In the flurry of offseason moves and drama surrounding the Kansas City Chiefs this year, it feels like we don’t always remember or truly comprehend a pretty important thing: Patrick Mahomes will be leading the offense this year. Not just a throw-away Week 17 game in Denver. The whole season. From day one. It still doesn’t seem completely tangible yet. We’re still in unfamiliar territory as Chiefs fans.
Sure, he’s all over the news. But have you really sat down and spent much time thinking about what we’re all about to experience? The guy that ended the Chiefs 30-plus year drought of first round quarterbacks is now the guy. Similarly to how crazed the days leading up to the road win in Denver were, I think the closer we get, the more we’ll settle into that reality. Part of it is just the unknowns about a Mahomes-led offense. The training wheels are about to come off.
I’ve spent some time thinking about the elements I want to see included in a Patrick Mahomes offense. So much so, that we’ll be building it the next few months here on Arrowhead Pride.
The Chiefs averaged about 61 plays per game last year. We’ll bump that up to 65 and breakdown the types of plays and concepts, and the frequency I would like to see them run. We’ll be doing this as if the game script is neutral, not requiring them to play catch up or protect a lead. This is about the baseline concepts and ways I would like to see the offense function.
Before we get into specifics, we need to talk about the overarching philosophy I would like the Chiefs to employ with their young signal caller. The Chiefs have built a terrifying offense. There are threats all over the field. Sammy Watkins and Tyreek Hill will likely frequently line up outside the numbers. Travis Kelce will be working in the middle of the field. Kareem Hunt will be carrying the bulk of the load in the run game. Defenses are already stretched thin. The Chiefs have given Mahomes every possible weapon around him to succeed.
Luckily, the Chiefs also happen to have one of the greatest offensive minds in the game as their head coach as well. He has a knack for building around a player’s strengths. Andy Reid will have plenty to work with Mahomes.
I think the plan should be to find ways to utilize his quick release, immense arm talent and touch while trying to manage the risk involved with what they ask Mahomes to do. Teams are always scheming up easy throws for their quarterbacks. Reid is the best at it. What if your quarterback can throw a ball accurately from odd platforms with rare quickness but also stretch the field with the best of them?
I have a few ideas on how to make it easy on Mahomes while letting his special talents shine through it all.
We’ll start with the buzzword of 2017 and the foundation of the offense I would like to see Patrick Mahomes run this season: run-pass options.
As a refresher, a run-pass option (or RPO for short) is a concept that allows the quarterback to determine at the snap of the ball whether to hand the ball off to a running back or throw one of the passing options built into the play. Usually the passing concepts require that the ball be delivered quickly in order to keep the offensive linemen from getting an illegal man downfield penalty.
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
The quarterback has keys to determining the choice at the snap based on the rules of the play. He could be reading the number of players in the box, the leverage of a player(s), the actions of one player and more.
This is not unfamiliar to Mahomes. The Chiefs ran 23 RPOs (mostly a bubble screen tagged to a run play) in his start Week 17 against Denver. They ran only seven run plays without some kind of passing choice attached to it. That’s an incredible amount. The Chiefs had a ton of success in that game with the concept. For instance, on bubble screens, Patrick Mahomes average 8.2 yards per attempt. Just on a simple concept. That’s because the ball is out so quickly when Mahomes is the one throwing it.
Patrick Mahomes running these concepts makes them better. The quick release and throw without a great base gives Albert Wilson extra time to process the blocks in front of him. The run play is live should he hand it off. Also, imagine if it's Tyreek HIll getting that much space. pic.twitter.com/1fTBFMM2ek— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) May 9, 2018
As you can see, the ball is to Albert Wilson so soon that he had an extra split second in space to maximize his yardage. It’s like having an additional blocker in space it’s there so fast. A simple bubble screen is better with Mahomes throwing it. It’s a good staple concept to establish. It can help dictate what defenses will have to do to take away the easy stuff. And it’s just one small element to the play design and stress it can put on the defense.
