After four weeks of bland football — and some underwhelming performances — the Kansas City Chiefs ended the regular season with a bang: a 31-13 stomping of the Las Vegas Raiders.
The game's biggest moment quickly went viral. Late in the second quarter, the Kansas City offense was knocking on the door. On second-and-3 from the Las Vegas nine-yard line, it ran one of the most creative, fun plays of the whole NFL season.
The Chiefs call it “Snow Globe” — and while it seemed like it was just a fun way to get into the end zone, it is actually a variation of an old trick designed to keep defenses guessing.
Let’s break it down.
Even as the Kansas City offense broke its huddle, you could tell something unusual was afoot.
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
After breaking out of the spinning huddle, the offense quickly gets set. The defense is on high alert because the Chiefs are in a Wildcat formation that has running back Jerrick McKinnon — who played quarterback during his college days at Georgia Southern — lined up to take the snap. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes is lined up behind McKinnon, with wide receiver Kadarius Toney to the right and Travis Kelce to the left.
The play starts out looking like it is a read option. McKinnon shows the ball to Toney before pulling it and running to the right — with Kelce serving as the lead blocker — but McKinnon pitches the ball back to Mahomes.
The defenders are naturally keyed into Kansas City’s potent trio — Mahomes, Kelce and McKinnon have combined for 22 touchdowns this season — but they do not see what is developing on the back side of the play.
The offensive line initially sells a simple zone scheme look — the play they run most frequently — with Toney slowly coming across it. But after catching the pitch, Mahomes turns back and fires it to Toney — who now has a line of blockers out in front of him.
With some help from left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., Toney breaks free from one tackle and heads to the end zone. Left guard Joe Thuney lines up perfectly against a defensive back, blasting him into the ground with a brutal block. Center Creed Humphrey engages another defensive back, flinging him out of the way as Toney walks into the end zone.
The spinning huddle was fun for the players to execute — and fun to watch, too. It definitely showcased the creativity that head coach Andy Reid has built into his team’s culture.
But the huddle also gave the Chiefs some schematic advantages.
It's a fun play, and it's supposed to be, but the snowglobe huddle has the same basic principles of the quick huddle/sugar huddle plays, just with more flare. The whole idea is to get everyone set at the line quickly and surprise the defense with the alignment. pic.twitter.com/f7XwmCNIfK— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) January 8, 2023
Once Brown spins around to the middle, he peels off — with the rest of the line tapering to the line of scrimmage in order. For a moment, this tapered exit from the huddle blocks (and distracts) the defense from seeing how the backfield is lining up — and then the Chiefs get set and snap the ball as quickly as they can. This all gives the defense as little time as possible to adjust to what they’re seeing for the very first time.
While the spinning huddle is fun, it is not exactly a new idea. It is similar to the quick huddle or sugar huddle — both of which are sometimes seen in college games, but have rarely been seen at the NFL level.
The goal for all of them is the same: get set quickly and catch the defense off guard. They work particularly well when motion and movement during (and before) the snap are being utilized.
Executing a trick play like this one takes perfect timing — and the Chiefs were on point.
1 lined up as the QB. Shows the handoff to 19, goes right and pitches to 15 with 87 out in front. Defense flows that way. OL sells zone left before preparing for screen blocks. 19 slow plays it, catches it, breaks a man, and takes it in. 62 +52 with devastating blocks. Bad flag. pic.twitter.com/1C4samMzxL— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) January 8, 2023
A zone-read option to a throwback screen is as complicated as it gets; the play certainly has many moving parts. The defense keys into the right side, so Toney is able to get in space on the left. The offensive line does its part delivering some fierce blocks in space — demonstrating why the Chiefs are seen as the league’s premiere screen team.
The holding call
Unfortunately, the officials inserted themselves into the play, calling a hold on Creed Humphrey that brought it back.
This was an egregious penalty — one of the worst in Week 18. It negated a play that should have been in every trick play highlight montage for years to come.
It wasn't a hold. Creed engaged the block, gets his hands in tight, and throws the guy to the ground. He's not preventing him from going anywhere, he is overpowering him. If you want to flag it for excessive blocking that's fine, but don't call it holding. pic.twitter.com/ZKmgHc4KOA— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) January 8, 2023
The league’s rule book states that offensive holding is, “hooking, jerking, turning or twisting.” So this could be considered holding. But if you key in on any particular play during any NFL game, you will see the kinds of movement Humphrey demonstrates here.
The old saying is true: “If they want to, the officials can call holding on every play.” On this play, they did.
Making it even worse is that the defensive back Humphrey flung to the ground didn't have much of a chance to make the play anyway. Had Humphrey missed the block, Toney would still have been able to score a touchdown.
The bottom line
It’s easy to see why people often refer to the NFL as the “No Fun League.” The Chiefs ran an incredible trick play to perfection — but it was called back for a borderline penalty that really had no impact on the play’s outcome.
In the end, it didn’t matter much. One play later, Kansas City again gave the ball to Toney, who once again found the end zone. That one was not called back.
Over the years, the league has appeared to frown on individuality. It seems like the NFL would rather keep its game as serious as possible. Does the league fail to realize that the Chiefs’ style of football might be exactly what the public wants to watch?
With Kansas City heading into the postseason with the AFC’s first seed, it’s likely we’ll see more of the team’s distinctive style. The league may need to hold its breath — because what we saw on Saturday could just be just the tip of the iceberg.