How to crash the A-gap

The universe of interior defensive linemen is largely populated by either butterball-shaped space eaters or athletic pass-rush specialists. Poe, who burst onto the scene at the 2012 combine with a 4.9 40 and a 2012-record 44 bench-press reps at 225 pounds, is both, and then some -- a fact that allows him to play a remarkable 95 percent of the Chiefs' snaps. He's sudden, explosive and disruptive off the snap. Blockers react to his initial hand strike as if they were hit with defibrillator paddles. While stout enough to stand his ground against the run, he is also armed with a fluid full repertoire of pass-rush moves. When he puts it all together, when his violent hands and quick feet are in perfect unison, Poe is able to bring something artistic, like a Muhammad Ali punch, to a position normally occupied by obese bulldozers and grinders. "People that big should just not be able to move like that," says Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton.

Teams must dedicate extra manpower to contain Poe or face the consequences. And that, in turn, has transformed KC's schemes. In January, when Andy Reid took over the 2-14 Chiefs, he opted to keep the team's base 3-4, but he made a few key tweaks. He scrapped the old, passive read-and-react 2-gap scheme for a more aggressive technique in the trenches that highlights, rather than hinders, Poe's rare skill set. "Last year was frustrating for everyone, so it felt good to just be able to relax and play football," says Poe. "I was like a kid on a playground in this new defense. I could feel it right away; I was making that leap."

Poe opened the season with six tackles, a batted pass and 1.5 sacks in Jacksonville. Then in Week 2, the Chiefs hosted the Cowboys at Arrowhead. Through Dallas' first possession, as Tony Romo drove to the Chiefs' 28, Poe set up rookie center Travis Frederick by attacking his left shoulder. The next time Romo dropped back, Poe burst to his right and waited for Frederick to overcompensate by opening up and shifting his weight to his left foot. When he did, Poe, in one textbook and perfectly timed motion, swam his right arm up and across Frederick's face and matadored the helpless center out of the way -- the movement so sudden and startling, it was all Frederick could do to keep from falling flat on his face. In a flash, Poe was on Romo. It was the first of two sacks on the day for Poe. "After seeing stuff like that," says teammate Mike DeVito, "you know the guy could go down as the greatest lineman to ever play the game."

And in that moment, the Chiefs had found the formula for one of the finest single-season turnarounds in NFL history: An unleashed Poe would dominate and disrupt in the A-gap, drawing extra blockers inside, away from his teammates, creating a series of ripple effects across the entire defense -- if not the team. Poe's ability to single-handedly compress the pocket has led to a league-low 36.3 QBR by quarterbacks against Kansas City's standard rush package of four or fewer players. And because the Chiefs no longer have to commit extra manpower on the blitz to get to the quarterback, Sutton is free to use a surfeit of dime coverage (six defensive backs) to flood passing zones, confuse quarterbacks with coverage combinations and, when needed, bring dynamic pressure packages from all over the field.

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