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The core of the Kansas City Chiefs offense and the need to counterpunch

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NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

What do Michael Jordan and Tim Tebow have in common? Both allowed their egos to overtake their self-awareness. Both have things they are good at (Jordan was of course on a whole different level than Tebow), and both at one point in their career decided to get away from what they do best. Jordan retired from basketball, and famously tried to be a baseball player. His ego said that he was the best at basketball, so he could work and become the best at baseball too. It didn't work. Tebow was a gifted runner and a limited passer coming out of college. Teams begged him to change positions and become an impact H-back in the NFL. His ego said "I'm a QB"... but he wasn't. Now Tebow is trying to be a baseball player, but it's pretty likely that won't work either.

Both guys needed to do a bit of self scouting and stick to what they do best. Being self-aware allows individuals and organizations to understand their own strengths and weaknesses, and be more successful.

NFL coaches and personnel departments talk about self scouting throughout every offseason. It's critical that they understand what they do well, what they don't do well, and what their players are capable of. The team needs to understand those three things before they start making decisions on re-signing existing players, coming up with a shopping list of team needs and bringing in new players via the draft and free agency.

They also need to be self-aware as a team before they build the playbook for the upcoming season, and before they start installing the offense and defense in OTAs, minicamp and training camp. Andy Reid and staff have to spend significant film and meeting time deciding what they do best, what's at the core of their scheme in each phase of the game.

As we sit today, with the Chiefs coming out of their bye week, you can bet the team is doing plenty of self scouting, especially given the struggles we've seen in the first 4 games. There's a legitimate question as to the identity of the Chiefs offense.

In what should be required reading for anyone wanting to learn more about the game, Chris B. Brown wrote "The Essential Smart Football" and "The Art of Smart Football". He talks about the Constraint Theory of offense. I'll let you read the book yourself, but the idea is that the offense should focus on the 1-2 things they are best at -- the “core” of your offense that you can hang your hat upon. The offense is built upon the core concepts, and they must be able to line up and execute these plays in their sleep.

If all you do is run your same handful of core concepts, the offense becomes predictable, and the defense will cheat to take away what the offense wants to do. We've all seen this recently when KC runs what feels like 50 percent of their plays as some version of a screen pass, the defense starts to come up and take them away.

Eventually, an offense needs to counter punch and throw something different at the defense. When the defense is keyed in on one concept, something unexpected might just work for a big play. It helps stop the defense’s cheating.

The play action pass is an example. Ever since the Martyball days, we've seen Chiefs teams that can run the football facing defenses who bring an eighth defender near the line of scrimmage to stop the run. What's one the best ways to counterpunch against the eight man box? The good ol' fashioned play action pass. From DeBerg to Krieg, Montana and Alex Smith, Chiefs QBs have had to be great at the play fake to keep defenses honest and actually capitalize on the opportunities given.

From Chris Brown:

Defenses — both players and coaches — adjust to take away what you do well. But you want to go to your core stuff, so you build your offense off of that, and each constraint play forces the defense back in line, right where you want them. That’s the beauty of football: punch, counterpunch.

And again:

But be wary of constraint plays against very talented teams — they may be stuffing your core offense not because they are cheating, but instead because they are better than you; the constraint plays then play into their hands.

If someone were to ask what offense do the Chiefs run, most people would answer the West Coast offense. While incomplete, this answer is technically correct, as the Chiefs offense is built on concepts from the West Coast scheme, as explained several years ago by famed AP Alumnus BJ Kissel.

The West Coast system is largely devised of short, quick, ball-controlled passes and are widely associated with Bill Walsh. It favors a high-completion percentage and minimizing risk of negative plays in the passing game. The idea of the West Coast offense much like the 'Air' Coryell offense is to use the pass to set-up the run. The Coryell offense would try and spread a team vertically with down-field passing, while the West Coast offense would try and spread a team horizontally. You'll see more quick-slant, square-in and drag routes in a West Coast system.

As fans, we always have suggestions and complaints about play calling. Either they over use certain plays, or don't take enough shots deep, or don't use their best players enough (typically Jamaal Charles or Travis Kelce) We think we know what the team can and should do based on our observations. Our opinions only matter on Arrowhead Pride, Facebook and Twitter. The Chiefs true offense is defined by the core plays that Andy Reid sees as the team's identity.

In the most technical sense, one play consists of multiple calls layered together. First, the offensive personnel group, the QB set, the formation, motion, protection, the pre and post snap reads, etc. The play we see is the result of all of those calls, and what the players actually are able to execute. Without knowing the protection calls and the reads, we can focus on the set / formation and the result.

I went back and charted a couple of games to get a feel for what the Chiefs were trying to do on offense. They spent a lot of time with the QB in the shotgun or pistol formation. In fact it was about three plays to every one play with the QB under center. The Chiefs really like to mix up their formation and throw a lot of motion at a defense, so that the same basic play can have a LOT of different looks.

Terez Paylor of the Star charted the Chiefs formations and run/pass tendencies vs the Jets if you want to see some of the details involved.

They clearly have struggled at times blocking for both pass and run plays, which makes it a bit harder to evaluate what those plays intended to accomplish. However, when the blocking was there, you could see an offense that could methodically move the ball through the air and on the ground with playmakers like Charles, Ware, Kelce, Maclin and yes, even Alex Smith himself.

Those core plays appear to me to include the following:

  • Screen plays (lots of them) to RBs, Maclin, Kelce
  • Zone running plays (inside and outside)
  • Power running plays out of a pro set with a fullback
  • Quick slants, crossing routes, drags and quick outs to Maclin and other WRs
  • Seam routes to Kelce

The Chiefs core offense is built around getting the ball to their best playmakers and allowing them to run in space. They run the ball in a variety of ways, and see the short passing game as an extension of the run. They use misdirection and varying looks to keep the defense guessing, even when sticking to their core plays.

The Chiefs constraint plays may include:

  • The play action pass
  • The read option
  • Planned QB runs and roll out passes
  • Misdirection plays including the end-around and the fake end-around
  • Draw play out of the shotgun/pistol

Given the above, any deep pass attempt could be also called a constraint play for KC. They rely upon the short game so much that defenses tend to key in on it. This should give the Chiefs offense a great opportunity to counterpunch with a deep pass.

Ultimately, this team needs to establish their identity, and do what they do best ... but they also have to mix it up now and then in order to stay unpredictable.

What do you think the Chiefs core capabilities are on offense that they can hang their hat upon?

What are some of your favorite "constraint" plays that keep defenses honest?