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Managing the big play: the Kansas City Chiefs have a historical offense

The Kansas City Chiefs are coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Los Angeles Rams in a game in which they scored 51 points.

Somehow, during this game that saw a combined 107 points scored, the defense may have not been the only reason the Chiefs lost this game. The offense suffered its fair share of mishaps both in execution, mental lapses and coaching decisions but clearly, there is more to be excited about than upset with.

The Chiefs continue to show they can overcome adversity, as noted by multiple answers after turnovers and Rams scores.

The offense is still clicking at an abnormal rate, especially accounting for the mistakes that were made, and that is due to its ability to land big play after big play.

The Chiefs offense has no problem sustaining drives and matriculating the ball down the field. In fact, it has proven they can run the ball down the entire field this year, but what makes them the most dangerous offense in the National Football League is their ability to strike big play after big play.

The Chiefs routinely found success by dialing up deep passes and getting players in space to turn short or intermediate routes into chunk plays against the Rams. The most impressive part about their ability to excel with big plays is the unique ways they are able to pull of these chunk plays and the consistency in which they do so.

This week, down in the Arrowhead Pride Laboratory, we are going to look through some coaching decisions and the player execution that went into making them happen.

The art of the big play

Deep passing attack

Having a quarterback like Patrick Mahomes and the speed of Tyreek Hill make downfield passing easier than it will be for just about any other team in the NFL, but it’s far more complicated than that.

Here the Rams are in a single-high safety (a single-deep safety in the middle of the field) look while in man coverage on all of the receivers. The Chiefs use a slight play-action fake to make sure the linebackers are respecting the run and not getting depth off the snap, which could interrupt the deep slice route by Hill. As the linebacker is drawn in with the run action and then occupied by Kareem Hunt’s out route, the stress is then placed downfield on the single-high safety. With three receivers to the right side of the formation, the first and second receiver are running deep vertical routes, forcing the safety to respect the seam route.

The play design was good, but the execution by the players was equally important. Mahomes does a great job of holding both safeties (deep and the safety in the robber hole), allowing Hill to clear them to the back numbers. Hill does his part and beats the jam quickly and then just turns up his speed to create separation in just 25 yards.

A very similar play here with Travis Kelce now as the inside receiver in the trips formation and the one running the over route. The concept is still the same—two vertical routes on the outside, an over route by the three to the trips side and the backside wide receiver is just occupying the cornerback underneath after a slight run action.

The Chiefs do not hesitate to dip back to the same well when the play is working, and this vertical concept from trips with the over route was one that was used multiple times in this game.

The changeup

Not every big play is coaching genius, especially when you are working with a team as talented as the Chiefs.

The over route from the trips formation, as mentioned above, was utilized often in the first half, and then Reid showed the same formation in the second half.

The play is a bit different despite the same general alignment, but Kelce uses the similarities to his advantage, as he’s isolated in man coverage against Marcus Peters. Kelce drives upfield, selling a vertical route and dips his outside shoulder down and to the inside, which indicates to Peters that he’s about to break inside, possibly on the same over route from the first half. Instead, Kelce hits his bam step, slaps Peters’ hands away, and breaks outside, producing plenty of separation and then quickly turns into a runner once he has the ball.

Big plays in the run game

The big plays aren’t limited to just the passing game for the Chiefs; Kareem Hunt and the offensive line (who should get due credit for all of this) can produce chunk plays on the ground as well.

Based on alignment and the vacated space after Hill’s motion across the formation, the Chiefs end up with an advantageous blocker-to-defender ratio. As soon as Austin Reiter prevents the nose tackle from fighting to the opposite A-Gap (gap between the center and left guard opposite of his alignment), he can begin moving to the second level. The inside zone run directly at Aaron Donald allows Hunt to read Donald’s penetration and take the ball to the other gap.

On this play, Donald shoots the B-Gap outside of the guard ,so Hunt cuts up on the inside hip of his guard. Due to the alignment of the Rams, the linebacker in the second level has to work up and over Reiter, giving Hunt an angle to outrun him and slide out of the tackle attempt. The run call, the blocking and the runner all work in unison to generate a chunk play in the run game.

Playmakers make plays

The unique thing about the Chiefs is that the coaches can dial up these coverage beaters all game long and produce open players but they can also put their guys in isolated situations against defenders and rely on them to get open.

