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Blitzing Your Defense Dizzy?

Syndication: Arizona Republic Michael Chow/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

Background: Sep 11, 2022; Glendale, Arizona, United States; Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph watches his players during the fourth quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs at State Farm Stadium. Credit: Michael Chow/The Republic/USA Today Network

Is there such a thing as an NFL defensive coordinator blitzing his own players dizzy?

In the aftermath of the Arizona Cardinals’ 44-21 Week 1 home loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, it was revealed that Vance Joseph blitzed Patrick Mahomes on 54% of the Chiefs’ 66 plays. That would mean a total of 36 blitzes.

Amazingly, none of those 36 blitzes resulted in a sack.

Amazingly, Patrick Mahomes (30/39, 360 yds., 5 TDs, 0 ints., 0 sacks, 94.1 QBR) calmly sidestepped every inch of pressure he felt while, according the Next-Gen stats, setting an NFL record for the highest completion percentage versus man-to-man defense. By their account, here were Mahomes three most improbable completions: (quick 3 play video)

#3 —- 42.9% —- the 35 yard seam pass to TE Travis Kelce threaded into triple coverage

#2 —- 36.6% —- the 1 yard looping TD pass to TE Joe Fortson

#1 —- 34.8% —- the 9 yard TD corner pass to TE Travis Kelce

After the game, many Cardinals’ fans were wondering and lamenting why “star linebacker” Isaiah Simmons struggled so much in this game.

This was Simmons’ first game, not only in his new role as “star LB”,, but as the designated signal caller with the “green dot” on defense.

Imagine then what it must have been like for Isaiah Simmons to relay the 36 blitz calls to his his teammates and then, with each one, remember himself where to line up in the formation and remember what his assignment was on that play. Adapting after every call, all in a matter of frantic seconds.

For a young player who is still trying to find his niche in Vance Joseph’s defense, as it turns out, to no one but perhaps Vance Joseph’s surprise, that little “green dot” can carry the weight of a 100 pound dumbbell.

Imagine then, how it would feel to have to run with a 100 round dumbbell of your helmet.

If Isaiah Simmons’ legs looked a little rubbery, perhaps by now, you know why.

On Mahomes first TD to Travis Kelsey, (pictured as the #1 toughest completion), credit Isaiah Simmons for making this play Mahomes’ most difficult completion. Simmons dogged Kelce pretty well on this play and was fraction away from being able to break up the pass.

Imagine then what it was like for the rest of the defensive players to have to receive the calls from Simmons and then immediately know where to line up and understand precisely what their assignments were.

Let’s not forget that Vance Joseph juggled in all kinds of lineups, consisting of different players, throughout the game.

Now, to be clear, being aggressive on defense is a good and very advisable thing. But, if the blitzing aggressiveness isn’t matched with pass covering aggressiveness, then the reasonable question is, would it be better to use the maximum number of pass defenders in coverage more often than 46% of the time? Particularly when the blitzes weren’t working?

Like, instead of blitzing a safety, use him to double teamTE Travis Kelce (8/121yds./15.1ave./1TD)? You know, to give young guys like Isaiah a little help versus a perennial All-Pro?

The good news is it appears that most of the players understood their assignments —- the tough news is that on top of no blitzer or pass rusher sacking Mahomes, the majority of the defenders were ineffective in pass coverage, particularly Joseph’s host of linebackers (save for Gardeck, Kennard and Vallejo who combined for only 10 snaps). PFF coverage grades:

  • 92.5 —- Gardeck (4 snaps)
  • 77.3 —- Kennard (2 snaps)
  • 63.0 —- Vallejo (4 snaps)
  • 59.6 —- Ledbetter (1 snap)
  • 58.6 —- Fotu (2 snaps)
  • 57.4 —- Baker (38 snaps)
  • 56.9 —- Murphy (43 snaps)
  • 55.5 —- J. Thompson (44 snaps)
  • 52.0 —- Wilson (42 snaps)
  • 49.7 —- Simmons (36 snaps)
  • 46.1 —- Allen (1 snap)
  • 36.7 —- Whittaker (5 snaps)
  • 31.2 —-Vigil (19 snaps)
  • 29.8 —- Turner (9 snaps)
  • 29.4 —- Collins (28 snaps)
  • 29.0 —- Golden (4 snaps)

The dizzying aspect of these blitzing assignments was compounded by the players having to cover an assortment of different receivers.

For example, there were times when Zaven Collins was assigned to cover the Chief’s fastest receiver Mecole Hardman. What? True. JuJu Smith-Schuster too. At times he covered the TEs. At times he covered the RBs. Collins made one of the few great coverage plays of the day when he blanketed speedy RB Jerick McKinnon’s wheel route on a failed 3rd down conversion.

Think of what multiple assignments mean for the players’ week of preparation —- this would require each cover man to study multiple receivers.

There are so many moving parts here that it is dizzying just to chart them.

What is somewhat encouraging is that while the grades for the starting CBs and Ss are not great, they are not failing grades, either.

