There were so many things to love about the Chiefs dismantling the Texans.
Most of them revolve around the defense. Dontari Poe, Jaye Howard, and Allen Bailey were wreaking havoc up front. Derrick Johnson went all Derrick Johnson on multiple plays. Sean Smith and Marcus Peters were locking down coverage, as were Eric Berry, Husain Abdullah, and Ron Parker. It was a clinic out there.
One of the most satisfying moments of the evening for me, though, came from the offense. It's a rare game in which you know the EXACT moment a game went from "yeah, they're probably going to win" to "stick a fork in them, this one is over." However, that's what we got this game.
The Texans were kinda / sorta hanging around late in the third quarter. Yeah, the Chiefs has generally dominated the game and were up 20-0, but it didn't feel like it was completely put away yet (undoubtedly the debacle against the Colts two years ago was taking a toll on our psyche). I just couldn't shake the feeling that the Texans could pull off a miracle somehow.
Then Travis Kelce broke the Texans' back with a 48 yard reception that brought the Chiefs DEEP into Houston territory and all but assured the Chiefs would extend their lead with at least a field goal (well, not if your a Vikings fan. HEY-yo).
The game went on for another 16 or so minutes after that play, but make no mistake... it was over.
So let's look at that play.
Ignore those tiny icons on the bottom. It's not at all an indication that I'm too lazy to go back and take another screenshot. I swear, it's not!
So the Chiefs are lined up in shotgun formation on the right hash with Spencer Ware in the backfield. No TEs on are the line, and the Chiefs have four receivers (three left, one right). From left to right, we've got Chris Conley, Travis Kelce, Frankie Hammond Jr., and then Albert Wilson alone on the right side.
Now remember, the Chiefs are already up 20-0 at this point. It's second and 11 at the Kansas City 39-yard-line with 2:03 left in the 3rd Quarter. This situation doesn't exactly scream "urgency" to the offense. Frankly, one of the more accurate criticisms of Andy Reid has been that he hasn't been aggressive enough in these types of scenarios.
Yeah, that wasn't a problem here.
For your viewing pleasure, I've drawn out the routes as well as a rough approximation of the defenders' assignments. Conley is running a shallow in route. Kelce is running a deep post. Hammond is running a deep corner route that pretty clearly is a combo with Kelce's route (designed to force defenders to hesitate in order to avoid a sprinting receiver). Wilson is running a go route, and Ware's assignment is to chip the edge rusher on his way out into the flat.
The Texans are playing man coverage across the board, with a Kareem Jackson (a corner) in man on Kelce. They end up rushing four and dropping their two linebackers into zone coverage in the intermediate zones (numbers one and two in the picture). Finally, they've got a single safety covering the deep zone (number 3 in the picture).
On paper this is a pretty smart way to defend the Chiefs. The 'backers (theoretically) help take away the shallow and intermediate areas of the field. We've been told time and again that's the way to stop the Chiefs. Unfortunately for the Texans, Reid went with a very aggressive route combo (three routes testing the deep zone). Atta boy, Reid!
We'll get to what happened on the routes in a moment. First, here's the throw by Smith.
Manipulating zone 'backers; look right, then left, then come back across the middle of the field. pic.twitter.com/owbhLdz8Ic— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) January 12, 2016
First of all, even though it's a wobbler I like the ball placement here. Smith puts the ball where Kelce can catch it in stride but throws it well short of anywhere Jackson (who is badly beaten) could threaten to even contest the pass.
Also, look at Smith's eyes. Now, he could just be going through the read progressions here. However, given that Wilson's route is a go it seems pretty unlikely that he was read number one. Yet that was the first place Smith looked. He then went to the far left, where Conley (as we'll see in a moment) has come open and Hammond is heading toward the corner (no separation yet, though he ends up getting the CB's hips flipped and comes open eventually). But Smith doesn't go to Conley.
