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Film Review: How Andy Reid dissected the Jaguars’ zone coverage

Kansas City’s head coach can always find a way to beat static zone looks.

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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