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The Lounge>Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen Looked Unstoppable. This Defense Stopped Them.
MahomesMagic 02:44 PM 11-24-2021
Defenses are increasingly using schemes that guard against big gains, and it’s helping quash the big-time plays that have taken the NFL by storm in recent years.

By Andrew Beaton

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen walked into an October matchup against the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars as the leader of the NFL’s highest-scoring team, a Super Bowl favorite that routinely exploded for huge gains.

But against one of the NFL’s worst teams, Allen ran into a problem: a popular defensive scheme teams are reviving specifically to contain quarterbacks like him and Patrick Mahomes, the types of players who can torch defenses with a single flick of their wrists.

Defenses are using “two-high” schemes more and more to limit the big-time plays that have taken the NFL by storm in recent years. There are various varieties of two-high concepts, but the general idea is that it involves two safeties who camp out deep down the field to guard against big gains.

Against the Jaguars, when the Bills saw their high-powered offense get unplugged in a 9-6 loss, Allen saw these defensive looks 57% of the time—more than he had in any regular season game over the last three seasons, according to Sports Info Solutions. Allen saw a lot of it again on Sunday in the Bills’ 41-15 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

“Offenses have to adjust,” says Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy, “and find ways to attack it.”

Dungy is an authority on the subject as an architect of perhaps the most famous two-high defense in NFL history. When Dungy was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ coach from 1996 to 2001, his team mastered a variant of the “Cover-2” defense, in which two safeties each sit deep and cover half of the field. It was so iconic it became eponymous: the Tampa-2 defense.

The scheme eventually fell out of vogue and evolved—the Tampa-2 defense isn’t suddenly re-emerging to reconquer professional football. But the general philosophies behind it are increasingly prevalent. While Cover-2 accounts for only around 10%-12% of snaps these days, the number of two-high snaps—which include other variations featuring four deep defenders, like “quarters”—is up to about 36%.
That’s a jump from 29% just a few years ago, according to SIS.

The fundamental idea driving all of these types of schemes is the same. With defenders focused on closing off areas farther down the field, the space closer to the line of scrimmage is more open. In effect, it dares offenses to beat them by running the ball or throwing short passes—and getting down the field through a collection of small gains in lieu of a few big ones.

“That is the opposing teams’ motivation for doing this stuff,” said Bryce Rossler, who works in research and development at SIS.

It’s a trade-off defenses are willing to make because they have accepted a reality: offenses are better and more explosive than ever. In 2020, offenses averaged 24.8 points per game—more than a point higher than at any point in NFL history. Modern offenses throw the ball more than ever, march down the field easier than ever, and defenses are increasingly incentivized to concede smaller gains because they suddenly had so much trouble preventing the bigger ones.

The Chiefs are the ultimate example of a team that vertically attacks the field with a quarterback in Mahomes who led the NFL in 2020 in passing plays that went for at least 15 yards. But in 2021, he’s running into an inordinate number of these two-high looks in response: Entering Sunday’s action, he had seen them 55.8% of the time—or about 55% more often than the league average.

That has been part of a steady increase. In 2019, when Mahomes won the Super Bowl, he saw two-high 31.1% of the time. In 2020, he saw it 49.2% of the time.

“The intermediate passing game is how you attack that, but if you don’t like to throw intermediate passes and you don’t like to run, it can be tough,” Dungy says. “If you make a team take eight or 10 plays, you have a chance to create some havoc and cause an error.”

In the season when Mahomes is seeing it even more than that, he has gone through the worst struggles of his career. He has thrown 11 interceptions, or as many as he tossed over the previous two years combined. He averaged 8.4 yards per attempt entering this year, and that’s down to 7.1 in 2021. Even Kansas City’s offensive output in Sunday’s 19-9 win against the Dallas Cowboys was paltry compared with the Chiefs’ norms over the past few years.



The problem for offenses like the Chiefs and Bills is they thrive on going deep and aren’t as accustomed to nickeling and diming their way down the field. On early downs, excluding situations when the game is out of hand, Kansas City has passed 62.3% of the time—the second most often in the league entering Sunday’s games, according to rbsdm.com.



The team that’s far and away first in that early-down passing metric: the Bills, at 68.7%.


Typically, that’s one of the things that makes their offenses cutting-edge and effective. But their struggles to do that against these defenses they’re seeing more often has weaponized their own styles against them.





On Mahomes’s snaps against two-high coverage, he has averaged 0.014 expected points added (EPA) entering Sunday. That number—essentially zero—means that, on average, when Mahomes goes up against this defense the Chiefs’ projection to score isn’t really improving relative to their opponents’ chances. That’s far below the average quarterback EPA. In layman’s speak it says that Mahomes, the greatest quarterback of his generation, has been neutralized against these defenses in 2021.

What’s curious is that the more Mahomes has gone up against these schemes, the worse he has fared. When he saw them 31% of the time in 2019, he averaged 0.2 EPA—a strong number, even though it sags behind his overall rate. In 2020, when that shot up to 49%, the EPA dipped to 0.12. Then in 2021, defenses have essentially made forms of two-high their base look against Mahomes—and they’re reaping the benefits.

