Coming into the first week of the NFL season, much was made about the matchup against the Jaguars defense and how they could give the Chiefs trouble out of the gate. But not enough has been said about how Andy Reid is easily one of the best “scriptwriters” for his offense and has his players ready for week one and after bye week opponents. When given extra time to prepare for a defense he knows how to get the most out of his players and last Sunday was no different. He scripted a near-perfect game plan and had the Chiefs open up with a 40 point performance against what is considered to be one of the best defenses in the NFL. His play designs took advantage of Mahomes’ skills and the speed surrounding him on offense, and when curveballs were thrown at him he adapted well and always seems to have an answer for those circumstances. Let’s take a look into how they did it:
They came out firing on all cylinders and as you saw in my Sammy Watkins article, he was able to take advantage of open windows and poor attacking defense from the Jags to score quickly. Then we saw Hill go down and not return for the rest of the game, the Chiefs were uniquely equipped to deal with this situation because they had to game plan to play some of the beginning of the season without him due to off-field situations that have since then been resolved. Then we saw Mahomes turn his ankle while under pressure from the Jags defensive front. Chiefs Kingdom held their collective breath as we watched him go into the medical tent, and then return with a heavily taped ankle. After both injuries, Reid and the Chiefs adapted and were still able to be explosive and put up points. That spells danger for the entire NFL and should scare defenses across the league.
We all expect Mahomes and the weapons around him to put up points, but there were a few surprises (at least to me) along the way in LeSean McCoy and the offensive line that I will touch on a little later, but let’s get to the guy we all really want to talk about, Patrick Mahomes. He was electric, improved, and every bit of the quarterback we all know and expect him to be every Sunday. He didn’t have to be a world-beater either, which is why his PFF grade from Sunday wasn’t what people expected it to be with his stat line. Throwing to wide-open receivers and making quick-read throws for the majority of the game doesn’t lend to a great PFF grade, but it does mean that your offense is executing things well and allowing for Mahomes to make easy throws for maximum success, which is what you want.
This is how the Chiefs manipulated the Jags defense and took advantage of mismatches like AJ Boyue on Travis Kelce. Both Hill and Watkins are going to run deep go routes, Watkins tailing off to the middle of the field and Hill a true go route. After the play-action fake Damien Williams is going to run to the flat. This wouldn’t seem to leave someone like Kelce wide open but here is what happens. Watkins and Hill both carry two defenders deep, whether that was the plan or not, which opens up the entire intermediate part of the field. Williams carries a linebacker to the flat, which leaves Kelce one on one with Bouye and he’s running a slant route across the field. He pushes Bouye just a bit at the start of his route which creates all the separation he needs to get to full speed and be wide open. Mahomes escapes the slight pressure to his right and delivers a strike on the move to Kelce in stride for a huge gain.
It was very apparent that the Chiefs wanted to attack the Jags corners with play design and using speed as a threat to open up players all over the field. Adding Mecole Hardman to this offense in the draft echoed what the Chiefs have been saying; speed kills and having it at all skill positions on offense makes it incredibly difficult for defenses to keep up or even prepare for that kind of speed. Even though Kelce didn’t pull away from Bouye he was more than fast enough to get away from him for a 42-yard play.
Speaking of speed, the Chiefs added LeSean McCoy to an already fast offense a week before their week one matchup against the Jags. I will admit it, I was one of the people saying that I didn’t think the Chiefs needed to bring him in. I have been backing Damien Williams all offseason and I still believe him to be the starting running back going forward, especially a bigger threat in the passing game. But McCoy displayed that burst and savvy running from a veteran back that adds tons of value to this offense, especially come playoff time.
Most of you know that Seth Keysor of The Athletic has been petitioning the Chiefs to throw the ball more and more as the benefits with Patrick Mahomes at quarterback outweigh the negative implications that come with throwing the ball more (i.e. interceptions, incompletions, and time management issues). He has a bit of a point that we are looking at above. The old adage of “the run sets up the pass” is still true in many offenses, but the reverse can very easily be true with this offense.
