This year, Jon Ledyard and I will be collaborating our scouting reports. We’ll play to our strengths – he’ll be focusing on the individuals while I’ll be looking at overall scheme. These reports will be broken down into two articles, one for offense and one for defense.
Our reports for the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense.
ALEX’S SCHEME REPORT:
Kansas City Chiefs’ Running Game
The loss of Jamaal Charles is obviously huge and you don’t need my face to tell you that. But we’ll look at their backup plan in the form of Charcandrick West and Knile Davis. Rushing attempts were scarce before last week, of course, but they’ve still combined for just one rush over 10 yards – and that was a ten yarder by Davis.
It may feel like De’Anthony Thomas would get an uptick in touches but that wasn’t the case last week. He had only one touch last week against the Minnesota Vikings and hasn’t had more than four in a game all season long. He has seen the field a relatively good amount of snaps though, playing 28.3% of the time and only receiving 14 total touches. He’s also fumbled twice and that’s a good reason to keep him out of the lineup.
Jeremy Maclin, though uncertain to play, also has one carry this season.
It’s a primarily inside zone scheme that they run mostly out of one back but also some out of two back with fullback Anthony Sherman, who has logged 15.8% of snaps this year.
But they are a variety rushing attack, showing some power. When they trap, it’s always the right guard pulling right to left.
The Chiefs arguably run as man RPOs (run/pass options) as any team in the league. Against the Chicago Bears and Vikings, the two games I examined, they ran the same concept. Trips Bunch, their common alert, with a run/pass look based on a box count.
Their rushing attack is an inside zone paired two ways: with and without a zone read by quarterback Alex Smith. I don’t know for certain how many “reads” he actually gets, some could be calls that just look like reads, but they work the same, holding the backside defender left unblocked.
When there is at least the appearance of a read, they will run against six man boxes. There are only five offensive lineman but as I wrote, the backside defender is held by the threat of Smith running. He rarely does but if they notice the end crashing and not respecting Smith’s legs, they’ll pull the ball out and Smith will take off. This hesitation creates a five on five look, even numbers and advantage for the offense.
When there is no read, they will throw against any six man box counts.
Aside from their trips look, they can run some quick-hitters down the seam, too. Fake the draw as the linebacker suckers up and hit Travis Kelce down the seam. Similar to what the Pittsburgh Steelers have run with Heath Miller, though the Steelers are more inclined to pull their guard to create a false key and really sell the playaction.
Sherman has one carry, a fullback dive on third and one against the Vikings. It was not successful.
Offensive lineman Jeff Allen has also logged two snaps this year. Don’t know if there was a special jumbo package on the goal line or not. Was unable to find out.
Kansas City Chiefs’ Passing Game
Alex Smith has a 7.5 yards per attempt average. That’s tied for 16th in the NFL. His 23 sacks absorbed is second in the NFL. He’s actually thrown the ball a decent amount, 210 attempts (not accounting for sacks and scrambles) so his sack numbers are naturally going to be up a little bit. But, he’s the only QB in the league with 200+ attempts to be sacked more than 18 times.
Should the team not have Maclin Sunday, they’ll be losing a monster chunk of their passing game already without Charles. The two account for 45.8% of the Chiefs’ receptions, 45% of their yards, and 50% of their touchdowns. They also were responsible for eleven of their twenty 20+ yard passes in 2015.
Targets not named Travis Kelce account for just 32% of receptions, 28.5% yards, and 33% of touchdowns.
If Maclin is out, expect rookie Chris Conley to be the biggest benefactor. In general, he’s been used more often during the season. Has 17 targets over the last three weeks after only one in the first three. His season total has him under 50% of the offense’s snaps, but he’s played 84% and 65% over the last two weeks.
When not throwing their quick game, a common route concept from their Trips Bunch look is the spot/snag. Three man combination of curl/flat/corner. It’s in every team’s playbook but the Chiefs lean on it heavily. Steelers actually used it Sunday for Martavis Bryant’s first TD.
