The Kansas City Chiefs host the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football in a Week 4 matchup. Kansas City got off to a slow start this season, dropping their first two games to Tennessee and Denver before beating Miami 34-15 last Sunday. The Chiefs run a base 3-4 defense and utilize a variety of sub packages depending on down-and-distance and/or offensive personnel grouping. After evaluating their film to date, two concepts are available to the Patriots if they want to have success running the ball against the Kansas City defense.
Be Cognizant of Cutbacks
The Chief defense is very talented, especially up front. Whether in their base 3-4 or a sub package, the interior linemen and edge linebackers are able to create a ton of penetration up the field against both the run and the pass. This starts with defensive tackle Dontari Poe. The second-year player from Memphis is a force for the Chiefs, especially against the run as shown on this play from Week 1. The Titans come out with Shonn Greene as a singleback using 12 personnel. Kansas City is in their base 3-4 with an under front along the line. Poe is lined up in the A gap shaded to the center’s left shoulder. He beats the left guard off the snap and immediately gets into the backfield as Greene takes the handoff from quarterback Jake Locker. Greene is forced to adjust his footing in the backfield, and this gives the rest of the defense time to swarm the ball carrier and hold him to no gain.
However, simply because this aggressive defense can generate penetration does not mean the run game is a lost cause. The Patriots, like the Titans and Broncos before them, need to utilize this aggressiveness to their benefit by using cutback lanes and even designed cutback plays. In this example, Tennessee is in the red zone on 1st and 10 midway through the second quarter and they have 12 personnel on the field. They show a wing set to the left and a slot formation to the right with Greene as a singleback. Kansas City has their base 3-4 on the field in an over front and they show Cover 2 in the secondary. The Titans attempt to run a stretch play to the right, but penetration, pursuit, and speed combine to stop this play in the backfield. Yet, Greene manages a five-yard gain. How? By quickly identifying the cutback opportunity and exploiting that hole. Here is a still shot demonstrating the concept:
Kansas City has both penetration up front and outside linebacker Justin Houston setting the edge. If Greene continues to the outside this play is stopped. But the pursuit and penetration of the defense leave a hole backside for Green to cut back into. The running back alters course, turns upfield into the cutback lane, and converts a potential loss of yardage into a positive gain.
Denver also employed this concept against the Chiefs in their Week 2 contest. On the second play of the game, the Broncos lined up 12 personnel on the field in a formation you might immediately recognize: the very same formation the Titans set up in on the play previously discussed. Here, Kansas City is in their base 3-4 showing Cover 3 in the secondary. Denver tries to run Montee Ball on a stretch play to the right, and again, it appears from defensive penetration and pursuit the Chiefs have the play diagnosed. But observe the cutback lane as shown in the still.
Ball cuts back to the left, finds the opening, and the play goes for a seven-yard gain.
Because of their success using cutback lanes, both the Titans and the Broncos ran designated cutback plays where the running back looks to cut to the backside immediately upon taking the handoff. An example of this comes as the Titans are moving down the field on the opening possession of the second half (a fact that suggests this was a halftime adjustment). They have Dexter McCluster in the backfield next to Locker with 11 personnel on the field. The Chiefs are in one of their sub packages with two defensive tackles as two outside linebackers walk up to the line of scrimmage into defensive end alignment, each in a two point stance. Kansas City then positions two more linebackers over the middle of the ball sets up with five defensive backs. Now watch the movement from the running back. At the snap, McCluster takes two hard steps to his left towards Locker to receive the handoff and then immediately turns back to his right to run off tackle. This play is a designed cutback from the start, as McCluster does not even think about taking this play to the left side of the formation. The running back bursts upfield for a quick seven-yard gain, giving the Titans a very manageable 3rd and 1.
Like the Broncos and Titans previously, the Patriots can use the aggressive pursuit of the Chiefs’ defense to their advantage. Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, and Brandon Bolden must be aware of cutback opportunities – as they will present themselves – and exploit them at every chance.
Run v. Sub
While a base 3-4 team, Kansas City utilizes sub packages depending on offensive personnel and/or down and distance situations. Their standard sub package is the 2-4-5 personnel grouping previously discussed. Two defensive tackles are on the line while a pair of outside linebackers walk up to flank them, showing four bodies up front. With two more linebackers in a traditional alignment and five defensive backs, here’s how this sub package looks:
This is the end zone angle of the same play.
They also employ more exotic sub packages using the above alignment. One involves swapping a middle linebacker for another defensive back, giving them six secondary players on the field. Other times they deploy only one defensive tackle and drop five to seven defensive backs into the formation. The Titans and Broncos often chose to run the ball at these defensive groupings, taking advantage of five offensive linemen against one or two defensive tackles for positive results. Here are a few examples of “run v. sub.”
Here, Tennessee has Locker in the shotgun with McCluster next to him, a trips formation to the left, and a single receiver split to the right. Kansas City counters with a sub package consisting of two defensive linemen, four linebackers, and five defensive backs. The Titans run a simple lead play to the right and it goes for a seven-yard gain. A guard and a tight end both lead McCluster through the hole, creating some great blocking angles up front.
This example is from the Denver match-up. Late in the 3rd quarter, the Broncos are up 11 near midfield but face a very difficult 3rd and 24 situation. The Chiefs come out with one of their more exotic sub packages ‒ a 1-3-7 ‒ as shown below.
Kansas City has one defensive lineman, lined up on the nose. They have three linebackers on the field, one at each edge and a third centered eight yards off the ball. Their seven defensive backs play a Cover 3 Man Under coverage. Now watch what the Broncos choose to do.
They run the ball.
Denver sends Ball on a simple lead play to the left side, and he is nearly ten yards upfield before a defender even has a shot at making a tackle. The play goes for 23 yards, giving Denver a 4th and 1 that they converted to keep the drive alive.
Tom Brady and the New England offense need to recognize these sub packages and be willing to run against them, even in situations as extreme as 3rd and 24. If the Chiefs insist on using such groupings, the Patriots must play the advantage up front and take the yardage available rather than force throws into six or seven defensive backs. If New England exploits cutback lanes and uses a “run v. sub” mentality, they can expect a great showing from the running game on Monday Night Football.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.