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Another season, another hot start for Andy Reid’s offense

The Chiefs are dominating their early season opponents for the third consecutive year; their play-calling head coach deserves a lot of the credit.

Kansas City Chiefs v Oakland Raiders Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images


The Kansas City Chiefs share that record with only six other NFL teams early in the 2019 season. The franchise has only accomplished this feat 10 times in the 56 seasons they have played in Kansas City. Every occurrence has resulted in a winning record in the regular season.

So why does it feel like it’s not a big deal? Because head coach Andy Reid has done it before.

Reid has historically been excellent coming out of the gate. He has started 3-0 four times since the Chiefs hired him in 2013 — this season being the third consecutively. The only head coach to match the four occasions in that span is New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick. No other coach has done it more than twice. Reid’s record in September games with the Chiefs is 18-5 — and he’s won the past nine.

NFL fans may poke fun at Reid’s early-season success by pointing out his failures in the postseason, but getting to January is the first step. Since 1990, 2-0 teams made the playoffs 61% of the time. That number increases to 74% when the team becomes 3-0. It is much harder — and less likely — to make the playoffs after a bad start to the season. The chart below represents 1990-2013 — but still shows how mathematically hard it is to dig out of the hole teams create when they lose games early in the season.

If you are a Chiefs fan, you understand why Reid succeeds early in the season. The offensive mastermind is constantly praised for the way he schemes up a game plan — and the more time he gets to do so, the better the result. His 17-3 regular-season record in games after a bye week and his 4-1 record in divisional-round playoff games following the wild card bye speak to his success when given extra preparation.

An entire offseason is different than an extra week between games. In the period of seven months without football, Reid looks to innovate his philosophy. The advantage in the early season is that the opposing teams are going off of the previous season’s film — while Reid is countering with new tendencies, formations, and creative plays.

Each of the last three seasons — including 2019 — Reid’s updated scheme has been the main factor in the undefeated starts.


Kansas City Chiefs v New England Patriots Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

What changed?

The deep passing threat. Quarterback Alex Smith had started to show a little more willingness to throw it deep in 2016, but a switch flipped once the 2017 season began. Some believe it was rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes who lit a fire under Smith, but I believe Reid wanted to force the issue to open up the offense. Either way, Smith responded well. During the first three weeks of the year, Alex attempted nine deep throws: six were complete and three resulted in a score. He had a 149.3 passer rating on deep passes in that span.

The Reid innovation

Reid deployed the short shovel pass at the beginning of 2017. They broke it out in Week 1 vs. New England and continued to subtly use it during their 5-0 start. The rest of the league quickly began to install a similar concept. It usually involved showing run action to one side of the field and then quickly dishing it to tight end Travis Kelce as he crept behind the offensive line from the opposite side of the initial play direction. He scored on it in Week 2.


San Francisco 49ers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

What changed?

Reid transitioned from his infamous West Coast offense with some spread tendencies to a scheme that heavily featured spread concepts along with the introduction of run-pass option (RPO) plays. It’s obvious why the change was made. The young gunslinger Mahomes had become the starter — and Reid made him comfortable by implementing a style more similar to a college offense than a traditional NFL offense. We are all familiar with RPOs now — but the Chiefs did not utilize those types of plays before 2018. It became a staple of their game plan once Mahomes stepped in at quarterback and led the team to a 5-0 start.

The Reid innovation

The play that Mahomes’ haters love to use as an example to why they believe his stats are padded and he is only good because of the system he plays in (rolls eyes).

The quick forward flip was brought out in Week 1 against the Los Angeles Chargers — and was soon mimicked by other NFL teams. The play could be ran with or without jet motion. Mahomes would take the snap, quickly flip it forward without much noticeable hand movement while continuing to fake an ordinary handoff. The sleight of hand with the flip made it very difficult for linebackers to react to that exchange — as you can see below.


Kansas City Chiefs v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

What changed?

The dependency on running the ball. Even with the increase in pass attempts during recent seasons, the Chiefs still played with an emphasis on running the ball effectively. The 2019 offense is proving that its success does not depend on how efficient they are on the ground. Currently, the team is rushing for 3.8 yards per carry — the lowest rate in the Andy Reid era and 23rd in the NFL. Yet play-action plays are still drawing in linebackers. Receivers are still being found wide open down the field. Mahomes does have an incredible arsenal of receiving weapons — but that should only prove the point further: why not drop back and throw on the vast majority of plays? It has worked out during the 3-0 start.

The Reid innovation

It may just be one play — and not that much of an innovation — but the play that left receiver Sammy Watkins wide open on his way to a touchdown during Week 1 is a twist on a similar play Reid ran on the first play of his first game as the Chiefs coach — also in Jacksonville.

The targeted receiver is running a leak route. In the 2013 version, it is the tight end Anthony Fasano coming shallow across the formation, then turning it vertical up the sideline. The 2019 version of this play is executed better for multiple reasons: The receiver is the very fast Sammy Watkins and not a veteran tight end, the running back does not clutter the targeted area by taking his route up the field, and Mahomes manipulates the coverage by sliding to his left. Reid showed off the innovation and improvement of his own plays.

Let me guess: a thought crossed your mind while you read. You probably recalled that two of the three previous seasons with 3-0 starts did not end as well as they began. In 2013, a 9-0 jump was followed by a 2-6 stretch that included the horrific blown playoff game in Indianapolis. In 2017, the team fell flat on their face with a 1-6 stretch after the 5-0 start — and eventually blew an 18 point lead to the Tennessee Titans in a home playoff game.

The difference is the personnel. Reid is an offensive game planning guru and was able to initially scheme around the talent deficiencies of those 2013 and 2017 squads — but a coach can only mask his team’s weaknesses for so long.

Now, the offense can win on talent alone. The great schemes are closer to luxury than a necessity for the current Chiefs. We are seeing an MVP quarterback playing at his best with a future Hall of Famer coaching at his best. There is no reason to believe their performance will fall off.

In fact, it’s entirely possible that the offense has yet to play their best game.

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