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Brian Daboll And The Chess Match Coaches Play

Sep 9, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs  running back Jamaal Charles (25) carries the ball against the Atlanta Falcons in the first half at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-US PRESSWIRE
Sep 9, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles (25) carries the ball against the Atlanta Falcons in the first half at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-US PRESSWIRE

You hear coaches talk about it all the time. The chess match. It's that analytical game that coaches play throughout the course of a game that ultimately decides the plays that are called and therefore the flow of the game itself. These 'mental wars' between coaches trying to out-scheme one another is the largely untold aspect of in-game decision-making. At least when it comes to details.

You aren't going to hear a coach after the game talk too many specifics about why certain adjustments were made or why they called specific plays in a certain situation. They may give a generic answer but they aren't going to publicly talk about why they made certain decisions because they'd have to give 'tells' on what they saw from their opponent.

When my wife and I attended the Chiefs/Chargers game in San Diego last year we had pretty good seats. We were on the 15ish yard line in the first row right behind the Chiefs bench. It was cool to see everything so close and while you'd think I'd be looking for specific players and things like that, I actually kept spending my time looking at the people behind the players, the ones printing off the aerial views (assuming) of personnel groupings, formations and 'looks' they were getting from the Chargers. I'm a nerd and that stuff interests me. The speed at which this information is printed off, cataloged, organized and put in the binder for the players when they come off the field is incredible.

I started thinking about that process on the sidelines as I began to analyze some of the information I gathered from charting the Chiefs offense against the Atlanta Falcons. Some of that information has been displayed in the post I wrote a few days ago here on Arrowhead Pride, or in the video that just came out earlier today. But looking at the different drive charts and personnel groupings there's one thing that stood out to me that seemed pretty significant.

Like I had wrote in my post a few days ago, the Chiefs ran 55 of their 67 offensive plays against the Falcons in 11-personnel, meaning 1 running back, 1 tight-end, which then would give you 3 wide receivers. (Always a total of 5, 5 OL + QB = 11.)

So the Chiefs ran a total of 12 plays against the Falcons in either 12, 21 or 22 personnel. 7 of these 12 plays were in the first drive, which lasted just 10 plays altogether. That's a pretty substantial number to me considering the percentage (91%) of plays then after the first drive that were ran in 11-personnel (52/57).


A lot of NFL teams will script the first series of plays, they already know what plays they are going to call before the game even starts. So IF that's the case with Brian Daboll, what were they trying to accomplish by running out so many different formations and looks during the first series? At least in comparison to how things worked out by the end of the game with so many plays in 11-personnel.

Was Daboll running these plays to confuse the Falcons into not knowing what kinds of plays and formations they really wanted to run later in the game? Did Daboll simply want to know how the Falcons were going to play defensively against each of these offensive looks? It's a fair question that we won't know the answer to but it's definitely worth debating. I personally think Daboll wanted to see what kinds of looks Atlanta was going to throw at each of these formations and personnel groupings so that after the first drive he could get together with Cassel and figure out the best plan moving forward. It could also keep Atlanta from knowing which formation/grouping you want to move forward with in the game.

The three plays ran in 11-personnel in that first drive were a Jamaal Charles run that went off the left guard for zero yards, the 23 yard completion to Dwayne Bowe on 3rd and 10, and the completion to Peyton Hills on 3rd and 8 that didn't go anywhere and set up the field goal. The Chiefs ran three plays in 12 personnel, four in 21 personnel and three in 11-personnel on that first drive. The question becomes did the success of that one pass to Bowe give them the information they needed to go with 11-personnel for most the rest of the game? Or was that the plan all along?


The Chiefs second drive started with a play in 22-personnel, something they didn't try in that first drive. The play resulted in no yards on a Charles run to the left. The next three plays (2 runs, 1 pass) totaled 31 yards of offense, all in 11-personnel. Then on 1st and 10 they tried that flea-flicker with 21 personnel that went nowhere. The next 25 plays in a row were ALL in 11-personnel. While they did have success doing this did it eventually become easier to defend? The score had something to do with it but they stuck with that personnel group for a while, and if you watched the video from earlier you saw they became quite predictable in shotgun as well. Even before the game was more than two touchdowns apart.

The next time they tried something other than 11 personnel was in the third quarter on the 1st play of the drive that ended with the interception off Moeaki's hands. That play in 12 personnel ended in a sack, the VERY next play also in 12 personnel, went for -4 yards on a Hillis run. A few plays in rest of that drive and to start the next one were in 11 personnel until BOOM, they tried something else on 3rd down with 22-personnel and guess what? Interception when Cassel threw across his body.

Obviously down and distance plays a part in these scenarios so it's not all this black and white, and the emergence of Dexter McCluster as Cassel's go-to WR in the slot means 3-WR sets are going to be popular. But it will be interesting to see if any of these tendencies from the game against the Falcons transfer over to the upcoming Bills game. If they don't we'll know if was just a specific game plan for that opponent and not something we can rely on each week to figure out how we'll attack an opponents defense.

The chess match continues next week. What do you think we'll see?

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