Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is a genius.
We all knew this — but Reid’s genius is generally considered to be about his red-zone packages, screen passes and all the motion he uses to confuse opposing defenses.
All of those things make Reid a terrific offensive play designer. But his most underrated skill is game-planning for an opponent.
Coming into Sunday’s game against the Chiefs, the Jacksonville Jaguars had been playing some strong defense — but they weren’t disguising their coverages. If you don’t do that against Andy Reid, you will be in serious trouble.
During Kansas City’s 27-17 victory, there were seven plays that displayed Reid’s play-calling genius in dissecting both zone and man coverages.
Let’s take a look at each one.
1. Juju Smith-Schuster out-and-up against Cover 3
Everything about this play is awesome— Nate Christensen (@natech32) November 15, 2022
Love the design to beat Cover 3, Watson's motion motions safety down, which shows Cover 3. MVS clears for the double move, LB can't zone off that window enough
Protection was awesome. Slide to overload side, McKinnon/Wylie pass off stunt pic.twitter.com/daxoQTWT16
This play came on the first drive of the game. It shows how Reid uses motion to reveal exactly which coverage is coming.
When wide receiver Justin Watson motions across the formation to form a 3X1, the Jaguars tip-off they’re in Cover 3. The weak side safety walks down from a deep alignment. With the cornerbacks playing 5-7 yards off the line of scrimmage, this is clearly a Cover 3 alignment.
Wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling runs a Go route to clear the boundary cornerback, leaving the apex defender trying to play spot-drop coverage in the flat. He’s not responsible for carrying that deep in coverage — but with the post safety occupied with Watson’s Over route, there’s no defender there to stop wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster’s out-and-up route.
The pass protection is also perfect. Kansas City runs a four-man slide to the overload side of the defensive line — where Jacksonville has three defensive linemen all on the same side of the center’s shoulder. The Jaguars also have two linebackers mugging the same gap, which means that Jerick McKinnon has to stay in protection. There are three bodies over two in the protection — but with the Jaguars tipping Cover 3, the Chiefs know that both linebackers aren’t likely to blitz; otherwise, there’s no hook defender.
McKinnon and Wylie perfectly pass off the stunt from the linebacker and defensive end, which gives Mahomes enough time to find Smith-Schuster downfield.
2. Travis Kelce deep Over against Quarters
KC continuing to generate explosive plays out of 13p fascinates me— Nate Christensen (@natech32) November 15, 2022
Jags in Quarters, this sort of looks like a fake swing screen to RB, but LB/dropping DE both respect enough to not zone off Kelce's over, no idea that Kelce's there
Tbh, not sure why S doesn't drive the route pic.twitter.com/rh64U51u19
When the Chiefs were in 13 personnel, the Jaguars usually responded with Quarters coverage. This play typically used to destroy Cover 3 — but here, Kansas City gets it to work against Quarters.
The play is a version of Yankee, where one wide receiver runs a vertical route — either a Post or Go route — with a deep drag route running behind it. The way the offensive line shifts — and with running back Isiah Pacheco working across the formation — the second-level defenders think a screen pass is coming. That makes them afraid of drifting too far — just in case Mahomes throws the screen — so they hold in their zones.
This leaves tight end Travis Kelce wide open on the drag route — and the weak side linebacker and defensive end aren’t able to turn and track it.
Reid used the threat of a screen to bait the underneath defenders, leaving a mile of space for the league’s best tight end.
3. Kadarius Toney touchdown
Not quite sure what Jags are running here coverage wise (think it was supposed to be quarters, not sure CB on bottom knows that), but this plays out like a designed screen to Toney, both Watson and Kelce set good screens but Jags also had zero idea there was a WR running across pic.twitter.com/S210qG7Br9— Nate Christensen (@natech32) November 15, 2022
This play looks like it’s supposed to be Quarters coverage — but since the boundary cornerback doesn’t align that way, I’m not completely sure.
Kansas City runs Kelce and Watson on rub routes, clearing traffic from the flat. With no cornerback, there’s nobody to cover new wide receiver Kadarius Toney in the flat.
I’ll guess Reid noticed that in the red zone, Jacksonville tended to not pass this motion off to the flat — so he was able to take advantage of a confused defense.
4. Marquez Valdes-Scantling touchdown against Cover 3 Match
Jags in some sort of Cover 3 match look, KC tried this last week and didn't work, brought it back in RZ and it did this week— Nate Christensen (@natech32) November 15, 2022
Watson's over takes slot and post safety has to respect to his side, no one carries MVS because SCB thinks safety will take it, weak LB doesn't zone off pic.twitter.com/vXL2rbEQSU
The Chiefs actually ran a version of this play against the Tennessee Titans, but they defended it well. A week later, it worked well against the Jaguars.
