Film Room

Analysis beyond the numbers

Film Room: Kansas City Offense

by Derrik Klassen

There is no stopping the Kansas City Chiefs offense. Currently perched well above the rest of the pack as the No.1 offense per DVOA, Andy Reid's attack is an overwhelming concoction of speed, deception, and careful execution. A skill group spearheaded by wide receiver Tyreek Hill, running back Kareem Hunt, and tight end Travis Kelce makes for the best unit in the league, which is maximized by MVP-hopeful quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The best an opposing defense can hope for is to slow them down just enough to allow their own offense to keep up in a shootout.

On Sunday, the Arizona Cardinals' defense tried their hardest to set this scenario into action. The Cardinals held the Chiefs offense to a season-low 26 points, one of the few times they have been held to fewer than 30 points this season. Though that was still plenty enough for the Chiefs to win, the Cardinals prevented an elite offense from running roughshod over them, which is more than most of the Chiefs' past opponents can say.

Like most quality defensive performances, Arizona's success hinged on how well they got to the quarterback. Prior to Sunday, Mahomes had not been sacked more than twice in a given game all season, and many of the sacks he did take had resulted in minimal losses. The Cardinals, however, sacked Mahomes five times for a total of 37 yards, killing a handful of drives as well as forcing a pair of field goals. More impressive, the Cardinals were able to do so by mixing up base four-man rushes with elaborate five- and six-man blitz packages. Most of the Cardinals' blitz packages were paired with press coverage on a key Chiefs skill player, too, which often forced Mahomes to look elsewhere or hold the ball too long.

On the Chiefs' first red zone trip, for example, the Cardinals closed out the drive with an uncommon blitz concept on third down. It was not the blitzing player who ended up with the drive-ending sack, but the design was impressive nonetheless and it forced Mahomes to hesitate in the pocket.

As Kelce is motioning from right to left across the formation, Mahomes takes a peak at the widest receiver to the right side of the formation, Hill. Hill is matched up by one of Arizona's defensive backs in what appears to be press coverage. Mahomes will want to check this again post-snap in case the defensive back bails, but he is likely assuming press coverage in this scenario and will look to other options as Hill is rerouted.

Right on schedule, Mahomes gives Hill another look as he receives the snap. Hill is pressed at this point in the play, just as Mahomes suspected, which should either mean Hill will end up being trailed by a solo man coverage assignment or will be funneled to the underneath area into Arizona's linebackers. With that in mind, Mahomes will want to look deeper down the field to other options.

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The defensive back does not run with Hill, though, and Arizona's linebackers trail off into relatively deep zone drops. Hill is neither trailed or funneled into other defenders, but Mahomes goes through his initial dropback under the assumption that one of those things will happen. Instead, the defensive back who pressed Hill ends up peeling off of the receiver on a delayed blitz through the right guard and completely closing the pocket. The Cardinals covered Hill without really covering him and did not give Mahomes anywhere to go in the pocket.

Defensive end Chandler Jones mauls left tackle Eric Fisher for a quick sack that had little to do with the design, but that is beside the point. Even if Jones did not get there in such a hurry, the delayed blitz would have resulted in pressure and Mahomes would have been left panicking to find a passing option in a rapidly crumbling pocket.

Defensive-minded head coach Steve Wilks tweaked his approach as the game went on, weaving in legitimate press coverages and more ambitious blitz packages when necessary. A couple of drives after the Jones sack, Wilks sent a six-man pressure with press coverage on Kelce that lead to a frantic incompletion from Mahomes.

