Let's start off with a mandatory disclaimer.
I am not now, nor I have I ever been, nor will I ever be, an NFL head coach. Andy Reid has forgotten more about football than I'll ever know. The man has successfully coached for decades in the NFL and is well known to be one of the more gifted game planning coaches in the league. I'm just a guy who watches ridiculous amounts of football and talks to more knowledgeable football minds every chance he gets.
Andy Reid knows more about football than I do. There, the disclaimer is out of the way.
What in the name of all things sacred is Andy Reid DOING?????
We all understood when Reid was hired that there were going to be some drawbacks that came to town with the former Eagles head coach. We'd all heard the jokes about his clock management and his inexplicable refusal to use the running game. That, we were prepared for (well, at least we thought we were. More on that in a moment).
One thing I was completely unprepared for was the possibility that Reid would make absolutely mystifying decisions regarding personnel. Or his incredible lack of prowess at determining when a team should go for it vs. when it should punt on fourth down.
However, the more I watch an Andy Reid coached team (and he has shown the ability to coach very well. We're a week removed for dismantling the Patriots, let's remember), the more I'm convinced that the man is a victim of being brought up in an overly conservative NFL. He can't stop himself from coaching to "not lose," because that's all he was taught.
In reality, almost every maddening trait we saw from Reid Sunday can be traced back to his conservative nature as a head coach. Let's start with the playcalling.
Yes, Andy Reid abandons the run far too quickly. Yes, the Chiefs are better off as a team running the ball the majority of their snaps. Yes, even against the vaunted 49ers run defense Jamaal Charles showed he could (if given the opportunity) carry the offense on his Hall of Fame-worthy shoulders. And yes, it seems counter-intuitive to call passing the ball too much "conservative" when that kind of playcalling is generally considered highly aggressive. But in Reid's case, that's it exactly what it is.
You see, Reid feels most comfortable designing and calling his West Coast offense and the various passing routes that entails. It's what he's best at (really, some of the route combinations he's installed are gorgeous). It's what he's confident in. It's what he's ALWAYS DONE. It's what's landed him head coaching jobs and made him successful in the NFL.
And so, when in need of crucial yardage, that's what Andy Reid turns to: his own playcalling ability. In short, Reid seems to be a coach who has more confidence in his ability to draft up and call a play than he has in his players to just beat the opponent with execution and superior talent. This is why we see plays like the following (warning, avert your eyes if this is too fresh. Seriously) ...
Chiefs are facing 3rd and 1 in the fourth quarter (again, you probably know where I'm going with this and should just skip forward if you are still feeling upset about the game. Don't do this to yourself) and in need of a first down. By and large, the Chiefs had been having success running the ball all day (though I guess it's worth noting Jamaal Charles had been stuffed on first down by Patrick Willis).
This seems like a pretty simple play call. Two or three TEs and / or Anthony Sherman, bulldoze for a first down and get moving on the next set. Instead, Reid calls for my absolute least favorite play in his playbook; a quick out into the flats from the line (I'm sure there's better terminology. I just don't care and hate the play too much to find out. My ignorance is a conscious choice here).
You've seen it a million times, I've seen it a million times. And from the way the Niners defense handled the play, THEY'VE seen it a million times from Andy Reid as well. No way I'm taking the time to show the play frame by frame, but here's the throw.
While it may look like the secondary player covering Bowe is fooled, let me assure you that he was breaking on the ball the MILLESECOND after this frame. It's impossible to say for certain Bowe would've gotten the first down even had everything else gone to plan, given the east-west nature of his route and how quickly the defender started to close once the ball was in the air. The defender clearly recognized the play and was breaking to where Bowe and the ball would meet. I believe Bowe would have been able to make it, but it's no sure thing.
Of course, that's all academic because of the other circled Niners defender. You know, the one who recognizes what's happening and is getting in the air to knock down the throw.
And therein lies the rub with these ridiculous quick outs. Opposing teams have seen them a million times and are expecting them. And this play, more than almost any other, is particularly vulnerable when sniffed out by the defense. Why? Because it's so EASY for a defender to completely destroy the play by simply jumping into the throwing lane. Which is, you know, exactly where the defender (in all likelihood) already is. The route, by its very nature, requires a throw that's impossible to make if a defender gets his hands up.
This particular play revealed both issues I have with Reid's pet play. First, it's unreliable to get positive yardage even if things go correctly. It's a low-ceiling play that ends (at best) with 4-5 yards, and often less. We've seen that time and again. The second (and far more anger-provoking) problem with this play is it practically invites a batted pass. We've seen that time and again as well.
I can think of at least three of these particular passes being batted down this year alone. That's staggering when you look at it as a percentage. I won't do the math (because math is evil, remember), but I wouldn't bat an eye if someone told me this pass is five times more likely to be batted down than a "regular" pass.
Why does Andy Reid keep running such a low-ceiling, low-floor play on crucial downs? Because that's what he's always done. And again, in my opinion, at the end of the day Reid believes in his playcalling more than he believes in his players' ability to make plays. Again, passing instead of running doesn't seem conservative on the surface. But it's actually the worst kind of conservative in Reid's case, as it represents his inability to get out of his comfort zone (playcalling and winning in the "chess game" against defensive coordinators) and do something that makes him sweat (trusting players to get it done without "fooling" the opposing coach).
