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The Chiefs’ offensive wrinkles could play bigger role in the postseason

The dynamic Kansas City offense tends to take it up a notch for the playoffs.

Kansas City Chiefs v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

It’s hard to know exactly how much truth there is to the narrative that Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid saves some of his most creative play designs for the postseason. We’ve seen direct snaps to tight end Travis Kelce or pass attempts to quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the regular season, so it’s not as if Reid holds everything back until the playoffs.

Yet a play like Rose Bowl Right Parade wasn’t called until Super Bowl LIV. There’s bound to be a few trick plays like that — but more important are the more subtle wrinkles Reid might add. Whether it’s leaning more on a certain run-blocking scheme or unveiling a pass concept they haven’t used very often, the Chiefs’ offense is bound to be more dynamic than it is during the regular season.

I noticed a few wrinkles down the stretch that could be expanded in the playoffs.

Fake reload motion

It seems like every Chiefs fan has begged for more receiving work for running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. It looks like the team has been working on a specific way to get that done. We saw this on a few occasions after the Week 12 bye.

The Chiefs line up with an empty backfield; Edwards-Helaire is on the outside as a wide receiver — and then motions back into a normal alignment. When he’s halfway there, Mahomes snaps the ball — and Edwards-Helaire goes from jogging into the backfield to running a pass route.

The original motion is commonplace; it’s called a reload motion. It identifies how the defense aligns when a running back is lined up outside. It also indicates to the offense what coverage the defense is playing. As the running back motions back into the backfield, it’s usually safe for the defense to communicate and adjust.

That’s why faking the motion can find the defense completely out of position. It not only gives the running back a leg up, but also the other receivers, too. Even the offensive line may get a slight advantage.

On these kinds of plays, we’ve seen two routes: a speed out and an angle route — which popped wide open over the middle for a 12-yard gain against the Los Angeles Chargers. Edwards-Helaire has missed time over the last two weeks, but the motion was still used with other backs.

Look out for the fake reload motion in the playoffs — and don’t be surprised if we see a new route combination run out of this pre-snap motion.

Direct snaps to Mecole Hardman

In the Week 18 win over the Denver Broncos, I believe one play was run so the team would get a live repetition — and would feel more comfortable with it in the postseason.

Wide receiver Mecole Hardman aligns as the quarterback in shotgun. The line runs a guard-tackle counter, meaning that the right guard pulls to kick out the edge defender and the right tackle pulls to lead the ball carrier through the hole.

But the direction the ball goes is determined by a read — meaning Hardman is looking at the back side defensive end and reacting to his movement. If that defender crashes down with the pulling blockers, Hardman hands off to running back Derrick Gore heading to the outside. If the defender stays wide — as he does here — Hardman keeps the ball and follows his blockers to the left.

The most impressive part of this play is how far downhill Hardman gets. Even though it is very slim, he identifies the running lane — and hits it hard. If left tackle Orlando Brown Jr.’s leg isn’t sticking out a little too much as he down-blocks, the play could have gone for a touchdown.

It wasn’t the first time Hardman took a snap, either.

In Week 4, the Chiefs tried a trick play that started with Hardman as the quarterback and ended with Mahomes looking for Hardman deep down the field.

The play doesn’t work in this rep, but it shows that Kansas City trusts Hardman to handle the snap, which derives from his time as a high-school quarterback.

You may not want to see any play that doesn’t start with Mahomes taking the snap — which is totally fair — but the advantage of a direct snap to Hardman comes in the running game: with the quarterback as a running threat, it gives the offense an extra player with which it can attack. It’s exactly why the Baltimore Ravens with quarterback Lamar Jackson is so tough to defend.

In addition, Hardman’s elite burst can turn a running play into a much bigger gain than the Chiefs’ running backs can; none of them even come even close to the explosion or long speed that Hardman possesses.

Finally, the guard-tackle counter blocking scheme isn’t used as frequently as it could be — and with Mahomes at quarterback, its read aspect can be used to go for a pass, too. If the defender crashes, Mahomes can pull — while receivers are running routes on the back side of the formation.

The bottom line

The Chiefs’ offense is naturally dynamic — but in the postseason, we’ve seen them take it to another level. Outside of last year’s Super Bowl, Kansas City has averaged 34.1 points per game in the seven playoff games Mahomes has started. It’s a strength of the team — and knowing it’s one of the best chances his team has to win another Super Bowl, Reid will work to maximize its effectiveness.

On top of the great things the offense already does, these wrinkles could be catalysts for big plays in big moments during the playoffs.