One of the biggest storylines coming out of the Kansas City Chiefs’ Week 3 loss to the Indianapolis Colts was an animated conversation between quarterback Patrick Mahomes and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. One of them wanted to be more aggressive with the late-half play-calling; the other was defending the choice to play it safe.
But in that game, offensive conservatism wasn’t exclusive to that one moment. Whether it was predictable run action or basic pass concepts that rely on the wide receivers to work them themselves open, the entire game featured a vanilla offensive strategy.
The coaching staff thought that in Indianapolis, they could win that way — and without some special-teams errors, they might have been right.
But in the following week, the team would have a different mindset.
Utilizing Travis Kelce
After the Bucs fumbled the opening kickoff, Kansas City took possession and rushed for five yards — setting up a second down in the red zone.
A great wrinkle to the pass offense to open up the scoring for #Chiefs— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) October 3, 2022
It takes advantage of David's muscle memory early in the game. He's covered a simple sit route like that millions of times. Kelce's quick fake is all he needs to get a step on David going towards the middle pic.twitter.com/EAkGztn3bq
On this play, the Chiefs align in a trips formation that is bunched to the right side. The trio’s initial release into their patterns looks like a typical route concept from that look: one receiver runs to the flat, one goes vertical and the last runs a spot route. The “spot” — a short sit route — is given to tight end Travis Kelce.
But the play features a twist.
Once he pivots to sit — like he typically would — Kelce quickly shoots back out of his break toward the middle of the field. That’s all that is required for linebacker Lavonte David’s muscle memory to take over, making him step toward the spot route — just like he has done thousands of times. Kelce takes advantage, creating a lot of separation. The routes from the other side of the field open up the middle, giving Kelce room to score.
I liked that the Chiefs called this right out of the gate: early in the game, take advantage of a playmaker like David, who wants to quickly defend the play he thinks he is seeing.
On a rare occasion where the running game wasn’t effective, the Chiefs faced a third-and-10 on their second drive.
The ability for 15+87 to erase any effort to take the connection away is hilarious— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) October 3, 2022
3rd&10. There's nothing fancy about Kelce's out at the sticks, and the Bucs have White + Davis sandwiching it
Mahomes hits the last step of his drop and rifles a ball the only place it could go pic.twitter.com/GcCg9PzMe5
There’s nothing fancy about this play design — or anything unique about the look. It’s just a simple Sail concept that the team has run many times in order to get Kelce on an out route at the first-down marker.
Tampa Bay knows this. Their Cover 3 defense places cornerback Carlton Davis III and linebacker Devin White in position to sandwich this pattern at the catch point.
With an aggressive mindset, Mahomes doesn’t shy away. Instead, he wastes no time at the back of his drop, using the power from his last step to rifle a pass to his tight end before White can get there. At the same time, the ball is far enough inside to keep Davis from taking Kelce’s head off.
A few big runs later, the Chiefs have a 14-3 lead.
Expanding the library of routes
On the third drive, we saw wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling’s biggest play of the young season.
I find it significant that we saw 15 go to the seam route twice like he did, beating good coverage with incredible accuracy in different ways both times— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) October 5, 2022
This is a route we don't see thrown much in KC's offense. Love seeing Mahomes give these a chance, especially with MVS pic.twitter.com/blW34JVp6F
On this first-down play, Mahomes sees the defense shift from a Cover 3 look into a two-high shell. His initial reads are to the right — but once he realizes how far the play-side safety has shifted, he quickly pivots back to try Valdes-Scantling on a long seam route between the two deep safeties.
With David’s good trailing coverage, this ball can only be where it ends — and the receiver makes a great turning catch.
Later in the game, we see a third-down play where Mahomes goes to the seam route against good trailing coverage — but this time, it has to be a low, back-shoulder throw to Kelce, who adjusts to complete the play.
I find this significant — because in the Chiefs’ offense, we don’t typically see the seams utilized vertically like this. So either head coach Andy Reid or Mahomes made it an emphasis for this game — which gives future opponents another area of the field they fear can be exposed in Cover 2 looks.
Laying it on thick
With a 31-17 lead in the third quarter, it was a good time to see if Reid would keep calling the game aggressively — or with possession of the ball and a two-score lead, revert back to conservatism.
Loved seeing KC stay aggressive, up 31-17 in 3Q— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) October 5, 2022
Like they did in different ways throughout the game, they take advantage of TB's play making defense. The fake screen pulls Winfield up the field, and makes Davis hesitate
15's shoulder fake seals the deal pic.twitter.com/ngVpPIO0WH
On a second down, the Chiefs use orbit motion to set up wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster on a quick screen — but instead, Mahomes fakes that way before looking down the sideline to a wide-open Valdes-Scantling, who initially acts like he is blocking.
This play-call is a good one — simply because it takes advantage of a Tampa Bay defense that is full of aggressive playmakers.
#Chiefs will continue throwing to Jody in the RZ if teams continue not respecting him— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) October 5, 2022
KC sets him up well, getting into a 4x1 look post-snap. The late motion shifts the LBs, + attention on Kelce holds David from dropping into slant window. Easy TD pic.twitter.com/mfFNjt252C
Later in the drive, the Chiefs take advantage of the linebackers’ attention on Kelce, which gives tight end Jody Fortson plenty of room to score on a slant route. Kelce’s alignment on the other side — along with three other receivers — grabs David’s focus. Since it’s his responsibility to drop into that throwing lane, Fortson is able to get it done.
The bottom line
This game was a result of an aggressive game plan married to an (always) aggressive quarterback. Specifically in the passing game, receivers were schemed open more than in Week 3 — and if they weren’t, Mahomes seemed more prepared (or perhaps willing) to take a shot anyway. That could have been the result of improved pass protection.
It’s impossible to expect the same level of strategy every week, but it was good to see this team prove it can still succeed against the best of the best.