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Building the offense for Patrick Mahomes: condensed formations

The very latest in Kent Swanson’s Mahomes series

San Francisco 49ers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

This is part five in our Building the Offense for Patrick Mahomes series. Here is where you can find part one, part two, part three, part four and part five.

My dad’s favorite line has always been “Life’s a team sport.” We didn’t have a ton of money growing up, but my dad invested his time and what money he could to help my brother and I advance. I got some partial scholarships to play football and baseball, and I wouldn’t have been able to afford school without them. I wouldn’t have earned them without the effort and energy my dad put in to help me work towards it. I wouldn’t be in the career I am or be writing for Arrowhead Pride without learning what I did in the classroom or on the practice field. Pops, thanks for hitting grounders, catching passes, spending time with your kids and showing up to every event. Your investment in me gave me opportunities I wouldn’t otherwise have. Happy Belated Father’s Day.

The early stretch of offensive performances from the 2017 Chiefs offense were some of the more enjoyable moments of the Andy Reid era in Kansas City. The Chiefs were dictating the game, stressing teams all over the field. Teams were scared. One of the things the Chiefs leaned heavily on early was condensed formations, meaning keeping all skill players closer to the tackle box.

There are a lot of benefits to these formations. They can, among other things, make it more difficult to press receivers and get easy crossing action in the pass concepts. Some zone-drop angles can be less natural for defenders and these formations can provide better blocking angles on outside runs like this one.

When the formation condenses, the defense has to condense with it. The Chiefs run a toss play out of a condensed bunch with three tight ends. Demetrius Harris and Ross Travis both down block, with the athletic Travis Kelce looping to take the cornerback and Eric Fisher pulling for first threat. Fisher cuts off the linebacker, and Kelce cut blocks the corner, giving Kareem Hunt the edge for a 58-yard gain to seal the victory. This formation was one of the looks they ran shovel pass plays out of as well.

The pitch to Hunt is probably live here as well. Because the play started in a tight formation and the action was to the right, Kelce had space to bounce the play outside. Even after breaking a tackle, Kelce is still able to get the edge for a gain of seven yards. One of the advantages the Chiefs have with condensed looks is the speed of Tyreek Hill. Hill can make you pay if you try and disguise too much.

The Patriots show double-A gap pressure and middle field closed coverage. They bail out of it, sending three down lineman and a blitzing nickel with cover-2 (with the corners sinking underneath the outside verticals) behind it. The disguise was cute, but cornerback Stephon Gilmore is dropping both for depth and an angle that makes it hard for him to read the quarterback. Gilmore loses sight of Hill as he accelerates out of the corner route and into the vertical. The safety is held by the post from Kelce and Alex Smith had space to drop a ball over the top for a 78-yard touchdown. Condensed formations can also be a good look to run mirrored concepts out of.

Both sides of the formation run the same concept in mirrored looks. The Chiefs’ outside receivers are running curls with delayed, slow releases to the flats by the slot receivers. The running back releases to a spot route with no blitz assignment. I think Hill might have got a little too much depth here based on where Smith was looking to place it (yes, I know he was about to get hit as well, but I still think he was looking to throw about the same depth Chris Conley was).

Hill’s subtle sell of a corner-post gets the safety to flip his hips, although that seems like it might have been a slight improvise. The slow releases to the flats were to hold the underneath coverage to make space for the curls. They succeeded. Mirrored concepts are typically “pick and stick” plays. You pick a side of the field and stick to it. The personnel, hash mark the play is on, depth of the corners and leverage of the backers, among other things, can help a quarterback decide what side he’ll pick. Hill with Kelce holding underneath in the flats, is a good choice.

It’s not all balanced formations that these looks can be good out of.

The bunch sets the Chiefs like to run their RPOs out of are condensed at times too. Inside receiver of the bunch runs the bubble, Kelce runs a hitch with Hill running a curl behind it, both with vertical releases. The safety and both corners at the bottom of the screen get a depth and widen just a little, enough that Kelce and Hill can high-low the linebacker. With the linebacker flat-footed, Smith shows great anticipation to throw the curl.

The Chiefs can hit some plays crossing the field out of these condensed looks as well.

We profiled this play among others last week when talking about Sammy Watkins and Hill’s impact on Kelce and others. The athletic tight end can get to that landmark with ease. The vertical stretch from Hill creates the space for Kelce to run underneath. The timing of the play was perfect with Kelce not wasting much time after Hill clears out. Smith again showed great anticipation.

I’d run two pass plays and 2/10 run plays we have designated for discretionary usage to keep balance out of these looks. There are both shot play and easy completion opportunities out of condensed formations. The Chiefs should find a way to do both in a game with a neutral script.


  • 33/65 plays - RPOs (23) and called run plays (10)
  • 6/65 plays - Tendency breakers out of the 3x1 looks the Chiefs run RPOs
  • 6/65 plays - Empty formation, five-man protection passes
  • 5/65 plays - two running back pass concepts (also 5/10 discretionary run plays mentioned in part one)
  • 3/65 plays - under center, play action passes (also 5/10 discretionary run plays mentioned in part one)
  • 2/65 plays - condensed formation pass plays (also 2/10 discretionary run plays mentioned in part one)

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