Sitting down in The AP Laboratory into the wee hours of the morning after the Kansas City Chiefs come-from-behind 27-23 win against the Denver Broncos was something special.
The commotion and overly-hyped conversation probably leaked into the main floor of the AP Compound for all to hear, but essentially it was just a fun night for everyone around Kansas City.
Down in The Lab, the big discussion who (outside of Patrick Mahomes, of course) was most deserving of a deep film dive. Kareem Hunt had a phenomenal game, but after the initial re-watch of the game, I had another idea: what about how the comeback came to happen?
So rather than focusing on a specific player’s work, we’re going to look at the final four drives of this football game. We’ll see exactly how the Chiefs were able to pull off this victory during these 12 minutes and 47 seconds by highlighting the most interesting (or important) plays.
Chiefs ball, down 23-13
First and 10 (12:47)
Down two scores with just under 13 mins left the Chiefs take the ball on their own 25. Struggling to get a ton of separation most of the game and facing tight coverage they start the drive with Y-Iso and a man beater (slant) to Kelce. Clear out the LB with the flat, clear window pic.twitter.com/Ls343xN3JQ— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) October 2, 2018
The Chiefs start off this drive with what some coaches call a drive starter — essentially an easier throw and catch to help the team get into rhythm.
Denver had done a good job blanketing Chiefs wide receivers for most of the game. So using a Y-Iso look (the tight end split out wide by himself) and then running a man coverage-beater (in this case, a slant) was a good way to get rolling.
Hunt working out into the flat is a simple part of this play, but it has a big impact: no underneath defender is left to help squeeze the throwing window to Kelce.
On the next play, the Chiefs picked up the first down with a 5-yard pass to Hunt. After a short incomplete pass, the Chiefs got four yards on a Spencer Ware run, bringing up third and six. The Chiefs ran a short sticks concept and picked up the first down on a pass to Demetrius Harris — but it was called back due to an illegal use of hands penalty on Laurent Duvernay-Tardif.
After one third down conversion on a short sticks concept is taken away, the Chiefs come back the same concept just deeper. Kelce and DRob run a flat and post to occupy the under/over help leaving the middle open. Den shows 4 rushers to the left, Pat moves and reads right. pic.twitter.com/nKFUEaMiUe— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) October 3, 2018
Showing an overloaded left side on the offensive line, the Chiefs slide their protection to the left to pick up as much of the pressure as possible. The Broncos bring all four players off the left side but drop off both defenders to the right.
While both defenders sprint to occupy their man assignments, Mahomes has a free rollout to the right side as he begins to read the field. The route concept is sticks again — just deeper, with built-in occupier routes — and Mahomes fires a strike to Hill to set up a short fourth and one.
Next play is 4th and 1. Normally hate called rollouts, especially to the boundary, but the design here is solid. Both TEs down block to prevent any pursuit outside the EDGE in conflict AND pick the LB responsible for Hunt. EDGE has to chose Mahomes or Hunt w/ no help. Hunt pic.twitter.com/W2zrp3WIHn— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) October 3, 2018
Designed rollouts with few passing options — especially to the short side of the field — fail far more often than they succeed. But when they work, they work very well.
Kelce and Harris block down into the defensive line and linebackers — which helps halt pursuit, and sets a pick on the linebacker tasked with covering Hunt out of the backfield. That forces the edge rusher to decide whether to attack Mahomes — or just let him him walk for the first down. The rusher chooses to comes forward, which creates an easy dump-off to Hunt.
This game was — by far — Hunt’s best of the year. He ran hard for the whole game, but it’s his balance and spatial awareness in the game that were amazing.
Here, he gets right up along the sideline to maximize the space, then leans back inbounds to deliver a hit to a would-be tackler — and a relatively simple play becomes a huge 22-yard gain for the Chiefs.
After an offensive pass interference penalty on Kelce, Mahomes is able to complete some short passes in space to Kelce (twice) and Conley to move the ball down inside the Broncos 10-yard line.
The Chiefs wait until the 4th Quarter to rely on the power running game from the spread and it's hard to argue with the success even if I'd like to see it more often. OL+Kelce block to perfection, except Erving has to adjust as the end gets driven inside. Cam doesn't land cleanly pic.twitter.com/Hz50oGuwey— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) October 3, 2018
For the issues the Chiefs consistently have while running the football, when they transition to power running schemes later in games — or on the goal line — they tend to find success.
Here they run a counter. Essentially there is a hat on a hat across the board as Cameron Erving pulls into the second level.
