ReFo: Chiefs @ Bills, Week 9
Ben Stockwell looks at this week's example of the Chief defense carrying the team, further evidence of Kiko Alonso's coverage skills, a how a quick release limited the Hali-Houston rush. ...
ReFo: Chiefs @ Bills, Week 9
Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. There was certainly an element of luck in the circumstances of the Chiefs’ victory in Buffalo yesterday but the key was that, as they have all year, they made the most of their breaks. Doing so, they rode out a ninth straight win that sent them into their bye week still he last remaining unbeaten team in the league.
There has been a lot of debate about the merits of the Kansas City Chiefs as a 9-0 team, where they stand among teams that have reached that mark before and whether they are worthy of that spot. Well, so long as they keep winning they are worthy of that record, the record only states how many times you have won and how many times you have lost. Being 9-0 doesn’t make the Chiefs the de facto best team in the league; that is up to individual interpretation. As they have done at other times this season, the Chiefs set out as much to let the opposition lose the game as they did to win the game themselves, the offense in particular offered almost no spark to set up the win this week. Will that approach work against the better teams in the league? Probably not, but we’ll get to see whether they have a different approach when they start to face tougher assignments after their bye weeks starting with the much-anticipated Sunday night showdown with the Broncos in Denver immediately out of that bye.
The Bills, on the other hand, slide adrift at the foot of the AFC East and will be desperate to get E.J. Manuel back under center in the near future with their long-term development being stunted by his injury, being forced in his absence to hold station with interim signal callers. They were again competitive and but for a 10-point swing (at least) on Sean Smith’s pick-six they might even have been able to knock the Chiefs from the ranks of the undefeated, the touchdowns gifted to the Chiefs by the Buffalo offense proved to be the difference after all.
Kansas City – Three Performances of Note
Dontari Poe; Workhorse nose tackle
The above phrase isn’t something you think of too often in the NFL anymore, a nose tackle is a two-down player who might only play 20 snaps a game (if that) against certain teams, a dwindling force in a league predicated around sub packages and getting after the quarterback. Well Poe is the exception to the rule who, after notching a season-high 82 snaps (out of 82) yesterday, leads all defensive tackles with 582 snaps, admittedly having played a game more than many defensive tackles due to the Chiefs’ relatively late bye. It wasn’t as if Poe was out there just absorbing snaps and absorbing blocks for the sake of it, either… especially not in the run game.
Though he failed to record a pressure for the first time this season, he notched a career-high six defensive stops which helped him earn his highest run defense grade at +3.8, just edging out a +3.0 against Oakland three weeks ago. This was not a vintage Kansas City defensive performance, we have seen far better from them against the pass this season, but Poe maintained his strong form during his second season, developing into a force but also developing a consistency to defy some of his doubters from the pre-draft process.
Quick Release Keeps Rush in Check
The Buffalo Bills dropped back to pass 41 times on Sunday afternoon, plenty of time for the Kansas City Chiefs ferocious pass rush to get after undrafted free agent Jeff Tuel in his first career start, right? Well as it played out now with the Bills getting the ball out of Tuel’s hands quickly to prevent the Chiefs’ pass rush from building any sort of a head of steam. Justin Houston was “limited” to four hurries while, opposite him, Tamba Hali notched a hit and two hurries, both among their lowest production and pass rush grades of the season.
Of those 41 drop-backs, the Chiefs only got pressure on eight, but thanks to Tuel’s inaccuracy they weren’t made to pay for their lack of pressure with Tuel recording a negative grade and poor NFL passer rating whether he was pressured (39.6, -1.4) or not (59.0, -1.5). In spite of this disappointing outing, Houston and Hali still sit second and fourth in terms of pass rushing grade among 3-4 OLBs and hit the bye week with a chance to come out fresh against Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Manning has a similarly quick release (2.3 seconds to release on average this season) but is, obviously, vastly more effective with it. The Chiefs have two weeks to come up with something to get Hali and Houston into Manning’s face on those quick releases or delay the receivers to give them more time to get there.
Is There Anything More?
As I mentioned at the top of this article, the Chiefs are winning efficiently by doing just enough and, at times, simply waiting for the opposition to lose the game while they play conservatively not doing so. That is working for now but at some point the Chiefs and especially Alex Smith at quarterback will be asked to do more than that and the question will be are they capable and in good enough practice of doing so?