The Chiefs spread out the Jags with three receivers and one tight end, Kelce, lined up in a spread formation. With Kelce being such a threat and with how many RPOs the Chiefs utilize, the linebacker covering him is required to hesitate and make sure Kelce doesn’t scream past him to get open. That leaves five defenders on five linemen and McCoy and the Chiefs will take those odds any day of the week. He takes the handoff and is running at the moving A gap between Wylie and Reiter, this is where you see his savviness take over. He knows that all he has to do is beat the linebacker to break off a large gain so he uses his body language and eyes to make the linebacker think he’s going to take this to the edge. As Wylie and Reiter work further away from LDT, the backside A gap becomes huge and McCoy cuts back quickly and accelerates into the open field for a big gain.
After Mahomes injured his ankle, the play calling and scheme went more to running and short passes/quick read throws. Instead of killing the Jags with deep shots down the field, Mahomes and Co. take to surgically moving down the field instead and they did it with plays like this.
This play features two of the guys that impressed me the most, in Watkins and McCoy. The Chiefs motion McCoy out wide to see the type of coverage they are looking at; a linebacker goes with him out and back inside the formation so the Chiefs know it is man coverage. That makes this play a piece of cake for Watkins and McCoy. While McCoy is going to run an angle route out of the backfield, Watkins is going to run a pick play to get in the way of the linebacker to free up McCoy. He waits until he sees the linebacker try to keep McCoy in front of him then acts like he’s trying to fight through the corner to continue his route. This gets in the way of the linebacker and McCoy is free for a ten yard gain and a first down.
They were able to modify their schematic attacking to make it easier on Mahomes getting the ball out quicker and keep him more protected after his injury. But that brings us to the not so great part of the day and that is the offensive line. The Jags were able to apply pressure and even though they never recorded a true sack, they hit Mahomes more times than you want to see and still show signs of struggling to pick up on stunting defensive linemen.
It’s going to take time to develop the chemistry an offensive line needs after adding two different starters on the interior at LG and C paired with LDT, who’s still knocking off some rust from his injury, and you’re going to see some struggles from the interior. But this cannot happen a play after your quarterback comes back into the game after being hurt. Wylie gets obliterated by Bryan’s bull rush and he takes Wylie directly into Mahomes lap. Having limited mobility due to an ankle injury, Mahomes has to try and shuffle to his left to avoid the hit, unfortunately, is unable to do so. He gets the ball away but is then driven to the ground by Bryan.
The struggles on the line were not limited to the interior, stunts up front by the Jags left the tackles and interior guys alike falling over themselves and leaving Mahomes vulnerable to hits. This isn’t just a problem this year, stunts have hampered the Chiefs offensive line for a few years now, something they need to improve on.
Defenses across the NFL are going to be implementing more and more stunts if the Chiefs offensive line continues to struggle these are just two instances where the Jags were able to get to Mahomes because of not recognizing stunts. In the first example, Reiter needs to work on keeping his head on a swivel a bit more, being an uncovered lineman means you’re responsible for looking at both sides of the line. Then in the second clip, Allen does a great job crashing the B gap and creating the space needed for Campbell to come around and hit Mahomes and force the intentional grounding.
The line issues will work themselves out with more reps and time playing together, chemistry will form and they will be better able play together as a unit. It’s not imperative to be perfect this early in the season, but protecting Mahomes should be their number one priority. Now that he has a lingering injury, the line might get a little more serious about what they do. It will get better, of that much I am 100% certain.
This offense picked up right where it left off in terms of production and scoring, and Reid continues to provide new looks with the weapons he has on offense and his innate ability to scheme up players. They looked great against the Jags, did nearly anything they wanted, and had zero trouble getting players open. Doing that against this particular defense should put every defense in the NFL on notice, if they weren’t already. Going forward without Hill in the lineup I expect Reid to use Hardman and DAT in much the same role as Hill’s. The Chiefs will be able to use their speed to get easy plays whenever they want to.
When you have the best quarterback in the NFL in Mahomes it’s easy to find ways to get players the ball, but Reid makes it even easier for him with the plays he draws up. It really was a match made in heaven when the Chiefs traded up to take him in the draft. I can’t wait to see what other wrinkles we see as the season unfolds, but we all know this much: they will continue to be explosive.