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Joe Barry and the defense’s red zone answers for Mahomes and the Chiefs

Today we take a look at the Packers red zone defense in the win over Kansas City.

Kansas City Chiefs v Green Bay Packers Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers dominated nearly every aspect of their Week 13 game against the Kansas City Chiefs, on both offense and defense. Today, we are going to look at some of the ways defensive coordinator Joe Barry and the defense put the clamps on Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense.

The defense recorded three sacks and one interception on Mahomes. They held him to 210 yards passing on 33 total attempts. They still allowed a 100-yard rusher from running back Isaiah Pacheco but the key difference in this game was the first two drives in the red zone where the Packers held them to six total points, two field goals, instead of touchdowns.

First sack

On the first drive of the game, the defense recorded two sacks in the red zone on 1st-and-goal from the five and on 3rd-and-goal from the Packers 9-yard line, resulting in a loss of 11 total yards and forcing the Chiefs to kick a field goal.

On first down, the defense is playing a man-match cover-7 “box” coverage to the trips side of the Chiefs 3x1 formation. It looks like a box variant known as “Stump” in Nick Saban's terminology. In “stump,” the rules play out as follows:

  • Corner: man on deep #1 unless 1 runs a hitch, zone off.
  • Overhang/apex/nickel: man on #2
  • Hook defender: wall technique
  • Safety: all of #3 vertical

On the backside, the coverage is man-to-man on the receiver and running back.

Mahomes drops back looking to the backside of the concept to the stick/flat combination. Travis Kelce is running the stick and it looks like Mahomes had a throw to the flat if he wanted as safety Jonathan Owens gets caught in the traffic to that side.

He looks back to the front side to see if any of the routes are open to the trips but Van Ness beats the blocker quick enough to force Mahomes to scramble but Van Ness catches him from behind for the sack.

Second sack

On third down, the Packers are playing a similar coverage but with more zone principles, cover-4 “trix”. “Trix” tells the backside safety, Owens, to “poach” or pick up a deep crosser from the #3 receiver in trips.

The corner and safety to trips play any vertical deep and pass off the underneath routes to the nickel and middle linebacker.

This time Rashan Gary easily and quickly beat the right tackle to get the sack. He gets passed the blocker with a speed rip pass rush move where he sets up the blockers hands with his inside arm and once the tackle shoots his hands up, he uses his inside arm to rip under and around the blocker.

On the back end, the coverage is man-to-man again with Corey Ballentine in coverage on Kelce. Ballentine jumps outside Kelce’s route and re-routes him inside where he has help from Owens as the safety to that side, creating a sort of bracket inside out on Kelce. Mahomes waits for the route to develop but the pass rush gets there and he drops his eyes. Gary misses the first attempt but Mahomes runs into Kenny Clark and Gary gets him from behind.

Third sack

The defense held the Chiefs to another field goal on their second drive and led 14-6 after this.

On the second drive in the red zone again, Mahomes took another sack, this time by Preston Smith when the defense blanketed Kelce in the trips slot to the left with the defense playing cover-4 “trix” to the trips side, the same coverage as above.

Mahomes drops back looking to the left and sees Kelce bracketed again. He moves off the routes to the left, looks to the middle of the field in the end zone, sees the safety poach the crossing route, and tries to go off script but Preston Smith catches him from behind where both he and Devonte Wyatt take him down for the sack.

Keisean Nixon interception

On Keisean Nixon’s interception, he smartly cut off Skyy Moore’s route at the top of it and intercepted the pass from Mahomes.

Moore slowed up when Nixon got over the top but Mahomes threw it expecting him to keep running and not slowing down.

Outlook

The Packers' defense had a solid game plan for Patrick Mahomes, especially in the red zone. There was some skepticism in recent weeks after the Packers beat the Rams to start this trend because that win came over a 3rd string quarterback and a struggling Rams team. The defense rose to the occasion versus the NFL’s best quarterback and limited him from taking the game over as he so often does.

The young talent acquired on the back end is paying off in a big way, but the pass rush and coverage are intertwined here and feeding off each other’s performances. The trend should continue in the coming weeks.