Entering the bye week, it felt like the Kansas City Chiefs were beginning to hit their stride as a team. The defense stole the headlines with some of the best games we’ve ever seen the unit play — but quietly, the offense found a rhythm to complement the dominant defensive play.
It wasn’t as pretty against the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers, but it all came together for 41 points against the Las Vegas Raiders. The offense followed that with only 19 points against the Dallas Cowboys, but the scoring output doesn’t paint the entire picture.
Analyst Talon Graff broke down the Chiefs’ rushing attack against the Cowboys, highlighting the performance of running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. I wanted to look more at the game plan as a whole, pointing out a few well-designed and well-executed plays.
It started on the offense’s first drive:
The Chiefs stayed ahead of the sticks for the entirety of their nine-play drive that went 86 yards. They only faced one third down on the drive, which was negated by an encroachment penalty from the hard count of quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
They ran well, totaling 47 yards on three carries — one of them being the reverse to wide receiver Tyreek Hill that took Kansas City deep into opposing territory.
To finish off the opening drive, Reid got creative — but not too creative. On first down, the Chiefs shifted into a pistol, full-house formation with tight end Travis Kelce in the quarterback’s spot. The play was a simple one and a staple in head coach Andy Reid’s red-zone strategy: power read.
#Chiefs ran one of my favorite Andy Reid RZ run plays to cap off the opening drive vs. DAL: Power Read. This will be ran as a shovel pass to Kelce, but they cut out the middle man and let Kelce take the snap— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) November 30, 2021
He takes advantage of 11/42/55's flow to the outside and punches it in pic.twitter.com/NKeiq959Cf
For this play, the quarterback is reading the flow of the linebackers to determine whether he hands off to Hill for an outside run or keeps it and punches it inside behind the lead of the pulling left guard Joe Thuney. Dallas defenders Micah Parsons (11), Keanu Neal (42) and Leighton Vander Esch (55) react enough to the outside run option to open up the interior for Kelce to power through for a score.
Making the most out of the play call
After a turnover forced by the defense, the Chiefs had excellent field position but could only settle for a field goal. The third-down attempt failed on a designed target for wide receiver Josh Gordon, who appeared to have a chance at catching the pass. The play had Gordon run an out-breaking route from the slot alignment, using the outside receiver’s route as a pick to come open towards the sideline. A well-designed play to get Gordon a chance at making a critical catch couldn’t be executed.
The third possession also started off rocky, but the combination of a good play call and great execution led to the biggest gain of the entire game.
Great post-snap coverage recognition by Mahomes here— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) November 30, 2021
DAL players trade responsibilities before the snap, but Mahomes sees Cover 3 and knows he'll have Pringle on the flag route
The quick pump to Hill attracts the underneath defenders, opening up the window for a big completion pic.twitter.com/CiqmM8md8g
This play is called to take advantage of Dallas’ tendency to play with one deep safety in Cover 3; despite the Cowboys’ efforts to disguise their intentions before the snap, Mahomes recognizes that they are in that coverage as he drops back.
The high-low concept puts the outside cornerback defending that third of the field in a bind; he technically has the responsibility to defend both the shorter out route ran by Hill and the deeper, flag route ran by wide receiver Byron Pringle. Knowing this, Mahomes gives a hard pump fake towards Hill — which attracts that cornerback enough to open up a big window to throw to Pringle for 37 yards.
A few plays later, the Chiefs capped off their third-straight scoring drive with a well-executed option play that turned into a touchdown.
Utilizing players’ talents correctly
After the first three drives, the Chiefs couldn’t get out of their own way. A strip-sack, unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty and interception after a dropped pass held Kansas City’s offense down into the third quarter.
Leading by 10 points with a few minutes before the final period, the Chiefs needed a sustained drive — and a three-play stretch that targeted a different player each snap started the possession strong.
On first down, Mahomes countered a free blitzer by throwing to a Kelce over the middle of the field for more than 20 yards.
On the next snap, a subtle wrinkle by coach Reid allowed Mahomes to hook up with Hill once again.
Andy wrinkle on this basic, sprint out pass helps turn this into a 1st down— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) November 30, 2021
Typically, the backside TE will run a drag as 3rd option if front-side routes aren't open. Hill runs it instead; the off-ball defenders see Gray stay in to block and don't account for Hill on the drag pic.twitter.com/DD6SQuzrdE
The base of this play is a simple, sprint-out pass concept. Mahomes immediately rolls right with the two receivers on that side running intermediate and deep routes towards the sideline.
Typically, this play will have a tight end come from the back side of the formation on a drag route as the next option if the two primary receivers aren’t open; for this snap, the Chiefs use Hill for the drag route while tight end Noah Gray stays into block. Dallas’ second-level defenders see Gray block, which signals that there is no drag for them to worry about. That allows Hill to get into Mahomes’ line of vision untouched and uncovered.
On the third play, a quick screen to wide receiver Mecole Hardman resulted in 12 yards with help from Kelce and Hill blocking out in front.
Those plays got them to the Cowboys’ 32-yard line — but they stalled from there; a third-down sack taken by Mahomes forced the Chiefs to settle for a field goal.
The bottom line
A common theme of the Chiefs’ four-game win streak has been scoring early; they’ve scored a touchdown in each game’s opening quarter. The coaching staff’s opening script of plays has given the team an early boost; even if the rest of the game’s script isn’t as effective, well-designed plays in spots boosted the offense when needed most.
The coaching staff’s play calling needs to be complemented by the players cleaning up self-inflicted mistakes. Once those two things can happen simultaneously, the Chiefs’ offense can really take off.