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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]
DRM08 03:00 PM 11-24-2021
Do fumbles and INT's impact the EPA stat? If so, some of these numbers are impacted by the guys around Mahomes screwing up and killing drives.

He has not been very good this year, but he has had terrible luck. Even his two Hall of Fame receivers have directly caused at least 5 turnovers that either cost the Chiefs points or gave points to the opponent.
[Reply]
TLO 03:04 PM 11-24-2021
Originally Posted by MahomesMagic:
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
Top 10 things science can't explain.
[Reply]
eDave 03:07 PM 11-24-2021
KC has figured it out, mostly. RB has become the hot topic around here as a result. Has Spags deployed it?
[Reply]
FringeNC 03:07 PM 11-24-2021
It's not like he hasn't seen these defenses before. I'd argue the bigger problem is the pass-blocking of the offensive tackles and the loss of Watkins as a legitimate #2 WR.
[Reply]
mabbott 03:13 PM 11-24-2021
Originally Posted by FringeNC:
It's not like he hasn't seen these defenses before. I'd argue the bigger problem is the pass-blocking of the offensive tackles and the loss of Watkins as a legitimate #2 WR.
I can see this argument. Our current tackles need to perform better and our WRs need to separate and catch the damn ball. Both of these would be helped out with a consistent running game.
[Reply]
ThyKingdomCome15 03:23 PM 11-24-2021
If Patrick was really struggling with that bland, common, shell defense he wouldn't be producing like he is. Stop with the stupid penalties and take care of the ball. That would go a long way.

Chiefs would easily be 9-2 had they at least taken care of the ball. Then none of this would be near the discussion it is. I'm confident it will pass and is mostly behind us already.
[Reply]
MahomesMagic 03:44 PM 11-24-2021
Originally Posted by FringeNC:
It's not like he hasn't seen these defenses before. I'd argue the bigger problem is the pass-blocking of the offensive tackles and the loss of Watkins as a legitimate #2 WR.
If we had a healthy Watkins or a legitimate #2 WR, Cover 2 wouldn't stump us.

We could still just roll out the same spread offense.

But notice that it's not just Cover 2 or 2 high. Teams are taking away our RPO options now too...squeezing the windows and playing the pass everytime.

Buffalo in AFC Championship played 2 high the whole time and we ripped it apart with RPO game and flooding the middle. Their only adjustment this year was keeping their LB's back and telling them not to come up on the RPO's.


Last week against Dallas we scored on first 3 drives because we knew they were going to play it and we executed runs/quick passes.

2nd half comes and we make mistakes, start to press trying to get one more score.

I think we are getting closer but it is a problem when teams play shell the whole game. Mahomes and Reid don't like it and we can't attack it without going away from what we like to do.

Chargers do this the whole time. That's the game we better be ready to break the shell for a full 60 minutes.
[Reply]
Chiefspants 03:44 PM 11-24-2021
Mahomes leads the league in passing yards, he's 2nd** in touchdowns, and our offense is in the Top 5 in most categories.

Clean up the turnovers (which are still an issue) and this narrative will die a quick death like the talking point that Andy had turned Patrick into Alex Smith leading into the 2019 playoffs.

**EDIT
[Reply]
Coochie liquor 04:13 PM 11-24-2021
Originally Posted by Chiefspants:
Mahomes leads the league in passing years, touchdowns, and our offense is in the Top 5 in most categories.

Clean up the turnovers (which are still an issue) and this narrative will die a quick death like the talking point that Andy had turned Patrick into Alex Smith leading into the 2019 playoffs.
Ummm... don’t think he leads the league in TDs.
[Reply]
comochiefsfan 04:14 PM 11-24-2021
Nothing about this has ever been written before.

Riveting ground breaking article here.
[Reply]
Chiefspants 04:14 PM 11-24-2021
Originally Posted by Coochie liquor:
Ummm... don’t think he leads the league in TDs.
2nd in TD's, my bad.
[Reply]
JudasRising20 04:31 PM 11-24-2021
Originally Posted by FringeNC:
It's not like he hasn't seen these defenses before. I'd argue the bigger problem is the pass-blocking of the offensive tackles and the loss of Watkins as a legitimate #2 WR.
Wouldn't pass blocking be less important if you're running shorter routes? Feels like the Chiefs are still stubbornly trying to get big chunks. The pass blocking was poor in the Dallas game but that ball needs to be out earlier. Crossing routes and passes to the RB would help. Obviously, more running plays. This team is likely last in run/pass ratio.
[Reply]
JakeF 04:36 PM 11-24-2021
Maybe the Chiefs can hire Dungy to come in and explain the weaknesses of a defense he used for so many years. It would be good to have fresh perspective to help Mahomes out.
[Reply]
Pasta Little Brother 04:38 PM 11-24-2021
All bullshit. Flat out wide open drops many leading to turnovers is the only reason they aren't 9-2 and the offense stalls at times.
[Reply]
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