Chiefs Run Defense Struggles Again vs. Titans

For a team with a quarterback as dangerous as Patrick Mahomes, where the easiest way to stop him is to keep him off the field, the Chiefs’ inability to defend the run is a major issue. On Sunday, Tennessee’s success on the ground didn’t keep Mahomes on the sidelines like previous losses to the Colts and Texans did. In fact, Kansas City won the time of possession battle handily. Instead, it led to big plays on the ground, consistent yards, and 35 points for the Titans’ Ryan-Tannehill-led offense.

With the exception of a 52-yard completion that set up Tennessee’s first touchdown, the Chiefs Defense had a good first half. They were able to get off the field, holding the Titans without a 3rd-down conversion through the first 30 minutes. They even generated a turnover on a Chris Jones sack-fumble.

With just over 6 minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter, that all changed.

The Titans called an outside zone run to the left. Focus on defensive tackle Joey Ivey (#93) and linebacker Reggie Ragland (#59) below. Ivey was too easily displaced. Ragland got caught running sideways and over-pursuing.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

The result was a huge cutback lane for Derrick Henry. Throw in missed tackles by Chris Jones (#95) and safety Juan Thornhill (#22), and Henry went nearly untouched for a 68-yard touchdown.

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Show me a defense that has trouble stopping the run, and I’ll show you a defense whose D-linemen are getting moved off the ball. I’ll show you linebackers who are slow to attack the line of scrimmage and get caught up in the wash while moving sideways. I’ll show you box defenders that don’t maintain gap integrity, and I’ll show you poor tackling. The above touchdown had it all. It wasn’t the only run of the afternoon that showed these same poor qualities.

On this next run in the 4th quarter, focus on defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi (#91) and linebacker Reggie Ragland (#59) again. Watch Nnadi get completely removed from the play and Ragland get pinned inside, creating the running lane for Henry.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

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On the below power run, watch Nnadi (#91) again get easily displaced and driven off the ball on the down block by the right guard.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

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Also pay close attention to linebacker Damien Wilson (#54) and safety Daniel Sorensen (#49), who ended up in the same gap on the outside. This again created a nice running lane for Henry.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

Tennessee finished the afternoon with 225 yards rushing on 26 carries. That’s 8.7 yards per carry. You’re not going to win many games with that type of defensive performance.

K.C.’s pass defense has been better than it’s run defense – that is to say, they’ve been middle of the road compared to the rest of the NFL. This is largely due to their pass rush, which can help cover for lots of blemishes in the secondary.

Through most of the game on Sunday, the pass rush was able to do enough. They sacked Tannehill 4 times and helped alleviate a shorthanded DB corps missing Kendall Fuller. Down the stretch, however, Kansas City could not get enough pressure on Tannehill, and this left them exposed in the passing game.

The Titans were able to cover 43 yards on two plays to take the lead for good with 29 seconds remaining. Both completions came against 2-man coverage (two deep safeties with man coverage underneath). In 2-man, the underneath defenders generally play with a trail technique, meaning they get in between the quarterback and the receiver and play to their safety help over the top. As a result, the best way to beat 2-man is to attack with routes that break laterally. This is exactly what the Titans did (Chiefs fans have probably seen enough of this coverage after getting burned with it several times down the stretch last season).

On the first completion, Tannehill was able to hit his tight end, Anthony Firkser (#86) who was matched on safety Daniel Sorensen (#49) for 20 yards.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

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That’s way too easy with the game on the line and where the pressure should be all on the offense’s shoulders.

Tannehill then went to wide receiver Adam Humphries (#10), who gave a little move to the outside before cutting back to the middle against cornerback Rashad Fenton (#27).

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

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You can see that Tannehill was able to operate from a clean pocket on both plays.

The Chiefs are in some real trouble on defense right now. They were already banged up before losing their sack leader, defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, for the season. As shown above, they are vulnerable on the back end when they can’t get to the quarterback.

Kansas City’s run defense is in worse shape. The Chiefs have now lost 3 games primarily due to their inability to stop opposing rushing attacks. They are allowing 5.1 yards per carry this season, which ranks 30th in the NFL. They are 2nd-to-last in rushing yards per game. Only the 0-9 Bengals are worse. This is not a formula for winning in January.

Defense has been the Achilles heel of the Chiefs Defense since the start of the Patrick Mahomes era in 2018. As great as Mahomes is, we’ve seen this story play out before. Go back and look at the careers of quarterbacks like Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees. Even the best of the best can’t overcome bad defenses to win championships. Don’t count on Mahomes’ season ending any differently if the Chiefs don’t get their issues corrected.

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