I don't know about you guys, but I'm having a ball so far in the new year. Mrs. MNchiefsfan let me sleep in on New Years until dang near 11 a.m. (I didn't even know I was physically capable of that anymore), spent some time with the kids ... and I've had plenty of time to stare at fun Chiefs plays.
Life is good. And so is today's anatomy of a play.
It's the first quarter with 7:57 remaining. The Chiefs are on their first drive of the game and looking to get a quick jump on the Browns. They've driven to the Cleveland 11-yard-line and are facing 2nd and 10.
The Chiefs have motioned Travis Kelce and Charcandrick West wide left and have them stacked, with Kelce in front of West right at the line of scrimmage and West about four yards back. It's an interesting twist to threaten one of the quick screens the Chiefs have used all season. Jeremy Maclin is lined up in the slot, Demetrius Harris is on the line on the left side, and Albert Wilson is wide right.
The Browns are showing some type of man coverage concept, with a single "deep" safety shaded toward Wilson's side of the field.
Here's a look at what the Chiefs end up doing in their routes, along with some numbers and circles and stuff...
So starting from left to right, the Chiefs have some interesting options on this play. Kelce and West both just sorta... hang out at the snap. Both have their eyes on Alex Smith and are clearly waiting to see if Smith looks their way for a screen to West. As we all know, Smith never looks their way.
Maclin is running a post to the middle of the end zone, a route we've seen from him multiple times lately (remember when the Chiefs never threw the ball INTO the end zone? Good times). Harris runs a drag route to his right, and Wilson, after a fake inside, runs a route that is best called a cross between a corner route and an out route. A cout rout? I think that could catch on.
Now, I've got a nice brownish-orange circle in the middle of the end zone. At the edge of said circle are three Browns defenders. Defender No. 1 is the poor CB assigned man coverage on Maclin. Defender No. 2 is the deep safety. And Defender No. 3 is the inside linebacker the Browns drop into a zone over the middle of the field. When you combine all three of those players, that middle of the field area SEEMS well covered.
The main action, as has often been the case with the Chiefs in the red zone lately, is in the middle of the field. Defender No. 2, the safety, is the main read Smith needs to make here after the snap (though he needs to keep an eye on Defender No. 3 as well). As was the case just one week prior against the Ravens, if the safety doesn't move toward Maclin immediately he doesn't have a great chance of making the play against a post.
Here, cheer by watching Alex Smith make a throw I literally did not think he was capable of making. SHEESH. pic.twitter.com/GwcCpDrAaB— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) December 29, 2015
Look, I've led the charge discussing how improved Alex Smith has been over the last few weeks. But even I'm not going to claim we've seen many throws like THAT.
As you can see, Smith looks right as he backpeddles, reading the safety (QBs read safeties a lot to start their reads, in case you haven't noticed) AND holding him to that side of the field. The safety stays put for a split second, the inside linebacker doesn't drop deep immediately, and Smith turns to Maclin and fires.
First of all, when you look at that none of the defenders did that bad a job. The safety recovered quickly and closed HARD on the throw. The inside linebacker saw his mistake and got depth quickly. And the cornerback on Maclin wasn't far behind him at all.
The only way this becomes a touchdown with a relatively decent job being done by the defenders is if:
1) Smith makes the throw immediately, with no hesitation whatsoever, which he does.
2) If Smith throws a strike.
We'll get to the second part in a moment, but first, take a look at Eric Fisher and Jeff Allen.
It's been well known that the Chiefs offensive line has had issues in pass protection at times this season. Even here, the right side of the line is a little more chaotic than I'd like.
However, the Chiefs are able to use three linemen to block two rushers on the right side because Fisher and Allen can be trusted to hold off defenders on their own. That numbers advantage is crucial, and the end result is a clean pocket for Alex Smith to step up and make the throw.
Now, about that throw...
That throw is boiling lava hot. I chose this particular moment and this particular angle to demonstrate what it means when people talk about "throwing receivers open."
You see how Smith fires the ball to a spot where Maclin can run to open space? If Smith puts that ball anywhere else, it's an incomplete pass or an interception. By putting it precisely in that spot he made Maclin look open when he really wasn't by most standards.
Smith doesn't often throw players open, preferring guys who already have a step or are at a clear advantage. That's just how he's wired. Until the last couple of months, at least, when he morphed into International Director of Game Managing Alex Smith and started doing things he wasn't doing last year (or even earlier this year.
Here's a fantastic angle on the throw (H/T Twitter @stevecrum1, who sent this to me):
People tend to get impressed by deep bombs that are floated into receivers' arms, and I get that. In my opinion, though, this type of throw is tougher. You have to have the velocity and ball placement perfect or it's just not going to work. LOOK at that. There's no room there whatsoever.
And then there's Maclin. This is not an easy catch to make. That ball is coming in hot and Maclin has to lay out to snag it. But there's never even a doubt. Maclin is, quite simply, an exceptional wide receiver who makes a tough play look routine. Having a receiver like him makes this play possible. I don't think there's any way Smith trusts anyone else to get it done here. One of the most terrific free agent signings the Chiefs have made in my time as a fan.
What's fun about this play, at least for me, is that it didn't require any genius design (this is some pretty standard stuff, outside of the West and Kelce combo to the outside). It was just executed so well by a fantastic wide receiver and a quarterback who is playing the best football of his life, and because of that there was nothing the Browns could do.
This was pretty decent defense, and it still resulted in six for the Chiefs. That's what I like to see