Initially, my thought was to blast Erving for loading up on this block and preventing a touchdown. But in fairness to him, he was expecting to come across to wham an edge rusher — one that Kelce ended up driving into the line.
The next play was a quick inside screen to Kelce that got the Chiefs into the end zone, pulling them to within three points.
Broncos ball, up 23-20
Just like the offense needs a drive starter, so does the defense. X works through the OC's brief help, and then gets early hands on the RG. One hand on the backshoulder and one on the chest gave him all the leverage. RB tries to cut inside, X pushes LG down the line & stuffs run pic.twitter.com/qnMpzFFlW5— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) October 3, 2018
The Chiefs run defense had been iffy most of the game, but Xavier Williams picked the right time to come up with a big play to start off this drive and put the Chiefs in an advantageous position.
Williams uses great hands work to discard the center’s help and get leverage on the guard before making the stop — and it’s a good thing he did, because Ron Parker is one-on-one against a running back in a lot of space.
The Broncos came back with a quick out to Emanuel Sanders that Orlando Scandrick turned into a limited gain with a great tackle. On the next play, no one was open on third down, and Allen Bailey chased down Case Keenum to force the punt. It was a great three and out for the Chiefs defense.
Chiefs ball, down 23-20
First-and-10 - 4:35
Down 3 to start the final Chiefs' drive, needing another drive start the Chiefs go back to the slant. This time targeting Hill off of an RPO look (really just Play Action disguised as a RPO), reading the help LB. Hill gets the leverage and the throwing lane is clean. pic.twitter.com/ODUeiqwkD4— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) October 3, 2018
Insert man-beater, drive starter slant description from earlier.
The Chiefs go back to the slant to beat man coverage — only this time, it’s tagged on an RPO look. As Kent pointed out last week, RPOs against man-to-man are a little different, and it’s likely this play is simply play-action rather than a true RPO.
Either way, it pulls the help linebacker out of position, and allows a clean window to Tyreek Hill.
On the next play, Mahomes completes another short pass to Hill, but the play loses three yards.
The Chiefs struggled to get separation pretty much all game (outside of Kelce) against the Broncos man coverage. To counter, they ran a mesh concept that had two "picks" in it. 1st was Hunt under the double drag. Second was Conley working back outside as Hill crossed under him. pic.twitter.com/kPDwlMB1Rz— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) October 3, 2018
The Chiefs run the Pat-Mahomes-Throws-It-Left-Handed play.
In all seriousness, this play was probably the best-designed play of the day — it just happened to be overshadowed by Mahomes’ improvisational skills.
The Broncos are showing blitz off both sides, but because the apex on the left is closer to the line of scrimmage, Mahomes slides protection to the left. This leaves two free rushers on his right side for which he has to account. The idea is that the mesh concept frees up Hunt in the flat as Conley and Kelce run two drag routes, but the Broncos safety splits them and gets out to Hunt.
The brilliance of the play comes next, as Hill runs another drag between Conley and Kelce, creating traffic for the man cover cornerback. Conley, however, doesn’t continue his drag but instead stops and pivots back out and up the field — essentially boxing out the CB trailing Hill, which allows him to be wide open.
Mahomes had to make magic to get the ball there, but the double-pick mesh concept was a thing of beauty.
After an intentional grounding penalty on first down and a holding penalty on second down, the Chiefs were facing second and 30. Mahomes had to break the pocket — again — starting a scramble drill to which Demarcus Robinson reacted very quickly. Mahomes delivered an utterly amazing pass on the move to pick up 23 yards.
Denver heavily used overload blitz concepts, most often off the right side. Issue being, they force themselves into Cover 0 OR putting an OLB in coverage. Barrett can't run with Demetrius Football. Pat starts looking left for the slant, it's not there, he evades right, IDs 1on1 pic.twitter.com/n4DjUK01gj— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) October 3, 2018
The Broncos kept overloading one side of the line and bringing heat from there. The problem is that this leaves them either in Cover 0 (no deep safety), or an edge rusher has to play man coverage on the tight end.
Here, Shaquille Barrett is in man coverage against Harris. After a little shake-off the line, Barrett is already trailing and considers peeling off — unsure if Simmons is taking Harris. Mahomes — who is working to the open right side of the field due to the overload on the back side — quickly identifies the one-on-one coverage and waits for Harris to uncover on the corner.
An offsides penalty against Von Miller followed by a short run for Kareem Hunt set the Chiefs up inside the Denver five with under two minutes to go.
