Break It Down: Romeo Crennel, Chiefs solve Packers’ offense
In Break It Down, I will go back and analyze the Xs and Os of a play or performance from Sunday that stood out above the rest.
Whether or not Chiefs interim head coach Romeo Crennel did enough in an upset of the Packers to earn the job permanently, no one can debate that he put together a stellar game plan to derail the previously undefeated defending champs.
The Packers’ worrisome injury situation certainly helped Kansas City’s cause — Greg Jennings’ absence at wide receiver took a huge weapon away from Aaron Rodgers, while tackles Bryan Bulaga and Derek Sherrod both left Sunday’s game due to injury.
But Crennel and the Chiefs didn’t do anything overly complicated to shut down the Packers and hold Rodgers to a 48.5 percent passing percentage.
Let’s take a look at how Kansas City got it done:
The first few pictures all come from the same play, a 3rd-and-10 in the fourth quarter. While it’s just one snap in the course of the game, it’ll give us a terrific overall sense of what the Chiefs tried to do for four quarters.
Rodgers dropped into the shotgun on the play, with three receivers plus tight end Jermichael Finley split out, and running back John Kuhn in the backfield as a blocker. Pay special attention to the Chiefs’ defensive response …
There are nine defenders in the picture, with four rushing and three playing press coverage. This was a theme again and again from Kansas City on Sunday. The Chiefs constantly varied their looks up front — numbers of players in the box, types of rushes employed by the defensive line — but this is more or less what the Packers dealt with.
In essence, Kansas City played a Cover-2 — two safeties deep — with the rest of the secondary and, when needed, linebacking corps employed in a tight man defense.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Chiefs utilized at least five defensive backs on 86 percent of Green Bay’s plays. Why that setup?
Well, it’s two-fold. One, the Chiefs opted to concentrate fully on the pass and bank that the Packers wouldn’t beat them on the ground. And two, Kansas City had enough faith in its defensive front, be it three- or four-man looks, that it didn’t feel the need to blitz aggressively.
Back to that third-down play:
The Chiefs brought Allen Bailey up the middle and Tamba Hali (No. 91; we’ll talk about him more — a lot more — shortly), with Wallace Gilberry and linebacker Justin Houston sliding left. Kuhn hesitated, then slid out as a safety valve option, leaving the Packers exposed at multiple spots.
Bailey got inside on Evan Dietrich-Smith (No. 62), who was forced into the lineup by Bulaga and Sherrod’s injuries. Hali, meanwhile, managed to beat Marshall Newhouse upfield, a theme that recurred over and over again Sunday.
As a result this is what Rodgers saw coming at him:
There’s really nowhere for Rodgers to escape. Everything to his blindside has been closed up, and there are three defenders to his right. Plus, with the Chiefs winning the one-on-one matchups on the line, the pocket disappeared almost immediately.
What you’re looking at in the picture above is the situation just as Rodgers completed his five-step drop. The pocket has already collapsed at that point.
And that brings us back to the press coverage. It can be a risky defensive option, because it asks defenders to lock down receivers one-on-one and can also leave a team vulnerable deep, if the defensive line cannot get pressure on the quarterback.
Only the Chiefs did get to Rodgers, repeatedly. When that happened, the options were limited at best. For example, this is the coverage Rodgers saw just before being sacked by Bailey to end the play we’ve been looking at:
There is no separation at all from the receivers, and no time for Rodgers to wait on someone to come open.
The lack of Jennings as an option hurt — he’s capable of beating most coverage men — but the Chiefs also have a very tough secondary, led by cornerbacks Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr, who can both cover well in man-on-man situations.
Because of that, the Chiefs let that duo roam the outside against Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver and James Jones, leaving safety help over the top in the middle of the field.
Here’s that approach in a nutshell, with Travis Daniels (No. 34) picking up Jermichael Finley (No. 88) up the seam, while safety Sabby Piscatelli (No. 42) closed.
Finley got a fingertip on that Rodgers pass, preventing a Piscatelli interception, but the margin for error was minute. You’ll also notice Nelson locked up on the outside, virtually eliminated as an option for Rodgers.
Another example of the defense, this time against a three-receiver set:
Again, there are nine defenders in the picture, this time on a 1st-and-15.
With four of those nine defenders committed in coverage, however, the Packers had some opportunities to beat Kansas City’s defense on the ground. And when they chose to run, it worked — Ryan Grant finished with 66 yards on 12 carries. But the Packers’ bread and butter is the pass game, so they stuck with it, possibly to a fault Sunday.
But that approach had worked for the Packers for months now. One big reason why it didn’t Sunday was Hali. He destroyed Newhouse on the left side of Green Bay’s line, doing enough damage on a consistent basis to keep Rodgers from settling into a groove.
Hali finished with three sacks, including this outstanding display of athleticism:
Unlike the Bailey sack above, Rodgers had both a pocket and a running lane to step into here — at least for a split-second. Hali, using a speed rush, ran himself several yards into the backfield, to the point where he looked like he was out of position, especially with two Green Bay blockers watching him.
Rodgers still sensed the pressure coming from him and took off for that opening to his left. Hali shook off both blockers and brought Rodgers down around the 20, approximately 10 yards from where he was in the picture above.
With the corners playing well on the outside and Hali dominating on the interior, Crennel was able to play around with his defensive calls.
One last example of Kansas City’s approach from a play late in the second quarter, with the Chiefs en route to a first-half shutout. As with the other plays, Kansas City has nine defenders within four or five yards of the line of scrimmage and two safeties deep.
This time, however, with Rodgers under center and the Packers in an inverted wishbone formation (three “backs” behind Rodgers), the Chiefs went with two down linemen, two stand-up rush lineman — Hali’s on the far right of the K.C. line — and a bunched linebacker formation in the middle of the field.
Rodgers faked a handoff, then wound up throwing incomplete downfield to a covered Driver, as Hali threatened on the outside.
The defensive approach was terrific by Kansas City Sunday, but the execution was off the charts.
This wasn’t the first time Green Bay had seen a defense like this — Detroit tried similar tactics on Thanksgiving Day, for example. However, the Lions struggled to maintain pressure up front and did not have the secondary weapons to stay with the Packers’ stacked receiving corps.
The Chiefs succeeded in both areas, flustering Rodgers and locking down his potential receivers.
It was a sensational performance by Kansas City’s defense, no matter how many players were missing from Green Bay’s lineup.