The New Era Chiefs
By Laddie Morse
The formula for winning has been an ever-changing element throughout the history of the National Football League. Are the Chiefs breaking new ground for offensive approaches? Could their way of winning mean that others will be soon to follow?
First, let’s take a look back at the progression of offenses and how we got to where we are now.
Without giving away my youthful and tender chronological age, I have been following the NFL for the better part of seven different decades: the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s and teens. While this doesn’t make me an expert, it does give me a certain perspective that other… shall we say… younger fans, might not share.
As a kid growing up in the 1950s, we not only had our burgeoning stars to follow and fawn over but, like many fans these days, we had the stories and legends of the stars who’d gone before to idolize and emulate. I remember always wanting to to be Jim Thorpe when I was only 6 years old, because I found out how much he could do. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be called the world’s greatest athlete? Olympic champion. Football star. Baseball star. And recently it was found that Thorpe also played pro basketball. He could do it all.
That kind of durability and flexibility is also what defined the best players prior to 1960.
Before that, at the inception of this sport, players looked more like rugby players and only the toughest survived. Soon thereafter, the teams that thrived were teams with the best two-way players, and they were the ones who got all the press: guys like Jim Thorpe, Bob Waterfield (QB & P), Charley Brock (C & LB), Vic Sears (OL & DL), Marion Motley (FB & LB) or Bobby Lane (QB & K). Of course, that was back when “media” meant radio and newspapers, and the game was a shadow of what it is now.
Then the game became about “specialization.” And no one was more “special” in the following 25 years than a standout running back.
For decades running backs exerted their Darwinian dominion over the league’s best offenses. Players like Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Chuck Foreman, O.J. Simpson, Walter Payton, Earl Campbell, Bo Jackson, became the dominant forces in the game. They became larger-than-life characters.
The Miami Dolphins of the 1970s made great use of a trio of backs with Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Mercury Morris but may have also signaled the beginning of the end of the wing-T era in the NFL.
The 1980s saw the introduction of the Bill Walsh’s version of the West Coast Offense, although coaches like Sid Gilman leaned heavily on a pass-oriented offense decades before, as did Sammy Baugh of the 1940s. I recall my father being a big Sammy Baugh fan. He was one of the first passing stars of the league. Plus, the multi-sets offensive approach of Bill Walsh has often reminded me of Hank Stram’s offenses. Some would say there’s nothing new in the NFL, only recycled ideas.
As the decades have passed, NFL coaches have shown their willingness to incorporate new wrinkles. Some come from the college game. Some come because coaches are not only more creative now but willing to do anything to win. The Wildcat Offense, the Single Wing, the Wishbone, the Pistol, Double Wing and the I-formation. Most of those have come and gone and found their place in the history books. Many coaches use a variety of these, and although a craze can come and go, it never seems to completely die out.
There are trend-setters and there are copycats, and the copycats never seem to be as good as the trend-setters. On the other hand, with an offense like Bill Walsh’s West Coast Offense, we should keep in mind that he didn’t create it himself as much as he did beg, borrow and steal the ideas and then develop them to his own liking.
That describes Andy Reid’s offense too. He’s someone who develops what has already been available and then makes it his own.
Current offenses across the league most commonly employ the Pro Set, the Empty Backfield, the Shotgun and the Lone Setback while a growing number are using the Two Tight End set that Bill Belichick made hay with a few years ago.
Along with the normal (knowing that there is no such thing as normal) set of coaches like strength and conditioning coaches, OL line coaches, defensive backs coaches and running backs coaches, Andy Reid has someone like Brad Childress. Childress serves as a Spread Offense coach and a special analysis/projects advisor. This is not quality control that we’re talking about here.
Quality control coaches can often be interns. They provide a list of top priority functions in the weekly life of a football team. QC coaches are jacks-of-all-trades:
- searching for a competitive edge over upcoming opponents as much as five weeks in advance,
- oversees scouts as they prep starters for what they’ll face on Sunday,
- taking a saber-metrics analytic Moneyball approach and generating reports for the HC, anything that will give the team an advantage come game day,
- running the scout team in practice to simulate the competition
So, who is Brad Childress to Andy Reid? He’s “QC on uppers” but much more than that too. Remember, Childress has been an Offensive Coordinator for two NFL teams and served as a Head Coach for five years for the Minnesota Vikings.
That brings us to the Spread Offense that Childress helps to weave into Reid’s scheme.
Most teams like to use the Spread to incorporate more receivers as the QB moves to work out of the shotgun. However, the Spread can also open up spaces between the tackles because defenses “spread out” to cover the increased numbers of wideouts being sent in the defensive backfield.
That’s what you see the Chiefs doing. This is the reason you’ll hear Jamaal Charles praising Andy Reid and saying he loves this offense. Looking at this set up from an offensive lineman’s perspective you can also see how they would fall in love with it because with Jamaal Charles’ speed, they only have to hold their blocks for up to 2 seconds but not exceeding 2 seconds because by then JC is long gone.
What Andy Reid is doing here in Kansas City is different than what he was doing in Philadelphia. Yes, Reid had a top-notch back there, too, in LeSean McCoy. This is not a debate about who’s the better back (although I beleive JC is the best in the league, no bias here). This a dialog about how JC and McCoy are different. JC makes one move and hits the hole going full speed. McCoy likes to “make a move” and then “shake and bake” again if he has to. The extra moves are what keeps McCoy from exceeding JC.
Also, in Philly, Reid had receivers with speed and quickness who could get open and catch the ball then make a move and get into the end zone. That doesn’t describe any of the Chiefs’ current WRs. So, Reid works with what he’s got here.
In Reid’s offense, JC’s one-cut and see-you-later style takes full advantage of the spread like never before. Another big difference in Andy Reid’s “West Spread Offense” is what he’s asking his QB Alex Smith to do.
In the three losses this season, Alex Smith has completed 57 percent of his passes. It’s also true that the Chiefs gave up on the running game in a couple of those losses, and so it’s the way the Chiefs couldn’t pass the ball that kept them from succeeding in those games.
In the five wins this year, Alex Smith has completed 74.8 percent of his passes.
That’s an amazing number. Why so successful in those games?
Many critics of the Chiefs, myself included, have claimed that the Chiefs “can’t” go long. After looking over the success of these figures, I’m wondering if they ever intended to?
These Chiefs look at the dink-n-dunk passing game that helps them increase their percentage completion rate to nearly 75 percent as another way to run the ball. When you’re having that kind of success, why stop doing what you’re doing?
It’s my contention that the Chiefs are number one in pass defense because they keep their DBs well-rested by holding onto the ball offensively for longer periods of time. By employing a dink-n-dunk passing/running game and using a strong two-headed running attack spearheaded by Jamaal Charles, they have come up with a formula for winning that will be hard to beat. And harder yet to copy.
Complaints about QB Alex Smith being a “game manager” now appear to be misguided. His elusiveness in the pocket and ability to create yards with his legs when he has to adds to his instrumental choices. His value is as an orchestral maestro. Alex Smith is making some sweet, sweet music.
Who needs to score a bunch of TDs with your WRs, when you have so many playmakers at your fingertips? When Donnie Avery comes back, I’m sure the Chiefs will run him deep just to keep teams honest. However, they don’t “need” to.
That’s the beauty of this year’s Chiefs. That’s the beauty of the new era Chiefs.
What do you think, Addict fans? What do you think of our new era Chiefs?