More "Smashouth Power" outta KC down in the goalline, late in the game. 2 new wrinkles: 1) unbalanced line with Schwartz outside of Fisher and he has a great down block. 2) The quick pull/trap from Cam to set the alley for LDT to pull through. pic.twitter.com/0CHikKGhmI— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) October 3, 2018
Again, late in the game and inside the 10, the Chiefs go to the power running game.
This play is widely used in the college game — where it is known by many names — but it’s essentially an off-tackle power play out of a spread formation with a couple of wrinkles.
First, Mitchell Schwartz is outside of Eric Fisher, creating an unbalanced line. The Broncos counter with a line shift, but the numbers still favor the Chiefs with four offensive linemen against two defensive linemen and two linebackers. The second wrinkle is the quick pull and trap-block by Erving.
Schwartz down-blocks his lineman, and pins him inside, which would normally leave the pulling guard — in this case, Duvernay-Tardif — to come across and take the edge rusher, but with the unbalanced line, Erving is able to pull around and meet the edge rusher. This leaves an alley for Duvernay-Tardif to take on the free linebacker, creating an easy lane for Hunt to run through for the go-ahead score.
Broncos ball, down 27-23
Drive starters are the theme here. Showing pressure Denver keeps both the RB and TE in pass pro. The fake A gap blitz by Hitchens freezes the OC which allows Kpass to win inside. This flash inside distracts the RB in pass pro as Watts shoots off the edge to beat the wham & RB. pic.twitter.com/Vf55FJl54m— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) October 3, 2018
The theme of this comeback was starting every single possession with a positive play for the Chiefs. The slants on offense, the Williams stuff against the run, and now an Armani Watts sack on a well-designed blitz.
Speed over the offensive guards keeps them home, Anthony Hitchens pressing the A gap —then dropping — freezes the center, allowing Tanoh Kpassagnon to win inside. The running back is left looking toward the inside gap as Watts breezes by him and the pulling tight end for the sack.
Facing second and long the Broncos were able to complete two passes along the sideline on second and fourth down to pick up the first down and keep their comeback attempt alive.
Mostly positive plays during the comeback until now, but this one almost cost KC big. It's Tampa-2, not a huge fan of Hitchens having to show blitz here. On his drop, he has to ID the WR going under and adjust his path to the "two threat" side. Murray can handle the single vert pic.twitter.com/IHCkncL0Ko— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) October 3, 2018
Up to this point, we see why the Chiefs were coming back. But this is a play where they almost lost it.
The Chiefs drop into a Tampa 2 coverage and Hitchens starts the play up on the line. It’s a long drop — so it’s already a difficult play — but while he’s dropping he has to read the field. The outside wide receiver on the near side runs underneath, which leaves only one threat to that side of the field.
Hitchens needs to pass that to Eric Murray and start to work back to the far side where there are more threats. Would he have made it all the way to the ball? I have no clue, but he would have squeezed the window down significantly.
Back to back stops down the stretch by two Chiefs defenders after the big Denver play. KPass wins inside forcing Keenum to essentially throw the ball away to the RB and Fuller mirrors the out route perfectly and almost picks it off. pic.twitter.com/M55rUZWfKX— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) October 3, 2018
Back-to-back plays with huge stops by two different Chiefs — one likely candidate, and one less-likely candidate.
Kpassagnon wins inside rather quickly, forcing Keenum to attempt a dump-off before the running back even breaks — or to take a sack.
Kpassagnon was working on limited snaps, but saw a ton of pass rushing work and was very promising — bordering on quite good — in them.
Then on second down, Kendall Fuller had a textbook out route undercut that he probably should have picked off. In this game, Fuller struggled — at least compared to his usual level of play — but came up big as the clock ticked down.
Following the two big stops, the Chiefs got a little help as Keenum missed the downfield hole along the sideline against Tampa 2 coverage. Following that the Broncos tried a hook and ladder that resulted in a fumble, which ended their comeback attempt.
The bottom line
Through the first 45 minutes of this game, most things went wrong for the Chiefs. Penalties, drops, bad tackling, getting essentially out-coached... everything.
In the final quarter, they were able to rein everything in, and — without even looking dominant — were able to out-execute and out-coach the Denver Broncos, riding the arms and legs of Patrick Mahomes to a come-from-behind victory.
It truly was a team effort. Different players and different coaches stepped up in big moments. but at the end of the day, this was a game that Mahomes gave the Chiefs a chance to win.