Allen hasn’t struggled quite as much as Mahomes in these situations, with 0.187 EPA against two-high going into Sunday. But it has also been deployed against him effectively, with the past few weeks showing how. The team that used it most against him, the Jaguars, limited what had been the NFL’s best offense to its worst output of the season. Allen, afterward, said Jacksonville used “two-high shells forcing us to throw underneath” and that he didn’t do a good enough job against it.

“We’re going to learn from this,” he added.

Fortunately for Allen, the next week he played the New York Jets, who apparently didn’t know much about this. They used two-high just three times against him—and Allen torched them in a 45-17 win.

That changed again Sunday. The Colts showered him with those looks. Allen struggled, again. He threw two interceptions and ended the game on the bench after getting blown out 41-15.

Write to Andrew Beaton at andrew.beaton@wsj.com

Copyright ©2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8
Appeared in the November 23, 2021, print edition as 'NFL Defenses Are Striking Back.'

https://www.wsj.com/articles/josh-al...hare_permalink
[Reply]
Halfcan 11:57 AM 11-25-2021
Originally Posted by Chris Meck:
Look, Mahomes is a generational talent. No question. I wouldn't trade him for ten #1 picks.

But he's not perfect.

The deep cover shell (let's call it that, because sometimes it's cover 2, sometimes it's quarters, sometimes it's cover 3) works well against Mahomes (and other guys with similar downfield aggression) precisely because the defense is betting that he WON'T take that easy completion, or run the ball on the RPO because what he wants to do is gun it downfield.

Any other argument is absurd. The struggles are magnified due to the turnover issues; we have gotten a little sloppy. So the defense's bet is working TWO ways: 1) they bet Mahomes will get greedy and keep chucking it into double coverage, holding the ball and allowing the pass rush to get to him, and 2) We've shown tendencies to give the ball up and drop passes, and fumble. If we don't do both of those things, we'll hang 40 on you. If we do either of those things, you've got a shot. If we do BOTH of those things, we'll get blown out. This is the pattern of this season.

You can acknowledge Mahomes' greatness and still see that he's not perfect.

If teams ran that shell defense against Brady, Brady would throw 30 passes to his RB, score 40, and probably have a 20 minute TOP differential.

These guys are forcing Mahomes to check it down and betting he won't. They know he will throw in the RPO most of the time, so they don't honor the run. It's just playing tendencies, and it's knowing that he's still young and bulletproof and wants the highlight reel play.

He was really patient in LV and that's what this offense can look like right now against these shells. He was less so against Dallas, and we saw it stall out some. It's ok. Mahomes just REALLY wanted the kill shot.

Those downfield targets open up BECAUSE you take the easy yards and the offense EXECUTES. No drops. No fumbles.

They're betting we won't.
You lost me right here. Yeah, he pretty much is the perfect QB.

Trey getting 25 yards of stupid penalties and single handily killing a drive.

Kelce letting a pass bounce off his chest for an INT- Killing a drive.

Mecole- drops an easy pass off his hands that would have put us in FG range at the very least- Kills a drive.

Gordon has another go through his hands that would have been a 3rd down conversion- kills a drive.

Wylie completely whiffs on Parsons- Brown whiffs on Parsons- both huge plays- killing drives, causing turnovers.

But yeah, it is all on Mahomes not being patient and wanting "highlight-reel plays" over wins. :-)
[Reply]
Halfcan 12:03 PM 11-25-2021
Originally Posted by PAChiefsGuy:
I think it was a great adjustment by the defenses and it will stop Chiefs and Mahomes from dominating the way they have before. This isn't to say Mahomes can't adjust and pick apart defenses but I think for a gunslinger like Mahomes this is a great strategy for defenses to have.

Chiefs just need to take their time with drives and take what defenses give them. The goal is to win the game. Not to try and force big plays in order score a bunch of points. That's a bad way to do things because as we have seen it leads to more INTs. Chiefs D is also playing well so there's no need to feel like Chiefs have to score quickly every single drive.

Chiefs and Mahomes can still be great just not in the same way. They've got to adjust.
This is becoming one of the most overused cliche in the NFL.

Great strategy- but what if the defenses give you Nothing-like the Chiefs did with the Cowboys? Do you just accept the loss and move on?

The offense needs to make the defense adjust to what they are doing. Dominate them in the run game, gut them in the middle of the field and then burn them as soon as they drop this shell bullshit like the Faders did.

But nothing will work if our receivers and Kelce don't stop dropping easy passes.
[Reply]
PAChiefsGuy 12:40 PM 11-25-2021
Originally Posted by Halfcan:
This is becoming one of the most overused cliche in the NFL.

Great strategy- but what if the defenses give you Nothing-like the Chiefs did with the Cowboys? Do you just accept the loss and move on?

