One of the things that make NFL playoff games so difficult to win is that over the course of a long season, teams put a lot on film: strengths, weaknesses, situational tendencies and what they do to win. Opponents are therefore well-prepared for what an opposing team might do.
But sometimes, teams show looks they haven’t shown all season. By definition, these can be difficult to stop.
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Kadarius Toney has appeared in just seven Kansas City games. During the team’s 31-13 blowout win over the Las Vegas Raiders on Saturday, the former first-round pick put on a show — and might even have given a preview of his use in the postseason.
But how well will opposing teams be able to defend against an electrifying playmaker who joined the team in a midseason trade?
Let’s take a look at what they might see in their Toney’s limited film.
The speed and shiftiness that Toney possesses have made him a perfect fit for the arsenal of misdirection plays that the Kansas City offense utilizes. Returning to a play that the team hadn’t run in a while allowed Toney to get involved early in the Week 18 game.
Sprint draw with 1 leading through the B gap. 57 lines up his split a little wider to create more space. 62 with an amazing job to rake the NT into the A gap. 52 leads up mauls a LB. 87 busting his tail to get on the angle. 19's ability to cut and shift gears is on full display. pic.twitter.com/QP3jIDSalX— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) January 9, 2023
In this sprint draw play, the Chiefs are trying to sell a sprint-out pass — where the entire offensive line will stay in front of the quarterback as he rolls to one side — but as he starts to run to the right, Patrick Mahomes hands the ball to Toney.
Mahomes’ sprint action causes the defense to head toward him, opening a big lane on the opposite side. Orlando Brown Jr. lines up his split — the distance between players on the offensive line — at around three feet on the left side. (On the right, Andrew Wylie uses the traditional two feet). This extra space makes it easier for Brown to bait his man upfield, giving Toney more room to operate.
Running back Jerrick McKinnon leads through the hole, while center Creed Humphrey turns left to block the second level. With one sharp cut, Toney darts inside McKinnon's block and accelerates as he gets into open space.
Humphrey makes a great block — as does tight end Travis Kelce — allowing Toney to stay on his feet through the initial contact. Then his blockers push the pile to squeeze out a few extra yards.
The defense watches the huddle and knows shenanigans are on deck. 1 +87 have scored the most TD's on the year so LV keys in on the action to the right. Sets up the screen on the backside perfectly. Thuney and Creed with devastating blocks. Such a weak flag on Creed. Toney time. pic.twitter.com/WDVOeg4aFZ— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) January 8, 2023
While Toney benefits from an incredible play design, he also does a marvelous job staying on his feet and breaking through the tackle. The linebacker gets two hands on Toney, but the wideout still slips away to take the ball into the end zone.
While the snap was called back on a penalty, it highlighted how the Chiefs could call Toney’s number on one of their many misdirection plays.
Unlocking the outside running game
At times this season, it felt like Kansas City’s play-calling got a little stale — particularly in the running game. While the Chiefs used their usual zone and power looks, they lacked runs to the outside. Toney brought some speed and vision to the team — along with as a natural sense of where to find space.
3rd and one, KC runs the jet sweep to Toney. 77 + 65 reach the outside/work to the LB. Toney needs to hit it inside. They are leaving the shade unblocked to the play side on purpose. Toney gets enough for the first but he leaves a few yards on the field trying to cut back. pic.twitter.com/Qmk9ozQr79— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) January 10, 2023
This makes him an ideal fit for Kansas City’s jet sweep looks — such as this one. On a third-and-1, Toney takes the handoff and goes inside with the ball. He gets just enough for a first down — but if he instead goes vertically from Trey Smith’s outstanding block against the linebacker, he might have a chance for more yards.
While the safety probably would have tackled Toney after a few yards, the attempt ended up being right on the line to gain.
The next time the Chiefs ran Toney on a jet sweep, he wasn’t stopped so early.
Kadarius Toney takes the sweep cutting into the B gap. 87+57 outside zone combo to the second level. 87 & 9 do a fantastic job blocking in space at the second level. 57 keeps the edge wide. Excellent vision from 19 to stay inside and weave his way through for the TD. pic.twitter.com/eyyyESnEMg— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) January 10, 2023
Right after Snow Globe was run, Kansas City called Toney’s number again. On this jet sweep, Toney takes the handoff all the way in.
Kelce and Brown do a good job of working their double-team blocks to the second level, with Kelce coming off to take a linebacker. Toney cuts into the B-gap — the gap between the guard and tackle — and makes a man miss before following JuJu Smith-Schuster’s block to the pylon.
Toney does an excellent job of being patient. He allows his blockers to first get into place, setting up the blocks with his cuts to help him get the ball over the goal line.
The juice factor
Toney has apparently learned the playbook remarkably fast — and has earned the trust of the coaching staff and his teammates. His understanding of how to attack with the ball in his hands — combined with his rare physical gifts — have made him a treat for us to watch.
The juice man. Toney shows the in-cut, stops on a dime and pivots back to the outside. In one smooth motion, he catches the ball, jukes the defender, and picks up a couple of extra yards. pic.twitter.com/TaP6K2csXl— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) January 10, 2023
Even with a simple route concept like this one, Toney finds ways to dazzle fans and keep defenders on their toes. Initially, it appears that he is running an in-route — a route where the wide receiver runs vertically upfield and then cuts inside — but once the play is underway, Toney displays his footwork as he pivots out.
After shifting the route, he makes the grab. The cornerback covering him knows he has been beaten, so he over-pursues to the spot where it appears Toney is heading. But with a lightning-quick juke, Toney squeaks past that corner — and almost gets past another — before he finally goes down.
Toney excels at beating man coverage. He is a nightmare to stop when the ball is in his hands. His quick jukes (and shifty speed) freeze defenders in place as he accelerates in and out of cuts.
He has also shown that even when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands, he will give his best effort.
Toney comes across in motion as the Chiefs run power to the right. 62 kicks out the EOL, 77+83 combo to the only LB in the box. Watch as Toney flies in to blast the safety. Pacheco hits the hole with a head of steam. pic.twitter.com/jNlTZkuLyt— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) January 10, 2023
On this play, Toney’s pre-snap motion definitely makes the Las Vegas defenders hesitate for a brief second — but then, the Chiefs run power right at them. Running back Isiah Pacheco picks up a positive gain.
While the offensive line (and tight end Noah Gray) do their jobs to create movement at the line of scrimmage, Toney comes flying in from off the screen to jolt the safety who is creeping up to make the tackle. This gives Pacheco time to pick up a few extra yards — and displays the determination and grit with which Toney plays.
The bottom line
On Saturday, Toney finished with two receptions and three carries for 44 yards and a touchdown. While his usage is still in small doses, the manner in which he is being utilized should have opposing defenders shuddering as Kansas City enter the playoffs.
These are looks the Chiefs have not shown very often; Toney is just the cherry on top of Kansas City’s offensive arsenal. With the creativity of team’s coaching staff — along with Toney’s football intelligence and physical gifts — it is hard to imagine that he won’t be playing a big role as the team enters the most important part of the season.