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Film Review: How Chiefs’ pre-snap motions boosted their Super Bowl offense

Kansas City’s championship strategy involved more than just the usual window dressing.

Syndication: Arizona Republic Patrick Breen/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

By the end of the Kansas City Chiefs’ incredible 38-35 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LVII, it was obvious that head coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy had won their scheme battle against Philadelphia’s defensive coaching staff.

The Chiefs’ offense scored on five possessions: their initial drive of the game and then the final four of the contest. Most of their drives were methodical, using quick passes and a purposeful rushing attack to drive the field; none were a better example than the game-winning possession, which used up the remaining 5:15 of game time with 12 plays.

Kansas City had no deep-passing game — because it wasn’t needed. Instead, Reid and Bieniemy cranked up the dial on pre-snap motion and other play actions that put pressure on the Eagles’ linebackers and safeties.

Some of the game’s most significant plays used pre-snap motion. Let’s take a closer look at them.

Getting Travis Kelce going

On the Chiefs’ first pass attempt of the game, the call was a staple concept — plus some subtle motion to open up a window for their best playmaker.

Using three tight ends with an under-center formation, the offense threatens run. This grabs linebackers’ attention. Then Kelce motions across the formation, turning a balanced set into a trips look — three receivers to one side — just before the snap. A defender follows Kelce, revealing that the Eagles want to bracket him with two zone defenders: a safety with outside leverage and a linebacker inside.

On the Y-Cross, Kelce runs a deep crossing pattern away from that outside-leveraged defender. This puts the linebacker in a bad spot; there is no back side help at the second level because the zone is shifting away from the isolated-receiver side.

Kelce attacks the linebacker’s blind spot, cutting across (and flattening out) into the open space. The flattening is to naturally come back to the ball — but also to avoid the back side safety who is coming down.

To start this Kelce reception, the Chiefs use a jet-sweep motion to get attention from the linebackers — rather than the run-heavy formation we saw in the previous example. As the defenders acknowledge the fake, Mahomes begins to roll out in the opposite direction, forcing the same defenders to overcorrect.

Then Kelce suddenly stops his crossing route, pivoting back against the defense’s flow. To recover, the linebackers must change direction for a third time. Even without the loose playing surface, the play’s misdirection manufactures an enormous throwing window for Mahomes to hit his No. 1 target.

Eye candy

In the fourth quarter, the Chiefs again used wide receiver Kadarius Toney to grab the attention of coverage defenders before the snap.

This time, Toney is aligned in the backfield as part of a split shotgun set with running back Jerick McKinnon. This two-back set keeps the weak-side linebacker in the box — but once Toney goes on a flare to that side just before the snap, the linebacker hurries to the flat to even the numbers.

The slot cornerback feels a similar urgency. In order to prevent a big catch and run, he has to be aggressive as he takes on wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster’s block. It’s an easy sales job for the wideout, who runs past the corner and readies himself for a completion in the void created by Toney’s motion.

The best part of this play: if Kansas City only fools the linebacker, it still opens up a great catch-and-run opportunity for Kelce — who is coming across the formation as a secondary option.

Mahomes’ 26-yard scramble on the game-winning drive was also aided by pre-snap motion. Tight end Jody Fortson goes to the opposite side of the formation. He keeps going through the snap and runs a wheel route. The Eagles are in man coverage, communicating and (correctly) switching to cover it up.

But here’s the thing: Not only does Fortson’s route allow other players to find space, his late motion forces both linebackers to man up to the receivers who are leaking to the flat. This leaves the middle of the field wide open for Mahomes’ heroic hobble: the quarterback recognizes the scrambling opportunity against five rushers and man coverage, but ignores the pain in his right ankle.

Corn Dog

Before you ask...

Yes... wide receiver Kadarius Toney’s touchdown that gave Kansas City a 28-27 lead came on a play called Corn Dog. Aside from the head coach’s references to ketchup and mustard, the origins of the name are unknown. What is known, however, is how badly it messed with the Eagles’ red-zone rules for jet-sweep motion.

When defending a short area in man coverage, Philadelphia has its safety pick up the wide receiver when they go in motion across the formation. The cornerback originally covering the receiver is supposed to replace the one-high safety. When the motioned receiver attacks like a jet sweep, that communication process is accelerated — and puts pressure on defenders to get to their spots.

That’s exactly why this fake is so effective. Toney commits to the motion so hard that cornerback Darius Slay has no chance to recover.

Although Reid said that wide receiver Skyy Moore’s similar touchdown was not Corn Dog, it preyed upon the same communication rules.

Here we see that Moore lines up on the wrong side of the formation. This is confirmed by Mahomes’ confusion: he gestures to the right, pauses — and then once he locates Moore on the left, simply runs the play to that side.

The bottom line

When you zoom out and look at the big picture of Mahomes’ career, it’s amazing that in Sunday’s MVP performance (against the Eagles’ top-rated pass defense, his passer rating of 131.8 was his third-highest of the season), he didn’t complete one pass of 20 or more air yards.

It speaks to the patience he has continued to embrace. It also speaks to his maturity. He now understands just how effective his head coach’s system truly is. Andy Reid and his offensive staff are a special group of minds — one that constructed a Super Bowl LVII game plan that needed every point the team got out of it.

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