This year, Josh Carney and I will break down the opposing team’s defense in our weekly scouting report. Like last year, I will be looking at the opposing team in a more broad, scheme-approach. Josh will have a closer eye on the individual players.
Today, the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense.
Alex’s Scheme Report
Chiefs’ Run Game
The Chiefs’ rushing attack has been good, not great. A solid B student through and through. Spencer Ware is still their guy, though Ware is working his way back from a rib injury. He’s practiced in full though and should be good to go.
Ware is averaging 4.3 yards per carry. He has fumbled three times this season, including once against the Steelers, just 214 times. As a rushing attack on the season, they had just 42 runs of 10+ yards. That was tied for 19th in the league. But they’ve gotten big plays out of their rush attack with 12 attempts of 20+. That bumps them up to being tied for 7th in the NFL.
Their projected offensive line from left to right.
LT – Eric Fisher
LG – Zach Fulton
C – Mitch Morse
RG – Laurent Tardiff-Duvernay
RT – Mitchell Schwartz
Similar to the Miami Dolphins, but even more obvious, they love to begin drives (possession and ten, P/10) out of heavy personnel. 12 and 13 all the way and on a lot of first downs, too. Like here, the first play of the game in Week 16 against the Denver Broncos.
And then the next play, after a successful 4 yard run, they break into 11 personnel.
They dabble in every kind of run. Straight man/base blocking scheme, inside zone, split zone, and some gap runs. They have a fullback, #42 Anthony Sherman, and will use a 6th OL – #75 Jah Reid – in short-yardage situations.
Their counter trey is a popular run on the first play of a possession.
Charcandrick West is Ware’s backup. Statistically, he’s struggled, averaging 3.3 yards per carry. He will be used at FB in pony sets and has gotten the handoff from his fullback spot.
Tyreek Hill has become a bigger aspect of the rushing attack. Not just a gimmick/gadget guy, he’ll line up in the gun and take the handoff like anyone else. Hill is averaging a whopping 11.1 yards per carry and scored three times on 24 carries. Four of those 24 carries have gone for 20+ yards.
Because of Alex Smith’s athleticism, they’ll run read option plays with a legitimate read. Here’s Smith running it in with an arc block from Travis Kelce.
Chiefs’ Passing Game
Alex Smith is still doing his thing. Only 15 touchdown passes on the season but he completed a high percentage of his passes, 67.1, tied for the 6th best mark in the league. Eight interceptions this season including one in each of the last four games and an overall TD/INT ratio of 1:1 (4 TDs, 4 INTs) over that span. So not necessarily his game-managing self.
Dontari Poe and Jeremy Maclin have each thrown a pass this season. Poe’s came in the Wildcat on a fun “pop pass.” Don’t think you’ll see it again but it’s on tape. Maclin’s also came on the goal line, 1st and goal from the 3 back in October.
Travis Kelce is their top threat and having a career year. 100+ yards in five of his last seven games. 85 receptions n the season and averaging 13.2 YPC. Their #1 guy.
Tyreek Hill is actually second on the team with 61 receptions. And six touchdowns. Playmaker, no doubt. Spencer Ware has 33 grabs on the year.
Below average in 20+ catches, tied for 19th with 46, and slightly better with 40+ catches, tied for 14th with nine.
Total up their 40+ yard gains on the ground and through the air, and they rank 7th in the NFL with 14. It’s a more explosive offense than you think.
Couple other things. Their third down offense is below average, tied for 18th, and their red zone offense is terrible, as we pointed out earlier in the week. 30th in the NFL at about 45%. Even at home, they bump up to just 26th at a tick under 48%. Not good.
To the scheme.
Their an RPO heavy offense. Want to put the defense in a lose/lose situation. Couple examples.
Lot of underneath spacing concepts, like their Dragon combo, a slant/flat with Kelce on the slant.
Or Hank on 3rd and 6. Again, goal is to get the ball to Kelce. Don’t have the curl/flat elements here but the Kelce sitdown is the “Hank” part of the concept.
And a very Clemson-looking sprint right (they also sprint left) and a look to the flats, either with the back leaking out or a speed out by the WR.
