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Chiefs' Alex Smith to Charcandrick West for 80 yards: A thing of beauty

One of the big reasons the Chiefs have won their last three games is Charcandrick West. When Jamaal Charles went down, we despaired. And for good reason. Charles is unique, one of the best runners I've ever seen. He is, in a very real way, impossible to completely replace.

Our biggest fear is that the RB play would go from elite to subpar. A blow like that would destroy what little offense the Chiefs have been able to muster this season. Then along came West, and our worries disappeared.

No, West is not Jamaal Charles. No one is Jamaal Charles. However, with each passing week he demonstrates more and more the ability to help the offense in a positive way. He's a legitimate starting RB in the NFL, and he's been good enough that the offense has leaned on him without crumbling.

I've written about West multiple times (most recently here, when I discussed prophetically why West should be the guy chosen to replace Charles as the feature back), so we've already talked about his vision, balance, and cutting ability.

Here, we're going to look in-depth at a great play by West (and Alex Smith, and Jeremy Maclin), along with celebrate a really poor play by the Denver Broncos; West's 80 yard TD reception in the 4th Quarter. I enjoy taking a look at big plays on all-22 because it shows just how much needs to happen for an explosive play like this one to occur. Things need to go right for the offense, and wrong for the defense. It's pretty rare, and that's why you rarely see 80 yard plays in the NFL. Defenses are simply too good.

So let's travel back to 11:23 left in the 4th Quarter. It's 2nd and 9, and the Chiefs have the ball on their own 20 with a comfortable lead over the Broncos. The Chiefs and Broncos lined up like so...


For the sake of viewing, I've done two things for you.

First, I've drawn up the routes the Chiefs ran on the play. As you can see, there's nothing too earth-shattering going on. Right to left, we've got a go route (Thomas), a wheel route (West), and in-and-out route (Kelce, running one of his best routes), a fairly deep out (Maclin), and a curl (Wilson).

The Broncos lined up with a single high safety and appeared (based on what we see after the snap) to be running man coverage across the board. I say APPEARED because I can't say for sure, based on some confusion after the snap. I wasn't in the huddle, so I can't say with absolute certainty what the defenders were supposed to do. The corners all played man coverage, we know that much. The linebackers, well ... we'll get to that.

I've used a pair of orange arrows to highlight a couple of Broncos defenders that will become relevant momentarily. Fast forward to after the ball is snapped.


It had to be apparent to Broncos' coaches that something was wrong almost immediately. The receivers are starting their routes, and West (the far left circle) immediately leaves the backfield without chipping the outside rusher. This is important, as it allows him to get on his route quickly.

The Broncos SEEM to be rushing five defenders. I've circled Sylvester Williams (middle circle), a NT for the Broncos, and Danny Trevathan (right circle), an ILB for the Broncos. At this point Williams is moving as if part of a stunt rush (the movement of the other DL seems to back up that assumption) with his eyes on Alex Smith. Trevathan is behaving as though he's part of a zone, with his eyes on Smith as well.

I used an arrow to indicate that the other 'backer for the Broncos played as though he were in straight man coverage on Kelce the entire time. Kelce roasted him with the in-and-out, but that's beside the point.

The main issue here that must have had Broncos coaches screaming was that literally NO ONE is looking at Charcandrick West. We jump forward a little further...


The play is developing in truly bizarre fashion. Williams (who, you'll remember, is an interior defensive lineman and not, you know, a safety or something) sees West completely uncovered and starts sprinting toward him. This is a great job of recognition by him, and a fine example of when the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Williams has absolutely zero chance of reaching West in time to prevent a disaster unless West just stops running.

In the meantime, Trevathan is zeroing in on Kelce, who is already "covered" (quotation marks added because let's face it, Brandon Marshall, as capable as he is, ain't covering Kelce on that route anytime soon) and utterly ignoring West.

As far as I can tell, there are five possibilities here:

1) Wade Phillips decided to have Sylvester Williams cover West if he came out of the backfield. I find this a little doubtful, considering (as we keep mentioning) Williams is an interior defensive lineman and NOT Dontari Poe.

