For a coach who is known for having one of the most robust playbooks in the NFL and for being a bit of a mad scientist when it comes to play design, Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is relatively predictable when it comes to guessing what his first offensive play from the line of scrimmage will be.
But before we get into what call he favors the most right out of the gate, let's talk a little bit about the method behind his lack of madness. The first thing we must remember is that Reid scripts his first 15 plays from the line of scrimmage each game.
The late, great sportswriter Terez Paylor covered this topic for Yahoo! Sports ahead of Super Bowl LIV in 2020. In his piece, Paylor stated that the main purpose of Reid's game script was to drive down the field and score a touchdown, but the secondary purpose was to get an idea of how the defense is planning to play you in different formations and scenarios.
...Even when the Chiefs’ early play-calling goes nowhere (as it has in their past two playoff games), the amount of thought Reid has put into it means that every play Kansas City runs gives it a chance to pick up a defensive tell that can pay off later in the game.
This happens the moment the play clock begins, starting with who defenses put on the field. That’s why Reid needs his assistants to identify them correctly.
“For instance, let’s say it’s a two-tight end, two-wide set,” Childress said. “Are you gonna play nickel against that? People have done that before because they look at [Travis] Kelce like a wide receiver. If they do that, you want to be sure you have some ideas about how to counter that.”
And if you don't Identify the personnel correctly — or don't get the plays in on time — Reid will let you hear about it. Don't believe me? Just ask Reid's former assistant and current ESPN personality, Louis Riddick.
“I remember one time we were playing the Packers, and I’d f—d up a couple of groupings, and it was cold, and they would all have on those big, long overcoats on the sideline, and they would keep them on to the very last minute and then run on the field at the very last minute. It was messing me up.
“And I just remember Andy one time getting on the phone, and he was just like, ‘Louis, get your head out of your ass and get the f—g calls in!’ And I was just like, ‘Oooh, boy. OK. OK.’
Yeah. Don't mess with the script.
The go-to opening play
So you might be wondering, with so much on the line, what is Reid's go-to move with which he opens nearly 75% of his games?
Over the last two seasons (including the postseason), Reid called a running play from the Shotgun on his first offensive play from scrimmage in 31 out of 40 games. In seven games, he called a pass from Shotgun.
And then he split the remaining four games (two and two) with a run or a pass from under center.
So why call a run from the Shotgun 75% of the time?
In my opinion, the answer is pretty simple: it's the safest way to gather intel on what the defense wants to do, with the least likely chance of a turnover.
When the offense lines up in a Shotgun formation, most defenses are going to line up expecting to play the pass first, which means you can get clues into their coverages without ever having to throw the ball. If you mix a shift or two in there, it can help you decipher if they are in man or zone coverage.
So If you're Reid, it makes too much sense to line up, look at what the defense wants to do, and then just hand the ball off. At that point, whatever positive yards you get on the play are secondary to the information you've gathered. And that being said, since the defense is most likely playing the pass, you'll probably have a decent chance of getting a nice chunk of yards on the play.
Over the last two years, the Chiefs have averaged 5.7 yards per carry on their 29 first-play Shotgun rushes. This sets up the offense for a very manageable second down to keep the chains moving and the offense on the field.
It's not flashy, but doggone it; it works.