What I THINK Smith is doing is what we've seen him do a lot more of lately; he's moving the defense with his eyes. He starts right, so the deep safety drifts that direction, as does the zone 'backer. He then moves his eyes to the far left, holding the zone 'backer in that direction. That leaves a gaping hole in the middle of the field.
Another thing to note here is that there was pressure here. Donald Stephenson is badly beaten on a bull rush and though he re-anchors, it's too late to avoid being right in Alex's lap. Smith gets a hand laid on him immediately following the throw and has to release the ball with Stephenson right up against him, affecting his footwork (he's unable to step into the throw).
However, he delivers a strike (albeit a wobbly one) to the right place. Note, I said right PLACE, not right PLAYER. Look at where Kelce is when Smith starts his throw.
Kelce is JUST starting to break toward the inside. Hammond has run his route perfectly and Jackson is being forced to slow up to avoid a collision. Smith isn't throwing the ball to Kelce, he's throwing it to where Kelce is going.
Throwing with anticipation, throwing receivers open, trusting the route, etc... these are all things a quarterback needs to do in order to be considered anything better than average in the NFL. One of the common criticisms of Smith has been that he doesn't do these things, or at least not often enough. Alex Smith 2.0. It's a thing. Also, one has to love that he trusts Kelce to get to the right spot on the field.
And hey, see Conley at the bottom of your screen? He's open for what should be at least a 6-7 yard gain, maybe more if the zone linebacker doesn't make the tackle. But Smith ignored him in order to push the ball down the field. What a time to be alive.
Of course, so far we've just got a 20-25 yard pitch and catch. What made it go from that to 48 yard backbreaker was how special Travis Kelce is in the open field.
Here's what the field looked like as Kelce caught the ball.
He's boxed in by four Texans (I feel like there's some kind of western joke to be had here, but it's eluding me), all of whom have eyes on him and see he's caught the ball. He's got one teammated (Wilson) in position to maybe make a block, but that's it.
Somehow, some way, Kelce caught the ball at the 40-yard line in the middle of the field between four defenders... and then made it another 27 yards to the 13-yard line. Re-read that sentence. That's some Jamaal Charles hoodoo, right there.
So how did he do it? Well, he was aided by an overeager corner. But it's mostly just God given talent.
Kelce's acceleration and shiftiness were a tad more than the defender anticipated. pic.twitter.com/9PJdWSTTCM— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) January 12, 2016
Kelce has gathered the ball and takes off. We've all seen Kelce's ability to accelerate as the year goes on, so we almost take it for granted and forget how weird it is that a man his size moves the way he does. His acceleration, in my opinion, puts him a little ahead of where the corner (who was squaring up to make a hit) expected him to be.
The corner seems to be thinking he's got Kelce lined up to lay a big hit on him. Maybe he believed Kelce would try to power through him the way The Gronk (or most other big tight ends) would. If so, it was a poor assumption on his part. Part of what makes Kelce unique after the catch is he isn't generally a hammer. Instead, to quote the legendary Bruce Lee, Travis Kelce is water. Almost no one in the league is able to make defenders miss with such subtle movements.
Kelce basically jumps over the tackle, but he does it so smoothly that you barely notice it. The first time I watched this play I thought it was a missed tackle by the corner. Not so. While the corner really messed up by not keeping his feet and just going for a simple tackle (rather than a big hit), Kelce made him miss with a quick jump. He barely broke stride to do it. Just an incredible athlete.
You know the rest. Kelce used his always-surprising-to-defenders open field speed to sprint down to the 13-yard-line, and that was it. Kelce, who had broken the Texans' scheme wide open back in Week 1, broke their backs in the playoffs. There's definitely something poetic about that. They're gonna have nightmares about him this offseason. And rightfully so.
It was nice seeing Reid stay aggressive with a lead (though his play calling still had me going crazy on third downs throughout the game) and the players execute to put the boot to the throat. The Chiefs haven't closed games particularly well down the stretch. Sunday, Smith and Kelce made sure that didn't remain the case.