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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]
MahomesMagic 05:53 PM 11-24-2021
Originally Posted by Marcellus:
Then why doesn't every team just run this defense against every other team with sucess?
I wouldn't run this against Mac Jones.

Look at the New England vs LA Chargers game.

Chargers ran their shell but that's what Mac likes. Back up and let him hit his dink and dunk plays. And NE runs power running game.

Now Mac is the greatest because he beat LAC.
[Reply]
InChiefsHeaven 05:55 PM 11-24-2021
Sigh, can we PLEASE dispense with this bullshit? The Chiefs have been their own worst enemies this season. Turnovers and penalties. That's it. Yes, teams are trying other things to stop them, but they have NOT stopped them. The Chiefs have stopped themselves FFS.

Shut UP already...
[Reply]
JakeF 05:57 PM 11-24-2021
Originally Posted by DRM08:
Can Dungy fix the turnovers being caused by other guys? The Kelce INT stole at least 3 points (maybe 7 points) from KC and directly gave 3 points to Dallas. Stuff like this needs to stop happening.
I don't know, maybe he can. He might push them all to start wearing longer spikes too so they stop slipping too. I just want our offense to get back to running like a smooth machine instead of giving me a heart attack. :/ :-)
[Reply]
Rausch 05:58 PM 11-24-2021
Originally Posted by InChiefsHeaven:
Sigh, can we PLEASE dispense with this bullshit? The Chiefs have been their own worst enemies this season. Turnovers and penalties. That's it. Yes, teams are trying other things to stop them, but they have NOT stopped them. The Chiefs have stopped themselves FFS.

Shut UP already...
The SB and the Titans games were really the only games in recent memory that wasn't true...
[Reply]
MahomesMagic 06:02 PM 11-24-2021
Offense

Points Per Game

2021 12th
2020 6th
2019 2nd
2018 1st


Ok, we're not terrible. But we're not even top ten in PPG with Andy Reid, generational QB in Mahomes, Kelce, Tyreek Hill, and a rebuilt OL that actually can smash people now.
[Reply]
stevegroganfan 06:06 PM 11-24-2021
Chiefs are averaging 25.5 points per game this year which is a little less than the last year of Alex Smith. 12th in the league this year.

They were once over 35 points per game.

No doubt the offense has been slowed down over the years. Still above average for sure and has the upside to be dominant again over short stretches but the change in defenses appears to be part of the reason, the Chiefs offense has been slowed.

Not saying the Chiefs can't counter it but if the counter requires a change of philosophy from Reid to make his system more built upon power/running than speed, will he do it.

Interesting to see how long Reid sticks with his current approach.
[Reply]
Bearcat 06:10 PM 11-24-2021
Originally Posted by MahomesMagic:
Offense

Points Per Game

2021 12th
2020 6th
2019 2nd
2018 1st


Ok, we're not terrible. But we're not even top ten in PPG with Andy Reid, generational QB in Mahomes, Kelce, Tyreek Hill, and a rebuilt OL that actually can smash people now.
Yeah, and there are other stats like yards per point and points per play that you can cycle through the past few years and see how they've slid from 2018/2019, then last year, then this year.

https://www.teamrankings.com/nfl/stat/yards-per-point
https://www.teamrankings.com/nfl/stat/points-per-play

I think it's kind of dumb to just point at Mahomes' stats and say everything is completely fine, just like we laugh at Bills fans, but also agree that it could easily be turnovers and execution, versus some kind of impenetrable defensive scheme and the need for significant schematic or personnel changes.
[Reply]
Hammock Parties 06:11 PM 11-24-2021
The only change that is necessary is cleaning up the goddamn drops and turnovers.
[Reply]
Bearcat 06:18 PM 11-24-2021
Originally Posted by Hammock Parties:
The only change that is necessary is cleaning up the goddamn drops and turnovers.
I would throw in play calling and sticking with what's working (from both a play calling perspective and Mahomes' decision making)... and end of the day, I don't really care about pass/run percentages, but they've had a horrible streak of not getting into the end zone in the 2nd half of games (and of course, some of that is execution and turnovers, too).
[Reply]
Hammock Parties 06:20 PM 11-24-2021
Play calling has nothing to do with it. Andy draws up a play, the receiver is open, and he drops the pass or Mahomes ignores him.

That is not on Andy.
[Reply]
Bearcat 06:30 PM 11-24-2021
Originally Posted by Hammock Parties:
Play calling has nothing to do with it. Andy draws up a play, the receiver is open, and he drops the pass or Mahomes ignores him.

That is not on Andy.
One thing I've noticed play calling-wise that's been annoying is the pointless plays on 2nd and long.... they were masterful at getting to 3rd and short in previous years and I can't count the number of times on 2nd and 8+ they've run the ball or basically wasted a play that's ended with 3rd and long.

It would be interesting to see how many, let's say, 3rd and 7+ they've had this season compared to the past few years... and specifically the percentage of run plays on 2nd and long that cause 3rd and longs.

(and I know they're still near or at the top of the league in 3rd down conversion %, too, mostly since they were so efficient the first month of the season)
[Reply]
Hammock Parties 06:32 PM 11-24-2021
The Chiefs are top 5 run blocking team...a run is never pointless....

...if it ends in third and long it's because it wasn't executed
[Reply]
Deberg_1990 06:33 PM 11-24-2021
Originally Posted by InChiefsHeaven:
Sigh, can we PLEASE dispense with this bullshit? The Chiefs have been their own worst enemies this season. Turnovers and penalties. That's it. Yes, teams are trying other things to stop them, but they have NOT stopped them. The Chiefs have stopped themselves FFS.

Shut UP already...
That’s part of the strategy though. Make the chiefs go on longer drives which increases the chance for error. So far it has worked for some teams.
[Reply]
Bearcat 06:37 PM 11-24-2021
Originally Posted by Hammock Parties:
...if it ends in third and long it's because it wasn't executed

[Reply]
Chieftain 06:41 PM 11-24-2021
We need a stud running back and a legit second receiver next season. Problem solved. Offense will be a nightmare again for opponents. Bring back Kareem and get Juju on a 1 year deal.
[Reply]
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