The Kansas City Chiefs defense has some weak spots the Lions could exploit this week offensively.
This week, the Detroit Lions will be hosting the Kansas City Chiefs in a big week four home game at Ford Field. While the Chiefs defense has gotten off to a great start productivity wise, the defense has struggled at times. The Lions offense under Darrell Bevell so far has been pretty impressive and it’s been a nice improvement from the 2018 season. The Chiefs defense on the other hand has changed drastically since last year, however their results haven’t changed much.
Kansas City Chiefs Defense Part 1- Run Defense
The Kansas City Chiefs run defense so far this season has been pretty poor on paper. They’ve struggled to contain Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards, Leonard Fournette, and Josh Jacobs. Last year the Chiefs allowed a league worst 4.9 yards per carry. This year however, they’ve dipped to 6.2 per carry, which is also worst in the league. The second worst run defense so far this season has been the Miami Dolphins, who allow 5.4 yards per carry.
This shouldn’t take a lot of effort for the Lions to exploit this week. The Lions interior offensive line have performed quite well this season the first three weeks, and we should expect that to continue vs. a relatively weak Kansas City Chiefs defense against the run. While the Lions are coming off a bit of a down week on the ground against the Eagles, Philadelphia is second in the league in run defense at 2.9 per carry behind only the New England Patriots.
With the Lions facing Kansas City, the main goal to driving on Kansas City and running down the clock this week is mainly limit turnovers and follow the blocks on the play. These are some things Kerryon Johnson does pretty well, which should lead to a great match-up for the Detroit Lions. Especially if Frank Ragnow wins his likely battle against Chris Jones, the Chiefs arguably best defender.
First Downs Matter
Another aspect of note with the Chiefs run defense is their first down rate allowed. The Kansas City Chiefs defense allows a first down on 34.85% of run plays, which is eighth worst in the league. The Lions should be able to move the chains pretty consistently on the ground this week. If the Lions keep picking up first downs, it could make for a low possession game the Lions would favor against a potent Chiefs offense.
The analytics and metrics don’t favor the Chiefs defense either. Football Outsiders has the Chiefs defense against the run as: last in adjusted line yards, and second level yards, second worst in stuffed rate, and third worst in open field yards. They’re also 21st in the league in stopping power runs.
Football Outsiders details where the potential cause of the Kansas City Chiefs defense struggling so far this season could come from, and it’s largely due to runs they allow up the middle and to the right side of the offensive line. The Chiefs EDGE defense on both sides is right around average, and they’re top ten against the left tackle (where Frank Clark comes into play). However, they’re 32nd in runs behind the center, guards, and right tackle. If the Lions are able to exploit this by running behind essentially anyone except Taylor Decker, it could be a big day for the Lions on the ground.
Kansas City Defense Part 2- Pass Defense
While the Kansas City Chiefs defense changed a lot over the off-season, another area of their team that hasn’t improved a lot just yet is their pass rush. Frank Clark received a lot of buzz this off-season after the Chiefs made the move to acquire him from the Seattle Seahawks. The addition so far hasn’t been a game changer for them yet from a pass rush standpoint however, as the Chiefs defense averages a sack on 6.1% of drop backs per Football Outsiders, which is 20th in the NFL.
This average pass rush could be why the Chiefs are pretty average in coverage as well. The Chiefs are between 10 and 20 in almost every pass defense category, which is how they’re able to help get the ball back in Patrick Mahomes’ hands. Their secondary is led by Tyrann Mathieu who’s a solid safety on the back end and Bashaud Breeland at the corner position.
The Chiefs are also still learning their new defense under long time New York Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. They have had a bit of trouble adjusting to this new scheme on film as well. There were multiple occasions over the Raiders and Jaguars games where Gardner Minshew and Derek Carr either missed open receivers, elected to play conservative and hit a check down, or threw an inaccurate pass to a receiver who easily could’ve made the catch.
On one particular play, a second and four situation, the Raiders had as many as five open pass catchers. Two of whom were down the field, two more of which were at the marker. Instead, Carr elected to try and throw the dump off to the running back in the flat (who was also a wide open receiver) and led his target Jalen Richard out of bounds to force a third down from their own 31. There were multiple plays like this that showed up on tape in both match-ups, and it was not restricted to one play or coverage.
Overall Game Plan Against the Kansas City Chiefs Defense
While the Chiefs have a lot of weak spots on the defensive side of the ball, specifically against the run, there are a couple that the Lions should specifically target and exploit this coming week.
The first of which is rushing away from Frank Clark. Clark typically lines up on the left tackle, in the Lions case Taylor Decker and has found success in limiting opponents rushing to his side so far. Everywhere else however the Chiefs have struggled. Run away from Clark, and the Lions should see success with Kerryon Johnson, Ty Johnson and perhaps a little bit of Matthew Stafford.
Secondly, avoiding Tyrann Mathieu. Mathieu is the one standout play-maker in the Chiefs secondary that Stafford must be aware of at all times. He’s a player who can flip the field with one big play and completely change the momentum the Chiefs way. The Lions have a variety of weapons, so finding one that is not being covered by Mathieu should be a priority.
Third, don’t make silly or careless mistakes. If the Lions self inflict struggle on themselves with a fumble or some other costly play in a key situation (perhaps a third down error), the Lions could be giving the Chiefs the game. Being efficient should be a high priority, but protecting the ball and limiting turnovers at almost any cost should be the primary focus this week.
Fourth, attack the Kansas City Chiefs defense by calling a good game plan. Darrell Bevell, the Lions offensive coordinator will be a key factor in who comes out on top this week. So far Bevell has called three pretty good games for the Lions offense. If he can effectively keep up what he’s done the first three weeks, the Lions have a good chance of putting up points against Kansas City.
Finally, utilizing all three vertical and horizontal levels of the field. Along with spreading the ball around to different pass catchers this week, the Lions need to vary where the route concepts they utilize are. Being able to attack short with a slant, down the field with a vertical stem, but also move the chains effectively in the intermediate part of the field will be a big advantage to this offense. Additionally utilizing both boundaries as well as the middle of the field, especially in passing situations that call for draining clock (say a third and medium up by a single score with less than five minutes to go until halftime) will be a benefit to the Lions offense this week.
Additional Keys To Watch
One thing to keep an eye out for in terms of situational football this week will be how well the Lions turn field goals into touchdowns. Converting red zone opportunities in particular will be something the Lions need to do to win games this week. The Chiefs defense in the red zone so far this season is
Also, the Lions getting off to a hot start against the Kansas City Chiefs defense would be great to build momentum and get the crowd into the game early. Kansas City’s first quarter defense isn’t all that hot either, which could hopefully allow the Lions to come out of the gate firing the first shot in the game. The Chiefs are 28th in first quarter points per game allowed at 7.7 per. If the Lions can exploit that and force the Chiefs to play from behind, it could lead to more rushing plays on offense and a greater chance of a rare mistake from Mahomes on defense.
Being aggressive in the fourth quarter will also be extremely critical to winning this week’s game. Like the first quarter, the Chiefs defense struggles late in games and has had a bit of issues with conceding points at the end of games. This could partially be from conditioning issues they face due to their offense getting off the field in short drives even if they maintain time of possession. The Lions can exploit that by playing a full 60 minutes on offense and never backing off whether its a tie game or they’re up/down by 21.