Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive approach is different from other NFL teams’ and unbeaten
Coach Andy Reid designs philosophy around abilities of the players
The Kansas City Chiefs run a hybrid college/professional-style offense. Actually, it is mostly just college-style, right down to the dual-threat quarterback. Alex Smith had seven positive rushing attempts. Three resulted in first downs and one in a touchdown. And Smith’s passing stats were impressive. He went 27-for-37 with 293 yards passing.
But he wasn’t asked to make many difficult throws or reads. Smith hit tight end Travis Kelce on a dino double post for his lone touchdown. Dino is a simple concept because no matter the coverage, the primary receiver doesn’t change. Chiefs coach Andy Reid and the Chiefs offensive staff make life easy for their players because they do what so few coaching staffs do around the league: design a philosophy around the abilities of the players on the team. Then they devise a game plan that accentuates their team’s advantages versus each opponent.
Based on the opponent, the Chiefs’ offensive strategy changes week to week. But there are a few things about the Chiefs’ offense that are constant. There will be some unusual formations. The plays will be simple to execute, yet will appear complicated to defenders. Every play is a setup for a future play. And opponents’ linebackers will be challenged in the passing game.
Lately, the Chiefs’ unusual formation of choice has been a shotgun inverted wishbone. Against Washington, they even ran a zone-read from this formation with Kelce at quarterback and receiver Tyreek Hill as the back and Smith behind Kelce. I am sure Reid has another play out of this formation. But even if he doesn’t, just showing this formation a few times will benefit the Chiefs for weeks to come. When they show abnormal formations and plays like that, it forces future opponents to study it and practice against it. Practice time is scarce. The more the Chiefs can force opponents to waste time on a formation they might see only once equals the less time they’ll have to prepare for bread-and-butter plays.
Plays are Simple to Execute, Yet Appear Complicated
The Chiefs ran a toss to Kareem Hunt from shotgun with 10:14 left in the third quarter. Hunt was able to carry the ball inside the 1-yard line, setting up a Chiefs touchdown — because of how the play was designed. For weeks before that play, the Chiefs had been having success in the red zone with a read-shovel play from the same formation, which set up the toss. First, the zone-read shovel pass is a very smart play that I suspect many teams will copy because it forces the defense to account for the quarterback as a potential runner without exposing him to hits. So, before the snap, the defenders are thinking about that play. Then, Chiefs speedster Hill goes in motion from left to right, which triggers a jet sweep in the minds of linebackers, who begin to cheat right to catch Hill. The ball is snapped to Smith, who steps left and tosses the ball left to Hunt. It was an option. The unblocked defensive end was in a Catch-22. He ran at Smith, so Smith tossed it wide. If he had reacted to Hunt, Smith would have pitched it inside to Kelce, running the shovel.
Every Play is a Setup
The plays described above were the result of setups. But there was another example from Monday night’s game that impressed me. It was a designed cutback run for Hunt in the fourth quarter. When Smith was under center with the lone back, Hunt, behind him, the Chiefs had been running the power left. The right guard would pull to lead the power and the left guard and center would double-team the play-side defensive tackle. But late in the game, the right guard pulled to lead the power, and instead of doubling the tackle, the center climbed to the middle linebacker. Anticipating the power, the defenders jumped left, making the offensive line’s job easier when Hunt cut back left.
There aren’t many great coverage linebackers in the NFL. Be it man coverage or zone, most linebackers tend to lack the athleticism to keep up with backs such as Hunt and receiving tight ends such as Kelce in man coverage. In zone, linebackers lack the understanding of route concepts to excel. Reid and the Chiefs exploited both issues Monday night. But it was the aggressiveness of Washington’s linebackers in zone coverage that failed them late in the game. On a third-and-6 in the third quarter, Washington was in Cover 2. The Chiefs ran a high/low passing concept. The linebacker responsible for the hook jumped Kelce’s low route at 5 yards, so Smith connected with Albert Wilson, the high receiver, who was open in the area vacated by the linebacker.
The linebackers’ Cover 2 shortcomings cost Washington on the most significant play of the game. With just 42 seconds left, the Chiefs were backed up at their own 29. Smith scrambled to the right. In that situation, defensive backs know that zone coverage should convert to man. If there is a receiver nearby, you cover him. The last thing you want to do is give up a big play, especially given the situation. This time a linebacker sprinted toward the scrambling Smith, leaving Wilson uncovered for a 37-yard gain, setting up the game-winning field goal.
Smith had 56 yards rushing on just seven carries, so I understand why Washington’s defenders might have been anxious. But without that mistake, the Chiefs could be coping with their first loss of the season right now.