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Chiefs and the sweep: Andy Reid plays chess

Over the course of this season, Andy Reid has done a lot to like on the offensive side of the ball.

There are some who disagree, and that's OK. One of the beautiful things about this game is the amount of subjectivity and opinion that goes into our views. Me, personally, I've seen a ton of instances where Andy Reid is thinking a half dozen steps ahead of opposing defensive coordinators. It's his best trait as a coach.

Nothing stands out more to me than the way the Chiefs have used sweeps, fake sweeps, and misdirection to cause chaos on the defensive side of the ball on running plays.

All season, the Chiefs have run at least a couple of sweeps (where a receiver runs laterally behind the line of scrimmage and takes a quick handoff from the quarterback) a game. They've had varying degrees of success, but they've been consistently part of the offense week in and week out.

When De'Anthony Thomas went down, I assumed we wouldn't see as many sweeps. However, the Chiefs have turned to Albert Wilson (and in smaller part, Jeremy Maclin) and continued calling sweeps multiple times a game without a dropoff in production. If anything, I would say Wilson provides nearly as much a threat as DAT, if not more, due to his ability to shake tacklers without sacrificing too much speed.

But the thing about these sweeps is that they aren't just plays for their own sake. Like I said, Reid is usually thinking about more than the current play. He plays chess, not checkers. And the Chiefs have gotten very, very good at running plays in which the ball is snapped exactly at the moment a sweep would take place but handing off to the RB, generally headed the opposite direction that the "sweeping" WR is headed.

So what ends up happening is that defenses see identical looks but have no idea where the ball is going, and the two choices they are presented with are going in different directions. What do you do at that point? When a team learns to run these plays with proper timing (as the Chiefs have), it becomes extremely difficult to play as a defender. You're basically left guessing, and Lord help you if you guess wrong.

In the first quarter the Chiefs ran a sweep to Jeremy Maclin that left the Raider defense completely flatfooted.

This is where a sweep can really benefit an offense. The great thing about it is that a speedy receiver (in this case, Maclin) gets the ball already at full speed headed toward the edge. It's almost impossible for a defense to pursue laterally quick enough to catch up, and their only chance is to anticipate the sweep and be at the edge already, stringing out the WR until you can run him out of bounds.

Here, obviously, that doesn't happen. Look at the defenders as Maclin hits the edge.


All three of the Raiders defenders who have a remote chance of stopping this play are staring at Alex Smith and Charcandrick West like they're performing a magic trick. And in a way, they are. Smith is a pretty good "ball handler," for lack of a better term, capable of smoothly executing more complicated fakes and handoffs without tells as to where he's going with the ball.

Seriously, look at Khalil Mack. He could not be more befuddled by what is taking place in front of him. Mack is a phenomenal young player, the closest thing to Justin Houston in the league. But he's still prone to being taken by surprise with fakes like this, and it showed this game (Smith later faked him out of his jock on a QB option).

In the meantime, the corner who is supposed to be covering Maclin (circled) didn't keep up going across the field and is way out of position as well. This play is a guaranteed big gain even without stellar blocking (Travis Kelce did a great job, Demetrius Harris got hung up and missed his man) due to the misdirection at the snap. Wonderful play design to keep the defense on their heels.

The very next play, Reid goes full Bobby Fischer on the Raiders.

There's a LOT to love here. A whole lot. That's generally the case when a RB scampers into the end zone untouched, but it's especially true here.

This GIF is almost like you took the last one but made the defense behave in the EXACT opposite way. It's pretty entertaining. See the corner throw up his hands for just a second before he starts sprinting to try and keep up with Albert Wilson? See Charles Woodson bite so hard on the fake that I'm pretty sure he chipped a tooth? It's glorious.

Here's the defense as Spencer Ware is getting the ball. Again, it's like you're looking in a funhouse mirror of the previous play.


Look at all the defenders inside the circle. They've all got their eyes on Wilson OR (in the case of one of the ILBs) are basically standing still, unsure of where to go or what to do. Oh, and one thing that's virtually identical to the first play? Khalil Mack, just standing there. Kinda hanging out. No clue what is going on around him. I love it.

Also, in case you missed it, Eric Fisher and Jeff Allen just CRUSHED IT on this play. Fisher takes advantage of the Raiders edge rusher trying to get up the field and very helpfully gives him a nice shove. And Allen ... man, what's left to say about the way Jeff Allen has played since he's come back? He just destroys his defender. Drives him back, walls him off, then pancakes him into dust. Beautiful.

The Chiefs have been doing this all season. No team in the league does a better job with these particular looks and misdirections. What do you do as a defense? You can't just completely ignore Wilson or Maclin screaming around the edge. Doing so almost guarantees a solid gain for the offense. Of course, both Ware and West have proven more than capable of burning defenses on their own if they get some daylight.

You're left being pulled in two directions as a defender. And there's no way of anticipating what the Chiefs are going to actually do here. They've also got the capability (in multiple RB formations) of going to neither "edge" option and running the ball straight up the middle of the defense cheats to both edges. Or you can run a play fake to one option or the other and look to go deep with the defense completely off balance. OR Smith can keep the ball himself and use that athleticism to make the defense pay for keying on everyone else.

So. Many. Options. That's what happens when an offense perfects the execution of this type of play. It's been fun watching the chess game this year, and hopefully the Chiefs continue to build on the uncertainty they can create with these looks.

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