Kansas City Chiefs fans know the bootleg all too well. Mobile quarterbacks have shredded the Chiefs on multiple occasions, spurring other teams with less mobile quarterbacks to try it also, such as the Cincinnati Bengals this last weekend. This Sunday the Chiefs face the team and quarterback that have perfected the use of the bootleg against the Chiefs “D”, the Denver Broncos and quarterback Jake Plummer. So, let’s take a look at the play that will make it or break it for the Chiefs.
The basic definition of a bootleg is the quarterback intentionally running out of the pocket toward either sideline during a pass play or a pass/run option play, normally with an offensive lineman in the lead. There are several variations of the bootleg, but it is most often accompanied by “play-action.” The bootleg, whether accompanied by play-action or not, is intended to confuse the defense by moving the quarterback away from where the defense expects him to be, which is in the pocket in a drop-back setting.
Another variation is the “naked” bootleg. In this situation, the quarterback rolls out on his own with no offensive lineman in front of him to help block the defensive end, linebackers, or defensive backs that may come forward to defend the run or rush the passer. Both the standard bootleg, play-action bootleg, and naked bootleg have been used with success against the Chiefs.
The bootleg is especially effective against aggressive defenses and defenses with slow defensive ends (or even one slow defensive end, as has been the case with Eric Hicks the past couple of years). The overly aggressive defenses have been known to a) bite too hard on the play action, b) be drawn towards or pursue the quarterback, leaving their assignment open and even c) completely lose track of the quarterback, allowing runs for first-down yardage. Sometimes it’s a no-win situation. As for the slow defensive ends, they simply need to be outrun or evaded by the quarterback.
So why has this play been so effective against the Chiefs? It’s pretty easy to see. The majority of the time you’ll see this play run in the direction opposite of Jared Allen. Erick Hicks has not been quick enough to track down Plummer in the past. Plummer, who runs a sub-five-second forty yard dash on a regular basis, easily out-runs and out-maneuvers Hicks. Both standard and naked bootlegs have been effective against this side of the defense. In fact, standard bootlegs, with a lineman leading Plummer, have been huge against this side of the “D”. Last year in Denver, as Plummer rolled out, Hicks was engaged by an offensive lineman and then Plummer simply outran OLB Kendrell Bell to the pylon for a touchdown. If this type of thing happens again this year, it’s going to be a long night Sunday.
But don’t think it’s all the slow guys’ fault. Jared Allen, a very quick and limber defensive end, has also been beat his fair share of times. If you look at bootleg plays run his way last year, he was much more effective than the other side. However, he has been overly aggressive in trying to get to the running back on more than one occasion and let the quarterback roll right by him.
I don’t expect to see that this Sunday. I expect Allen and Hali will be chasing Jake Plummer down and keeping him contained the majority of the time. Don’t expect too many naked bootlegs, as these guys are simply as fast if not faster than Jake Plummer on the field of play, even if their off-field speeds don’t indicate that.
Herman Edwards addressed the bootleg at a recent press conference.
“It’s pretty hard to defend [the bootleg] when you have a good running team. Denver runs the ball very, very well and what you have to do is get them out of rhythm and try to get them in downs where you can anticipate they have to throw. But they do a good job and run it on third down. They run the ball, and run the ball.”
Of course Herm won’t tell us how he’s going to get them out of rhythm or stop the run, but can the Chiefs do it? I believe they can. Look for Tamba Hali playing a “falcon” role. Look for funky blitzes. Look for containment of the running game and of the scrambling quarterback. Look for a defense that has spent extra time working on generating turnovers.
Can the Chiefs win this game? As I said in my last column, they can. But if the Denver running game get’s on a roll and Plummer starts successfully bootlegging, then watch out. The game will be over and out of reach before you know it. I hope Allen and Hali are ready. And I hope Kendrell Bell has regained some wheels, because if he gets beat to the corner by a quarterback that isn’t named Vick, he’s going to be booed into oblivion (or rather, cheered on by the Denver crowd).
Now for the final question: Where does the bootleg get its name? According to Wikipedia.com (the source of all knowledge, of course): “The name comes from the fact that on a play action the quarterback often hides the ball from the defense by his thigh to make the run look more convincing. This is similar to the way bootleggers would hide whiskey in their trousers during Prohibition.” To follow with the greatest play of words ever: I hope the Law can take care of the Bootlegger for good on Sunday night.