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Building the offense for Patrick Mahomes: two-running back sets

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How will the Chiefs QB use two running backs in 2018?

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

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


Any time you can have three running backs on your roster with the last name Williams, you have to do it. The Kansas City Chiefs are on the verge of building a separate wing of the practice facility to accommodate their bevy of ball carriers.

They’ve given themselves a lot of potential directions they can take the position group in Week 1 of the regular season. Some of their aggressiveness in acquiring running backs could have to do with the injury recoveries of Spencer Ware and Damien Williams. The other could be that they plan to utilize multiple running backs as new position coach Deland McCullough has been known to do.

The group the Chiefs have assembled has plenty of versatility to what they’re able to do. Some are physical runners like Kareem Hunt, Spencer Ware and Darrel Williams. Others provide more dynamic ability in the passing game like Damien Williams, Kerwynn Williams and Charcandrick West. That’s not to say Hunt, Ware or Williams are slouches in the passing game either. All of them have shown functional ability.

Whatever running backs the Chiefs elect to go into the start of the season with, they should look to utilize (as Gary wrote a few weeks ago) something Patrick Mahomes is comfortable with: two-running back sets.

Where last week we talked about five-man protections with empty formations as an element to the offense I want Patrick Mahomes running, this week we discuss one of the benefits of two running back looks: seven-man protections.

This is what I was taught to as base protection.

Two running backs stay in the backfield to help protect. They scan for blitzes from linebacker depth, chip the ends and will release into their route if the protection allows it. Typically base protection will end up with the running backs releasing into the flats. On this play, West had to stay in the backfield to help with the double-A pressure. Fullback Anthony Sherman chipped the EDGE until he realized he was man-to-man with him and then released to the flat. Chris Conley ran an outside release vertical, Travis Kelce had space to work within the middle of the field, and Tyreek Hill was coming on a dig route underneath. This was great ball placement by Alex Smith. He worked through the three-man route concept downfield and found a completion.

When it comes to Mahomes, utilizing seven-man protections is a logical addition. You’re all but guaranteed to have the numbers to protect your young quarterback, but you only have three receivers as locks to be out running patterns. Luckily, that’s not a problem for Mahomes.

This is similar to what the Chiefs could do with two running backs, and the play we profiled earlier.

Demetrius Harris gets a chip on the defensive end before releasing to the flats. Sherman has no one to hit so he releases. Had the Denver Broncos brought pressure, one or both of them would have been involved. The receivers are running a basic sticks concept on third and long. They run past the line to gain (or sticks) and work to find space. Mahomes needs to work with the receivers and find a place to put the ball. He shows good anticipation and chemistry with Albert Wilson to pick up a first down on one my favorite plays of the game.

What makes this such a good way to use Mahomes is that you can allow him more time to use the special abilities he has as a passer to find a way to make a big play. Give him the time, and he doesn’t always need more than three receivers.

The running backs could have very easily released into their routes on the play, but they have them stay in for a true seven-man protection. Mahomes has a chance to hit paydirt on a shot play. Even the Oklahoma only sends four players here, the seven-man protection barely holds up, but not before Mahomes has a chance to hit the outside receiver of a double post for a touchdown. I would imagine that Hill and Sammy Watkins should be able to win running double posts.

The Red Raiders had their backs cross pretty frequently.

It could’ve been to help free them up in man-to-man coverage, but you’ll see them cross and release into the flats pretty frequently. If it occupies underneath coverage, it can help free up those throws on the outside like the play we just saw Mahomes make. This throw is yet another example of the arm talent that allows Mahomes to make plays on time. The Chiefs can get away with asking individuals receivers to win because the ball can get on them quick. Just because the backs in post-protection are relatively limited to where they can get downfield that doesn’t mean they can’t be an asset still in the passing game.

Because they’re crossing, there isn’t a blocker to pick up the blitz of the edge. Instead, Mahomes attacks the new void created after the blitz with his running back in the flat. It was good poise and anticipation by Mahomes to find a solution. These outlets in the passing game can be helpful and the Chiefs have plenty of talent you would want to see in space. The Chiefs can get these guys on the move pre-snap as well.

The running back moving before the snap becomes the flat in the double slant/flat look. The running back widens the linebacker, helping open up space for the inside slant. If no one goes with the running back, he’s out in space. Just another way you can utilize the look. There’s one other, very important reason that these two running back looks should be incorporated in the offense. The three receivers on the field can be Kelce, Hill and Watkins.

Whether or not the running backs have to stay in and protect, the three weapons the Chiefs can space across the field are some of the best in football. This excellent pump-7 (deep out and up) from Hill is just a prime of example of what this trio of offensive weapons can do on the field. Kelce in base looks will typically have a lot of space to work in—the same with Hill and Watkins outside the numbers. This could end up being a way to help isolate these three while giving the young quarterback time to find them.

Utilizing seven-man protections and two-running back personnel groups can do a lot to help a young quarterback develop. It has everything you want: the numbers to protect your quarterback, easy outlets in the passing game and a chance to give space to your best players. Mahomes and receivers like Kelce, Hill and Watkins don’t always need route combinations to make a play. Mahomes can put balls in places other can’t. All three pass catchers can win in unique ways and could have freedom within a third of the field to get open on some of these concepts.

The two-running back sets are something I would try to make balanced between run and pass. Of the 10 run plays we have earmarked to be dispersed throughout the game to help keep defenses honest on certain looks, I would use five on two-running back sets, which means that I’d incorporate five passes a game from this concept.

Breakdown

  • 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)