Head coach Andy Reid has built an indelible system within the 2017 Kansas City Chiefs – players believe in each other and the coaching staff more than past seasons in the Reid era. The Monday night game against the aggressive Washington Redskins showed the Chiefs will find a way, and the will, to put themselves in advantageous positions to win. From Alex Smith to Kareem Hunt and Travis Kelce, the Chiefs offense will push around defenses for four quarters until the schematics align. On defense, the Chiefs struggled against an offense that came and out and surprised the world by targeting Marcus Peters; an aggressive notion from Jay Gruden and the Redskins staff other teams would not dare. No matter, after all the cards had been laid on the table, it was Reid and the Chiefs who finished with conviction in a game where the trend line was back and forth.
Kansas City Chiefs Stats and Charts – Trusting in the Process
The Chiefs usually start off at home with an incredible home field advantage that propels the defense to imposing their will. Few teams have a better situation in this regard than the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. Yet, Kirk Cousins showed no fear from the first snap and got into rhythm immediately. Although the chaos would favor the Chiefs initially, the relaxed play from Cousins evened the graph out so either team could manage a victory.
No team separated themselves thanks to the resiliency and will both teams owned. Any time the Chiefs or Redskins made a big play, the other team took chaos and momentum back in their control.
However, had this game been at FedEx Field, the opening chaos may have been entirely in favor of the Redskins. The opening drive touchdown toss over Peters and into the hands of Terrelle Pryor was unexpected; not even Tom Brady tempted such fate. And to the surprise of the defense, the decision worked.
Fortunately for the Chiefs, their defense managed with the bend but do not break model. After a tragic offensive three and out in which Smith was sacked on the first play, the defense held the Redskins on the goal line and forced a mere field goal. Thus, chaos was still very well in hands for an explosive Chiefs offense.
Functionally, the Chiefs offense did not even the model of chaos out until after the two-minute warning. Travis Kelce’s sheer physical dominance being asserted in his touchdown was a momentous swing. But, just as time before, a missed field goal from rookie kicker Harrison Butker provided the Redskins breathing room in the second-half.
Inside of that second half of notice, both offenses went back and forth. Explosive plays controlled the flow for the Redskins, and grit epitomized the Chiefs. Again, no team truly controlled chaos at any point in the game.
For the Chiefs, the takeaway for the chaos model this week is they have the ability to win close games. Furthermore, the stats show they have the personnel to win late games. As fall closes in, and the days get darker, the grit shown this week showed the Chiefs can compete with the best of playoff teams, regardless of conference.
Offense Overcoming the Odds
Unlike previous weeks, the Chiefs failed to score for over 28 minutes. Smith was sacked twice up to that point, and the Redskins defensive line was pushing the Chiefs banged up offensive line around like a practice sled. The first half success was largely thanks to the defense putting the Chiefs in a position to still manage a comeback victory.
Over the tenure of the game, Smith was pressured on 21 of 45 drop backs. Any other Chiefs team in the Reid era, and the offense would have been forced into armadillo mode. Yet, the pressure points out another factor of Smith’s evolution. According to Pro Football Focus, when he was under pressure, he threw for 91 yards and possessed a passer rating of 158.3.
Forget the deep ball, Smith’s pocket presence has revolutionized the offensive play calling. And an evolved pocket presence will help over the tenure of the year much more than a selection of explosive passes that works when the weather is still tangibly warm.
The victory for the Chiefs showed more about their coaching staff adjusting at half time than ever before. In the first half, the Chiefs amassed only seven points on 208 yards – they got stuck at midfield. Yet, in the second half the Chiefs scored 16 offensive points on 263 yards. Hence, those extra ten or 20 yards per drive in the second were the difference to obtaining field goals.
One of the main reasons those plays resulted in only chunk plays was the lack of composure the offensive line held. Yes, Smith was hyper-efficient under pressure, but he only had seven deep field targets that were hard to come by due to pressure.
Of those seven deep field targets, four were caught. The most notable was the late game completion to Albert Wilson. However, it was Kelce who hauled in all four of his deep field targets for 89 yards and a touchdown. His physicality down filed was an incredible advantage for the Chiefs, and very hard to put into stats. Additionally, Kelce caught three of his four short field targets for an additional 22 yards.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going, a theme that rang true for Kelce and Tyreek Hill in the passing game. Hill is not only a deep target. His crisp route running opened the flats for six attempts, five completions, and 35 yards. Not outstanding, but while the offensive line health is failing, Hill is most needed in the context of short, efficient passes.
