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Building the Chiefs offense for Patrick Mahomes: Breaking tendencies

Kansas City Chiefs v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

A lot of play calling is built on tendencies. Coordinators on both sides of the ball are poring over their own tendencies and those of their opponent. You can’t line up every week in the same formation, run the exact same play every time. You have to keep defenses honest. Anything you run needs to have tendency breakers to go with them.

If the Chiefs only ran run-pass options (RPOs) out of certain looks, teams wouldn’t feel threatened enough in other parts of the field to account for other things. The RPOs obviously become predictable and easier to plan for. That’s why the Chiefs should make sure to throw in some plays can compliment their run-pass options.

RPOs are unique because there are typically three choices on one given play. There’s most always going to be a solid solution to what the defense throws at them. Especially with the personnel the Chiefs can utilize. The Chiefs can space their stars to make it very difficult for defenses to honor them all. They can be run over and over with different choices and profits to be had. The Chiefs don’t need to run a ton of non-RPO plays out of those frequently used looks, just enough to let teams know that they can. That’s not to say the change ups can’t be lucrative.

The looks the Chiefs typically run these series of plays out of enables the Chiefs to spread their stars. If the Chiefs run these same looks in the future, Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins will line up on one side and Travis Kelce isolated. The same concerns defenses have with having good numbers to stop Kareem Hunt and the run game, worrying about Watkins and Hill on bubble screens and paying enough attention to Travis Kelce on those simple RPOs can be translated to some of the pass concepts the Chiefs can use as tendency breakers. There’s a ton of solutions for the Chiefs all over the field in all areas of the field.

The Chiefs dialed up a pass play out of the look they frequently run their RPOs, a 3x1 bunch set with Kelce isolated. Smith and Kelce have the freedom to work together to adjust the route based on what they’re seeing most of the time. Here they hook up on well run out route, with the running back occupying the flat on Kelce’s side.. Notice at the top of the screen Hill is simulating the bubble look from the inside of the bunch. It looks like the other two receivers were running a dig/curl. The Chiefs could even build off that if they so choose.

The spacing at the top of the screen from the two vertical routes could be better, but I would love to see this look utilized in the near future. It’s the same formation as the play before, but with a few adjustments. Instead of the bubble, Hill is unleashed from the inside of the bunch on a post. Hill being the fastest player in the NFL allows for that to be possible from where he’s lining up. The point man of the bunch, Chris Conley, runs a deep cross to clear space for the shot play. De’Anthony Thomas and HIll are too close together on this play. The spacing needs to be worked. Imagine instead of Thomas it’s the Chiefs new offensive weapon Sammy Watkins. So better spacing between those two receivers and there’s a chance the Chiefs can hit paydirt on this look with two excellent talents running out there. You could also use Watkins to decoy as the crosser if they chose as well. We saw the Chiefs break their RPO tendencies in week 17.

Here the Chiefs are using one of the looks they have used a lot for RPOs. Now they stretch the field vertically. Tight end Demetrius Harris is likely running the out to create more space for the two verticals in the middle of the field. The Chiefs have now established that they can and will stretch the field vertically out of their basic staples. Demarcus Robinson at the bottom of the screen likely would have run a go had the corner been in press. If defenses don’t honor this, the Chiefs have the firepower to make them pay. They can’t just line up to try and take away the run-pass option the Chiefs frequent. Here’s the same look against press.

I’m sure no one reading this hasn’t watched this play a thousand times. Definitely not me. Because the Chiefs identified press, Albert Wilson took a sharper angle across the field to green grass. Excellent throw, great play by Wilson. This wasn’t anything new to Mahomes.

I don’t remember seeing as many vertical looks out of this trips look with such a sharp angle by the inside receiver from the Chiefs in 2016. The Red Raiders got their inside receiver to that opposite hash a lot in watching Mahomes’ college tape. This looks similar to what we saw against Denver. I expect the Chiefs to help Mahomes by carrying over some of the things he did in Texas Tech.

The first play of the game against Oklahoma, they dialed up one of the staples of the Air Raid offense, the mesh concept. It’s two receivers crossing snugly across the field, creating natural rubs in man coverage and space behind underneath defenders in zone. Here the Red Raiders have a spot/curl route coming behind the mesh. Had the referee not been in the way, Mahomes could have hit the receiver for a nice gain.

Another concept Mahomes is familiar with is the snag concept.

This design typically involves a vertical stretch (normally a corner route), a receiver to the flat and a receiver going against the grain towards the quarterback on a snag (slant and stop) route. The concept creates triangles between three receivers, creating optimum spacing and good options against a variety of coverages. The flat and snag are typically good options. On this play, Texas Tech gets the effect of the vertical stretch with Wheel/Post look from the two outside receivers. The running back free releases to the flat, widening the defender with him, creating a space for Mahomes to throw the snag route. They hit the flat later in the game too.

Easy decision for Mahomes to make. The defender might have not been anticipating a throw to the snag so he didn’t drive on the flat. Good easy completion. Mahomes’ time at Texas Tech even provided the Chiefs with some potential counters of their usual RPO looks.

The Chiefs would mix up the recipient of the bubble screens like to keep things fresh. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that now more now that Sammy Watkins is likely lined up on that side now as well. Here is a pop pace to the furthest inside receiver. This is actually an RPO as the run play is live, but the Chiefs could incorporate this change up to help them as well. They should also try to stretch the field vertically out of these looks.

Here’s a little pump action to the bubble and a shot play to the receiver downfield. This may seem a little risky, but this isn’t that risky of a play in regards to the threat of a turnover. Unless Mahomes underthrows this pass there isn’t a strong chance a defender will be on top of the receiver, especially if the RPO game is working well, defenders will be driving on the play. Mahomes can utilize his insane arm talent by chucking the ball downfield where only one player has a chance to catch it and that’s the receiver. If he does that, he won’t run the risk of throwing an interception. The Chiefs should just be finding ways to maximize his arm talent in general.

There’s nothing special about the concept, I like it. I just want to see more field throws and comeback routes from the Chiefs this year.

The Chiefs goal should be trying to create as many easy throws with Mahomes as they can while stressing the defense in as many places on the field as they can. Create fear deep and in the easy things and Mahomes can succeed, defenses will not be able to get as exotic, and the Chiefs will line up the scoreboard. Being able to make longer throws can be an asset. Hopefully Mahomes will be able to hit some of these comeback routes and other field throws in the future to create more square yardage for defenses to worry about.

I would call 3x1 tendency breakers 6 of the 65 plays the Chiefs will dial up. They can pull from a variety of concepts like the plays I just showed, and stress people all over the field with them. Some of these can be staples, some of these require good timing and infrequency. These plays are a combination of things Mahomes is familiar with and plays that can be easily managed by a young signal caller.


  • 33/65 plays - RPOs (23) and called run plays (10)
  • 6/65 plays - Tendency breakers out of the 3x1 looks the Chiefs run RPOs

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