In the play below, Kelce is lined up as the point man in the bunch set to the left of the formation (he's the one at the line of scrimmage). Lined up across from Kelce is defensive back Budda Baker, a man of many hats in the Cardinals defense. The Cardinals send their front four as well as their two off-ball linebackers, coming together for a six-man pressure versus Kansas City's six-man protection with the running back.

via Gfycat

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Mahomes does not look to anyone but Kelce on this play. Considering Mahomes identifies the blitzing linebackers as soon as the ball is snapped, he may be under the impression that Kelce can beat Baker in press coverage. In fairness to Mahomes, Kelce should win that rep more often than not. This time, however, he does not. Baker jams and redirects Kelce all throughout his route, never giving him a chance to break free. The extra second or so that Baker's coverage buys gives the pass rush the time it needs to pressure Mahomes and force the ball out of his hand. When Mahomes goes to rush the ball out, neither he nor Kelce are ready to make a proper play, and Mahomes nearly throws an interception to a diving Baker.

Kansas City eventually advanced that drive via a long third-down conversion and continued to march into the Arizona red zone, but the Cardinals turned to press coverage again to halt the Chiefs before they could score a touchdown. Any time a defense can hold the Chiefs to merely a field goal when they are in touchdown range, they will take it.

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No different than earlier in the drive, Baker is the one to press the Chiefs' key receiving threat on the play. Baker is lined up over Hill to the left of the formation, with Hill as the forward player in the offset stack. At the snap, Baker bumps Hill, forcing him to slow down and take his vertical stem inside. The small obstacle Baker serves as may not appear to be much, but delaying Hill ever so slightly enables linebacker Josh Bynes and safety Tre Boston to get into a comfortable position to play around Hill. Like in the first play, Jones capitalizes on the coverage and tears through Fisher for his second sack of the day. The Chiefs were again left settling for a field goal.

Unfortunately, even against a well-constructed game plan and an overpowering pass rush, the Chiefs offense will still find a way to do its thing. With a little help from rookie quarterback Josh Rosen's turnover troubles, the Chiefs were afforded enough opportunities for the explosive nature of their offense to win out over an otherwise lacking performance. Kansas City scraped together three passing plays of more than 20 yards and six rushes of more than 10 yards. Though maybe not up to par, that was more than enough chunk plays to stay on the field and put points on the board.

On an individual level, Mahomes ended the day averaging nearly 9 yards apiece on 28 attempts, Hill racked up 137 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns, and Hunt posted a cool 96 yards from scrimmage on 18 touches. Aside from Kelce, who still managed a fine performance, the Chiefs stars were able to overcome what felt like an excellent game plan from the Cardinals.

As Jacksonville, Denver, New England, and now Arizona have showcased, defensive success against Kansas City is only relative, never in a vacuum. The Chiefs offense at its worst, from what they have shown this season, is still better than all but a handful of the rest of the teams in the league. Until proven otherwise, it does not appear as though anything less than perfection will truly shut down the Kansas City attack. Good, even great, is not enough.

Comments

3 comments, Last at 16 Nov 2018, 12:32am

1 Re: Film Room: Kansas City Offense

by alan frankel // Nov 15, 2018 - 3:02pm

Definitely illegal contact on the Kelce trips play, the refs have so much influence on games, even a great offense can be slowed down with good schemes and a little passive officiating.
Also the first plays bump and blitz technique is not such a schematic leap, I run this in flag football all the time, this should become standard practice for anyone facing the chiefs.
The weaknesses of Andy Reid’s schemes and Mahones are starting to become apparent, Reid tends to make the reads for his qbs so if Reid doesn’t anticipate the defenses schemes correctly his qb is dead, Mcnabb,Smith Mahomes, were all being coached this way and by midseason it’s just harder to suprise teams.

We’ll see if mahomes is different from those guys mentally,
he’s already proven to be a better thrower than the other Reid protégés, but can he make the leap to making his own reads in real time?
That’s the question the Chiefs season hinges on

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2 Re: Film Room: Kansas City Offense

by MJK // Nov 15, 2018 - 3:57pm

Or OPI. The defender is entitled to space too. Kelce raises his arms and initiates contact, and may push off a bit. Gronk probably would have been flagged.

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3 Re: Film Room: Kansas City Offense

by alan frankel // Nov 16, 2018 - 12:32am

I can see it both ways, but I think still it’s illegal contact

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