And of silly note, Smith is now on pace for Peyton Manning’s historic 2013 season in which he completed 450 passes for 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns. Take it or leave it.
Now while the passing game has received so much glory, the run game is tangent to setting up the pass late in the game. As mentioned in previous weeks, the passing and running set one another up. Coach Reid kept the balance in accord, running 41 passing plays to 31 running plays.
Hunt once again broke down the barriers on offense. Early in the game, the offensive line was letting linebackers leak through and hit Hunt early. Hunt took the action into his own accord, and busted for 4.8 yards per carry and three essential explosive runs.
Those big plays on the ground shockingly went directly behind the center, who was backup Jordan Devey. Although Devey’s pass blocking was mediocre, his run blocking minimally let Hunt explode through the line by combining vision and zip. The other explosive run came behind right tackle Mitchell Schwartz. Overall, the Chiefs carried the ball for 5.2 yards per carry behind Devey and 9.5 yards per carry behind Schwartz.
The synthesis of the Chiefs offense was a combination of the run and pass that overcame the odds of being down early against a hyper-aggressive defense. Again, the picture of the Chiefs statistical model showed they have the onus to overcome with conviction.
Managing Shock and Awe
The plan to start out and attack Peters from the first drive not only shocked pundits, but shocked the Chiefs defense. Cousins is an ultra-aggressive quarterback who believes in his ability to go deep. With that notion in mind, the Chiefs were thrown on their heels in the first minutes of the game. The rest of the statistical points moving forward were about managing an shock and awe attack from Gruden and Cousins.
As mentioned earlier, the Chiefs defense was the functional unit that kept them fighting throughout the game. Besides Cousins staying relatively clean in the pocket, and running a shock and awe aerial scheme, the Chiefs found a way to win.
The onus was on one incredible statistic: 37:09 minutes of possession for the Chiefs, and only 22:51 for the Redskins. In those drives the Redskins did not score, they were ushered off the field quickly, providing opportunity for the Chiefs offense. One of the keys to this game was limiting Cousins’ rhythm, and the Chiefs did so.
In Cousins’ career, he has 13 games with under 60 percent completions. In those 13 games, he has one win. The Chiefs secondary simply limited opportunities down field and in the short game.
The first completion was to Josh Doctson, covered by Terrance Mitchell. After that point, Mitchell clamped down and allowed one other reception. Again, a testament to the way the team rebounded. In fact, Cousins only had room to strike deep five different times. In those five times, however, he completed three passes for 133 yards and a touchdown.
Bear in mind, one of those passes was on a blown coverage by linebacker Justin Houston on Vernon Davis, and the other was the opening touchdown over Peters. Cousins is a quarterback who can strike deep, and if anything, provides the Chiefs film on how to avoid getting their linebackers stuck on tight ends. The deep ball from Cousins is an anomaly, not the standard.
On another note, the Chiefs pass rush cannot suddenly falter. Missing Dee Ford, the Chiefs had issues getting pressure on Cousins as they couldn’t register a single sack on Monday night.
The perception of the run game is an interesting case – the standard stat that shows success, yards per carry, had the Redskins at 4.3 as a team. Cousins scurried around himself, averaging 5.4 per carry, while Samaje Perine and Chris Thompson averaged 4.5 and 3.8 respectively.
An entire run game demands context, and the Redskins run game shows the perception of successful running not being given the opportunity to become established. A true run game demands time to evolve and wear down a defense to pop a long run.
First, the time of possession ought to be factored in – there was simply little opportunity for the Redskins to run. As the game grew later, psychological pressure and bad habits (Gruden is historically a passing play caller) returned, negating the Redskins willingness to run.
The Redskins only called six designated running plays in the second half for a measly 18 yards. Further, as much as the run game is about tempo, the Redskins never called back-to-back run plays in the second half, opposed to five different times establishing back-to-back running plays in the first half.
Second, the Chiefs mitigated a good portion of explosive runs, allowing only one true explosive run, coming on a third down play by Robert Kelley. Furthermore, no run was longer than 15 yards, and that came from Cousins on a scramble. On 18 designated runs (taking away scramble plays), 11 went behind the center. Hence, there was a lack of creativity and gumption to the run game – perception was key to winning the battle up front.
However, the potential for success is still there. Extrapolating the run game out over time, the Chiefs could have let Thompson or Perine slowly pound the ball away. As stated last week, when the Chiefs face a talented running back, they need to totally mitigate run opportunities. Fortunately, the recipe for success has been established – win the time of possession by forcing big play offenses to turn into check down Charlie.