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Defensive Analysis: Cardinals’ 26-14 Loss to Chiefs

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard to imagine that Steve Wilks and Al Holcomb didn’t have the defense ready to account for speedy WR Tyreek Hill.

Play 1: 38 yard pass from Patrick Mahomes to Tyreek Hill

But then you look at the tape and realize that on the first play—-an easy 38 yard completion up the left sideline to a wide open Hill—-Wilks and Holcomb had their best CB, Pro Bowler Patrick Peterson, assigned to Hill in man coverage. Take another look for yourself:

Patrick Peterson had a chance from the very outset to make a statement to Hill that it was going to be a long, hard day. The bigger, stronger, more experienced Peterson needed to make that impression with a punishing jam in press coverage—-except that Peterson never even tried to get a hand on Hill—-then Peterson left the sideline gate wide open as if he was expecting Hill to run an in-route that Peterson could trail underneath—-and when it was clear that Hill was on a go route instead, Peterson trotted after him at 34 speed, likely thinking that he didn’t want to get spotted behind Hill on the highlight tape, and then when Hill caught the ball and was hit out of bounds by FS Tre’ Boston, Peterson had the gall to chew Boston out for all the world to see.

Not a good look—-from a team captain hanging a teammate out to dry, especially when the result of the play was far more his own fault than his teammate’s.

Teaching point—-with a deep threat WR as explosive as Hill, you cannot play normal deep safety rules—-Hill is just too fast. You typically have to commit the double team to him—-and bracket him right off the snap.

Play 2: Patrick Mahomes 37 yard TD pass to Tyreek Hill

The Chiefs line up in a full shotgun spread—-twins left—-trips right.

The Cardinals are in a man coverage under with 2 deep safeties.

The deep safety to the left (side of the twins), Antoine Bethea, is shaded a little more toward the sideline than usual. When Bethea sees WR Chris Conley coming on a go route, Bethea plays him over the top.

On the right side—-with trips to that side and Tyreek Hill in the innermost slot, S Tre’ Boston is shaded farther to the right to be able to cover deep middle—-deep seams—-deep sideline. Remember there are two receivers to the outside of Hill, with only Baker (inside) and Peterson (outside) to that side—-and boston has already been chewed out by Peterson.

This is why playing safety in the NFL is so difficult. it is hard enough to protect the deep seam and the deep sideline at the same time—-but add the deep middle to that equation and it is not humanly possible—-not with a speedster like Hill on the loose.

This play had been perfectly choreographed by Andy Reid.

Hill knows—-pre-snap—-when the Cardinals 2 safeties are shading toward the seams and sidelines, that he has one man to beat on the play and it is the nickel CB Budda Baker. There is no nickel CB in the NFL who can run stride for stride with Hill. Baker runs as fast as he can in the= chase, but Hill blows right by him on an angle that splits the two deep safeties.

Look at where Hill ends up.

Baker, like Peterson, is showing up Tre’ Boston after the play, but the deep safety actually closest to the play is Antoine Bethea, who took himself out of the play by hugging the sideline.

Again—-in a spread formation like this with Hill in the slot—-the better counter is to have a FS in the middle of the field, who can commit to the double team on Hill deep.

Teaching point: Had the Cardinals shown a Cover 3 (middle FS), Hill would have run a deep cross, not a deep post. These are the pre-snap communications the QB and his WRs make and understand.

Play 3: Short pass turned into long gain by Hill.

The Chiefs are in a shotgun formation with TE to left and trips to right with Hill once again in the inner most slot position.

The Cardinals are countering this time with a 4 zone under 2 deep zone with man-to-man on TE Travis Kelce (Benwikere), but now on pre-snap Tre’ Boston is shading the middle. So how do the Chiefs counter?

Off the snap they sprint/sneak Hill behind the line of scrimmage.

Notice that no Cardinal is chasing him—-which confirms they are zoning the play. All Hill has to do is catch the pass and beat the OLB around the corner, who in this case is Haason Reddick—-which Hill does—-but Reddick makes a heck of an effort. Now—-even BA lauded the play design because Hill is fast enough to beat the Cardinals’ fastest LB. Benwikere does a good job of leaving his man (Kelce) and helping to force Hill out of bounds and Boston is right behind him.

Play 4: The 2nd TD to Hill

I don’t have a video of this by I know it by memory. Hill again was in the inner most slot to the right. He runs a skinny post where he and Mahomes know that if there is no safety in the middle, Mahomes throws it over the top of the linebacker. But if there is a safety in the middle (and there was in Tre’ Boston), then Hill is going to stop on a dime one yard into the end zone for a curl.

Josh Bynes picks up Hill man for man—-which I am certain the Chiefs have seen on the Cardinals’ tapes, because game after game the Cardinals have Bynes covering slots over the middle. Bynes actually busts his butt to stay with Hill, but when Hill stops, Bynes can’t stop his momentum.

This is where Tre’ Boston makes a mistake. By now he is committed to Hill. He knows Bynes is on Hill’s other side and that he (Boston) has to gain inside leverage on Hill if Hill stops. It’s a tough play because Boston doesn’t know that Hill is going to stop, but when Hill does, Boston cannot let Hill leverage him, which Hill does—and makes the TD catch with Boston on his backside. Patrick Mahomes threw that pass at the precise time with the perfect amount of zip and accuracy.

In the 2nd half the Cardinals’ defense played its best football of the season. Wilks and Holcomb made very good adjustments and counters for what they saw in the first half.

Mahomes, Hill and Kelce all had sleepy 2nd halfs—-and the Chiefs’ were kept well below their offensive averages—-at Arrowhead, no less!

The job the Cardinals did on Kelce—-limiting him to 46 yards on 6 catches—-was fantastic. When Kelce did catch the ball, Bethea and Baker and Benwikere tackled him immediately.

The defense forced 3 straight punts.

The Cardinals’ pressure on Mahomes was outstanding. 5 sacks: Jones (2), Gunter, Mayowa and Bynes.

The Cardinals held the Chiefs to just 4 of 11 3rd down conversions.

Who would have believed that Bene Benwikere would become the Cardinals’ most physical CB?

Who would have believed that Rodney Gunter is making a decent case for being the Cardinals most well-rounded (vs. run and pass) DT?

Now the challenge for Wilks and Holcomb is to get the defense better prepared to start the game, especially if Wilks is going to continue to defer the ball when winning the coin toss.

The coaches need to coach Haason Reddick not to run right into a logjam over the center, as he did once again when the Chiefs ran Kareem Hunt up the middle for 17 yards. Reddick needs to “scrape” to the hole. That’s a technique that a player unaccustomed to playing ILB needs to hone. On the plus side, Reddick’s edge rush on the first TD was good, Mahomes stepped up in time, but Reddick was bending the edge.