The Kansas City Chiefs took their first loss of the season Sunday night against the Denver Broncos, and it highlighted what should have been a growing concern going into the game. The Chiefs pass rush, featuring Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, has disappeared.
The pass rush hasn’t really disappeared; it has just been rendered ineffective by the schemes of opposing offenses. The Cleveland Browns and the Buffalo Bills tried to do the same thing Denver did, but they just didn’t have the personnel to pull it off. Even with that fact established, those teams only allowed 1 sack combined against the Chiefs’ defense.
So exactly what are offenses doing to counterbalance the Chiefs pass rushers that recorded 35 sacks in the first 7 games? Simply, quarterbacks are not dropping back into the pocket, and they are not holding onto the ball very long. They are getting it out of their hands before the pass rushers have any chance to fight free of their blockers.
This scheme was executed to perfection by the Broncos on Sunday. Of course, Peyton Manning and his receivers are among the best of the game. Few, if any, are going to be able to execute this plan like Denver did.
What can the Chiefs do to counter this game plan? The NFL is a copy cat league and every opponent from here on out is going to use this blue print to stop the pass rush until the Chiefs can figure a way to counter it. Bob Sutton has his work cut out for him.
One way is to crowd linebackers and safeties in the middle and try to send pressure right up the gut with a flood of rushers. Of course, that will leave the outside edges vulnerable.
Another way is to bring some extra pressure of the middle and drop Hali and Houston back into pass coverage, which is not the strong suit for either linebacker.
Another method would be to do what the Chiefs did in the second half against the Broncos. Rush hard, and if they don’t break through immediately, drop back and get their hands in the air to knock down those quick passes.
In truth, Kansas City will probably use a combination of these things, and probably a number of things I haven’t even thought of (since I am not a defensive coordinator).
Regardless, the Chiefs can’t pin their ears back and just rush the quarterback like they have been. It is no longer working.
What does that mean for a player like Tamba Hali, who is relatively one dimensional. Hali isn’t great in pursuing plays, or terrific in the run game. He doesn’t rack up tackles like his teammate and fellow linebacker, Derrick Johnson. The most tackles Hali has ever recorded in a season is 66 in 2011. In comparison, Johnson has tallied 80 or more tackles in a season 5 times and has 65 already this season.
Tambi Hali is a pass rusher, and a very good one, but if he can’t apply pressure to the pocket, how else can he be used to improve the defense?
If Hali is neutralized and he cannot get to the quarterback, can the Chiefs find a way to utilize him more effectively? Can Sutton find a way to help Hali return to being a disruptive force on the defense once again?
Hali and Justin Houston are too talented at what they do to not be utilized fully. Just the fact that teams are having to devise a specific game plan to defuse their skills, is a huge testament to their ability to rush the quarterback.
The fact is, they were too effective early on. Teams had to find a way to offset the chaos and havoc they were wreaking on offenses.
Bob Sutton and the Chiefs have been a little slow in making adjustments to the defensive scheme is such a way as to make Hali and Houston relevant again. Look for that to end this week. Look for the Chiefs to be better prepared for this particular game plan this week, if San Diego decides to use it.
Watch Tamba Hali and see what adjustments are made to get him back into the flow as a pass rusher. Can Sutton find away to disrupt the pocket and free Hali up to attack that pocket?
The Chiefs have to come up with a different defensive game plan. They have to counter what offenses are now doing to their defense. How Tamba Hali is utilized will be a big part of how successful the Chiefs will be this week. The spotlight will shining directly on number 91 in week twelve.
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