We haven’t even mentioned the fact that the players on the receiving ends of theses bubbles screens would likely be Tyreek Hill, one of the most explosive players in football. While the bubble concept is an obvious threat, you also have to account for the NFL’s leading rusher in the backfield.
Kareem Hunt's record breaking TD run had a bubble tagged to it. The Chiefs like to run these cheap and easy RPOs from bunch sets with a single receiver isolated on the other side (often Travis Kelce) running a quick out or slant. pic.twitter.com/GGEwjUz59K— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) May 9, 2018
There was a live bubble attached to Hunt’s record-sealing touchdown run. So if you worry too much about the leverage of a bubble screen on the front side of the play, Hunt can run all over you. The Chiefs are a zone running team. So these simple elements can be easily combined together. A simple bubble screen and a zone run play now require more focus and attention in practice and in game prep. But there’s still another element to the problems the Chiefs can create.
Imagine Travis Kelce isolated backside instead of Demetrius Harris. So you can hand it off to Kareem Hunt, get the ball quickly and with blockers to Tyreek Hill or have Travis Kelce isolated. Spacing your stars, giving your young QB easy completions. Ball is gone so quick here. pic.twitter.com/F05jkaq9Fk— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) May 9, 2018
Travis Kelce is often isolated in one-on-one situations on the backside of the formation. In fact, you would frequently see Kelce isolated in these RPO looks. He can run a quick out or slant from that alignment, so you also have to make sure you’re well prepared to keep Kelce at bay. If not, you’re giving up easy completions to an exceptional playmaker.
With this one simple concept, a defense is stressed by the best tight end in football isolated on the backside, a need to keep the box heavy enough to stop runs from one of the best backs in the game and also have to worry about one of the most explosive players in football getting the ball in space. All those plays are simple, high percentage options on one play so Mahomes is given easy options for positive results. You can’t take them all away.
What’s beautiful about this is that’s it’s simple. It’s just the baseline. There’s so much that they can do from this simple spacing structure and designs. A team could have to be prepared to handle three unique issues in three different parts of the field, not just with the RPOs but also the players spaced out all over the field and all the different things they can do outside of their simple assignments in an RPO.
Throw in the fact that you can run these plays easily from 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends) and also just as easily 13 personnel (one running back, three tight ends) you’ve also created tough personnel decisions for the defense. Depending on if they go too heavy or too light on the bodies they put on the field to defend this group, the options can become more clear for Mahomes in determining the decision to make, and near impossible for a defense to correctly choose. It can also make the job of the offensive line much easier with the potential to be dealing with lighter boxes or lighter personnel. We have yet to even mention the shiny new toy the Chiefs just acquired in wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
By simply adding a few elements to the run plays they were already going to run anyway, the Chiefs can put a lot of stress on a defense with the personnel they have on the field. Three of the biggest threats at their respective positions can easily be spread all over the field with a near certainty that one of them will have a favorable matchup. It’s simply up to the young quarterback to correctly determine what the rules tell him to do. He probably can’t be wrong.
If I were the Chiefs, I would continue to make the RPO the base element of my run game. It will require Reid to trust that Mahomes will correctly hand the ball off when the situation presents itself and not get too aggressive throwing. Mahomes fared well in the regard in his first exposure to a real NFL game. He handed the ball of on 15/23 RPOs he was entrusted with, and was remarkably efficient when choosing to throw. I’d make 23 of the 65 play calls in a game a simple RPO and take the profits all over the field from your best players. Also, the game can dictate the choice to run with RPOs as well. If it’s a blurred line between run and pass, the Chiefs may be more inclined to run if they have they lead.
I’d also include 10 run plays without a pass option to keep some of the control for the run game. The formations and looks the Chiefs run those 10 plays will be run out of the remaining looks we will discuss the coming weeks. The Chiefs would need to be able to keep defenses honest to the run game in a variety of looks, those 10 run plays would help that.
33/65 plays - RPOs (23) and called run plays (10)