Kansas City played it smart and capitalized on the Falcons’ mistakes
Chiefs play consistently well in all phases of the game
As a former player, I have grown frustrated with the oversimplification of football analysis. So this season, I will be watching the coaches’ video and analyzing the impact of all 22 players on the field and the coaches’ game plan.
On Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs needed a 55-yard fake punt touchdown and two scoring plays from their defense to beat the Falcons in Atlanta. The Chiefs trailed the Falcons in total yards, third-down efficiency and time of possession. Given all that information, I am not sure that the Chiefs are a team that playoff-bound AFC teams should fear. But a box score is only skin-deep. Let’s look deeper than the numbers.
Andy Reid played it smart
Early in the game, Chiefs coach Andy Reid called a couple of jet sweeps for Tyreek Hill. Hill went in motion down the line and Alex Smith snapped the ball when Hill was only a few steps away, in a full sprint. The speedster Hill, with a running start, outran the linebackers to the edge, gaining significant yardage. In isolation, that is a well-designed play that takes advantage of the speed disparity that Hill has over the Atlanta linebackers. But that was just the beginning.
Later in the game, Hill motioned in and faked the jet sweep. Having already seen it twice, the Atlanta backers took two hard steps to the right before they realize that it was play-action and Travis Kelce was open in the zone that they vacated. If the Falcons linebackers were more discipline when it comes to reading their keys, maybe they would have been able to sniff out the deception. But, to be fair, if they had the speed to stop the sweep and the discipline to consistently detect play-action, they would be headed to the Hall of Fame.
For most of the game, the Falcons defense was playing either man-to-man or Cover 3. They only blitzed twice and almost never ran any two-deep coverages. To take advantage of that fact, Reid and the Chiefs avoided getting caught in bad passing plays, by running plays that had concepts to attack the weaknesses of Cover 3 on the right and Cover 1 beaters on the left. And they used different formations to force the defense out of its meager disguise.
The Chiefs had a lot of success using a trips formation and put Kelce in different spots. On the Chiefs’ second offensive play of the game, Kelce was on the left with three receivers to the right. Both of the cornerbacks went to the right to cover the receivers, leaving Kelce in a one-on-one situation against a safety. Smith calmly snapped the ball and stared down the middle of the field, holding the safety in place, then whipped to the left and completed a deep pass to Kelce.
They also put Kelce on the triple-receiver side to run a screen and deep over routes where he was a decoy. But, at the end of the game, when the Chiefs needed a first down to put the game away, they had Kelce run a pivot route from the trips side. The pivot route started out a lot like the deep over route from left to right until Kelce broke back left, freeing himself of the defender. He had been setting up that move all game.
Eric Berry had a great Sunday
As for the defense, it wasn’t great, but who is against the Falcons? Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is one of the few offensive minds that can be compared to Andy Reid. His scheme was impressive and very well-executed by Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the rest of the very talented Falcons offense. But great players beat great schemes. And safety Eric Berry was great on Sunday. Berry actually didn’t play all that well early in the game, committing a pass interference penalty against Jones. But he more than made up for it by returning an interception for a touchdown just before halftime and turning the Falcons’ two-point conversion attempt into a game-winning score for the Chiefs.
On Berry’s touchdown play, the Chiefs were in man under to the left and it seemed like they were double-covering Taylor Gabriel to the right, Berry’s side. Gabriel ran a dig-in route in front of Berry, but Ryan threw the ball high. Berry’s coverage was pretty good, but I don’t think Berry makes the play if Ryan is more accurate. But he wasn’t and Berry made a difficult catch and an impressive return.
The two-point play was different. Berry made a tremendously smart play. The Chiefs were playing man with both safeties free. The Falcons lined up in trips away from Berry. At the snap of the ball, Berry lined up in position to help the cornerback if the receiver ran a slant. Once he knew the slant wasn’t coming, Berry turned his eyes inside and found the Falcons tight end running a drag across the field, beating the linebacker’s coverage. Berry perfectly timed his break and caught the ball on the run, as if it were thrown to him.
The Chiefs certainly aren’t the kind of team that will engender fear in their opponents, but they should. They have a consistent offense that rarely turns the ball over, special teams that can put points on the board and several defenders with a track record of making big plays.