The offense needs to make the defense adjust to what they are doing. Dominate them in the run game, gut them in the middle of the field and then burn them as soon as they drop this shell bullshit like the Faders did.

But nothing will work if our receivers and Kelce don't stop dropping easy passes.
Well there's not much you can do if the oline is getting dominated the way the Cowboys was. Hopefully that doesn't happen to the Chiefs.
[Reply]
Halfcan 12:55 PM 11-25-2021
Originally Posted by PAChiefsGuy:
Well there's not much you can do if the oline is getting dominated the way the Cowboys was. Hopefully that doesn't happen to the Chiefs.
Yep, good point. Brown and Wiley struggled with Parsons, but all in all the O line played okay. It was the penalties on Thuney and Trey that hurt drives.
[Reply]
Chris Meck 01:40 PM 11-25-2021
Originally Posted by Halfcan:
You lost me right here. Yeah, he pretty much is the perfect QB.

Trey getting 25 yards of stupid penalties and single handily killing a drive.

Kelce letting a pass bounce off his chest for an INT- Killing a drive.

Mecole- drops an easy pass off his hands that would have put us in FG range at the very least- Kills a drive.

Gordon has another go through his hands that would have been a 3rd down conversion- kills a drive.

Wylie completely whiffs on Parsons- Brown whiffs on Parsons- both huge plays- killing drives, causing turnovers.

But yeah, it is all on Mahomes not being patient and wanting "highlight-reel plays" over wins. :-)
When did I ever say it was all Mahomes? This topic is about this style defense and how it affects these young, big armed QB's so most of the discussion is about Mahomes, but I never claimed it's ALL Mahomes. In fact, I said flat out that we have to EXECUTE, and can't have dropped balls, fumbles, and tipped ball INT's. Or penalties.

And Mahomes has the ABILITY to be perfect, but no, he's not. Yes he does still miss open easy completions in lieu of taking deep shots. Yes he does still get impatient. Yes, yes he does.

Some of you guys just can't abide thoughtful, honest criticism. I love Mahomes. I wouldn't want any other QB on my team. But he's in a process of learning patience right now.

He was nearly perfect against The Raiders. He was less so against Dallas and it didn't have much to do with the defense. Well, Parsons is a load for anyone, but Mahomes did fall back on some not so great habits there.
[Reply]
Chris Meck 01:49 PM 11-25-2021
Originally Posted by Halfcan:
This is becoming one of the most overused cliche in the NFL.

Great strategy- but what if the defenses give you Nothing-like the Chiefs did with the Cowboys? Do you just accept the loss and move on?

The offense needs to make the defense adjust to what they are doing. Dominate them in the run game, gut them in the middle of the field and then burn them as soon as they drop this shell bullshit like the Faders did.

But nothing will work if our receivers and Kelce don't stop dropping easy passes.
You're talking in circles just to argue.

Dominate them in the run game and gut them in the middle of the field? That's called taking what the defense gives you. This would force the defense out of the deep shell, which allows Mahomes to do what we really WANT to do, which is bombs away. That's literally what people (like me, and most of the NFL commentators, ex-coaches, ex-players, etc.) mean when we say "Take what the defense gives you."

So you're literally arguing just to argue.

As for The Cowboys-when your offensive line is just getting obliterated, there's not much you can do at all-just as we found out in the Super Bowl. So that's really an entirely different issue.
[Reply]
RunKC 01:50 PM 11-25-2021
Teams did this to us in 2018 but we easily destroyed it.

Man I miss Kareem Hunt
[Reply]
Halfcan 02:07 PM 11-25-2021
Originally Posted by Chris Meck:
You're talking in circles just to argue.

Dominate them in the run game and gut them in the middle of the field? That's called taking what the defense gives you. This would force the defense out of the deep shell, which allows Mahomes to do what we really WANT to do, which is bombs away. That's literally what people (like me, and most of the NFL commentators, ex-coaches, ex-players, etc.) mean when we say "Take what the defense gives you."

So you're literally arguing just to argue.

As for The Cowboys-when your offensive line is just getting obliterated, there's not much you can do at all-just as we found out in the Super Bowl. So that's really an entirely different issue.
Not arguing at all. Fact is- they are not just giving us the middle of the field. Kelce is getting jammed, held and doubled.

We are not just getting free lanes to run either. Several runs were losses / minimal gains, forcing us to have to run deeper routes on 3rd down.

Just because teams are running shell coverage- does not automatically make it easy. Mahomes and the entire offense need to take care of the little things and it will all work out.
[Reply]
Halfcan 02:09 PM 11-25-2021
Originally Posted by RunKC:
Teams did this to us in 2018 but we easily destroyed it.

Man I miss Kareem Hunt
Exactly, we dominated them in the running game- forcing them to change coverages.
[Reply]
scho63 05:12 PM 11-25-2021
The turnovers cost us early games or else we would be 9-2 at worst.

The offense hasn't been horrible, just not up to the 40 PPG we were hitting last year.
[Reply]
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