The corner route player has the option to break his route into a post/dig against Cover 3 if the CB is sinking or against a safety off the numbers.
Here’s a big gain to Kelce, not in a bunch, off of it.
Forgetting their trips game, another concept Andy Reid loves – a common sight in West Coast offenses like his – is the Hank Route. Curl route by the tight end with curl/flat to the perimeter.
Here it is from the Dallas Cowboys’ 2006 playbook, one I commonly use when breaking down Todd Haley’s plays. Theirs was called 82 Hank.
And here it is in action for KC.
Last, while they are a nickel-and-dime type of offense, they will take select vertical shots. Try to set you up by running curls/outs all day and then run double-moves down the field. Did so twice against the Vikings, both coming on 3rd and long. One on 3rd and 12, another on 3rd and 7. Have to understand where routes break at. If they’re chopping at six yards, they’re probably trying to get you to bite.
Don’t recall seeing it last week with Charles out of the lineup but have run some Texas routes with him (angle) out of the backfield, too.
Jon pays closer attention to specific OL play than I do but did notice their tackles/guards had issue staying on the same level. Made it hard for them to pass off T/E stunts.
Kansas City Chiefs’ Special Teams
Their kick return formation is a 6-1-2-2 look. Knile Davis is the return man with running back Spencer Ware his upback.
Their jammers include: Jamell Fleming and Steven Nelson and Tyvon Branch and Hussain Abdullah. Thomas is their punt returner. Thomas doesn’t have a punt return longer than 19 yards. Either their jammers are very good or Thomas is super-aggressive because he’s only fair caught one punt in 20 tries.
They typically do double-vice to at least one or both sides. Their punt rushes are usually five men, with at least one on the line dropping back on the snap. More focused on creating lanes on the return than pressuring the punter.
Not much of a fake alert. In two years under Reid, they have only run one fake. Against the Steelers last year, a pass from punter/holder Dustin Colquitt on a field goal to Travis Kelce. It was successful. It came in a 3-3 game early in the second quarter on 4th and 5.
JON’S INDIVIDUAL REPORT:
Had I been writing this report at the beginning of the season, the Kansas City Chiefs offense would be a much more exciting group to scout. However as they currently sit, they remain an unproductive, lackluster unit with a strange assembly of mismatching parts.
Kansas City has a lengthy list of offensive concerns, the foremost of which is a 3rd down conversion rate of an abysmal 28 percent, by far the lowest mark in the NFL. The Chiefs are 19th or lower in the league in every major offensive category, including averaging just 22.1 points per game, 22nd amongst all 32 teams.
As is the case with almost every struggling offense, Kansas City’s troubles begin in the trenches. Their offensive line has allowed 24 sacks this season, the second-worst number in the league. The Chiefs have mixed and matched plenty of combinations up front due to injury or other factors, but really no one has shown. The official numbers on the seven players-rotation, all of which have seen at least 2 starts this season:
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif: 0 penalties, 3 sacks allowed, 3 games started
Eric Fisher: 1 penalty, 2 sacks allowed, 4 games started
Zach Fulton: 0 penalties, 0 sacks allowed, 3 games started
Ben Grubbs: 0 penalties, 4.5 sacks allowed, 6 games started
Mitch Morse: 1 penalty, 2 sacks allowed, 6 games started
Donald Stephenson: 3 penalties, 2 sacks allowed, 6 games started
Jah Reid: 2 penalties, 2 sacks allowed, 2 games started
Only Fulton has not given up a sack this season, making him a logical place to start when analyzing tape. The former Tennessee Volunteer has a nasty streak to him, playing with a physical violence as a blocker. That can lead to him getting over aggressive and lunging a bit to make contact however.
Fulton doubles over a bit here, but the mistake that catches my eye is his punch location. Just in watching about ten snaps of the guard, I noticed he consistently punches too high, aiming at shoulders instead of chests. As a result his blows are glancing and can more easily be worked through or warded off as a pass rusher.
