Andy Reid was in his bag against the Jaguars, and that could be a problem for the rest of the league
There are few things scarier for a sports league than a great team showing it could become even greater.
That might be what the rest of the AFC — and perhaps the NFL — is feeling right now regarding the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Chiefs improved to 7-2 on the season Sunday with a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, and with the Buffalo Bills’ stunning loss to the Minnesota Vikings, that moved Kansas City into the top spot in the AFC. While the Chiefs’ win over Jacksonville did not come in blowout fashion, what we saw from Andy Reid, Eric Bieniemy and the offensive coaching staff could send chills down the spines of defensive coordinators around the league.
Throwing out of heavy
One of the aspects of Kansas City’s gameplan against the Jaguars was their use of heavy personnel in the passing game. Heading into Sunday’s contest, Patrick Mahomes was fourth in the league with 19 passing attempts out of 13 offensive personnel — one wide receiver, one running back, and three tight ends — according to charting data from Sports Info Solutions.
On those 19 attempts, Mahomes has completed 14 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown, without an interception. His NFL Passer Rating of 113.7 prior to Sunday on such attempts ranked him second, behind only Jared Goff.
The benefit of throwing out of heavier personnel packages is that in many cases, you get heavier defensive groupings to target in the passing game. Throwing against linebackers is often a more advantageous proposition than throwing against safeties and cornerbacks.
When you add in the fact that Kansas City has Travis Kelce among those tight ends on the field, it becomes even more of a win-win.
Late in the first quarter, the Chiefs did exactly that. On a 1st and 10 play, they line up with Mahomes in the shotgun, and three tight ends to the right side of the field in a bunch. Kelce is the point man in this tight bunch look, with Noah Gray inside of him, and Jody Fortson just outside of him:
In response to this personnel package, Jacksonville plays with heavy personnel of their own. The Jaguars have four defensive linemen in the game — with defensive end Dawuane Smoot as the fourth, aligned in a two-point stance — to show a 3-4 front.
What do the Chiefs do? They throw out of this look, with Mahomes faking a wide zone play to running back Isiah Pacheco before pulling to look downfield:
This is a fairly common route concept, with a deep post route from Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and the over route from Kelce. But the situation — and personnel — sell Jacksonville on the running play even before the ball is snapped. With three tight ends in the game, and it being a first down, the defense is thinking run.
So as this play unfolds, watch what that does to the linebackers. Jacksonville drops in to Quarters/Cover 4 in the secondary, but the linebacker react downhill to the run, and are late to get into their zones. Valdes-Scantling is bracketed well, but Kelce is wide open:
Kelce rips off a 46-yard gain, and just like that the Chiefs are in Jacksonville territory.
One of Mahomes’ four touchdown passes came out of this same personnel package, and is another example of how throwing out of heavy creates an advantage for the offense. Late in the first half, with the Chiefs leading 14-0, they faced a 1st and 10 at the Jacksonville 13-yard line. With under a minute remaining, Kansas City was looking to extend their lead.
They lined up in 13 personnel again, this time in a 2x2 formation:
A few things are notable about Jacksonville’s defensive alignment and personnel on this play. In addition to being in a heavier personnel grouping — with three defensive linemen and four linebacker — look in the slot on the right side of the offense. Shaded inside of tight end Jody Fortson is pass rusher Travon Walker, the first-overall selection.
Jacksonville drafted Walker to rush the passer, not play in space. But by using this personnel grouping, and then putting Fortson into the slot, Walker is forced to slide outside, and away from the quarterback.
Once the play begins, our focus shifts to the left side. Kelce is aligned outside, with Gray in the wing. These two run a go/wheel combination:
Jacksonville drops into Quarters/Cover 4 yet again, and the combination of a go route from an outside receiver, and a wheel route from an inside receiver, can be a nightmare for this coverage. With Kelce releasing vertically, both the cornerback and the safety to that side will get eyes on his route. While that removes him as an option, the wheel becomes a problem. Gray starts to the flat, and then breaks vertically.
