Each Kansas City Chiefs defensive team meeting this week has started with an image.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo set up his PowerPoints like this intentionally. One morning, it was the glare of a tiger. Another centered on an eagle’s gaze. A third, meanwhile, was a famous photograph of Chicago Bears linebacker Mike Singletary’s intense focus.
So what was Spagnuolo’s message to his players while showing these photographs?
It was the importance of one’s eyes — and specifically “eye discipline” — following the Chiefs’ loss to the Green Bay Packers last week.
“We can only go so far in training the eyes — I’m talking about the coaches,” Spagnuolo said Thursday. “And at some point, it comes back to the player. We teach what you should look at before the snap. It’s up to them to actually look at that.”
Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that this has become an emphasis for the Chiefs, given how the Packers offense succeeded by frequently utilizing two football deceptors: motion and play-action.
Sports Info Solutions’ data indicated the Packers utilized presnap motion on 21 pass plays, completing 15 of those throws for 190 yards with a touchdown.
Meanwhile, on play-action, Zebra Technologies’ Next Gen Stats charted Packers quarterback Jordan Love with 100 passing yards.
“When an offense puts a play-action pass in, they’re trying to mess with your eyes,” Spagnuolo said. “They’re trying to show you one thing and have it be something else.”
And this is where Spagnuolo knows his team can be better.
It’s not that the Chiefs coaches want their players to ignore all opponent movements; instead, they want them to pay attention to the right things.
Take a linebacker as an example. For him, an offensive lineman driving low after the snap is a pretty sure indicator of a run play. On the other hand, popping up — or showing a “high” hat or helmet — is usually a tell that a pass is coming.
Defensive backs have their own reads, Spagnuolo said. If a receiver isn’t immediately setting a block, it’s more likely than not a pass is coming.
Defenders often get in trouble, however, by staring at the quarterback. That can become a big problem, Spagnuolo says, as QB is the one offensive position whose main job is to deceive the defense.
“Our side of the ball is all reactionary, right? Well, you’ve got to make sure you’re reacting to the right thing,” Spagnuolo said. “We’re giving them all week long things that they should be looking at pre-snap, when the ball is snapped, and then go play. At that point, it’s up to them.”
Chiefs players in the locker room seemed to heed Spagnuolo’s message this week.
When asked where the defense needed to improve this week, cornerback Joshua Williams spoke about the team “getting our eyes right.”
“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel or anything,” Williams said. “Just get back to our basics, our fundamentals.”
Cornerback Trent McDuffie also admitted that the Chiefs “got a little lazy with the eyes” during last week’s loss to Green Bay. He went on to talk about the importance of getting that concern fixed.
“That’s really everything,” McDuffie said. “You talk about man-to-man (coverage), not peeking back at the quarterback too soon, because the receiver can still break. Whether it’s motions, shifts ... offenses do a good job at getting defensive backs’ eyes maybe on the quarterback or looking at something different than what we’re supposed to be doing on our defense.
“So just making sure you hone in on your keys, hone in on what you’ve got to do with your rep is a huge thing.”
A pair of disappointing weeks defensively has hurt KC’s season-long numbers. For example, the Chiefs have dropped to ninth defensively in FTN Fantasy’s all-encompassing DVOA rankings after spending most of the year in the top five.
McDuffie still shared that an important part of preparing for Sunday’s home game against the Buffalo Bills game would be leaving the Packers’ loss in the past.
“We have coaches who are gonna push us, and we have leaders on this team that’s gonna pull each other along,” McDuffie said. “Last week was last week, but looking forward now. This defense is definitely gonna get back to what we know.”