When Toto grabs the curtain in his teeth and draws it back, revealing The Wizard of Oz as a perpetrator of deception, the looks on the faces of the film’s four central characters convey their shock and surprise.
Reading the faces of the New England defense, obscured by bulky helmets and faceguards, proved more challenging for Monday Night Football viewers this week. Their body language, however, particularly within the context of the disastrous results of this second-quarter play by the Chiefs, spoke volumes. Kansas City’s faked end-around gained nearly half a football field, leaving their shell-shocked opponents as deserving and dubious recipients of our Inside The Pylon Defensive Fail of the Week.
Following a New England punt, the Chiefs hold a 7-0 lead as they take over on their own 14-yard line with 12:25 left in the half. Kansas City goes with 11 personnel on 1st and 10 with tight end Anthony Fasano forming the strong side to the right and wide receiver Dwayne Bowe in the right slot. Kansas City has twin wideouts in the left slot with A.J. Jenkins atop Donnie Avery in a stack formation.
New England counters with a 4-2-5 nickel sub package, bringing in Logan Ryan as a fifth defensive back. Cornerback Darrelle Revis lines up in man coverage opposite Bowe, joined by strong safety Tavon Wilson on the same side of the field. Ryan and cornerback Kyle Arrington shadow the stack, while free safety Devin McCourty is the sole deep zone defender in their Cover 1 scheme. The Patriots also employ a four-man front with defensive end Rob Ninkovich, defensive tackle Chris Jones, and nose tackle Vince Wilfork loaded to the strong side as down linemen, with defensive end Chandler Jones opposite the left tackle in a pass-rush stance. Linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jerod Mayo are stationed four yards back and shifted over to the strong side:
The Chiefs put Bowe in motion to their left and he settles in behind the left guard and tackle as Revis mirrors him. After the snap, Bowe cuts back to his right as Revis again shadows. Jenkins sprints around from the left stack to take a handoff from quarterback Alex Smith, but it’s a fake (video link). Less than half of New England’s defenders realize that running back Knile Davis already has the ball as he barrels ahead toward the left side of the offensive line.
While Mayo engages a blocker to the play side, Hightower joins Revis and Wilson shooting towards the right offensive side. Also away from the play, Chris Jones gets double-teamed by the right guard and right tackle. Meanwhile Ninkovich sheds the blocking tight end, moving to Fasano’s right to intercept Bowe. Instead of engaging the receiver, he sees right away that Davis has the ball ‒ moving in the opposite direction. Ninkovich is in no position to pursue the running back, who is on his way to a 48-yard gain.
OPENING THE HOLE
Mayo (#51) is manhandled by left guard Mike McGlynn, who uses a firm right-arm shove to jostle the linebacker off-balance and away from the play. Chandler Jones (#95) gets stood up by left tackle Eric Fisher, who joins McGlynn in forming the Chiefs’ left side of the running lane.
That leaves Wilfork (#75), who effectively moves to his right while trying to fight off center Rodney Hudson. He can’t break completely free of his blocker, though for a moment it appears Wilfork might still make the tackle as Davis is running straight towards him. However, the ball carrier quickly jukes to his left, slouching away from the massive defender’s outstretched arm. Wilfork manages only briefly to get a hand on his shoulder, the only Patriot to even touch Davis before he breaks into the flat.
SELLING THE FAKE
There are several subtle moves made by the Chiefs post-snap. First, Bowe’s cutback to the right without breaking into a receiving route suggests he’s going to be a lead blocker in that direction. Revis, remaining in man coverage, sticks with him.
On the line, Kansas City right tackle Ryan Harris quickly breaks away to his right from the double-team on Chris Jones, leaving right guard Zach Fulton to capably handle the Patriot by himself. Harris’s movement to join Jenkins and tight end Fasano as would-be blockers contributes to a unified look on the offense’s right side.
After taking the “handoff” from Smith, Jenkins does not immediately cut upfield towards the line of scrimmage; instead he runs laterally along the five-yard line, his left arm tucked against his torso. This body position is key to maintaining the ruse; had Jenkins presented his chest forward, defenders would have readily seen his left arm carrying nothing. Instead, valuable fractions of seconds pass, allowing Davis to scamper free undetected by most Patriots.
While at first glance the quarterback’s role might seem minimal in this scheme, Smith’s execution is perfect. He makes the actual handoff to Davis with his right hand, but never looks back at him. Instead, he continues deeper into the backfield with his back to the defense. In addition, on his handoff to Davis, Smith keeps his left arm folded up against the front of his body, lending the impression to defenders on the left side of the field that his appendage is holding the ball. After making an emphasized handoff motion to Jenkins with his left hand, Smith turns both his head and body towards the receiver’s back as he sprints away. This suggestive sales tactic helps keep several pairs of Patriot eyeballs pointed in Jenkins’ direction ‒ and away from the play.
TAKING THE BAIT
Once Davis is clear of Wilfork, two Patriot defensive backs are the last line of defense on the second level. Neither recognizes the running back and it proves costly. The still frame below shows the bulk of New England’s pursuit defense concentrated away from the ball carrier.
How bad is it? Check out the Chiefs players primarily involved in the fake: Smith, Jenkins and Bowe. All three are now looking back to the other side of the field to see how their teammate Davis is doing. Compare them to the Patriots on that same side of the field, all but Hightower still with their backs to the play and focused on the fakers.
From the snap, Arrington (#25) and Ryan (#26) have their eyes fixed to their left, towards the right side of the backfield. Revis has already followed Bowe in that direction, and now Jenkins is sprinting that way as well. Arrington, who is closest to Davis, doesn’t even engage his receiver, Avery, who is more than happy to simply follow the defender and serve as an obstacle in case Arrington changes his mind. Ryan has no receiver or blocker to contend with or to obstruct his view of the developing play, but he doesn’t even look in Davis’s direction, instead making a lateral sprint towards the far sideline.
The breakdowns by Ryan and Arrington are the most critical failures here, as they abandon the left offensive side of the field to chase the fake on the opposite side. As shown in the still below from the downfield end zone, they both cut directly across Davis’s path just before he comes through the hole behind them ‒ but they remain completely oblivious to the ball carrier.
Also worth noting is that Davis’s run would have likely gone for additional yardage had he not stepped out of bounds at the Patriot 38-yard line; the outside of his left foot barely encroaches on the white paint. McCourty exhibits horrendous containment technique, failing to react to Davis’s cutback at the sideline. The safety overruns the ball carrier who then shifts course, shoves him aside, and continues downfield before the play is blown dead.
The failures by New England on this play were numerous, but credit should also go to the Chiefs for their flawless execution all the way around. Confusion on the defensive side of the ball was a recurring theme for the Patriots in their 41-14 blowout loss, and with a dangerous Bengals offense up next, the team will need to get its assignments straight.
Follow Mark on Twitter @mabrowndog.