The 2015 Kansas City Chiefs: the secret of their success
By Laddie Morse
While there’s been a lot of talk about the deficiencies of the Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive line from last year to this, it’s a conversation that will likely continue until they prove their worth. Beyond the unknown “progress” of Kansas City’s offensive front, there’s much to indicate these Chiefs will succeed in a big way in 2015. Enough to win the AFC West? Why not? With a roster fully stocked and talented players at key positions, they should contend — and win — in their own division. If they can do that, they certainly can vie for the Lamar Hunt trophy.
First, let’s take a look at a couple of Andy Reid’s offensive plays and how his emergent personnel will greatly improve the possibility of success of these plays in 2015. Here is a play outlined by B.J. Kissel in a 2013 piece called, K.C. Chiefs passing game: What they’re doing and why they’re doing it.
This play is from the first game of the 2013 season against the Jaguars when KC was just beginning a nine-game winning streak. The Chiefs end up winning this game 28-2. The purpose of sharing this play is not to merely focus on Reid’s West Coast offensive successes, but to contrast the personnel he was using then with the players he has at his disposal now.
The Jags defense on this play is lined up 4 yards off the ball in order to keep everything in front of them. Easier for the defensive backs and easier for their backers. They’re thinking: bend a little, but don’t give up a touchdown.
The Chiefs have wide receiver Junior Hemingway lined up in the slot on the left with Dwayne Bowe to his immediate left. Tight ends Anthony Fasano and Travis Kelce are on the right side with Kelce on the outside. Both tight ends become third and fourth options for Alex Smith will throw the ball away above their heads and into the stands to avoid a sack. Instead, Smith “looks off” the safeties by watching Bowe take the “drive route” underneath at first, then delivers a high, hard pass to Hemingway. After that, it just becomes a matter of him coming down with the ball in his hands if he’s hit. Hemingway catches it cleanly and the Chiefs get six.
B.J. Kissel highlights the idea that only very good quarterbacks like Smith can “look off” a safety and that it was his ability to pull that off that made this play work. In his piece Kissel also points out,
“This isn’t about exceptional talent at these positions. They’re out there making the plays and executing but these aren’t clear-out, one-on-one jump-ball situations where talent overrides scheme.”
The difference between then and now is that the Chiefs have some exceptional talent at their disposal that they didn’t have two years ago.
This goal line play was schemed without the services of Jamaal Charles on the field. Imagine if the wide receiver to the far left was removed and replaced by J.C. and placed to the left of Alex Smith. Charles goes into the flat on the left and likely draws more than a cornerback with him in the process giving the defense another challenge to deal with.
Of course, Jamaal was available back then and this piece isn’t about players available then, it’s about the new players making the same old plays so dynamic now that few teams will be capable of stopping them.
Let’s take the two tight ends lined up on the right. Push Travis K. inside and on the outside is the 6-foot-7 Demetrius Harris who would likely be covered by a cornerback. If Smith can’t hit one of his intended receivers over the middle, he not only has one of the best tight ends in the league in Kelce to look to, but can just throw the ball up for Harris who either catches it for a touchdown or bats it down to keep it from being intercepted.
More importantly, look at the new personnel that the Chiefs have and who would they be lining up in the slot and on the wide receiver to the left of them. Stick 6-foot-2 Chris Conley with his 4.35 speed, a 45-inch jump in the slot and Alex Smith should be able to close his eyes and just loft the ball up there and Conley should come down with it. A bit of an over-exaggeration? Yeah, but it doesn’t seem too far off. How many safeties are taller than 6-foot-0 these days and have 40+ inch leaping ability?
How about getting Jeremy Maclin in on this play? Have him lined up in Bowes’ old spot but ask him to fake to the outside first and then come inside and you’ll have the same “high-low” tandem route for Alex to look at as he decides in a fraction of a second if he’s throwing the ball high to Conley or low to an either wide-open or double-teamed Maclin.
You can see why B.J. Kissel said this play (originally) wasn’t about having “exceptional” talent. Andy Reid is a gifted offensive schemer. However, now that he has some. .. c-r-e-a-t-i-v-e w-e-a-p-o-n-s … his offense is going to become a cross between a Disney fantasy ride and a Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare game.
Let’s take a look at another play and how the new personnel might take it for a ride and then blow it up!
