by John Unrein
We all have a favorite comfortable article of clothing. Perhaps it’s an old pair of jeans, a faded flannel shirt, or a worn in pair of boots. Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid chose new Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo out of comfort.
He was a former assistant with Reid in Philadelphia. Spagnuolo learned under the pressure heavy 4-3 system of defense led by the Eagle’s Jim Johnson before Johnson passed away of cancer in July of 2009.
Spagnuolo also has experience as the Defensive Coordinator of the New York Giants (2007-2008) and New Orleans Saints (2012), as well as stint as the St. Louis Rams Head Coach, sandwiched in between from 2009-2011.
It’s hard to argue with the 59-year old’s resume or Reid’s attraction to wear this article of clothing in pursuit of a Super Bowl title; especially, when you consider the Chiefs were the NFL’s best offense in 2018 scoring 35.3 points a game and racking 425.6 yards of total offense each time they played.
Reid would like to keep his focus on the offensive side of the football. It will allow him to keep the finely tuned sports car that runs by the names of Mahomes, Hill, Watkins, Kelce, and Williams revved up and ready to put points on the board.
Spagnuolo is someone that Reid feels he can trust to run the team’s defense, a unit which was ranked 31st in the league during the regular season. Much has been made about the system of defense that Spagnuolo will bring to Arrowhead and how well the Chiefs current personnel will fit.
And for good reason; mainly due to the curiosity of how much of the team’s draft capital and cap space in free agency will need to be used to supplement the Chiefs defense. The team will be evolving from a 3-4 defense (three down lineman and four linebackers) formerly under Bob Sutton to a 4-3 defense (four down lineman and three linebackers) with Spagnuolo.
The Chiefs new defensive coordinator is a good teacher. The NFL network asked him to talk defense this season during his year away from football. He’s also someone who his former players attest to believing in them and thus getting the most out of them.
Spagnuolo’s biggest challenge facing him in his new role is how well he’s paid attention to the Chiefs recent defensive play and his use of data to rebuild a once proud defense.
One area the Chiefs could benefit in gaining from is DVOA (Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average). DVOA is cited by Football Outsiders Information as a team’s efficiency by comparing success on every single snap to a league average based on situation and opponent.
Contributing factors to the formula include yards obtained by down, red zone efficiency, quality of opponent, and offensive scoring. The Chiefs ranked 26th defensively in this category during the 2018 season.
Tackling efficiency and the number of defenders in aggressive pursuit are also issues that when addressed will boost a beleaguered unit. Tackling efficiency is measured by percentage, how well a defender gets the offensive ball carrier on the ground when they have the opportunity.
Pursuit is the rate of speed and angle at which defenders get to the football on a down. The Chiefs could stand to significantly improve in both areas.
The 4-3 defense by nature allows teams to cover up more gaps at the line of scrimmage with four down linemen penetrating a single gap. This will afford the Chiefs to become stouter against the run. Spagnuolo will also have his work cut out for him in making in game adjustments. This was a criticism of Coach Sutton that was brought to the forefront upon his dismissal and on display in the AFC Championship game as called out by commentator Tony Romo.
Noticeable things during that game included not bracketing Patriots Tight End Rob Gronkowski with safety help over the top when he was isolated on the single receiver side of a 3 by 1 formation. This burned the Chiefs on more than one occasion.
Another issue was the Patriots motioning to stack receivers to get off the line for a clean release and running free despite coverage in the Chiefs secondary.
Lastly, the Chiefs were out personnelled again by the Patriots. The Patriots would substitute and catch the Chiefs in their Nickel or Dime packages with only two down defensive linemen, thus affording the Patriots an advantage in running the football.
Reid may be comfortable with the defensive coordinator he’s chosen. However, Spagnuolo has his work cut out for him in making sure he’s a good fit, which is no small task for a team that feels it is on the verge of winning a Super Bowl.