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Where’s the D?

Patrick Mahomes shredded the 49ers defense in Arrowhead. Here’s how it happened,

NFL: Detroit Lions at San Francisco 49ers Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

It’s almost like last Sunday was a nightmare. A bad dream we all had together. It wasn’t. This piece was originally on the 49ers defensive line as a unit, but after watching the film there was more than meets the eye.

First thing I recognized is the game planning. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid knew our front was stout. So far this year our rush defense is only allowing 3.7 yards per rush. On the back end however our pass defense is ranked 27th according to So Reid’s game plan relied on confusion, alignment mismatches, and quick rhythm passes. Patrick Mahomes took nearly every snap in shotgun. This prevented the defensive line from getting any direct pressure on him. They lined up in formations with multiple receivers which kept our base defense off the field. Our nickel and dime line up is smaller, built to cover, and they got beat at the point of attack whenever Kansas City did decide to run.

They didn’t run much. Kareem Hunt rushed 18 times for 44 yards and averaged only 2.4 yards per carry. Kansas City’s plan was to throw the ball. They called 38 passes and completed them to 9 different receivers. They had 11 players with at least one target. KC’s other big weapon Tyreek Hill was held in check, and was mostly deployed as a decoy. He only had two catches for 51 yards, and one of those two was 42 yards.

Second thing to take into account was all the new faces on defense. Reuben Foster was making his first start this season. The last time Malcolm Smith played in a regular season game, he was wearing silver and black. Antone Exum Jr. was recently cut and resigned within the same week. He was also making his first start at strong safety. Jimmie Ward replaced Akhello Witherspoon at corner, and Fred Warner was only making his third start in the NFL. The Chiefs took full advantage of all these new parts. They shifted, went in motion, faked, and aligned all over the place. It got to a point in the 2nd quarter where even the defensive linemen were literally taking one step, and standing up trying to see what was happening in the backfield as players ran by them. Foster and Smith were often lost. Then there was the tackling.

The plays we will be looking at cover in general some of the concepts and alignments that hindered the defense. It will be interesting to see how we adjust against another high powered offense this Sunday in LA against the Chargers.

Andy Reid and his staff threw the proverbial kitchen sink at our defense. Let’s take a look at the first play. A triple motion, yes triple motion fake jet sweep pass. KC lines up basically strong right (bottom of the field) and motions one by one to the opposite side of the field. At the snap we get the jet sweep action from Tyreek Hill, while the receivers at the top of the screen flood the zone coverage. Hill is left wide open in the flat. Watch Reuben Foster (first yellow circle) on this play, his head is spinning. Warner still has a shot at a tackle but he misses and Hill scurries for a first down.

Another creative play design aimed at attacking our defenses ability to run. Here’s an RPO where Mahomes is reading the linebackers at the snap instead of a defensive end/lineman. As the linebackers, Warner and Foster, over-commit to the run, he pulls the ball, and delivers a quick slant that’s wide open. If the linebackers stay home, the outside run is left open. It’s a lose-lose situation for defenses. Especially when it’s executed correctly.

We also struggled with screen passes, another play designed to take advantage of an aggressive defense. The next two we’re also perfect timed. The first screen pass shows wrinkles on wrinkles. We start with a fullback screen. Yes, the fullback. Anthony Sherman has one other catch this year and it was during the Chiefs first game this season. He only had six catches all last season, but he was employed in this game. Initially, Tyreek Hill lines up in the backfield. Once Hill motions to the outside the defense shifts left (bottom of the field, which now has two receivers and a tight end. Already before the snap, I highlighted with the box a huge open area. Once the play begins the fullback sells the block, then catches the screen pass. He rumbles to the goal line. From the end zone angle there’s almost no 49ers in the shot when he catches the ball.

For the second screen pass clip let’s just watch Malcolm Smith and Reuben Foster (yellow circles) sort of blitz and sort of play coverage all at the same time. Not really sure who was supposed to cover the back. Foster blitzes at the snap, but then pulls up and tries to make a play on the ball. He either blew his coverage and tried to get back, or he was supposed to blitz but recognized the screen late and tried to make an adjustment. I have no idea what Smith is doing — initially he’s in great position to cover the running back, and the screen pass, but at the last second he runs toward the quarterback and takes himself out of the play.

I mentioned above the multiple receiver formations. These next few clips show how it left us at a disadvantage in the run game. On the Chiefs first TD, Hunt walked into the end zone almost untouched and here’s why. The Chiefs line up in a three wide set. I have a still shot displayed before the clip moves to the end zone angle. At the start of the end zone angle it’s almost instantly obvious we’re outmatched on the line if they run. It’s easy money. At the snap, Mahomes begins the zone read action, which causes Malcolm Smith to hesitate just a second. Our defensive end gets turned out, while the guard crashes the nose tackle down the line. The hole is huge.

Here’s another run where Kareem Hunt is barely touched until he’s yards down the field. In similar fashion the formation calls for three wide receivers which brings in our nickel. At the snap Hunt gets the ball, Solomon Thomas gets turned outside by the tackle. Cassius Marsh tries to crash down but the guard chin checks him and he falls to his knees. This was Hunt’s longest run of the game, and it came at a critical time in the fourth quarter when KC was trying to run out the clock.

There were several plays where our defensive line actually won their match up, but one of two things happened. In Deforest Buckner’s case, he was often doubled, or chipped by the back. As you can see below Buckner totally obliterates this offensive lineman, but the center is in perfect position to help out, so he never reaches the QB.

The second thing that happened when our defensive lineman won, was missed tackles. They simply whiffed on the play. For example in the clip below Arik Armstead works Travis Kelce, but then proceeds to miss the tackle for loss. This leads to a long gain for the Chiefs.

The first half was abysmal. It was 35-7 when the teams hit the locker room. I do want to give the staff credit for making adjustments and keeping the players motivated. I think an unsung piece that had more impact than people might've thought was the absence of Jaquiski Tartt. He’s physical, plays good enough in coverage, but also keeps the defense in position to win. I’m glad they left the zone coverage in the locker room and went with more man to man. They gave D.J. Reed more time, he seems to be even faster than Adrian Colbert, and played pretty well. We held the Chiefs to only three points the rest of the game. Some of it was Andy Reid and staff going more vanilla, but the defense still made some great plays to get the offense the ball. Against the Chargers, we face another offense with multiple offensive weapons. I’m hoping to see better tackling from the defense. The story on everyone’s hearts and minds will be the offense and C.J. Beathard. But if the defense gives up 35 points, it doesn’t matter if Beathard and the offense score 30 points. Go Niners.