Loser: Andy Reid’s Clock Management
Andy Reid is one of the smartest and most influential offensive coaches in the history of the game. He’s also earned a reputation for screwing up clock situations throughout his career. Sunday brought another such instance that helped cost Kansas City the game, although it slipped under the radar.
On their very first drive of Sunday’s game, the Chiefs gave a third-down carry to fullback Michael Burton, who pretty much always picks up first downs on fourth-and-short. Burton pretty clearly picked up the first down, but the officials initially ruled him short. Reid made a mistake here. He called a timeout to think about the upcoming fourth-and-1, then decided to throw his challenge flag. NFL coaches do this sometimes, hoping to mull over the decision to challenge, but it’s a bad idea. The worst-case scenario if you lose a challenge is that you lose a timeout; calling a timeout to think about whether to throw a challenge flag automatically costs a timeout, and runs the risk of a team losing two of their three timeouts. (It’s not particularly important to hold on to challenges—in the 17 years that the coach’s challenge system has been in place, only eight coaches have managed to get two challenges correct and attempt to call a third; nobody has ever gone 3-for-3.)
This ended up hurting the Chiefs at the end of the first half. Kansas City used both of its remaining timeouts on a drive that went down to the 1-yard line. But with five seconds left in the half, Mahomes threw a mystifying swing pass, which ended the half:
It’s impossible to say that any one thing cost Kansas City the game. To blow an 18-point lead, a lot of things have to go wrong. But the Chiefs should have scored seven points on this drive at the end of the first half, or at least three. They didn’t, because of bad execution and because of Reid’s earlier bad timeout decision.
Last week, the Chiefs beat the Bills because of a time-saving miracle that will go down in NFL history. But Sunday, Reid once again seemed baffled by the concept of time, as if the game clock and play clock were melting like a Salvador Dalí painting. It’s strange that such a great coach is confounded by something so simple, and it cost his team again.
7) Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid
They get lumped together because this was a collective train wreck. Make no mistake: The Chiefs choked.
The end of the first half was an epic failure. Second-and-goal with five seconds left and no timeouts? Kick the field goal! Why is everyone SO averse to taking three points nowadays? The Bengals had just cut the deficit from 18 to 11. Push it back up to a two-touchdown edge! The arrogance and ignorance of that moment were wild. Ultimately, Mahomes tossed it to Hill behind the line of scrimmage and the receiver was stuffed. Then, with zero seconds on the clock, Mahomes tried to call a timeout he didn’t have. What a mess.
The sequence at the end of the fourth quarter was mind-numbing, too. Reid needed to run the football. This was reminiscent of the old Philadelphia days. On second-and-goal from the 4-yard line, Mahomes went backward and took a 5-yard sack. Then on third-and-goal, Mahomes again went the wrong way, held onto the ball for an eternity and took a 17-yard sack, nearly fumbling the game away.
On the second play of overtime, Mahomes nearly threw a devastating pick. On the third play of overtime, Mahomes did throw a devastating pick.
Mahomes was prolific in the first half, completing 18 of his 21 passes for 220 yards and three touchdowns, with zero sacks taken and a 149.9 passer rating. In the second half and overtime, he was Blake Bortles: 8 for 18, 55 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT, 4 sacks taken, 12.3 passer rating.
However, Bengals’ defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo made schematic changes that completely altered the course of the game and destroyed Patrick Mahomes in the process. ESPN’s Bill Barnwell broke this down brilliantly. In his analysis the Bengals moved away from running two deep on their safeties to only having one, with the second playing up in the box. This gave Mahomes more freedom on his deep throws, but took away a lot of the quick passing lanes which allowed guys like Kelce and Hill to wreck havoc over the middle.
On the surface this seems simple, but it was coupled with another core concept I noticed, which really made it all click: Having a QB spy. For much of the second half Sam Hubbard would drop off his block on obvious passing downs to fall into coverage and spy Mahomes. Not only did it prevent Mahomes from running much in the second half, but it put yet another defender in the box to prevent the kind of big YAC plays we saw burn the Bills.
It was clear then once those short routes were taken away, and Mahomes didn’t see an obvious lane to run, he became rattled in the pocket. Take a look at the most defining play of the game, which prevented the Chiefs from scoring a go-ahead touchdown that would have won the game.
The Chiefs get lucky, and then they don’t. After winning the coin toss, they continued to play ugly football. On first down, they ran another RPO. Mahomes held the ball and tried to throw a quick out to Demarcus Robinson, but with Hendrickson occupying his throwing lane, Mahomes tried to loft the throw over him and sailed it. This was the best play, by far, of the sequence.
On second down, disaster nearly struck. The Chiefs worked out of empty and tried to get Mahomes an easy completion with a quick slant to Robinson. (Why they were deciding to establish their fourth wideout in overtime with their season on the line is a bit of a mystery.) Facing a slot blitz, there appeared to be miscommunication on where Robinson was going, and Mahomes’ pass went right to Apple, who dropped what would have been one of the easiest interceptions of his life.
