KANSAS CITY, Mo. — First, the good news: After three weeks of dealing with one-two-throw for the Kansas City Chiefs, up next on the dance card is a dose of one-two-THREE-throw. And if you don’t believe that there’s a difference, well, just ask defensive coordinator Bob Sutton.
“I think the key element is what people are doing to you. If you want to just throw the ball quick, the reality is there is not a lot you can do,” the Chiefs’ coach told reporters earlier this week. “You can leave people unblocked, drop the ball off and go.
“To me, it has always been are you getting off the field on third down? Whether we get off the field on third down by coverage or we get off the field because you complete a pass that isn’t enough for a first down. That’s the objective.”
Buried among the agitation over the Chiefs’ three-game losing skid, the one they’re taking into Washington (3-9) this weekend, is the competition — namely, the relative quality of the competition. Denver quarterback Peyton Manning is the third-hardest quarterback in the NFL to bring down, according to the stat gurus at Pro Football Focus (profootballfocus.com), the result of his protection, his quick release, his vision, and/or his ability to get rid of the ball rather than take a sack.
Manning goes into Week 14 ranked third in the league in lowest percentage of times sacked relative to time pressured, according to PFF (12.4 percent); Philip Rivers, who torched the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium two weeks ago, is fourth, at 13.0 percent.
And the average time it takes to throw while in the pocket? Manning’s No. 1, at 2.36 seconds; Rivers is tied for ninth, at 2.62.
“We love the sack,” Sutton continued. “If there is one thing we know about a sack, it’s you’re leaving the field if it’s third down — that’s huge. You have to keep drilling down, keep working at it. Sacks are — like we tell the players all the time — (they’re) usually one click away. Whether it’s a little better rush, a little better coverage or whatever it is, that’s what you have to do. You take into account the style that you’re playing, so you adjust to what they’re doing.”
And speaking of adjusting, well, hello there, Robert Griffin III. RG III’s average time to throw: 2.95 seconds, 22nd among league signal-callers. His sack elusiveness: 17.6 percent, 14th in the loop.
Every second counts. Especially for a Chiefs defense that will be without star pass-rusher Justin Houston for a second straight week. Especially for rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper, who’s spent two of the last three weeks playing the part of Manning’s personal chew toy.
“(I’m) just going to continue to come out every day and practice hard and continue to focus on the details and things like that,” said Cooper, who, according to PFF, was thrown at 11 times by Manning last week, surrendering seven catches, 180 yards and two scores while also recording a first-half pick. “And we’ll be fine. We’ve still got a great team, and we’ve still got that mentality to go out there and attack.”
Cooper was put on an island earlier this week, only this time it was in the locker room. Wave after wave of reporters and ne’er-do-wells came forward with questions.
Anybody can act tough and smile for the cameras when they’ve rocked the cosmos. It takes a man to stand on stage and recount, blow for blow, how RoboPeyton de-pantsed you on national television.
“I feel like my press technique has been a little (messed) up,” Cooper said. “Sometimes, I have to change some things.
“It’s a long season. People get lots of tape on you and stuff like that so, you know, you just have to change up what you do a little bit here and there, just to give the offensive guys a different look.”
If you’re Sutton, you’re running out of different looks — or different personnel grouping — to throw at opposing offenses, unless someone invents a time machine that can bring back, say, a 1991 version of Darrell Green.
The Chiefs have settled on Brandon Flowers as their nickel/slot corner, and, by PFF’s numbers, he’s allowed 70.1 percent of the balls thrown at him to be completed, while the signal-callers targeting him have amassed a rating of 113.3. (Point of comparison: Despite his recent struggles, Cooper’s rating is 82.2, 35th-best among PFF’s registry of starting NFL corners and second on the team to Sean Smith’s 81.5)
Worse, veteran Dunta Robinson, who was expected to hold down that aforementioned nickel/slot role, doesn’t appear to be much of an alternative, either — at least according to metrics. PFF has graded him out at a -5.5 (-5.8 on pass coverage) for the season compared to Cooper’s -3.0 (-4.6 on coverage), despite Cooper having spent the last three weeks either watching balls go over his head or running for his life. (Smith checked in at a +2.9, 0.0 on coverage; Flowers, -8.8, -11.8 on coverage. Good grief.)
“It’s like anything in the National Football League,” Sutton said. “You know one thing: (When) something is hurting you … until you get it fixed, it’s going to continue to hurt you.”
Every second counts. And with only four games left in the regular season, the ones in December become more precious by the week.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.