Chiefs Film Room: Maclin is exactly what the Chiefs needed


March 12th, 2015 is a day that Kansas City Chiefs fans will be telling their grandchildren about years from now, and is also the day that should be enough to name John Dorsey Executive of the Year this season.

Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating just a little bit with the whole grandchildren thing, but that day was huge for the 2015 Chiefs. For those who need a quick refresher, that’s when Dorsey turned our top receiver position from a gaping hole of under-production into Jeremy Maclin. In other words, we went from a guy who has put up less receiving yards than Tom Brady, to a guy who is on pace for almost 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns. If that doesn’t garner you some serious Executive of the Year consideration, I don’t know what would (seriously, Dorsey for EOTY).

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The two guys who were the happiest on March 12th? Andy Reid and Alex Smith, obviously. Reid’s offense calls for a number one receiver who has speed, can run precise routes, and turn ten-yard catches into fifty-yard gains. Safe to say he hasn’t had that piece since he arrived in KC.

And Alex? He’s not the biggest fan of throwing contested passes, you know, the kind of passes Bowe made a living on, so those two were never really on the same page. But oh how things have changed now that Maclin is town.

Smith and Maclin have seemed to develop a good chemistry in their first year together, and chemistry is why a play like this can be made so easily. Maclin runs a simple dig (about 10 yards then in) route, which doesn’t seem like anything special when you see it run against off-man coverage, but it actually has a bit of nuance to it.

The corner is lined up five yards off the line-of-scrimmage, which creates the risk that he could jump the route since he has can keep tabs on both Maclin and Smith. To mitigate this, Maclin has to sell the corner on the idea that he may be going downfield, forcing the corner into a backpedal.

Being a receiver who is known to possess top-level speed is definitely an asset, but also look how Maclin bursts off the line as the ball is snapped. That forces the corner to at least honor the threat of him going straight by him.

Some receivers have a tendency to tip their hand against corners and slow down too much when they make their cuts, but not Maclin. He maintains his speed throughout the route, and doesn’t signal to the corner what he’s running until it’s too late.

Checkout the corner here, see how he’s in the middle of a backpedal when Maclin reaches the top of his route? No way is he in a position to make a break on the ball and disrupt the catch.

And about that chemistry point I mentioned earlier, Smith is releasing the ball almost simultaneously with Maclin’s break. That signals to me that Smith has confidence that Maclin is going to run his route exactly the way they have run it in practice. Chemistry and savvy route running are what make a pitch-and-catch like this look so rudimentary.

Another element Maclin has brought to this receiver corps is his ability to get off the line against press coverage. Since the Seahawks’ defense dominated the league a few seasons ago with smothering press-man coverage, teams have been attempting to emulate that kind of aggressive style (Chiefs are no exception). Having a receiver that can consistently beat a jam is pretty much a necessity for offenses now.

These are both instances of Maclin not only getting open against bump-and-run coverage, but doing so quickly, which is kind of a must when your QB is playing behind a line that features a backup tackle playing guard…

In the first GIF, Maclin uses a killer stutter-step to freeze the defender, and then blow by him on the outside. Calling this bump-and-run coverage may be a bit generous since the corner completely whiffed on his bump when Maclin busted out the stutter.

In the second GIF, the defender is actually able to get a decent jam on Maclin at the line. However, check out how Maclin gets a solid shot in himself, and then executes a Justin Houston-esque swim move to get inside position for an easy catch.

Two GIFs, two different ways in which Maclin toasted press coverage. When is the last time we had a wide receiver who was capable of doing that on a consistent basis? I don’t know about you, but I’m drawing a blank over here.

With Maclin being a great route runner, and possessing breakaway speed, his presence on the field opens things up for the rest of the Chiefs receivers (whether or not they capitalize on that however, is an entirely different story). These next two GIFs are pretty good evidence for why the Chiefs couldn’t go downfield much these past two seasons (keep an eye on the Raider safety):

Both of these plays are designed with the sole intent of pushing the ball downfield, no receiver is running a route shallower than 15 yards. While neither resulted in a big play – Wilson drew an illegal content penalty in the first, and didn’t layout for a Smith deep pass in the second – Maclin’s presence greatly influences what the defense does.

In each of the plays, the Raiders are playing single high safety, something an elite rushing team like the Chiefs faces a ton of on early downs (these plays were both on first down). Without Maclin, that safety is in total center-field mode and tracking the QB’s eyes looking to make a game-changing play. With Maclin on the field, the safety has to at least consider providing help over the top in both instances.

Look at the second play, the corner has really good coverage on Maclin (bottom of the screen), yet the safety still takes a few steps to that side because he just can’t risk it when there’s a big play guy running downfield. Those couple of steps are all it takes for Smith to take a shot to Wilson.

All the safety can do at that point is helplessly watch and pray for an incompletion (unfortunately, his prayers were answered). Does anyone here think that safety is providing that kind of help if Bowe is running that route? Didn’t think so. Having Maclin not only gives Alex Smith a reliable target who can generate separation, but he makes this entire offense more dangerous.

It may have taken over half a season, but over these past two games we’ve seen exactly what Dorsey and Reid had envisioned all those months ago when they put pen to paper with Jeremy Maclin. Sure March 12th, 2015 may not go down in Chiefs lore, but it will go down as the day this iteration of the Chiefs finally added the piece that allowed them to truly realize their offensive potential.

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Oh no, it can’t be, is that? OH MY GAWD IT IS! THAT’S ERIC BERRY’S MUSIC!!