This looks like Cover 3 Match coverage — which is basically a version of man coverage in which defenders pass off routes depending on whether they’re vertical or short.
Watson runs a deep cross to the weak side, which forces the slot defender to run vertically with him. The post safety is shaded to that side; he’s expected to give help on the first vertical route to his side. On the other side, Valdes-Scantling runs a slice route to the weak side of the field, so the boundary cornerback tries to pass it off to the safety — who first has to respect Watson’s vertical route.
At this point, the weak side linebacker has to turn and cover anything going vertically — but with McKinnon releasing late, his eyes are on that route. All of this leads to there being no middle-of-the-field defender to cover a streaking Valdes-Scantling.
I could’ve thrown this touchdown.
5. Running back mesh against man coverage
Andy will run this play (mesh with RB leaking, designed pick for McKinnon) until the day he's done coaching. Might be his favorite man coverage beater and KC has always ran the details of mesh well pic.twitter.com/XP09aRhQba— Nate Christensen (@natech32) November 15, 2022
After getting shredded in zone, Jacksonville started to play more man coverage — but Reid had plays to beat that, too.
One of Reid’s favorite calls is running mesh — a bunch of underneath crossing routes — to get his running back free on a flat route across the formation, where the wide receivers pick off defenders. Reid ran it in 2018 against the Baltimore Ravens — and also against the Arizona Cardinals earlier this year.
The Jaguars tried breaking tendencies with more man coverage, but Reid was instantly dialed into the right call.
6. Noah Gray touchdown against Quarters
Jags don't disguise their coverages often, clearly playing quarters here— Nate Christensen (@natech32) November 15, 2022
Kelce splits the CB and S, which doesn't let either get off to cover flat. McKinnon's swing holds both the LB and DE, leaving no defender to cover Gray on the wheel
Great design and route spacing pic.twitter.com/JEVjzIbcfm
The Jaguars don’t disguise their coverages very much, which makes things easy for a genius like Reid.
On this play, Jacksonville again comes out showing Quarters, which is a frequent red-zone tendency for them. The Chiefs want to get tight end Noah Gray open on the wheel route. Kelce divides the cornerback and safety with a Go route, preventing either from working it. McKinnon runs a swing route to the flat, which holds the dropping defensive end and linebacker; neither know which of them is covering the route until it’s too late. Kelce’s route leaves the defensive end trying to turn and carry Gray — but he’s also too late.
Reid took advantage of the eyes of this young defense, using two verticals to the same side to beat its Quarters coverage.
7. Travis Kelce’s touchdown against QQH
I could be wrong, but I believe this is QQH vs the stacked formation, Jags seem to tip it with how much that backside LB is cheating his alignment— Nate Christensen (@natech32) November 15, 2022
The MIKE is confused having to carry the crosser, the flat defender works wide to stop the out, and Kelce's delay leaves him open pic.twitter.com/IpFf66kIyP
To me, this play looks like QQH (quarter-quarter-half). The backside linebacker seems to cheat his alignment, tipping this coverage to the offense. The Jaguars have four bodies accounting for three — and they’re matching routes out of quarters.
Watson’s crosser gets the MIKE linebacker to run with it — but the back-side linebacker is there to cover any crosser, so the MIKE screws up the coverage. The flat defender works against Valdes-Scantling’s Out route, which leaves no curl defender to cover Kelce — who takes a delayed release to find open space in zone coverage; no defender is available to cover that area.
The bottom line
If your defensive game plan is to show static zone coverages against Andy Reid, you’re going to be in trouble. Like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Jacksonville defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell comes from the Todd Bowles coaching tree), the Jaguars run pretty simple coverages on the back end — especially when they’re in zone. That may work against most teams — but a genius like Reid is going to dissect those coverages.
Reid took constant advantage of the zone defenders’ eyes — especially those covering underneath. Jacksonville linebacker Devin Lloyd has played well, but he struggles to read plays in zone coverage. Kansas City picked on him all day, ruthlessly throwing things behind his head.
Reid also took advantage of a young secondary trying to pass things off; all of the designs were made to beat match coverages.
This game reminded us that when Reid gets to plan against a set defense, he’s going to shred it. The game plan (and execution) were almost perfect in Week 10. It won’t be that way every week — but when the games matter, Reid will be ready to attack anyone.