That puts the onus on Josh Allen, who is the curl/flat defender to that side — and another player drafted for what he does rushing the passer, and not in coverage — to “buy” that route. There is a tremendous clinic that you can watch on YouTube from coach Karl Scott, formerly the defensive backs coach at Alabama and now the secondary coach and defensive pass game coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks, about this coverage. As you will learn when you watch this clinic, as a curl/flat defender, if the offense runs a wheel route into the flat before breaking vertically, that is your route to cover. You have to “buy” that route.
Allen does his best, but he’s a pass rusher, and not a coverage linebacker:
Throwing out of heavy personnel has its advantages, most notably putting players into coverage on the defensive side of the football that are likely more adept at working downhill, or rushing the passer.
The Chiefs did a great job of this on Sunday against the Jaquars.
Getting Kadarius Toney involved
After he fell out of favor in New York, the Chiefs traded for wide receiver Kadarius Toney. The former first-round pick showed incredible change-of-direction skills during his time with the Florida Gators, and then later at the Senior Bowl. But he could never live up to that first-round billing with the New York Giants, and Kansas City made a move for him prior to the deadline.
Sunday’s game against the Jaguars illustrated just how Reid and company might get him involved in the passing game down the stretch.
Toney’s first catch of the afternoon went for a touchdown, but as you’ll see, he was really used as bait for the defense. However, Mahomes did a great job of working through his reads and finding Toney late in the down:
Toney aligns on the left side of the field, and comes in motion right before the snap. This is an example of “motion for impact,” as the Chiefs are trying to get the Jaguars to move and adjust right as the play begins.
Mahomes is looking to the left, to read out a spacing concept between JuJu Smith-Schuster and Pacheco out of the backfield. With that covered, he brings his eyes to the middle of the field, looking for Justin Watson who is running an over route.
That is covered too, which causes Mahomes to get deep in the progressions. The quarterback drops his arm angle and flips his eyes to Toney in the right flat, who is wide open. The receiver hops along the sideline and into the end zone for six.
After the game, Mahomes indicated that Toney was the fifth read on the play, and admitted that Toney had to get his attention. “He was kind of the distraction guy,” Mahomes said after the game. As Mahomes worked through his reads, he heard someone trying to draw his attention on the right. “‘Who’s yelling at me over there?’” Mahomes recalled thinking before turning and seeing Toney all alone near the sideline.
Toney’s catch-and-run in the second quarter offers a prime example of why many loved him coming out of Florida. The design is simple, as Toney comes across the formation on the slide route, releasing to the flat. Mahomes carries out a run fake and rolls in his direction, and simply flips him the football.
From there, Toney does the rest:
Anytime a 1-yard throw becomes a 23-yard gain, you are doing something right as an offense. Toney runs through the first tackle attempt, and spins away from two more defenders downfield, picking up a big gain for the Chiefs offense.
The play that might have Chiefs fans most excited came late in the third quarter, with the Kansas City offense driving deep into Jacksonville territory. Toney runs a slant-and-go from the right side, and plays through contact before — and at — the catch point to pull in this throw from Mahomes:
In just his second game with the Chiefs, Toney showed just what he could mean for the Kansas City offense. It came at a critical time, as the Chiefs entered Sunday without Mecole Hardman, who was sidelined with an abdominal injury, and they lost Smith-Schuster after a brutal hit that somehow did not draw a flag.
Taking on more of a role, Toney caught 4 passes for 57 yards, his most productive day in the NFL since early last season.
On Sunday against Jacksonville, Kansas City showed a few different way to create opportunities in the passing game. They incorporated Toney, their newest play-maker, into their offense more, and by throwing out of heavy personnel packages, they created opportunities for Mahomes in the downfield passing game.
Exactly what the rest of the AFC wanted to see: Mahomes having even more weapons, and opportunities, at his disposal.