It's not a surprise to anyone that watched the Chiefs game last Sunday that Matt Cassel and the offense struggled against the Broncos defense. But rather than sit back and guess at what went wrong by looking at basic statistics, I tried to figure it out by charting everything in the game from the down and distance, personnel on each play, each time a player went in motion, and the different shotgun formations that the Chiefs used in the game.
I put it all together and looked for patterns. I hoped that this information could pinpoint a little more as to what we struggled with specifically and where we found success. I've tried to organize this information as best I could and one thing I've realized is that it's a lot of work, but when you find that particular tendency or pattern, it makes the time spent worth it. Some of these things will be more prevalent in my weekly post over at Arrowhead Pride, where I'll use specific video clips to show some of these tendencies and 'tells'. For the record, I did not chart Cassel's last drive or Palko's drive at the end of the game. I didn't want the numbers to be skewed with all of the passes at the end of the game because of the amont of time remaining and the score.
We'll start by going through the down and distance breakdowns beginning with first down. The Chiefs ran 22 plays on first down and of those 22 plays, 13 were runs and 9 were passes. The 13 runs accounted for 79 yards on the ground, thanks to Jackie Battle's 36 yard run to open up the second half those numbers are good. Battle's run helped the Chiefs average just over 6 yards per carry on first down, without that run, the Chiefs averaged 3.58 yards per carry on first down.
The Chiefs threw nine passes on first down and of those nine passes, six came on play-action. Cassel was 3-6 for 30 yards on those plays. Two of the incompletions came on deep passes to Jonathan Baldwin. The interesting thing about those two incomplete passes is that the Chiefs ran the basic power I formation only three times in the game, where Le'Ron McClain was not offset and was lined up directly in front of the running back. Every other play McClain was offset to the right or left.
The Chiefs ran the same exact formation, motion and action on that one run play in an attempt to disguise the play-action pass. The Broncos were not fooled either time on the play and Jon Baldwin had to do his best cornerback impression to keep the passes from being picked off. I'm not sure if this theory holds true from past Chiefs game this season as this is the first game I've broke down like this, but it's definitely something to pay attention to in future games. Could the Chiefs have tipped their hand by taking their shot down the field by running a formation that shows that 66% of the time they run it they are going to throw it deep?
Of the Chiefs 13 runs on first down, five of those were in 21 personnel (2 backs, 1 tight end), and seven were in 11 personnel (1 back, 1 tight-end). The Chiefs averaged over 10 yards per carry in the 21 personnel and under 3 yards per carry in the 11 personnel on first down. Obviously Battle's 36 yard run skewed these numbers but taking that run out of the equation, the Chiefs still averaged over 4 yards per carry when the extra back (McClain) was in the game.
The Chiefs ran just six plays on second down between 1-6 yards, with three runs and three passes. The only completed pass out of the three was a 7-yard gain on play-action to Leonard Pope. McCluster (4), Battle (6) and Jones (2) gained 13 yards total on the three carries in this down and distance.
On 2nd down and 7+ yards the Chiefs threw the ball eight times and ran just three times. Cassel was 4-6 for 31 yards with a sack and a scramble in this down and distance. Two of the three runs were to Dexter McCluster and he had gains of 10 yards and 6 yards on these two plays. Getting to a managable third down distance would be helpful if McCluster could maintain an 8-yard per carry average on 2nd and 7+ yards. The 6 yard run came on 2nd and 29 so part of that success can be chalked up to the defense playing down and distance. But the 10-yard run came on 2nd and 10 and had baldwin motioning to the backfield to help block the draw. More on Baldwin motioning to the backfield later. The only play-action pass that the Chiefs ran on 2nd down and long resulted in a sack. But there was more going on in my opinion than just a timely blitz from the Broncos.