The route by Hill is pretty much undefendable if you are isolated in man coverage having to defend the potential of him running by everyone on the field. Hill has come a long way as a route runner and while there is still plenty of improvement still to be had, his speed combined with good routes make back-breaking routes like this chair route pretty much a pitch-and-catch scenario.

There is some credit to give to the Chiefs coaching staff for consistently getting Hunt matched up on linebackers in man coverage and trusting him to create separation. Hunt does a good job working through the contact, selling vertically and breaking out toward the sideline before the ball arrives so he can adjust for the catch.

Mystery of misdirection

An Andy Reid special is multiple levels of misdirection and very few coaches have ever done up to his level.

The pre-snap jet motion begins the chain reaction of misdirection.

As Hill goes across the screen, the defensive back responsible for him on a pass route gives chase. The defender responsible for Kelce on the backside of the play can’t flow to a potential run because he also has to keep contain on the jet motion. After the fake jet sweep, there is a play-action fake to Hunt, which draws the linebacker forward. Third (yes, a third layer of trickery on a single play), there is a fake end-around that briefly freezes the linebacker and gets the outside cornerback to start to track across the field. The final level, which is pretty basic, is the same over route flashed across the middle of the field that occupies both safeties as they begin to read “pass.”

All of this was to set up a simple screen to Hunt out of the backfield thanks to the multiple layers of misdirection. Each layer is designed to attack a defensive player’s responsibilities once they correctly identified the previous movement was a fake. Reid wasn’t only creating confusion from the start but also their attempts to correct their improper movement.

Did the Chiefs get too greedy?

One downside to having such a dynamic offense is they can get too reliant on those big plays and struggle to maintain the possession of the football. Normally, being able to score at will is a positive; it’s rare a team ever be concerned about scoring the ball too fast in the real world.

The few exceptions come in situational football. Four minutes left in a game, down by less than one score, a team wants to use that entire clock to score.

Enter the Chiefs-Rams game in which the Chiefs got the ball back with just under two minutes left down by just three points. They quickly, in 20 seconds, move the ball past mid-field and on to the Rams’ side of the field. The next play has caught some ire for being too aggressive.

The general line of thinking, against this play, is that it’s slow developing and a downfield pass when the Chiefs had timeouts and the ability to run the clock down while working down for a game-tying or go-ahead score. Stuck in the magnitude of the situation, that may be true, but there was plenty of logic to the play call.

First and foremost, the Chiefs already used the exact same play to attack the Rams’ most common coverage, 2-man with a hi-lo tag on an inside receiver. The play-call was likely called with the idea to attack a similar defense, but the Rams defended the vertical by Hill better without the same hi-lo tag on.

Despite the Rams learning from last time and successfully taking the Nine route away, the post route underneath it was wide open against the split-safety look. Quite simply, Mahomes was too locked on to Hill deep, so much in fact that he hit his drop, had a hitch in his throwing motion and then moved off of Hill to look at Conley. Had he come off Hill immediately, identifying the safety’s play, he had an easy completion to Conley on time in the middle of the field.

The play design and timing was ultimately a success, but the large complaint about time still exists, or does it? If the ball goes to Conley on time, he’s still likely tackled around the 15 to 20-yard line.

The Chiefs then run the clock while in field-goal range trying to punch it in.

Had the Rams played this route concept the exact same, the Chiefs score on another vertical route to Tyreek Hill and leave the Rams one and a half minutes to drive the field with no timeouts needing a touchdown to win.

That should not be considered a mistake or a problem to any team at any time.

Big expectations for the big play

There are very few teams in the history of the NFL that have had the firepower and coaching capable of utilizing that firepower that the Chiefs currently do. The Greatest Show on Turf, the 1998 Minnesota Vikings, and the 2007 New England Patriots are some of the teams that come to mind when thinking about the Chiefs offense. There are other great offenses in the NFL right now and certainly have been some since 2007, but what makes this collection of teams so unique is that big-play ability.

The fact that a defense could play the Chiefs incredibly well and shut down most of what they do only to give up multiple 20, 40, or 60-yard plays is incredible.

Even more impressive is how many different ways the Chiefs can churn out those game-breaking plays. Teams will go weeks without having as many big plays as the Chiefs did just against the Rams last week, let alone in all the different facets of the game that they did.

It may not be everyone’s favorite brand of football, and the team may not be the best overall team in the NFL, but everyone needs to sit back and enjoy this offensive display for the rest of the season.

There is a chance they are going to finish the year in rare air in that regard.

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