At docsportstalk.com, you’ll find a good example of a play we’ve seen the Chiefs run in the middle of the field. With the ball lined up on the right hash, K.C. has split wide receivers out wide right and two out wide left, plus a tight end split left as well, creating an unusually unbalanced scheme for any defense to deal with. While lining up for this set, you’ll often see opposing defensive backs and linebackers scurrying to decide who’s lining up on each offensive receiver.
If a blitz package is suspected by the quarterback, he’ll audible and one of the receivers will stay in or go in motion as the ball is snapped for added protection.
This formation, or set, looks like what’s often referred to as a zebra, or it could be an unbalanced eagle set in typical West Coast offensive vernacular. Once again, the beauty and the brilliance of this alignment is that it doesn’t require top shelf talent to succeed. However, place Jeremy Maclin wide left and De’Anthony Thomas alongside of him. With tight end Travis Kelce in the slot on the same side of the field, then place Chris Conley (or Albert Wilson or Da’Rick Rogers) wide right and Jamaal Charles in the backfield behind Alex Smith, and you’ve got too many dynamic playmakers for most defenses to be effective against.
If Maclin runs a go-route on the left, and Chris Conley does the same on the right side, then it should pull both corners and safeties deep. With DAT running a hook and coming back toward the quarterback, and Kelce doing the same only on a shorter route on the same side, it places an inordinate amount of pressure on a linebacker or a corner who would have to come off of his man in order to cover JC screaming out of the backfield in the flat.
Alex Smith should love this play because it provides him with a huge target right in front of him in the middle of the field in the form of Travis Kelce. If Smith gets any time at all to look over his other options this play could go viral, especially with his wider assortment of toys.
It’s a common misnomer among many Chiefs fans that Coach Reid calls too many passes in the flat… or Smith uses too many passes in the flat… because Smith can’t get the ball downfield for some unexplained reason. These plays are used because they produce a specific desired effect. What effect? Stretching the field wide. Why would Andy Reid want to stretch the field wide? To make the defense defend the whole width of the field, which in turn opens up wider holes for the running game, and a host of other plays, up the middle and eventually down field, if possible. This is now a much greater possibility.
However, if we focus more on the “possibilities” in terms of the personnel groupings that Coach Reid can now use in this formation, it shows just how great the mismatches will be up and down the field in 2015.
Another beautiful advantage of both of these plays outlined here is that they don’t require the offensive line to hold their blocks so long that Alex Smith will be in danger of losing a kidney or some other necessary organ.
With Kansas City’s current collection of stars in the stable, sooner or later, on this play, or other plays like it, the defense is going to make the big mistake of leaving Jeremy Maclin one-on-one with a corner who can’t keep up with him and then we’ll have “a hot time, in the old town, tonight.” And if you can remember that classic melody then you can also recall when Eisenhower was president, when television was the most innovative technology on the planet, and when the idea of a Chiefs football team was just a gleam in Lamar Hunt’s eye.
From week to week, I generally attempt take a positive approach to interpreting the moves the organization is making. Some call it being a homer. I say it’s a reality choice based on what “feels better.” You could call me a bit of a Chiefs-existentialist. However, I’m not the only one who believes the 2015 men in red and gold could be moving on up.
Earlier this week Gil Brandt, the long-time director of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys from 1960-1988, said the Denver Broncos are one of three “vulnerable” division champs in danger of being unseated. Then he went on to list the Kansas City Chiefs as their “biggest threat,”
"“The Kansas City Chiefs have shown they can win, and they made a great addition over the offseason in Jeremy Maclin, who really brings a lot to the table. Plus, quarterback Alex Smith plays better than most people think. The Chiefs have a good shot to unseat the Broncos.”"
Brandt said last offseason that he thought the Chiefs would take a step backward from 2013, and that’s exactly what happened. So, he’s not only not a homer, he calls them as he sees them and has some experience to back that up.
ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio feels the same way,
"“I think this is a big year for the Kansas City Chiefs. I think it will be a down year for the Denver Broncos. I think the Chiefs are going to win the division based upon what I’ve seen in their progress for the last two years under Andy Reid… I think they’re in really good position to break out and win the division this year.”"
What do you say, Addict fans? Want to join Gil, Sal and myself because all of us believe that these Chiefs are going to be the NFL’s version of Broncobusters? Or, are you still saddled with a bad case of the “Denver’s just too good for us” blues?