Because Fulton never really lands that punch, Jay Ratliff is able to get into the lineman’s frame, get him overextended, and then blow by him with a smooth swim move. Gets a dangerous hit on Alex Smith in the process.
Fulton will find work consistently in pass protection, but he’s not the most laterally agile guard and his slow feet will give him issues again more athletic interior pass rushers.
Grubbs is Fulton’s counterpart at guard, a nine-year veteran who is the elder statesman of the Chiefs offensive line. Unfortunately Grubbs hasn’t played like it, surrendering the most sacks on the team with 4.5 in just six games. Not a good number for anyone, but a really poor mark for a guard. Lets the crasher run right by him on this simple, easy-to-recognize stunt.
Not ideal stuff from a veteran guard who should be the vocal leader of the Chiefs unit. Pittsburgh should throw tons of creative blitzes at both sides of the Kansas City offensive line, forcing their guards to move laterally to cut off rushers. Should open things up for at least one of the twisters.
Morse is a rookie center with excellent athleticism. Chiefs like to get him out in space in their screen heavy offense. Saw them ask him to make some truly crazy second level blocks on tape. They trust his quickness, but maybe to a fault. Morse can struggle against power guys simply because of his relative lightness at 305 pounds, but I was a big fan of his technical abilities pre-draft. Think he’ll eventually become a high-level starter for the Chiefs, and he might be their best offensive lineman already.
Fisher’s story is a well-known one at this point. #1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft that hasn’t panned out at all due to variety of reasons. Fisher’s an athletic tackle, but is severely lacking in technique. Misses badly on this punch against Pernell McPhee, eventually giving up the sack.
I say it all the time, but leverage + hand placement in the trenches can be the difference on any snap, and Fisher is outworked in both areas here. As a result, Fisher struggles mightily against top level speed-to-power conversion guys, as McPhee again shows him up near the end of the first half.
Sunday would be a nice time for Dupree to finally convert that explosive first step into a bullrush or two.
Actually think Stephenson has been serviceable on tape, but he always has trouble with the athletic speed rushers. DeMarcus Ware kicked his butt, as Stephenson just doesn’t have the feet to seal the edge against that kind of quickness and bend.
Watching the Chiefs offensive line as a whole is fairly underwhelming. They don’t move people very often in the run game, and most of Jamaal Charles big runs this year came due to his own creativity and elusiveness. I’d attack them on all fronts. Four rushers got home consistently against them on tape.
The other biggest reason for the Chiefs offensive struggles is that the key cog of their attack, Charles, is of course lost for the season with a torn ACL suffered against Chicago in Week 5. The Chiefs offense has managed just 10 points in 16 drives since that point, while half of those drives have consisted of less than three plays.
Charcandrick West, owner of one of the better names in the NFL, will split carries with Knile Davis in Charles’ stead, although the duo got off to a rough start last week in Minnesota. West managed nine carries for 33 yards, while Davis toted five times for 13. West had a huge fumble late in the game last week, but the coaching staff has said they’ll stick with him for the majority of the carries moving forward.
Neither back has Charles agility or creativity at the line of scrimmage, but both run hard and don’t dance in the backfield. Offense just loses a whole lot of explosiveness without Charles, especially in the passing game.
Speaking of explosiveness, that is a trait that most Alex Smith-led offenses have lacked over the years. I’ve always been a proponent of Smith compared to most, but his skill set needs plenty of help in order to be productive. It is difficult to evaluate a quarterback that is consistently as poorly protected as Smith, but his game isn’t hard to figure out. He wants to go to his simplest read consistently, but throws with good timing and ball placement typically. Smith has always been mechanically sound, but he struggles to be accurate down the field.
Smith wants to go to the post route, but the receiver is well-covered. He adjusts his feet to re-locate to the nine route, but he doesn’t really step into his throw, and the ball sails on him a bit. The ability to hit deep routes has just never really been in Smith’s repertoire.
