One of the most impressive passing attacks in the NFL last season belonged to that of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Quarterback Alex Smith threw for 23 touchdowns, seven interceptions and 3,313 yards in an offense that focused more on being efficient than explosive. With Jamaal Charles averaging five yards per carry and almost 10 yards per reception, the passing game in Kansas City was primarily seen as a complementary piece for most of the season.
There’s no doubting that the Chiefs had the second or third best offense in the AFC West, never mind when stacked up against the rest of the NFL. However, an offense doesn’t have to be overwhelmingly explosive or particularly powerful to be impressive. Instead, it can be so creative that it masks the flaws or limitations of the talent running it on the field.
Smith is celebrated as a smart quarterback. A player who always makes good decisions and doesn’t throw dangerous passes. However, sometimes the smart thing is to throw the dangerous passes. Sometimes, not being aggressive turns an intelligent quarterback into an overly cautious quarterback.
Turning down open receivers down the field has been an issue for Smith for some time. When Reid acquired him, the new Chiefs head coach must have understood that. Instead of trying to immediately alter the DNA of a veteran quarterback, Reid put Smith in an offense that catered to his strengths and allowed him to prosper in spite of his cautious approach.
Reid used his play calling to keep the defense off balance, while Charles’ presence in the backfield always drew the attention of the defense. This allowed the offense to be effective without throwing the ball down the field.
Against the Tennessee Titans, Reid called a play that epitomised the Chiefs’ 2013 offense.
It’s 2nd-and-1, a very manageable third down situation. Charles is lined up in the backfield with two others, so the Titans react with an eight man defensive front. By putting Smith in the pistol with a fullback to either side, the Chiefs have three initial running threats without even considering Smith’s rushing ability on a potential designed run or option.
At the snap, Smith fakes a handoff to the right fullback who runs across his face. Every single one of the Titans defenders in the box have their eyes in the backfield, watching Smith fake the handoff while Charles runs into the left flat and the left fullback runs into the right.
After faking the run up the middle, Smith backpedals before turning to look for Charles in the left flat. Charles raises his hand, as if to call for the ball, and Smith pump fakes in his direction. Every single Tennessee defender between the numbers is either watching Smith and shifting to Charles’ side of the field or engaged with a blocker.
Meanwhile, Anthony Sherman, the left fullback, is running into the opposite flat while a lead blocker works across the field in front of him. Both players go unnoticed by the Titans defense as they have been drawn towards the other side of the field.
Reid’s play design puts Sherman in space in the flat, with one blocker and one defender ahead of him. On a 2nd-and-1 play, Sherman has essentially a guaranteed first down so long as he doesn’t drop the pass. Even if the blocker ahead fails to execute, Sherman should still convert. If the block is executed well, then Sherman should have an easy touchdown.
Rodney Hudson, the Chiefs center, whiffs on his block down the field. That prevents Sherman from scoring a touchdown, but the offense remains efficient because the play design gave Sherman an easy first down conversion.