The Kansas City Chiefs heavily featured wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce in their Week 1 win over the Cleveland Browns. 64.7% of quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ pass attempts went to those two, including 89.3% of the air yards — a great statistic courtesy of Heath Cummings on Twitter. No other Chiefs player had more than 10% of the targets by themselves.
It won’t always be that easy to rely on that duo — and the Week 2 game proved it. The Baltimore Ravens emphasized stopping Hill and Kelce with obvious double-team coverages and extra attention from safeties over the top.
So the Chiefs’ secondary wide receivers were forced to play a more significant role in the offense — and for the most part, they did. Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle totaled 10 receptions, 164 yards and two touchdowns on 14 targets.
I looked at each of their performances in Baltimore.
Hardman tied for the team lead in targets on Sunday night, seeing eight passes from Mahomes. He didn’t have a long reception like those we’ve seen him get against the Ravens in the past — but on his five receptions, he showed awareness of the more minor details of catching passes.
Great job by Mecole of working to get open once his initial route wasn't targeted.— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) September 22, 2021
Understands the void will in the middle of the field because LBs are widening with no in-breaking routes on either side #Chiefs pic.twitter.com/zbcVkfDqiU
On his second catch, Hardman initially runs a stop route — but when he doesn’t get the target and sees Mahomes start to scramble, he works to get open by finding a vacancy in the zone. He likely knows the middle of the field is open because the route concepts on both sides are breaking towards the sideline, taking the linebackers away from the middle.
Good rep here by Mecole w/ adjusting route and settling in throwing window— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) September 22, 2021
Mahomes leaves pocket early (not a designed rollout). Once Hardman recognizes, he stops his route, settles away from deep S, sets his feet on sideline and makes a good catch pic.twitter.com/dbsM2hn5Od
He isn’t the primary target on his next reception, but once he turns his head to see Mahomes scrambling out, he settles into a throwing window away from the deep safety on his side, setting his feet in position to make a sideline catch for a gain of 19 yards.
Hardman would have a few other important receptions, but one of his incompletions could have been the icing on the cake for an excellent performance.
Hardman sells PA off snap, earns step on CB, S comes over to help. Ball is inside, should've been on outside shoulder— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) September 22, 2021
BUT, Hardman doesn't turn & locate ball in time. If he did, he might've been able to adjust and take advantage of S's back being turned by cutting underneath him pic.twitter.com/nef7N9KRct
First, Hardman sells the play-action fake by casually coming out of his stance, earning him a step on the cornerback — who realizes it and immediately yells for help from the deep safety on that side. The safety is so focused on catching up to Hardman that he doesn’t have the time to turn his head and locate the ball. This is where Hardman should take advantage.
Instead, Hardman puts his head down to maximize his speed — and doesn’t look back to see the ball until it’s too late. If he turns his head sooner, he’d be able to locate the pass, adjust his route to cut inside of the safety’s path and bring in the ball — a play we’ve seen Tyreek Hill make a handful of times.
In fairness, Hardman had won the route to the outside — and the throw should have been deeper and to his outside shoulder. But great receivers make up for inaccurate passes — and in this instance, Hardman missed a chance to do so.
Robinson earned three catches for 46 yards; his first catch was a tone-setter that gave the Chiefs an early lead to cap off their first possession.
Great play call/route on DRob TD— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) September 22, 2021
Hill/DRob on same side vs Cover 3. Hill deep crosser takes attention of post S. DRob looks he's running a post-corner, but it's a double move that DRob times up perfectly to go back to post when Humphrey turns his back
Perfect throw caps it off pic.twitter.com/oko8J3O9QT
Off the play-action fake, Robinson attacks the cornerback covering that side’s vertical deep third of the field; he initially makes the route look like a traditional post corner, where he fakes a post for a few steps and then breaks hard to the outside. That’s what cornerback Marlon Humphrey believes he’s running — but Robinson makes it a double move and cuts back inside.
The impressive part about the route is Robinson’s timing. As soon as he sees Humphrey turn to recover — covering up the corner route — he makes his cut back inside. Even though Humphrey reacts to get back on him more quickly than most cornerbacks would, Robinson’s timing allows Mahomes to throw between Humphrey and the safety covering the deep middle of the field.
Speaking of that safety, this is an example of the focus on Hill opening up an opportunity for Robinson. After lining up in the slot next to Robinson, Hill runs a deep crosser in front of the deep safety. The safety is so worried about Hill that he follows him over to the left side of the field, preventing him from helping with Robinson’s inside route.
While he initially juggles it, Robinson still concentrates on making a tough catch, capping off a fantastic route (and throw) on a great play-call that takes advantage of Baltimore’s focus on Hill.
Pringle had only two targets — but he turned both into crucial plays.
Pringle's TD was setup w/ great recognition by him & Pat— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) September 22, 2021
Empty set. BAL in 2-high shell, also bring a blitzer. That leaves 4 underneath in coverage, all focused on outside routes
Pringle adjusts to just be ready for quick throw to take advantage of open middle of the field pic.twitter.com/7OpEdDjTEY
On his 40-yard touchdown reception, Pringle lines up furthest inside among three receivers on the right. Baltimore plays a two-high shell and sends a blitzer, which means only four defenders are covering the underneath zones against five receivers.
All four are focused on the receivers to the outside, leaving the middle of the field open. Pringle and Mahomes both recognize this. Pringle doesn’t even need to run a true route; he just needs to get his head turned and be ready for a quick throw towards the inside.
The rest is just Pringle making a great play with the ball in his hands. Some of the initial defenders take bad angles, suggesting that they don’t respect Pringle’s speed. He takes advantage, getting all the way into the end zone.
Pringle's last-drive catch was simple, but still a big play— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) September 22, 2021
Post to take advantage of MOF in Cover 2, understands to cut in as soon as he's deeper than the hook zone defender -- who's more worried about Hill's underneath route pic.twitter.com/uSuLtyazYf
Pringle also makes a crucial catch on the first play of the Chiefs’ last possession. It’s a simple post from the slot — and the attention the Ravens are giving to Hill underneath gives him a big opening over the middle. He understands to cut in as soon as he gets deeper than the defensive back who is over him.
The bottom line
In Sunday’s game, these three wide receivers showed they could be relied upon when they really need to be. It’s just that when two of the best receivers in the league are their teammates, they usually don’t have to be.
They aren’t perfect; there are areas where all three could improve. But in Week 2, they demonstrated they are capable of making big plays at any time.