That conservative nature reared its ugly head on fourth down on Sunday as well. With 52 seconds left in the third quarter, the Chiefs faced 4th and 4 on the Niners 36-yard-line. Naturally, one would assume the Chiefs would use their "big-legged" kicker Cairo Santos to boot a long field goal. Nope. Instead, the Chiefs punted, gained 16 whole yards of field position as Dustin Colquitt put it in the end zone (barely, and in part thanks to a ref colliding with Philip Gaines while not even TRYING to move out of the way).
Obviously, if Reid isn't comfortable with Santos kicking field goals, there's not much he can do about it at that moment. But he CAN chose to make the gutsy (and correct, with the beauty of hindsight) call of going for it on 4th and 4. Even without the benefit of hindsight, going for it was the right call. The Chiefs defense had done its job all day. Worst case scenario is San Francisco getting the ball back with decent field position. Best case scenario is you get a first down and keep wringing out the lead (likely scoring at least a field goal).
I know some fans will disagree, but Reid was overly conservative in punting in that situation, and it hurt in the long run.
The last place Reid's conservative nature has harmed the Chiefs is, for me, by far the most infuriating: Reid's refusal to trust younger, exponentially more talented players. Instead, Reid has shown a frightening tendency to favor guys he's "comfortable with" who "know the system." It's another symptom of Reid trusting his system more than he trusts players to make plays.
We've talked about Travis Kelce a great deal here at Arrowhead Pride. In fact, media outlets everywhere have talked about Travis Kelce a great deal as of late. The reason for that is he's a genuinely frightening playmaker who eviscerates defenses almost every time he touches the ball.
But on Sunday, Kelce was relegated to secondary duties. And not just in snap count (though, once again, Kelce saw fewer than he should have -- only 29 vs. Fasano's 47). No, Sunday Kelce was privileged to stand and watch as plays run with so much success to him against the Patriots were now being run to... Anthony Fasano.
I like Anthony Fasano. He's a decent tight end who catches almost everything, knows how to find the holes in a zone defense, and blocks very well. But the sight of him getting 7-8 targets on the first three drives while Kelce, a vastly superior playmaker, barely gets looked at leaves me screaming at my television. In the second half Kelce was barely a factor outside of a single catch (naturally, a first down).
A new player to add to the mix of "This man needs to be on the field NOW!" is De'Anthony Thomas, the new-and-improved Offensive Weapon.
Look, I get that DAT is new to the fold. I get he hasn't played since preseason. And I get that he'll need time to get eased into the system or whatever. But holy crap, man, LOOK at this guy.
That kind of stop-to-start acceleration isn't a fluke. Neither is the balance required to break that tackle. Neither is the feint toward the inside to set up the sprint outside for the touchdown. De'Anthony Thomas can flat-out make plays.
Except he didn't get a chance to do so outside of this one touch. Seriously. One touch on offense, one touchdown. You'd imagine that kind of ability would lead to a guy at least getting a LOOK at other points in the game. Nope. Instead, we have A.J. Jenkins running sweeps.
Re-read that last sentence and try not to cry. I mean, I don't even ... I can't even ... I just can't.
While Kelce and DAT went underused (four total targets), Fasano and Jenkins were treated like big parts of the offense Sunday, with nine targets and one carry between the two of them (via ESPN stats). That amounts to 20 percent of the Chiefs offensive snap opportunities (there were 49 targets / carries no including the one Alex Smith run).
Let me say this again: while Kelce and DAT were targeted four times, Fasano and Jenkins had their number called TEN TIMES. If that's not a complete failure on the part of a head coach to get his playmakers the ball, I'm not sure what is.
And again, it all comes back to Andy Reid's conservative nature. He trusts Fasano and (for whatever reason) Jenkins. They know his system, and he's comfortable with them. So he rolls with them over the players with markedly more talent, but whom he is unfamiliar with. It's the safe approach. It's also a great way to lose football games.
Andy Reid is a good football coach. The destruction of the Patriots (who just hammered the previously unbeaten Bengals) should linger in our minds as an example of what happens when Reid gets things clicking and calls a balanced game.
But Reid will handicap the team from reaching its full potential if he continues to coach from a place of fear. Sooner or later, you have to make the dangerous call and rely on talent to help carry the day over coaching. Reid needs to a show a little less faith in his own brain and a little more faith in his players.
The Chiefs offense needs to run through Jamaal Charles. We all know this. When Charles isn't touching the ball, 85 percent or so of the opportunities should go to Travis Kelce, Dwayne Bowe, Knile Davis and De'Anthony Thomas in some order depending on matchups.
On Sunday, that foursome saw 14 combined targets / carries. The same number of targets / carries that were given to Anthony Fasano, A.J. Jenkins, and Junior Hemingway. Fasano led the team in targets. He had as many opportunities as Kelce and Davis combined. That really happened.
Sometimes being smart can be a hindrance. On Sunday, we saw a very smart guy make some very dumb decisions as he allowed his brain (and conservative mindset) to get in the way of his common sense. Here's hoping something changes moving forward.
(Side note to end things: don't think the players are off the hook. But that's for another day)