For the first time in the Patrick Mahomes era, the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense will not feature what has been the league’s most dangerous, big-play threat: wide receiver Tyreek Hill. For this reason, the 2022 season won’t look quite the same.
So in this summer series — The Reid Remix — we’re using statistics, film and quotes we’ve heard this offseason to preview how different aspects of the unit could look in the coming season.
In this edition, we’ll focus on the offense and how it can attack defenses in the red zone.
What we know
Over the last three seasons, the Chiefs have finished with an average conversion rate in the red zone, never finishing higher than a rank of 14th among NFL teams in that stretch. The highest conversion in any of the years was 61% in 2020.
The year proceeding this stretch, first-year starting quarterback Patrick Mahomes captained an offense that converted 72% of its red-zone attempts, the second-highest rate in the league. He himself led the NFL in red-zone pass yards and touchdowns with a 35:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
As head coach Andy Reid works to get back to that god-level efficiency in 2018, we know one thing will always be true about his red-zone play calling: it will be creative — and it will center around a certain All-Pro tight end.
There are so many different ways the Chiefs took advantage of Kelce’s skills closer to the goal line in 2021. In order of the plays in this tweet:
- The option route. Flexed out into a slot receiver alignment, Kelce can simply read the leverage of his coverage defender and get open off of it. This is where the chemistry with Mahomes shines.
- The quick screen. This will usually be set up by showing heavier personnel in the huddle, then hurrying up to the line of scrimmage and spreading out the formation to catch the defense off guard.
- Shovel-pass option on power read. The play is a traditional power-run play disguised with misdirection and a read-to-make on the defense. If certain defenders widen with the outside-handoff action, a pitch to Kelce turns into a lead-blocking run up the middle.
- Direct snap on power read. The same play as previous, but the Chiefs cut out the shovel and just start the play with the ball in Kelce’s hands.
- Delayed-release shallow crosser. The initial showing of a pass block makes his coverage defender hesitate, then have to fight through traffic to catch up once Kelce gets into his route. They scored a week later on this same play against the Denver Broncos.
- Out-and-up fade. We rarely see the Chiefs use a goal-line fade, but when they needed a touchdown more than ever, they went to a variation of it with Kelce to win the game.
So they have Kelce and what should be a strong run game as a foundation, but there is still a big void of targets to fill from Tyreek Hill’s departure; he saw 24.2% of the team’s total red-zone targets; Kelce’s rate was 16.8%. Even wide receiver Byron Pringle and running back Darrel Williams combined for 16 (now-vacated) targets.
The rest of the skill-position players have a chance to earn roles because of it. Let’s discuss them here:
Wide receiver Mecole Hardman was the team’s third target in the red zone in 2021, seeing 15.8% of the total.
One of Mecole Hardman's strengths as a ball carrier is getting downhill instead of messing around side to side— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) July 20, 2022
That's a plus trait to have in the red zone on these quick screens and jet sweeps. And when you can add in the dead leg on top of it, it's lethal pic.twitter.com/ALDaRPkgzP
The obvious is how important his speed can be to winning close to the goal line. The horizontal action on pre-snap jet motions or quick screens can really stretch a defense out and leave them vulnerable up the middle, or the play itself simply wins to the sideline because the ball carrier is faster than the pursuing linebackers.
I also believe one of Hardman’s strengths as a ball carrier is getting downhill, and that has shown up in his red-zone touches. That’s a trait the coaching staff can appreciate close to the goal line — and may want to utilize more on designs such as direct-snap runs.
Mecole taking a direct snap turned into GT Counter Read -- meaning if 91 had crashed down and followed Wylie's pull, the ball would be handed off to Gore going outside— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) January 12, 2022
Good read, but the best part is how hard Mecole hits the hole. An arm tkl away from 6 pic.twitter.com/4rVXLG5hx3
We saw them utilize that down the stretch of 2021; with Reid’s knack for creativity in the red zone, Hardman’s rushing ability could be an added wrinkle.
As I mentioned earlier, the overtime touchdown by Kelce against the Bills came on a play design the Chiefs don’t bring out as much as a traditional red-zone offense does: the corner fade.
The Pringle TD was a unique score; rarely do you see the #Chiefs run a goal-line fade type of route in the RZ— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) January 19, 2022
It makes me believe that Patrick recognized CB playing the slant, audibled to slant&go, and executed it
Tells you how confident and comfortable Mahomes is playing pic.twitter.com/IehSv8lLNa
In the game prior, the Chiefs looked to it once more — this time by way of a slant-and-go route by Pringle that works out perfectly.
The success of these two plays in big moments could indicate a shift towards making it a more utilized part of their strategy. They certainly have the personnel to do it.
MVS has the length and ball skills to be a worthy target on these corner routes, where QB has to put it up to layer over the flat CB— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) July 20, 2022
They've really only trusted Kelce on these in recent memory, so another option on these plays is a plus pic.twitter.com/2uAot4OrMW
Wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling has the build and length to high-point these passes that can be jump-ball opportunities, especially on this particular pass concept.
The Snag concept puts the slot receiver on a corner route, while the outside receiver runs an in-breaking route beneath it. In a typical coverage, the cornerback would be dropping to the corner route — so it’s important to have length and ball skills to win on a high-pointed pass.
Another receiver that could win on these plays? Josh Gordon. It feels like there is momentum for him to make the roster, and that would mean they have a plan for him. Last year in 12 games, he saw three targets in the red zone — which is as many as Demarcus Robinson had playing in more of a full-time role.
With that bigger-bodied skillset more prevalent in the wide receiver corps, the Chiefs could toy with defenses based on their personnel. They did it last year with three and four tight end sets that could be spread out or condensed, but it could be the opposite this year — where the wide receiver group could be utilized in that versatile fashion.
I’ve talked about Valdes-Scantling and Juju Smith-Schuster as good blockers, while Gordon’s size gives him an edge when needing to get in defenders’ ways. If they can truly be an asset in run blocking, it could provide them with that ability to keep the best receivers on the field and not give away run or pass tendencies based on those personnel packages.