One more day until the Kansas City Chiefs play one of their biggest regular season games in a decade or so. One more day.
The reason the game is important for this season is pretty obvious. If the Chiefs win, they sit at 8-4 and are in the driver's seat to make the playoffs as, at least, a wild card team. What's more, they put pressure on the Broncos to win out by tying them. (Yes, I know the Raiders loss hurts here. I have to move on, though.)
However, this game (and whether the Chiefs make the playoffs this season) has bigger implications than just this year. In some ways it's a commentary on the Reid/Dorsey regime that was brought in after the 2012 disaster. Let me explain.
Last season, the Chiefs roared out to a 9-0 start against an easy schedule, then faltered down the stretch and lost in the opening round of the playoffs (in epic fashion, if you'll recall). After the season, most experts (and plenty of fans) predicted a regression from the Chiefs 11-5 record, even if they improved as a team. The losses of Branden Albert, Brandon Flowers, Dexter McCluster, and other key contributors only furthered those predictions.
The experts weren't alone. A quick scanning of the comment section here on Arrowhead Pride showed a serious case of the .500's. You know, people saying stuff like, "I'll be happy if they go 8-8." The Chiefs' schedule looked nothing short of brutal, and it's remained so as the season has progressed. If anything, it's been tougher than expected given the improvement of the Dolphins, Rams, Bills, and Cardinals from last season. People who felt like the 11-5 record of last season was based on an easy schedule had good reason to think even an improved Chiefs squad would be lucky to go 8-8 or 9-7.
Don't worry, I'm swinging around to my point. If the Chiefs win on Sunday, it will be their third win against a Super Bowl contender this season and will guarantee them a .500 record against a very tough schedule -- in all likelihood better than that. All of this despite losing "key players" in the offseason and losing Derrick Johnson, Mike DeVito, and Eric Berry for the year.
To make a long story short (well, not really, since I just made it long), a win Sunday would make it next to impossible to argue against the idea that the Chiefs are a very good team in just Year Two of the Reid/Dorsey rebuilding project. It will be something of a "hey, you know what, this is working" signal for the fan base. A loss would leave questions hanging in the air.
So yeah, big game tomorrow. So let's mailbag (part two of this week's questions).
@RealMNchiefsfan @ArrowheadPride McGlynn has been bad for a while is our depth worse or is Reid just avoiding change?— Cats3Gravy (@3GravyCats) November 25, 2014
This is a tough question to answer. Obviously, from my perspective (and that of most Chiefs fans) it's time to move on to ANYONE from McGlynn. He's been so bad in some games it's had a domino effect on the entire line. While some good games have been mixed in (when the Chiefs have gone run-heavy, ala the Seahawks and Patriots games, McGlynn has done pretty well), by and large it's safe to say McGlynn's been the worst player on the offense.
All of this leads to the "ABM" (Anyone But McGlynn) attitude from fans. We want the Canadian guy. We want Donald Stephenson. We want Eric Kush. Anything but another game from McGlynn.
Of course, it doesn't look like that's happening. While Andy Reid is willing to try new and innovative tactics from a playcalling standpoint (we'll get to that later), in many ways he's a very conservative coach. Look at the way he handled working Travis Kelce and De'Anthony Thomas (clearly superior playmakers, and Reid knows that) into the lineup. He took his time with it and made sure they knew their roles before getting them involved.
That's the kind of coach Reid is. He seems to trust his system (and, through that, players knowing his system) over talent. Yes, he talks about "best five linemen," but unless the depth on the line for the Chiefs is incredibly poor, that's not what's happening. McGlynn knows the system and has been working with the OL and the offense the whole season. I think Reid's inclination is to stick with the player he knows over re-shuffling.
We can only hope that McGlynn shows more good than bad over the remainder of the season.
@RealMNchiefsfan @ArrowheadPride which Chiefs WR will be the first to catch a TD this year? Odds for each?— Joshua Donaldson (@JoshuaDonaldson) November 25, 2014
Sometimes the simplest answer is the most obvious answer. I think it's going to be Dwayne Bowe.
It just makes sense. He's targeted more than other receivers in our offense, he's a better red zone threat than other receivers in our offense... he's caught passes that brought him inside the five-yard-line more than once this season. He just hasn't, you know, gone the distance.
There are some tough calls to make, though, as each receiver brings something to the table that makes them likely to be "next." Donnie Avery has fresh legs, deep speed and is trusted by Alex Smith. Jason Avant has good hands and will likely get some calls from Reid because that's exactly the kind of thing Reid does. And De'Anthony Thomas has explosive ability that makes him a potential TD whenever he touches the ball.
