Defending Arrowhead Stadium on Monday Night Football, the Kansas City Chiefs can put another statement game on their 2017 resume. In a matchup pitting two historic NFL franchises against each other, the Chiefs will be playing the mysterious Washington Redskins. The Redskins entered the season with questions surrounding their franchise, and in the first three weeks, their 2-1 record only raised more questions. For the Chiefs, the schematic breakdown will fundamentally come down to head coach Andy Reid out coaching Redskins coach Jay Gruden. The emphasis is shutting down a scheme more so than shutting down specific players. Emphasize assertive play, and the Chiefs blitz packages can throw off Kirk Cousins rhythm. Conversely, the Chiefs need to protect Alex Smith from a hyperbolic pass rush. With the major questions of rhythm yet to be answered for the Redskins, the Chiefs scheme breakdown points toward a matchup fundamentally about adhering to tradition.
Through the beginning of the season, the Chiefs have maturely adhered to their scheme and tempo. Despite the different schemes thrown at them, Reid marched to his own tune and dominated with outstanding fundamentals through the run and pass game. That is, except for penalties. The Chiefs are the most penalized team in the NFL, with 33 penalties on 546 plays.
Starting with penalties is fundamental to operating a scheme; regardless of the chess match played, the Chiefs giving up precious tide-turning plays to the opportunistic Cousins is detrimental. Playing sound football begins with playing smart every single play.
Execution of those fundamental plays begin with the offensive line, again. This can be a repeating chalk board point. The Chiefs offensive line is key to success over the tenure of the season. Smith has been hit 17 times, and sacked 12 times, marking them as the third worst statistical pass protectors in the league.
Importance of the offensive line is extrapolated by the technique Preston Smith and Ryan Kerrigan bring to the Redskins pass rush. Eric Fisher, who has been limited in practice, and Mitchell Schwartz will be facing respective communication tests. The Redskins new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky has incorporated different blitzes from his linebackers, making the linebacker unit a rotating attack front.
The question around the pass rush is the realism of their potency. Smith and Kerrigan played passionately at FedEx Field, but will that carry over to a road game? Considering the myriad of blitz looks, and subsequent unpredictability, the Redskins may have a pass rush based on scheme, rather than any individual player. Regardless, rookie Jonathan Allen has flashed early in part to the offensive line focusing on linebacker movement, thus letting him charge off the edge on isolations. Hence, Monday night will be a cerebral game for the Chiefs offensive line to identify true packages.
Tying directly into the pass rush scheme is the pass coverage. D.J. Swearinger and Montae Nicholson have stepped up as adequate to very good ball hawks in the center of the field. Their physicality downfield, and the pass rush up front, has been key to the Redskins defensive success. The defensive synthesis is that the pass rush creates pressure, Swearinger battles receivers in zone coverage, and while the receiver is thrown off his route, the quarterback is baited into a bad throw.
While the nuances are more technical, playing power football ought to be able to burn the Redskins. Kareem Hunt’s vision and zip is a technique precedent for beating blitz packages. When Kerrigan or Zach Brown are creeping in on blitz, opting for a jet sweep, or motion set then run, will create over pursuit from linebackers.
Further assisting the Chiefs is the connection between center Mitch Morse (if he plays) and Smith. When the Chiefs utilize motion for Albert Wilson, Hunt, or Tyreek Hill, a linebacker or safety is forced to motion and adjust. Thus, that linebacker is forced to reveal his intentions on the play, removing the intrinsic deception involved in the Redskins defense. Morse and Smith’s connection allows for them to break down defenses on a higher level.
Every bit of understanding the mystery that is the Redskins defense will allow a high I.Q. offense to pick them apart. The Redskins have essentially shut down deep passes, allowing a mere 66 traditional quarterback rating. Smith may look more like his old hyper-efficient self, in the short game, but a few runs and motions may draw in safeties and let Hill’s speed burn Josh Norman for a statement touchdown.
Cousins and Gruden have combined to create a resilient and smart passing attack. Cousins may be only an average quarterback talent wise, but with Gruden’s coaching and understanding of how to make the most of offensive weapons, Cousins’ natural intangibles and understanding have elevated him to a franchise quarterback.
The biggest question for the Redskins was the lack of wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. Both played an intrinsic part to their 2016 mix of under and over routes. Yet, without their presence, much like the Redskins defense, the offense is a mysterious box.
As obvious as it can be, the Chiefs plan of attack begins like the Redskins; stop Cousins before he can get the pass off. The Redskins have allowed 18 quarterback hits, but only seven sacks on the season. Two underlying notes are derived from that stat line.
First, Cousins has the propensity to get quickly get rid of the ball and mitigate pressure. Again, Gruden has bestowed a veteran presence onto his youthful quarterback. Second, the potential to collapse the pocket exists. While Cousins burns defenses who attempt to blitz him, the emphatic notion is on collapsing the pocket internally and blocking fundamental lanes of passing.
Rhythm is synonymous with the Redskins offense. Terrelle Pryor and running back Chris Thompson have been installed into the 2017 Redskins offense as advantageous attacks. Their rhythm is specific to the way Cousins picks apart a defense, hurries to the line, then dumps off a pass to the flats for Thompson. Thompson has a unique burst in his step, much like Hunt of the Chiefs, to turn short passes into explosive plays.
The other two receivers that have operated in dramatic fashion for the Redskins are Jamison Crowder and Vernon Davis. Davis, the tight end, is currently filling in for the injured Jordan Reed. The key to his success is athleticism in creating mismatched pass sets. Fortunately for the Chiefs, Ron Parker and Daniel Sorensen will continue to shut down the middle passing schemes.
Further, apropos to the pass rush, their effort may force Reed and Thompson to stay in as a chip-blocker.
If the routes to Davis are shut down, the emphasis is again on Phillip Gaines and Terrance Mitchell. With Marcus Peters on one side, most likely blanketing Pryor, then Mitchell will be placed upon Ryan Grant. Combining the emphatic pass rush to throw Cousins off rhythm, Peters and Mitchell may have another interception party as the game draws on.
Summarizing the Plan of Attack
The Chiefs plan of attack on Monday night begins with smart, fundamental football. Between Smith and Morse, the Chiefs need superior intelligence to overcome the under rated intelligence in the Redskins scrappy defense. Creating major lanes for Hunt to pound the ball is key to wearing down the defense down and adhering to a power game plan.
On the flip side of the ball, the Chiefs are facing a Redskins offense that is operating outside of its traditional function of the past few years. The mystery box can be defeated with a tenacious pass rush that mitigates the rhythm Cousins holds dearly. Thus, as the game goes on, the pass rush will create desperation and subsequently throw Cousins off, creating an interception party.
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