Despite the painful absence of two out of three of their defense’s best players, the Chiefs were widely picked to win against Atlanta.
The notoriously raucous environment in Arrowhead Stadium was cited to cause Falcons’ no-huddle heavy offense to falter while Kansas City would grind out a clock-eating win.
Unfortunately for the Arrowhead faithful, this is not how the scenario played out. Quarterback Matt Ryan led an offense that had their way with a Chiefs defense sorely missing Tamba Hali and Brandon Flowers.
The Chiefs’ game plan was to blitz heavily to make up for the absence of Hali in order to disrupt Matt Ryan’s timing. The Falcons’ offensive line, however, is a very cohesive unit and Ryan’s pre-snap reads allowed him to dictate the blocking scheme in order to neutralize the pass rush.
With the Falcons outstanding receivers – Julio Jones, Roddy White and company – facing almost exclusively man coverage, the Falcons’ game plan was to isolate their superior wide receivers against a Flowers-less Chiefs secondary.
Against a blitz-heavy offense, most receivers faced exclusively one-on-one match-ups that they could exploit with only a single-high safety patrolling the middle of the field and the Chiefs' secondary missing their best cornerback. But what happens when the Falcons face the Broncos and a secondary that features Champ Bailey and Tracy Porter?
Additionally, during the two-minute drill at the end of the first half, Ryan appeared to be confused by a couple zone coverages that the Chiefs ran. Ryan ended up tucking the ball away and running both times. The Broncos mix in a liberal amount of zone coverage, especially out of their 3-3-5 look. With Bailey and Porter, however, they do rely heavily on man coverage.
The Broncos superior pass rush and different scheme will offer different challenges than the Chiefs. No matter the coverage, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter will undoubtedly scheme to isolate their best receivers and create space for yards after the catch.
How the Falcons Isolated their Best Receivers
Early in the game the Chiefs were bringing every warm body available to get after Ryan, and he was able to identify the blitzes and audible to hit the open areas of the field. In this first quarter play, the Falcons ran a four-receiver set with a 2x2 formation.
Beating the Blitz
The slot receiver ran a vertical route to take his man up the field and keep the safety high. Jones ran a crossing route into the open space vacated by the blitzing defenders.
This works well because with a single-high safety, the cornerback has to respect Jones’ speed and is not in a position to cut in to mirror Jones. Ryan was under pressure and did not hit Jones in stride to set him up for a big YAC opportunity.
Julio Jones on an Island in the Red Zone
The Falcons often aligned their receivers in a 3x1 formation with either White or Jones isolated on one side with a cornerback in man coverage. In their first red zone visit, Jones is isolated on the right. Both safeties, as indicated, are focused on the three receiver side, leaving Jones on an island.
Jones releases cleanly and avoids the jam off the line. That allows him a few steps on the defender and seemingly acres of open field in which to work. Ryan hits Jones for the easy touchdown.
It is worth mentioning that in subsequent trips to the red zone, both White and Jones were isolated in a 3x1 formation running the same play, but the Chiefs’ cornerbacks were able to impede their releases and forced the Falcons’ kicking unit to take the field.
A Play Action Pass a Quarter in the Making
The stretch-zone play is one of the most used plays in the Falcons’ running game. After running that play throughout the first quarter, in the second Ryan dialed up a play action pass based on the zone play.
The Chiefs were still blitzing out of their minds, and Ryan recognized it at the line. With the heavy penetration, needed to stop the zone run, the Chiefs were ready to pin back their ears and get in the backfield.
After faking the zone run to the left, Ryan rolled back to the right. The strong safety had bit on the fake, but scrambled to recover to defend Harry Douglas on a crossing route that he ran behind the line of scrimmage.
This left White alone with only a cornerback playing off coverage. The rest of the defense was still recovering from the play fake. White ran an out route and found the ball waiting for him as he comes out of his break. He keeps his toes in and makes a chain-moving snag.
Allowing Julio Jones to be a Playmaker in the Red Zone
With the clock ticking with less than two minutes in the half, Jones ran a wide receiver screen that is designed with a little more guise than the average bubble screen.
Jones released outside on the snap of the ball and Jacquizz Rodgers, aligned in the slot, heads towards Jones’ defender. Jones then cut back downhill towards Ryan and the Falcons linemen released their blocks to get downfield.
Ryan hit Jones with the ball as Rodgers screens Jones’ defender. Jones then cut back upfield behind his linemen’s blocks to burst upfield and put the Falcons in a goal-to-go situation.
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