This means, just as we saw with Wilson, Murphy, Baker and Thompson, they were often close enough in coverage, but against a magical needle-threader like Patrick Mahomes, close enough is all too often not quite good enough.

Two weeks ago, when cuts were made and the Cardinals acquired CBs Trayvon Mullen and Javelin Guidry, it now feels very foolish of me to have tweeted this out:

What I have always believed, it is better to give your CBs and LBs set assignments. One, for simplifying their study assignments (of having to study 1-2 WRs, TEs or RBs, rather than 5-6). Two, the more snaps they get in the game versus the same receiver, the more accustomed they become to defending their pass routes. By the 4th quarter, when they have been covering the same receivers all game long, they can have a stronger sense of confidence, because of the familiarity they have gained the first 3 quarters about their route running styles and habits.

Little did I know at the time that Trayvon Mullen (toe) was not going to be able to play versus the Chiefs. That’s too bad because having played the Chiefs numerous times in the AFC West, Mullen would have had good familiarity with Mahomes and Andy Reid’s offense.

In my wildest dreams, I never imagined this:

But —- knowing now what Vance Joseph’s blitzing game plan for the Chiefs was, how could he get any new CB ready to play in his defense? Not with all those moving parts —- and not without giving the CBs set assignments.

To make matters worse, the day after the Cardinals acquired Mullen and Guidry, with a chance for the first time to practice with the 53 man roster, new players and the new 16 players practice squad, Kliff Kingsbury cancelled Thursday’s practice so that the team could get head start on a long weekend.

Essentially, Michael Bidwill, Steve Keim, Kliff Kingsbury and the coaches decided to treat the week of roster moves, cuts and additions as a BYE week.

This is unthinkable to me. Therefore, as a loyal fan, I feel as ripped off as the half of the stadium of Cardinals fans who paid their hard earned money to come watch that completely unacceptable embarrassment of a performance.

How did Javelin Guidry ever had a chance?

Keim and the coaches must have thought, hey, we need to promote Jace Whittaker because at least he knows the defense and the blitz calls. So, with 5 RBs and a whopping 6 ILBs on their 53 man roster Keim, Kingsbury and Joseph decide to cut Guidry.

And now Guidry is a Raider.

Following cuts week, the Chiefs signed S James Wiggins to their practice squad —- and the Chiefs, after giving their starters some valuable reps in the pre-season games actually spent the week of cuts and additions practicing. Wiggins would have had lots to say about Joseph’s blitz packages.

Not only did the Chiefs know the blitzes were coming, they appeared to know where the blitzes were coming from:

  • G Joe Thuney —- 79.0
  • T Andrew Wiley —- 77.6
  • C Creed Humphrey —- 75.9
  • G trey Smith —- 72.1
  • T Orlando Brown Jr. —- 68.3

How well were the Chiefs prepared?

How well were the Cardinals prepared?

Chiefs’ offense:

  • 66 plays
  • 33 first downs
  • 44 points
  • Back-to-back TDs to start each half
  • 488 yards

Cardinals’ offense:

  • 63 plays
  • 18 first downs
  • 21 points
  • 1st 2 drives of 1st half, PUNT, TD. First 2 drives of 2nd half: PUNT, PUNT.
  • 282 yards

Chiefs Rookies’ Contributions: (in the order in which they were drafted)

  • CB Trent McDuffie —- 32 snaps —- 69.8
  • DE George Karlaftis —- 51 snaps —- 63.5
  • WR Skyy Moore —- 13 snaps —- 91.6
  • S Bryan Cook —- 22 snaps —- 58.1
  • CB Joshua Williams —-15 snaps —- 76.3
  • CB Jaylan Watson —- 33 snaps —- 70.3
  • RB Isiah Pacheco —- 16 snaps —- 53.4

Note: All 3 of their rookie CBs grades are high than the Cardinals starters at CB.

Note: this is why so many of us Cardinals’ fans were frustrated that Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray never really picked on or tested these rookies. It’s like Kingsbury and Murray were completely unaware of them.

Cardinals’ Rookies’ Contributions (in the order in which they were drafted):

  • TE Trey McBride —- inactive
  • DE Cameron Thomas —- 4 snaps —- 73.1
  • DE Myjai Sanders —-inactive
  • RB Keaontay ingram —- inactive
  • C Lecitus Smith —- 8 snaps —- 54.3
  • CB Christian Matthew —- 1 snap —- 67.5
  • DE Jesse Luketa —- practice squad/inactive
  • G Marquis Hayes —- IR

When you look at the Chiefs’ picks, aren’t they pretty much exactly what the Cardinals needed?

Yet, even if the Chiefs and Cardinals had swapped drafts, how many of the Chiefs’ picks would have had prominent roles in Week 1 the way they had this week with the Chiefs?

Is there such a thing as an NFL defensive coordinator blitzing his own players dizzy?

By now, this is a rhetorical question, isn’t it?