The Chiefs are off to a 2-0 start and playing good football on both sides of the ball under Andy Reid as they prep for the head coach’s return to Philadelphia on Thursday night in a matchup with the Eagles.
Let’s take a look at Reid’s offensive playbook through the first two weeks of the season and discuss the creativity he is bringing to Kansas City's new game plan.
West Coast Route Tree
In a West Coast system, the majority of routes are going to break between the numbers and the hash marks—think of the short-to-intermediate route tree with concepts that target the middle of the field (dig, curl, slant, seam, skinny post, etc.).
Yes, Reid’s game plan has evolved since I was playing against his teams in Philadelphia during my time in the NFL, but the same core concepts are still a big part of the Chiefs playbook this season.
This type of system provides quick reads for veteran quarterback Alex Smith to get the ball out quickly, and it also caters to the size/leverage of wide receiver Dwayne Bowe on the inside concepts. Plus, running back Jamaal Charles will impact the passing game from a variety of backfield alignments, or he can be removed from the core of the formation and sent out wide as a receiver.
Top Five Route Concepts in Reid’s Playbook
Here are five west coast route concepts Reid brought with him to Kansas City that we should see all season long in his game plan.
1. Spacing (Backside Slant)
The Chiefs often align (or motion to) a bunch look to run the spacing concept. To the closed (strong) side of the formation, Smith can target the two inside curls or work the ball to the flat. However, the key is the backside X receiver (Bowe) in a 3x1 alignment. That is an automatic alert to the slant in Reid’s system.
2. Tare (Backside Slant)
The Chiefs will use a lot of window dressing to disguise the base tare combination (flat, quick out). Here, Charles is offset in a chowed alignment (outside leg of the tackle) and runs the flat with the tight end on the out cut (he can sit down on the curl also). This is a quick two-level read for Smith with the No. 1 option clearing out the cornerback on the 9 (fade) route. And again, we see the backside slant—this time coming from the slot (or No. 2) receiver.
3. Hi-Lo Series
Reid has a "Hi-Lo" series in his playbook (Hi-Lo, Hi-Lo crossers, Hi-Lo opposite, Hi-Lo triple-in). Usually run from stack alignments, the No. 2 receiver works the dig route (square-in) with the No. 3 guy on the shallow drive (underneath crosser). This is another two-level read for Smith—this time in the middle of the field.
4. 2212 (or All Slants)
In third-down situations with seven-to-10 yards to go, defenses should expect the "2212 route" (2=slant, 1=flat) or "All Slants" from 2x2 alignments. This is a three-step read for Smith, where he can either target the inside slants (think Cover 1) or throw to the tight end in the flat.
5. Slant/Skinny Post-Flat
The slant-flat (or skinny post-flat as shown here) is as basic as it gets at the pro level, but it still pops up with the Chiefs because of the No. 1 receiver's ability to create leverage back inside of the numbers. In this situation, Smith targets Bowe on the skinny post versus the Cowboys cornerback in an off-alignment.
Opening Up the Playbook vs. the Cowboys
During the Week 2 win over the Cowboys, Reid added a twist to the game plan from a scheme/alignment perspective and put some new looks on tape. Let’s run through a couple of plays that stood out.
1. Pistol Triple Option
On the first play of the game, the Chiefs rolled "Ace" personnel (two wide receivers, two tight ends, one running back) onto the field and aligned in a "Unit Slot" formation to run the triple option out of the pistol (they came back to the zone-read later in the game). The goal on this play was to send Dexter McCluster in motion, read the defensive end through the mesh point and option the closed-side cornerback.
As we can see here, Smith reads the closed-side defensive end (who crashes inside) and pulls the ball to work up the cornerback. And with the corner taking the pitch, Smith keeps the ball to get up the field. This is a minimal gain (four to five yards), but the point here is simple: the Chiefs got it on tape, and that will cause some defensive coordinators to panic and waste valuable practice/meeting time to prep for the triple option moving forward.
2. “Swap” Boot
With Charles in almost a wing alignment, the Chiefs brought McCluster on the “ghost” action (plays out like a fake reverse), and Smith rolled to the open side. Charles worked back across the formation (under the quarterback) to give Smith an immediate target if he saw pressure up the field.
Smith looked up Charles and dumped the ball against pressure for a score. Again, this is a basic concept we see across the league, but Reid dresses it up with the Chiefs pre-snap alignment to put the ball in the end zone.
What’s Next for the Chiefs' Offense
The West Coast concepts are here to stay in Kansas City, but I do expect Reid to expand on the playbook as the season progresses.
The Chiefs have been very limited in the vertical passing game through their first two games, and I think this offense can work the ball more to McCluster out of slot alignments to test the top of the defense.
In the run game, look for the Chiefs to continue featuring Charles on the inside zone, the two-back counter and to also lean on the "Power O" more often. With his ability to get to the second level of the defense (and produce as a receiver), the Chiefs have a real weapon here that can fill up the box score and create favorable matchups.
However, we all know it all comes back to Smith. I do believe this scheme fits the veteran quarterback’s skill set, and if he can protect the ball, this offense should be a productive unit.
Remember, this is a short study only two weeks into the season, but the early returns are positive for Reid and his offense in Kansas City.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.
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