Smith aimed only five of his passes more than 10 yards downfield, completing only one for a 20-yard gain to Anthony Fasano over the middle in the third quarter to go with a glaring drop by a wide Dexter McCluster late in the first half. Smith is doing well to limit mistakes and he doesn’t have any more “misses” necessarily than any other quarterback (at least in terms of volume) to be earning his low grade but his grade is so low because those misses aren’t being offset by quality throws to keep the chains moving.
Smith showed strides in San Francisco under Jim Harbaugh in a system that played to his game management strengths, but under Reid in Kansas City thus far he isn’t just being wrapped in cotton wool, he is being buried in it. When the time comes for Smith to make some tougher throws more consistently to keep the Chiefs in a game (it’s hard to think that some serious questions won’t be asked in Denver in two weeks) will he be able to answer the call or will he simply be out of practice on anything but dink-and-dunk throws? Smith has led the Chiefs to 9-0, but is he really battle-tested and set up to make some big throws down the stretch to finish what the Chiefs have started against the front half of their schedule?
Buffalo – Three Performances of Note
Dual threat on the Ground
The Bills’ one-two punch in the backfield delivered in this game with both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller executing their roles in the running and passing games to drive a Bills’ offense that was limited for much of the game by its quarterback. On the ground Spiller providing the spark, most notably with his 61-yard carry on the opening play of the third quarter, while Jackson provided the down-to-down grind and elusiveness forcing seven missed tackles even though he only topped 10 yards on two carries.
Getting the better of every level of the Kansas City defense, the Bills’ dynamic duo in the backfield gave a timely reminder that in spite of their stellar start to the season, this Chiefs defense is as human as any in the league. Combining to force nine missed tackles, Spiller and Jackson were the driving force in setting a season-high for the Chiefs who missed 11 tackles — the first time they have hit double digits this season. Bills fans will hope Jackson and Spiller can continue to perform like this in future weeks when Manuel returns to give this offense a chance to take off under their No. 1 signal caller.
Alonso Shines in Coverage Again
After his string of interceptions to start the season Kiko Alonso has already earned a reputation in some quarters as one of the league’s better coverage linebackers. While such a judgment might be a touch hasty, he certainly lived up to that reputation against the Chiefs on Sunday, registering a pair of stops against the Chiefs’ conservative passing attack and surrendering -3 yards on the two passes targeted into his coverage in the game. He struggled to make a similar impact against the run, but on those two plays, both second-quarter screens, he made good reads to jump the routes and coral Jamaal Charles before he could get into the open field and put his game-breaking speed to good effect.
The second stop was particularly impressive reading the screen and running under Rodney Hudson’s block, as the center pulled to lead the screen left, to tackle Charles immediately as he tried to turn upfield. If Alonso doesn’t make that play running under the block, Charles has a lead from Jeff Allen and space to work. Just another play in pass coverage to stick on Alonso’s highlight reel.
Difficult Outing for Gilmore
Matched up with Dwayne Bowe for much of the game, Stephon Gilmore (-3.5) may not have given up the game-breaking play or surrendered particularly eye-watering stats, but he was consistently second best to the Chiefs’ receiver. His longest reception surrendered may have been only 12 yards, but six of the seven receptions he allowed resulted in a Chiefs’ first down while he gave up another on a pass interference penalty in the third quarter when Bowe had the beating of him on a slant route. There was nothing from Gilmore in the other direction to really redress the balance in his one-on-one battle with Bowe either, and though the Bills can be happy that Gilmore starved Bowe of the big play, he was bested — particularly physically — by Bowe in the routes that were called for him to run. If the Chiefs had looked for anything more adventurous to Bowe than a healthy diet of slants and hitches we might have seen more from this fight.
– Eric Fisher earned his first positive grade since Week 4 with a career-best +2.0 overall grade thanks in part to some solid work in the ground game.
– Making his NFL debut, undrafted free agent Stefan Charles (from the University of Regina in Canada) registered only five snaps but notched two stops in run defense.
– When the Bills sent a base pass rush (17-of-32 drop-backs) Alex Smith completed only eight of 15 passes for a miniscule 1.9 yards per attempt.
PFF Game Ball
In a game short of a truly scintillating performance Dontari Poe’s workhorse performance in the trenches for the Chiefs epitomized his breakout sophomore season.
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Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.