Writing about football is as terrifying as it is fun. This game is so complicated. There’s a ton of really smart people out there that know way more than I do. I was lucky enough to learn this game from former Chiefs quarterback Jonathan Quinn. He was the QB coach, offensive coordinator and head coach in my time in college. I tried to retain everything I possibly could from him and I still know nothing compared to what he does.
So when I write about some of the technical stuff, I’m terrified. It comes out of respect for great football media guys out there like Matt Waldman, Brian Baldinger or Geoff Schwartz. I’m always worried I didn’t pick up on the coverage exactly right. I’m worried I didn’t explain the play design correctly. I’m worried I’m wrong. I try to push myself to do more, speak more confidently on what I’m seeing. It’s hard. I don’t always trust my work. I don’t even trust that anything above this line is worth being in this article. I love the challenge and the process, but I don’t always go full Joel Embiid with it.
I write all this to say trust is hard to come by. In life, in relationships, in your job, in yourself. It’s not easy, even if you’re putting in the work.
I think Alex Smith has had some trust issues in his time in Kansas City. I think last year, there were a few trust issues between Andy Reid and Smith. Not like elephant in the room, tense, awkward trust issues. I just think the play calling was representative of the level of trust Smith had in himself and Reid had in Smith. I think the decision to draft Patrick Mahomes might have had to do with some trust issues.
The Chiefs ended their season in 2016 with missed opportunities. We don’t need to find the screen shots. You all know what I’m talking about. The conservative narrative of Smith shows up in those pictures. A quarterback struggling to seize opportunities downfield, instead taking the safer options. Andy can win in the regular season with Alex, but can he trust Alex to seize the biggest moments? If Smith couldn’t, Reid was going to try to find someone who can.
I think both guys worked through their trust issues. Mahomes might have helped push Smith to get out of his own way. I don’t think Smith is a completely different quarterback. I think he just started trusting himself a little more.
I think Reid, in turn has put more trust in him to make plays down the field. Because of that mutual trust, creativity flows and the play calling can come closer to it’s full potential.
This week’s 45 Seconds is a play that shows the benefits of Smith’s trust in himself, Reid’s trust in Smith and what that trust allows with regard to play calling. 45 seconds is a deep dive into one play a week, or the roughly 45 seconds from the start of the play clock to the play being blown dead.
Here’s Travis Kelce’s 33-yard catch on the first play of the fourth quarter in Monday night’s win over the Broncos:
I love this play design and the trust Alex Smith shows in it. Hill plays a key role in creating that void for Kelce. pic.twitter.com/LduAUbRedK— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) November 1, 2017
There’s a lot to unpack here. First, let’s talk a little about how the void Smith was able to exploit was created. The Broncos run cover 3, with safety Justin Simmons buzzing to play the seam/hook. The play action gets Simmons to commit a few steps to the run. He has to try and catch up to carry with Tyreek Hill on the vertical. Demarcus Robinson runs a bubble route that widens and holds the flat defender.
Tyreek Hill is one of the best blockers in the league when he motions on jet actions. You have to worry about his speed so he holds or occupies defenders. Another way his talent manifests itself is on a play like this. He’s able to stress two defenders to create the void for Kelce to catch the pass. Hill’s inside stem and vertical release gets Simmons chasing him. His nod to the outside holds and occupies the corner and he works to chase Hill vertically. That reaction to Hill keeps attention of Kelce a slight second more. My guess is that Hill is more of an alert to throw against certain coverages and not necessarily the primary target in the play call. But his role is still vital.
You see the void Smith is about to throw to in the picture above. But look at the trust he has in the play call and his weapons to deliver the throw as well. He’s started his throwing motion, and Simmons and Hill haven’t cleared Kelce’s route path yet. Kelce has barely cleared the linebacker.
This was excellent anticipation and trust by Smith. He throws that ball right behind the chasing Simmons. Hill kept the deep third corner from driving on Kelce, he was late to react, and Kelce was able to get a few extra yards out of the play due to the angle the corner has. Also, there’s not a long list of tight ends in the NFL you can run this design with. Credit Reid for utilizing both Hill and Kelce well.
Reid’s play call was well designed, well timed and well executed. He stretched the same space both horizontally and vertically at almost the same time, 20 yards down the field. That play action can force some players to desperately get to their coverage assignments, which can limit their spacial awareness. He was also able to involve his two best players, on opposite sides of the formation into a big void downfield.
The Chiefs have dialed up more down field plays this year. The mutual trust has created more opportunities, like this call. Reid trusts Smith will try, and Smith trusts his ability to do it. I don’t think Smith would have had such a polarizing career in KC if he and Andy arrived here earlier. I know my opinion of Smith would be a little different.