If you put two chefs (no 90s commercial pun intended) in the same kitchen with the same array of ingredients and tell them both to make the style of dish, you’re going to get two completely different and unique results. If you didn’t, Food Network would cease to exist.
Andy Reid is a master chef. An admired chef. A respected chef. His protege Matt Nagy has a lot to thank Reid for, including the opportunity he has now to be the play caller for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Reid’s fingerprints are still all over this offense. He’s known to love to draw up plays. A lot of the designs we saw when Reid was calling plays are still being run. The frequency of what’s being used is the big difference between Reid and Nagy.
I’ve written about Nagy and his usage of RPOs (plays with both a run and at least one pass concept built into the play) recently. I theorized that Nagy was calling plays in the second half of the Bills game because of the heavy usage of the concept. The Chiefs ran 17 RPOs combined in the second half of the Bills and the entire Jets game. They ran 10 total in the previous five weeks.
The trend continued in a huge way against the Raiders. Including the ineligible man downfield call, they ran 24.
The RPO is no longer a small element of the offense. It’s the foundation. The Chiefs ran only three run plays last week that didn’t have at least one pass concept attached to the call. To make the RPO a foundational piece of your offense, you have to keep formations and the plays themselves from getting stale.
Keeping your basic plays fresh requires immense creativity. Teams use a lot of “window dressing” to keep teams from easily identifying their basic plays. Nagy seems to be up to the task. It hasn’t required an overhaul to the offense. Just a few tweaks and a concerted effort to disguise their base RPO looks by moving players into them through shifts and motions.
The Chiefs ran RPOs out of 11 different formations last week. They ran 12 different combinations of run/pass options. They also made a few adjustments to some of their frequently used formations to help add possibilities for the defense to think about.
Let’s look at a few of my favorites adjustments and designs that Nagy used.
Start in empty, bring Hunt back into standard bunch look. Bubble from the bunch to Kelce, slant by Robinson is live as well. Run look is good, Hunt gets 9. pic.twitter.com/dUlUPQezR6— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) December 14, 2017
A couple things here worth noting. The Chiefs started this play in an empty formation. The linebacker following Kareem Hunt back to the middle of the field indicates man coverage. The Chiefs are now back into a standard bunch formation they’ve used a ... bunch.
The other tweak that I’ve seen can be seen on this video as well. Nagy wants Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill off the line of scrimmage as much as he can. Why? The threat of RPOs is as good as the threats to catch the ball. With Kelce and Hill off the line of scrimmage, they have more flexibility to be threats with these packaged plays. Kelce is the screen recipient here should Alex Smith choose to throw.
Here’s Kelce off the line of scrimmage again:
Most frequently used RPO of the game. The Chiefs ran the ball 6/7 of times. Here's the pass. pic.twitter.com/OuFODkNsYK— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) December 14, 2017
Kelce on the line is a pretty common formation. Giving him freedom of movement off the line of scrimmage and to be a threat in RPOs helps the run game. Like here:
The flat screen holds two in the box, Witzmann and LDT free to the second level. 17 yard run. pic.twitter.com/NoeZfJIh8R— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) December 14, 2017
The Chiefs ran that formation with a run play and flat screen attached seven different times. They ran the ball six times. Kelce’s five yard gain from this look earlier in the game held two defenders in the box. Guards Bryan Witzmann and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif were able to work up to the second level to create space for a Hunt’s 17-yard gain. I love Demarcus Robinson’s effort on this play as well. Beautiful.
Even though the Chiefs wound up running the ball 6/7 plays, keeping teams honest to your passes helps.
The Chiefs don't complete this, but they showed enough for teams to honor it. Wide stacks outside spreads defenses out, especially with Hill and Kelce on each side. pic.twitter.com/9rXxkm2mc3— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) December 14, 2017
Teams have to worry about Kelce and Hill both opposite sides of each other, outside the numbers. That creates a very light box for running the football. While the Chiefs didn’t complete the pass, they showed teams it’s viable.
As if Nagy and Reid weren’t creative enough, they ran one of the more unique RPOs I’ve ever seen.
Tackle over. G run play with a flat screen to Kelce attached to it. Matt Nagy is my president. pic.twitter.com/kyw7QgobSe— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) December 14, 2017
The Chiefs used this a couple times this week. This is an unbalanced line. Eric Fisher is lined up next to Mitchell Schwartz on the right side. Kelce is next to Bryan Witzmann. Kelce runs the flat route with blockers for him. Witzmann pulls around to lead the way for Hunt. All linemen end up on one side of the center with a pass concept on the opposite side. It’s beautiful. I would really like to see what would have happened if they had thrown to Kelce on this one.
So what has all this done for the Chiefs? Basic run plays require more attention. There’s always something attached to simple zone runs now. Teams have to be a little more focused and prepared for RPO assignments at any given time. The Chiefs have proven that they can get to these looks from a variety of different formations. It’s diverse and unpredictable.
Also, the threats on the pass options are often Kelce and Hill. It’s no scrubs. These are a couple of the best at their position often on opposite sides of the field needing to be taken into account. The boxes have clearly gotten lighter. When the Chiefs are in some of their looks, there is only six in the box. The success in the run game has a lot to do with the line playing well, but part of the reason they are is the design to create less congestion.
The biggest requirement to make this work is trust. If there’s always a pass option to every run play you call, you are giving your quarterback the ability if he chooses to abandon the run. Alex earned the trust to continue this trend. He elected to pass only six times. Whether or not he read them all correctly, who knows. But the balance of the offense didn’t suffer, and the ability to run the football grew with the diversity of threats all over the field.
Saturday against the Chargers is another big test for the philosophical adjustments Nagy has provided. If they continue to have success this week, we can start feeling a lot better about the offense.
Reid is still one of the greatest chefs of all time, but whatever Nagy has added to the recipe has been just what the team needed.