s blocking as if he’s expecting Hill to run to the outside, which backfires because Hill is forced to bounce back to the inside, and therefore the blocker was funneling the defender right into the runner. By the time Hill gets around Jackson, the defense has recovered to hold Hill to a small gain. This is a play that was destined to be doomed because the Chiefs made a late adjustment that confused the defense, but Jackson saved it with a small move to the outside.
This must be something the defensive coaches saw in film study, because it’s the second time they’ve pulled this off. If you read the earlier sections, it’s similar to the one where Byard stopped Hunt on the hot route. In this case, the safety moves down towards the line of scrimmage to the left side of the formation, while blitzing the B gap with a linebacker. The first time, the hot read was towards Hunt, but KC realized that the right side of the field was open. You can see Smith look towards the right side of the formation, but it’s a risky throw because it’s a short out route from the slot, and he reconsiders his options. Fortunately for the defense, the blitz gets home and sacks Smith. The Titans called essentially the same play, the QB adjusted but Smith deemed it too dangerous, and tried to spin out of the sack. So, what makes this play successful, even though Smith recognized coverage? The timing. The Titans break into this shell late, and Smith sees it, but he doesn’t have enough time to call an audible. If the Titans go into this shell early, Smith would audible the hot route early to the slot receiver, and this would be a successful play for them. Smith clearly recognizes the play, but the quick out route is just a tick late, and the pass is risky. The defense is energized after this play, call timeout because they believe in getting the Chiefs off the field, and you all know what happens. You can check out the rest of this drive in the negative section.
Jurrell Casey gets credit for this tackle, but the hero of this play is Kevin Byard. The play is simple, it’s an option play, one you will see countless times in college football with a mobile QB. In fact, you will see similar plays in Mariota’s highlights at Oregon, because it’s a staple in spread offenses. Notice Byard on this play, because he has outside containment, and responsibility for Hunt. Watch how the safety as he first attacks up field, but doesn’t turn towards the runner with the ball. You can see Alex Smith look at him as he’s running to the edge, and then turns right into the defensive line because he can’t go towards the outside anymore. If Byard attacks Smith on this play, he simply pitches the ball to Hunt, and this is an easy first down. The negative aspect for the Chiefs on this play is the full back, who fails to engage Byard on this play, rather choosing to double a defensive lineman. The announcers were critical of this play call, but it’s really Byard that blows it up. If he stays back, or attacks the runner, then this would have been a successful play call for the offense.
There are a bunch of things that happen on this play, and it will also explain part of the reason why they went away from Hunt in the second half. The first thing to notice is that, this is a RPO option for Alex Smith. He’s reading Avery Williamson on this play and Smith can see the linebacker with a free lane to run towards the QB, therefore it’s an easy decision to hand off the ball. In his peripheral vision, he can see Jurrell Casey penetrating to the left of the QB as well, thus further supplementing the decision to hand off the ball. The other main thing of note on this play is the blocking of tight end Demetrius Harris, because he is the culprit for the Chiefs. The tight end is supposed to secure a block, allowing Hunt to get to the outside and turn the corner. However, the young tight end misses the block, and allows the defender to run up the field to the outside, which forces Hunt to cut inside and right into other Titans defenders. While Kelce is a very good tight end, he’s a good blocker and he’s sorely missed on run plays to the outside. Furthermore, since Harris isn’t nearly the same receiver as Kelce, defenders are more aggressive in going upfield instead of worrying about a possible pass route. As you can see with the film breakdowns and game analysis, the Chiefs offense goes into a shell, once Kelce is forced out of this game. The announcers and many fans bashed the offense for going away from Hunt, but blocking schemes were a major concern for them after Kelce got the concussion.
One play to highlight Johnathan Cyprien, who covers Demetrius Harris perfectly on this play. The initial read for Smith on this play is Hill going down the field, but he’s well covered. As Smith is coming off the first read, he notices Harris running across the field with Cyprien right behind him. The veteran QB places this ball in an excellent place for his receiver, but Cyprien makes an excellent play on the ball, reaching around the tight end to swat away the ball. This is just a great play by the safety, and it helps the Chiefs from getting closer to the first down marker.
The final offensive play for the Chiefs this season, as this incomplete pass on 4th down seals their fate. The call is a bit bizarre because they are a dink and dunk offense that called three go routes on the most important play of the year. There are two other receivers on this play, but they have a chip block responsibility against any blitzes, as you can see one receiver fall down while trying to chip block. The other receiver doesn’t move off the line quickly because he had to make sure that blitzes didn’t get through without a chip block. So, who makes the play? Jurrell Casey is the biggest reason for this incomplete pass. The defensive tackle breaks through the line and puts pressure on Smith, which blows up the play, and funnels Smith into one throw. The chip block responsibilities for two receivers meant that they were out of the play when Smith makes the decision. If Casey doesn’t put pressure, then those routes may come into play, but Smith can’t risk a short throw, and then have the receiver be tackled before the first down marker. The second hero of this play is Adoree’ Jackson, who is matched up with Hill to the left side of the formation. Notice the positioning of Jackson on this play, to the inside and just a step behind Hill, with safety help over the top. Remember the first play that I highlighted, and called it the perfect pass defense? Jackson is playing a similar defense here because it would take a perfect throw from Smith, and that incomplete pass at the start of the game may have influenced Smith on this play. The last hero on this play is Johnathan Cyprien, who tackles the receiver right as he’s dropping the pass to end the drive. Since the Titans weren’t playing the Patriots, there wasn’t a call for hitting the defenseless receiver. The biggest hero is Casey here because it may have slightly affected the accuracy of this throw, as this pass is mere inches away from being a perfect pass.
The Titans played a very good game defensively against the Chiefs, although Kelce’s injury did play a major part in slowing down their offense. It’s interesting to see the Chiefs system here because they moved on from Alex Smith to Patrick Mahomes, and change the outlook of the offense. Smith was very good at pre-snap reads and being accurate with the ball, but Mahomes has a great arm that cap open up the field. The Titans served as a catalyst for the change because they consistently bought Byard down near the line of scrimmage and succeeded.
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