Early in their game against the Oakland Raiders this past Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs found themselves in a small hole as they tried to get their offense to click.
The first quarter saw the Chiefs put up zero points and struggle to get the ball moving. The Raiders defense was flying around the field, Patrick Mahomes looked less than 100 percent, and the Chiefs offensive line was losing the battle in the trenches.
Once the second quarter hit, the offense turned on, and the Chiefs scored 28 unanswered points in the quarter. More impressive than the sheer amount of points, the Chiefs were able to connect on big-chunk play after big-chunk play. At one point, Patrick Mahomes threw five straight passes that went for over 20 yards. Rarely in the NFL does a team string together such a consistent downfield attack, let alone do so while scoring multiple touchdowns in the process.
The question becomes this: How did the Chiefs do it?
Part of the change was Mahomes’s ankle appearing to warm up a bit, as he looked timid to slide forward in the pocket and step up into throws early on. The Raiders were also playing aggressive against the short passing game — likely due to seeing Mahomes and the Chiefs second-half offense against the Jaguars — and driving on underneath routes. The Chiefs didn’t do anything out of the ordinary for them — scheming mismatches with highly-skilled players and forcing coverage decisions. But it was the adjustment made to how Oakland was playing them that led to high-percentage plays.
Executing the big play
Chiefs had one of the most explosive quarters of football ever in the 2nd quarter vs Oak. Not only in scoring output but with the chunk yardage they picked up. So how did Reid, Mahomes, and Co do it?— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) September 19, 2019
Starting w/ a simple blown cov, they took advantage of a mistake w/ pure speed pic.twitter.com/Cxz6BEIl8d
Even the most competent NFL defense will have a miscommunication or a player that misreads a play at times — those are called coverage busts.
This happens multiple times every single game for every team, but the key for an offense is to take advantage of those mistakes. On this third-and-long, the Raiders were in a pattern-match coverage with a bracket on the two vertical threats. This means that there will be a defender playing over the top of the receiver and one underneath, but what happens is the over-the-top defender allows the receiver to eat up space.
Whether it was Mecole Hardman’s speed or just a simple misread, the safety got caught flat-footed and simply ran straight by. While it’s not the most dynamic play, the ability to identify and take advantage of defensive mistakes is the most common way to churn out big plays.
Attack pattern-match coverage
Another play that was successful against a blown coverage for sure, but the Chiefs set this one up pre-snap. By running 3 verticals to the same side and a deep out on the backside, the 4 deep coverage was over stressed.— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) September 19, 2019
Motion to the trips sides holds underneath def in position pic.twitter.com/2lArJ9YRgp
The Raiders did a good job of mixing in man and zone — mostly pattern-match coverage —and the Chiefs were able to isolate and exploit both.
The Raiders’ pattern-match coverage was the go-to coverage, and the Chiefs often ran trips to one side of the field. One major weakness of the quarters coverage is defending a four-vertical route concept. While the Chiefs only ran three players vertically on this play, all of them came from the same side of the field and with only two defenders dedicated to the deep zones, there simply weren’t enough bodies. The motion across the formation into the flat route forced a defender to play the flat and not even create a mirage of coverage downfield.
Understanding the 4-Read rules on the boundary side of the field allowed the Chiefs to isolate Damien Williams against a LB on a vertical route.— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) September 19, 2019
The TE presses vertically enough to gain the CB's attention while Williams flashes a flat route before turning up the field. pic.twitter.com/ixjaslNPOi
Another example of exploiting the rules of match coverage was on this flat-wheel route.
The receiver pushes just enough vertically to catch the eyes of the cornerback, which forces the linebacker to take the flat zone based on four-read rules. As the linebacker pushes to the flat on the running back, it quickly turns into a vertical wheel route, and the linebacker has no chance to match the route. A beautiful play certainly helps, but the route combination perfectly exploited the correctly executed rules by the Raiders.
Beyond scheming mismatches, sometimes talent just has to shine and when you have the offensive weapons that the Chiefs do that's easy to make happen.— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) September 19, 2019
Y-Iso gives Kelce a third of the field to operate while Pat adjusts the formation for a potential free blitzer. pic.twitter.com/B5bZZ6FIvu
The ability to set up a defense by taking advantage of its scheme is incredibly useful and the most reliable way to pull off these big plays. With that being said, there will be situations in which a team has to rely on their players’ individual skills to win their matchup.
The Chiefs are back in their Y-Iso look with Travis Kelce split to one side and three receivers to the other. What you end up getting is one-on-one man coverage against Kelce with a third of the field to work with. As Kelce wins off the line of scrimmage, he sells an out route just to keep the cornerback that likely has a speed advantage in a trail position.
Even with a well-run route and phenomenal release, he still has to make a semi-contested catch. When a team is going to press the line of scrimmage and play into one-on-one matchups, they have to be able to match the offensive talent or else they are dancing with fire.
The offensive weapons are amazing for the Chiefs but the QB is the MVP for a reason— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) September 19, 2019
The Raiders wanted to press the WRs and dare the Chiefs to win over the top. The answer? Let Mahomes throw a fade against single coverage. The tighter split gave a ton of room for Mahomes to work pic.twitter.com/6SA8gIoqU8
Even on plays in which the individual talent plays each other to a standstill, the ability of the quarterback can come into play and make or break the play.
With the tighter split, Demarcus Robinson has plenty of room to win his release outside and then continue his fade upfield toward the sideline. He does a good job providing a throwing window for Mahomes but it wasn’t a huge one. Mahomes was able to drop the ball right over the defenders head into Robinson’s arms as he was still sliding towards the sideline.
The defender isn’t able to really get his head around because Robinson doesn’t tip the catch point by reaching for the ball too early.
The bottom line
Most Chiefs fans were on edge of their seat to start the Raiders game, as the defense looked exactly like everyone expected and the offense took a long time to gain its footing.
Once the second quarter began, it was a different ball game and one of the most amazing quarters of offensive football was seen. Just the base level of production of scoring 28 points, having nearly 300 passing yards and throwing four touchdowns is impressive enough but it’s even more admirable because it happened in a single quarter.
The Chiefs hit big plays by taking advantage of coverage miscues, exploiting defensive backs and linebackers in coverage, isolating receivers in mismatches and simply allowing “MVPat” to sling the ball around.
Trying to prepare for the Chiefs offense that can attack the deepest part of your defense in so many different ways is going to be a nightmare for any future opponent of the Chiefs in the 2019 season.