This felt like the last respite, the moment that might spur them to suddenly click back into being the terrors we saw against the Bills. Instead, there was no respite. On third down, the Bengals showed Mahomes a window for a deep shot and took it away. Hill lined up in the slot against Mike Hilton, but after trailing Hill for 10 yards, Hilton passed off the route to Vonn Bell and turned around to play a “robber” role in the middle of the field. Mahomes took that brief window to try to find Hill on a deep over route, but deep safety Jessie Bates got over to contest the route. The ball ricocheted off a diving Hill and into the hands of Bell, who returned it to the 45-yard line. Three first downs later, the Bengals were heading to the Super Bowl.
If things break slightly differently, the Chiefs overcome those mistakes. Andy Reid wasted a timeout in the first half before challenging a third-and-1 spot; had they simply challenged the play outright, they would have had an extra timeout for that sequence at the end of the half and could have run the ball in short yardage. If Mahomes gets an extra half-second in that goal-to-go sequence at the end of the game, maybe he throws a touchdown pass. As it was, the Chiefs were sloppy in too many key moments, and the Bengals did an incredible job of shutting them down when it mattered most.
Romo made the comment while the clock was winding down during the AFC Championship game and the Bengals clung to a three-point lead. The Chiefs, who have a potent offense, were advancing toward the goal line. The theory was that since it was almost a given that the Chiefs would score a touchdown, the Bengals should just get it over with and get back the ball for their quarterback Joe Burrow with some time on the clock.
Of course, things ended up working out nicely for the Bengals. They made a defensive stand and the Chiefs had to settle for a field goal. The Bengals went on to win in Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium with an overtime field goal by Evan McPherson. The team—for the first time in 33 years—is headed to Los Angeles to play the Rams in the Super Bowl.
Social media did not let Romo’s theory slide.
“#NeverForget Tony Romo suggesting the Bengals—who were winning by 3—might want to let the Chiefs score a touchdown from the 9 yard line with under a minute left so they could get the ball back. Perhaps the single worst piece of football analysis ever uttered on air,” Tim Alberta, a writer for the Atlantic, posted on Twitter.
Pringle could be headed to Cleveland
After releasing Odell Beckham Jr., the Cleveland Browns were without anything resembling a true WR1. Jarvis Landry has always been more of a WR2, even with Beckham struggling in Cleveland. By the time OBJ left, Baker Mayfield was throwing to Landry, Donovan Peoples-Jones, and a medley of tight ends.
Pringle would not solve the Browns’ WR2 problems, but he could serve as nice depth behind whoever else they add to the roster. On the Browns, Pringle would compete with Anthony Schwartz and DPJ for snaps behind Landry and presumably a yet to be determined player. Pringle would have no fantasy value in Cleveland.
Around the NFL
“I’m still going through the process that I said I was going through,” Brady said on the Let’s Go! podcast. “Sometimes it takes some time to really evaluate how you feel, what you want to do and I think when the time is right I’ll be ready to make a decision one way or the other.”
Higbee, the Rams’ No. 1 tight end, left the NFC Championship Game in the first half Sunday with what was announced as a knee injury. He didn’t return.
“We’re working through some different avenues,” McVay said of the injury. “He got an MCL sprain there. He’s such a tough guy. We’re going to do everything in our power to try to get this guy back and ready to go. But we are working some things.”
Higbee caught 61 passes (second on the team) for 560 yards (third) and 5 touchdowns (tied for third) in 15 regular-season games. He played 14 snaps Sunday, catching two passes for 18 yards, before leaving the game.
In case you missed it on Arrowhead Pride
3. The 2021 Chiefs did not want to lean on the running game
Between running backs Jerick McKinnon and Clyde Edwards-Helaire, there were 101 rushing yards on 18 attempts on Sunday — an average of 5.6 yards per carry.
Yet even as it was performing so efficiently, it never felt like the Chiefs trusted the offense to rely on a rushing attack. Starting the second half with the ball (and up two possessions), you’d think the ground game would be a great way to safely maintain that lead — especially if it was manufacturing 5-7 yards on what seemed like every carry.
The #Chiefs ran the ball 6 times for 34 yards in the second half prior to their final drive of regulation. They dropped back to pass the ball 12 times for a net of 0 yards & an INT on those same five possessions.— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) January 31, 2022
With how the Chiefs’ offensive line is now constructed, the running game could be a bigger part of the offense. No... you don’t want to take the ball out of Mahomes’ hands. But when there’s a two-score lead to protect, trusting an efficient running game can make things easier on the rest of the offense.
It’ll be interesting to see if the Chiefs make their ground attack a bigger part of the offense in 2022.