That said, his short-intermediate accuracy is typically very good, as Smith is completing over 62 percent of his passes. Most of his throws are routine, but Smith has shown the ability to throw the ball with velocity at times. But in many ways, he is the anti-Carson Palmer, rarely trusting his arm or making high degree of difficulty throws into tight windows. Because of that Smith doesn’t make many mistakes, but he doesn’t reap the benefit of the big play very often either.
Something to watch for with Smith, eight of his 28 scrambles have gone for first downs. He’s a very underrated athlete who won’t hesitate to tuck it and run if the defense doesn’t keep him hemmed in. Smith will run an average of almost five times per game. Also, despite the beating he takes annually, Smith hasn’t come out of a game yet this season, taking all 400 offensive snaps. Tough cookie.
As for his weapons, this is easily the best supporting cast Smith has had in a long time, but injuries have taken their toll. The loss of Charles is huge for a quarterback who loves to dink-and-dunk and rely on his receivers to create after the catch, but Jeremy Maclin’s concussion may keep him out against Pittsburgh. Maclin is enjoying an excellent year with 39 catches for 531 yards and a score, including nine grabs of 20 yards or more. He’s one of the most underrated wide receivers in the game today, an astute route runner with great hands and concentration to make tough catches.
Chris Conley and Albert Wilson are intriguing talents at receiver, but the former has struggled with drops, while the latter hasn’t obtained the opportunities many hoped he would heading into the season. Neither receiver is even playing 50 percent of the Chiefs snaps, while Maclin is on the field 93 percent of the time. If he can’t go on Sunday, the absence of he and Charles will remove almost 46 percent of the Chiefs 2015 receptions from their offense.
Conley was one of my favorites of the pre-draft process, and while he’s earned the opportunity to play the second-most snaps among Kansas City receivers as a rookie, he has yet to flash much on tape. Part of the issue is his biggest strengths, size, speed, and athleticism, are much better suited for a more vertical attack than Kansas City’s west coast approach under Andy Reid. It isn’t a great fit for many young wide receivers due to the emphasis on route-running and separation techniques, but Conley is coming along regardless.
Wilson is a fun weapon that Chiefs fans are generally excited about, but six catches for 82 yards and one score has been a disappointing output this season. Over half of his yardage total came on a wide receiver screen for a touchdown against the Vikings last week, and the Steelers will have to be ready for Wilson’s explosive abilities after the catch on Sunday.
The real treat in the Kansas City offense is Travis Kelce, a man who I believe is a top five tight end in the NFL. Kelce has became a really solid route runner, but his speed to stretch the defense and create mismatches down the field is what really makes him special.
Beats an athletic linebacker in Eric Kendricks over the top, then has the speed to race by safety Harrison Smith. Kelce is a crazy gifted athlete who brings a nastiness to the position too. He and James O’Shaughnessy, one of my favorite tight ends in this past draft class, bring a lot of athleticism and sneaky speed after the catch to Kansas City’s offense. If Maclin doesn’t play, they could be the most dangerous threats on the field for the Chiefs.
Kicker Cairo Santos is in his 2nd NFL season, and has made 12-15 field goal attempts this year. He had a 27-yarder blocked, and he missed 51 and 66 (whew) yarders this season as well. Santos has not missed an extra point this year, and has actually never missed one throughout his career. Career long is 53, but this year he has only hit from 51. The Brazilian is generally considered about as reliable as 23 year-old kickers come.
De’Anthony Thomas, who we didn’t even mention in the offensive report, is one of the most dangerous athletes in the open field across the league. He hasn’t broken a punt return yet this season, but last year he housed one in 34 attempts. He’s a gadget guy on offense, who will runs sweeps and reverses and screens a couple times a game usually. Doesn’t get a ton of touches on offense, just 14 this year, but is explosive when he does.
Knile Davis handles the kick return duties, averaging over 25 yards per return. He doesn’t look like the typical return man at 5’10, 230 pounds, but Davis gets north in a hurry to maximize the space available to him.