There were 12 plays that the Chiefs ran with McClain lined up in his fullback position. Three times he was lined up to the left and six times he was lined up to the right, and we've already discussed the three times he was lined up straight-up. Every time McClain was lined up to the left the Chiefs ran the ball. Every time he was lined up to the right the Chiefs passed the ball. There were five plays that the Chiefs had run in this formation before the Broncos blitzed on 2nd and 7 with 13:42 remaining in the second quarter. Three times they had passed the ball and twice they had run the ball, including the first down play right before the blitz. Maybe the Broncos were blitzing anyways, or maybe the Chiefs gave the Broncos a 'tell' and as soon as McClain lined up to the right they knew we were passing and they were going to blitz. The play ended as a sack and the Chiefs were lucky that it didn't end up as a safety, or a fumble recovery for the Broncos. This 'tell' will be demonstrated with video clips in my post on Arrowhead Pride later in the week.
Besides the shotgun formation, the Chiefs struggled more on 3rd and short than any other aspect of their game against the Broncos. There were six times that the Chiefs were in 3rd down between 1-6 yards and they passed every time, and Cassel was 0-6 in those situations. In all fairness, two of those passes were 'drops' by the receivers. Each of those six plays also had the Chiefs lining up in 11 personnel.
The Chiefs were faced with 3rd and 7+ yards six times and they threw the ball five times. All of these plays were also in 11 personnel, so that means the Chiefs used 11 personnel all 12 times they were on 3rd down. Cassel was 2-3 with 3rd and 7+ yards to go for 15 yards, including one sack and one scramble. (I consider sacks and scrambles as 'passes' because that was the intent of the play) One of those completions was to Dexter McCluster for 12 yards, that play was on the touchdown drive when the Broncos linebacker fell as McCluster ran into the flat.
The Chiefs sent a player in motion on 13 different plays against the Broncos. Interestingly enough, only one of those thirteen plays didn't have a player motion to the backfield to line up as a fullback. That one play was Dexter McCluster near the goaline as he motioned closer to the ball only to run a route in the flat and get tackled at the one yard line.
The other 12 plays were all designed to have the player in motion line up in the backfield as a fullback. Baldwin filled this role eight times, and Jake O'Connell filled the role on the other four plays. The Chiefs ran seven passes and five runs from this formation. Of those five runs, there were only three times that O'Connell and Dexter McCluster were in the backfield together and each of those times the Chiefs ran the ball. On two of those plays you can see the safety come crashing down to within eight yards of the line of scrimmage as soon as O'Connell goes in motion. Maybe it's something they (Broncos defense) were aware of and maybe the safety was coming down anyways. Although the safety didn't blitz on either play.
When Baldwin motioned to the backfield the Chiefs threw the ball six of the eight times. The two running plays that the Chiefs ran out of this formation and motion gained the Chiefs 16 yards, 10 on a McCluster draw and 6 on a Jackie Battle draw. The interesting thing about these two plays is that on both of these plays Le'Ron McClain was lined up as a wide receiver, which weren't the only times he was lined up as a wideout on the day. They motion Baldwin to the backfield to help block as a fullback while the fullback was playing wide receiver? The Chiefs were obviously looking for a particular matchup and the fact that they gained 8 yards per carry meant they should have been happy with the result.
The Chiefs ran 19 plays from the shotgun and Dexter McCluster led the Chiefs with 15 plays in this formation at running back, followed by Jackie Battle with 3 and Thomas Jones with 1. The Chiefs attempted to throw the ball 17 times from the shotgun formation and failed miserably on all accounts. Cassel was sacked twice and had to scramble twice to avoid pressure, and he went 1-13 when throwing from the shotgun. His lone completion to Dexter McCluster for 12 yards was helped because the Denver Broncos linebacker, DJ Williams fell down attempting to cover him in the flat along the sideline. McCluster only rushed out of this formation when he was standing on Cassel's right side. Cassel was 1-8 with a scramble and a sack when McCluster was to his left.
While these numbers give us a chance to delve further into what the Chiefs might have been thinking in regards to a gameplan and how they want to create specific mismatches from one week to the next. They are still a very small sample size and by charting these games for the rest of the year it will be able to show us how much the gameplan does or doesn't change from one week to the next. If the Chiefs come out and use completely different personnel and motions, we'll know that they were basing their play-calling on what they felt as if Denver would show them from a defensive standpoint. It's the game of chess that NFL head coaches play every week and by charting these plays I'm just hoping to understand some of the board.
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