If I were a betting man Bowe would still be the favorite, but it would be close. If I were to put odds on each wide receiver, they'd go something like...
Dwayne Bowe- 3/1
Jason Avant- 5/1
Donnie Avery- 6/1
De'Anthony Thomas- 8/1
Every Other Wide Receiver- 100/1
Of course, if I ACTUALLY put out those odds I'm quite certain everyone would put money on Every Other Wide Receiver. Yeah, I'm not great with betting. Evangelical, you know?
@TerezPaylor what is a packaged play— Mark Knopke (@MarkKnopke) November 25, 2014
Full disclosure; I stole this question. Terez Paylor (who has just been phenomenal covering the Chiefs this year) has been talking a lot about "packaged plays" lately. This led to some people asking him what he's talking about. Which I get. It's not a term I was familiar with until last season. For a much more detailed breakdown of what packaged plays are, check out this article and this article. Both do a good job going into detail about what specifically packaged plays entail.
However, part of what I like to do is make complicated things sound simple, so I'll give a whirl. A packaged play is a play where there are several specific options for where the ball is going depending on what the defense does. The job of the quarterback, both pre-snap AND post-snap, is to diagnose where the defense is going and... well, go the other way.
The second linked article above (I'm not generally a fan of Grantland's football coverage, but both are exceptional) contains a picture I believe will help make the concept crystal-clear for those unfamiliar.
The picture makes it pretty apparent what a packaged play includes. The options go...
1) Simply hand the ball off for an outside zone run (the kind of run Jamaal Charles excels at, interestingly enough).
2) Have the QB keep the ball on what will look like a standard read option play.
3) A "pop" pass to the TE (a "pop" pass is where the QB essentially fakes a run and then "pops" the pass over the top of a charging defender who falls for the run).
4) The WR bubble screen that's being blocked by the outside receiver. You can easily imagine the role being reversed and the outside receiver being the recipient of the ball, with the inside receiver being the blocker (so chalk up another potential wrinkle).
In short, you've got four (or five) distinct-looking plays, all out of the exact same formation and all that test the defense in a different spot.
Picture this precise play with the Chiefs personnel. Charles in the backfield, Smith as the potential running QB, Kelce as the TE, and Thomas as the WR screen option. What do you do if you're the defense?
If you don't respect the run by Charles he'll likely score, because he's the best running back in the league. If you sell out too hard to JC's side and don't set the other edge, Smith is athletic enough to take it in himself. If you crash the run hard with your linebackers you're leaving a safety all alone against Travis Kelce (or, if the safety crashes hard enough, perhaps even he's not back there to defend Kelce). If you cover ALL those things aggressively you've got Thomas one-on-one on the outside against a defender, with DAT at full speed.
A simple Google search will reveal a ton of different packaged plays diagrammed. One of the first that popped up looked eerily familiar as a Chiefs fan.
You have absolutely seen a version of this multiple times this year. If you watch the Denver game closely you'll probably see it again. Once again, you've got a variety of options depending on what the defense is doing pre and post snap. And the Chiefs specific type of personnel (Charles, Kelce, Bowe, Sherman, and DAT) make this play design particularly difficult for defenses to handle.
Put Bowe at X, Charles at R, Sherman at H, DAT or Kelce at Z... you can see the problems presented for a defense. The Chiefs have run a very similar type of packaged play with Kelce lined up at the TE spot on the right side, but with the exact same concept. They've also run it without "H" and with a WR in the slot ("Z") with Kelce or Fasano at TE.
You can get more details about the role DAT is playing in these packaged plays specifically by reading this exceptional article by Terez Paylor (again, the guy is killing it).
I would expect to see the Chiefs make packaged plays a major part of the offense going forward. The personnel is ideal, with versatile players in Charles, DAT, Bowe, Kelce, and Fasano. Additionally, Alex Smith is an ideal quarterback for this system. He's intelligent enough to make reads on the defense, accurate enough to stick the short throws you'll see a million of, and athletic enough to make defenses pay if they don't account for the quarterback taking off as one of the options.
In short, I'm very excited about Reid's willingness to adapt his old-school West Coast Offense with newer wrinkles that have only appeared in the NFL over the last couple of years. We've seen the offense get better in just year two of the new system. I think we can expect to see more of the same as time goes forward and Reid/Dorsey continue to add players ideal to this type of offense.
Here's hoping we see a lot of these plays against Denver, and here's hoping they make that much-lauded defense look silly.
[For future mailbag questions, email MNchiefsfan@hotmail.com or tweet to @RealMNchiefsfan.]