2) Brandon Marshall was in some weird kind of man coverage in which he's supposed to show coverage on Kelce then sprint over to West if West comes out of the backfield.

3) Marshall and Trevathan were in zone coverage across the middle and Trevathan decided he don't need to cover no stinkin' left zone (or just didn't see West). I guess Williams could conceivably be part of some shallow zone coverage too?

4) Trevathan was confused about his assignment.

5) Wade Phillips forgot that running backs can come out of the backfield.

Of the possibilities, the most likely seems to be four. But again, without talking to the defense, we'll never know.

Something cool to note here (at least unusual) is that Smith is looking at Kelce in this screenshot. Kelce has clearly beaten his man coverage (he is wonderful at that particular route. Impossible for defenders to cover). However, Trevathan is clearly in Smith's field of vision as well. Pop quiz; when have you EVER known Smith to just pass up a wide open player?

I can't say for sure, but this seems to indicate Smith (based on presnap reads) recognized that if Trevathan is shading that far toward Smith, West has to be wide open. Re-watching the play, you see Smith go right from Kelce to West, which would appear to back up this analysis.

Unfortunately, LDT (who continues to struggle on too many snaps) is beaten almost immediately. Let's flash forward again, this time with back-to-back screenshots.



The first shot is as Smith releases the ball. Smith (who overall did not have as good a game as I'd like to see, but did a great job here) calmly stepped forward and to his left while shifting his eyes from Kelce to West. Seeing West with more space than, um, you know, space, he immediately lets it fly over the head of the defense.

The pass ends up being about 20 yards in the air. When a receiver is this wide open, it's not a particularly good throw. But it's worth noting that Smith made the throw on the move AND hit West so in stride that he didn't have to slow down even a bit.That elevates it quite a bit in my eyes. Had Smith waited on the throw to reset his feet, or delivered less of a strike, this is still a huge gain but not a touchdown.

For the sake of fun, I pointed an arrow at Trevathan. I'm 90 percent certain Phillips did the same during their Monday morning film study.

The second shot is West as he catches the ball. He catches it over his shoulder like a wide receiver (his skills as a receiver have been really, really welcome in Reid's offense). You can see West has a who galaxy's worth of space to work with here. The only defender with a chance at making the tackle is T.J. "don't be cheap, bruh" Ward.

At the very least, Ward needs to do something to slow down West. I circled Jeremy Maclin and Albert Wilson at the top of the screen. Both of them have corners on them who could (conceivably) run West down. West has solid speed, but he's not the burner Charles is (if this were Charles there would be no point in anyone, including Ward, even trying at this point).

But the thing is ... those corners didn't even pretend to try at first. Both just sorta stood there and watched, breaking into a slight jog after a moment. Only when it became apparent that West was too good in the open field for Ward to handle (underrated aspect of that play; West completely freezing Ward in place before cutting back inside to turn it into a footrace) did either corner start running. Of course, by then it was way too late.

Maclin and Wilson, on the other hand, immediately took off toward the end zone. Whether they were doing so to try and celebrate with West or to ensure Ward didn't catch him, I have no idea. But it ended up being a heckuva hustle play.



I know Ward whined claimed afterward that Maclin took a "cheap shot" on this play. That's asinine. Ward was closing in on West (albeit very slowly). Watching it live, I was afraid West was going to get caught from behind. Maclin got between him and Ward and ensured the touchdown (and if Maclin hadn't, Wilson was right there. He actually had to slow down to let Maclin through. Wilson is fast).

You can see that Ward and Maclin both delivered a shot to each other on this play (really, Ward shoved Maclin to the ground then tripped on his feet), as Ward saw him coming. Cheap shot lesson 101: when your opponent sees you coming and you each hit one another, it's not a cheap shot. Of course, Ward isn't even sure whether he threw a punch or not, so... yeah.

Overall, this play is just delightful to watch (enough so that I'm willing to use language like "delightful") for Chiefs fans, and just a nightmare for Broncos fans. It's a great object lesson that if you make a single mistake in coverage in the NFL, you're giving up six points.

Especially if they guy you're leaving open is Charcandrick West. What a find that guy has been.

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