Chiefs’ Special Teams
Tyreek Hill is the obvious name to watch in the return unit. But he isn’t the only kick returner, splitting time this year with De’Anthony Thomas. Hill has a much better average, 27.4 to 22..5, as you’d expect. They use a 6-1-2-1-1 kick return formation.
Hill is the dude on punts, with 39 returns for a whopping 15.2 yard average, aided by two punt return touchdowns. He nearly had a third against the Steelers but it was called back. That average is more than a yard higher than anyone else in the NFL. Only eight fair catches this year so he’s pretty aggressive.
On the field goal unit, Anthony Sherman and Demetrius Harris are the wings. Two offensive guys so keep an eye on that.
Josh’s Individual Report
After advancing past the Miami Dolphins 30-12 in the AFC Wild Card round last Sunday at Heinz Field, the Pittsburgh Steelers get set to hit the road to take on the No. 2 seed Kansas City Chiefs (12-4), whom they topped 43-14 in Week 4 on Sunday Night Football.
Much like the Steelers are a different team since then, so too are the Chiefs, especially on offense with the emergence of game-breaking threat Tyreek Hill and the continued dominance of tight end Travis Kelce, giving quarterback Alex Smith two dynamic weapons to work with in the passing game, and even the running game with Hill.
Offensively, the Chiefs finished in the middle of the pack in the NFL in most major categories, but in the final two games of the season against the Denver Broncos and the San Diego Los Angeles Chargers (YUCK), Kansas City scored 33 and 34 points in explosive fashion, looking like a team clicking on all cylinders heading into the playoffs.
And it all seems to start with Smith.
There’s been a ton written about the former No. 1 overall pick by the San Francisco 49ers who experienced a revitalization under Jim Harbaugh before losing his job to Colin Kaepernick and getting traded to the Chiefs and Andy Reid.
Since that time, Smith has played some of the best football of his career and has led the Chiefs to the playoffs three times in the last four seasons. He’s not a top tier quarterback that can light up defenses in the passing game, but he rarely makes mistakes, is a tough player standing in to take shots to make plays and really has the respect of his teammates.
That’s pretty much all you can ask for in a mid-level quarterback. He wins and adds an element to the offense through the air and on the ground. While he won’t push the ball down the field much through the air, he tends to carve up defenses in the middle of the field and really knows how to take advantage of matchups that favor his weapons.
His accuracy is also terrific down the field.
That’s an absolute dime to the back shoulder for Jeremy Maclin, who is in one-on-one coverage. This throw is exactly what Smith can give you down the field when he looks to push it. He’s criminally underrated in this league as a runner as well, especially in the red zone.
In each of the last two weeks Smith has scored on a read-option to his left in the red zone with Kelce serving as his lead blocker against a smaller defensive back.
When the sidecar is to Smith’s left and Kelce is lined up in some capacity to the left as well, a read-option is undoubtedly coming.
Last season Smith ran for over 500 yards, but this year he ran less to save him from unnecessary shots, but when he uses his legs to make a play he can catch defenses off guard and hurt them in a big way.
Outside of Smith as a runner, Kansas City should see Spencer Ware return from injury this week, giving them the bruising dual-threat running back that missed Week 17, allowing backup Charcandrick West to shine against the Chargers.
In that game, West scored two receiving touchdowns on simple flares out into the flat in the end zone in which he was wide open on both.
That’s something to look out for this week in the red zone as well, whether it’s Ware or West on the field.
Ware isn’t a game-breaker, but he’s a punishing, physical runner that rarely goes down on first contact and nearly had 1,000 yards rushing this season.
Out wide, the Chiefs have Maclin, second-year receiver Chris Conley and veteran Albert Wilson. None of the three have been game changers at receiver like Hill, but all three are steady possession receivers that do one thing extremely well: move the chains.
As far as Hill goes though, he’s become the jack of all trades on this team, from returning punts and kicks, to taking handoffs, jet sweeps, screen passes and crossing routes to the house.
He’s been the dynamic weapon the Chiefs have been missing on offense since Jamaal Charles was healthy, and now that the piece has returned to the offense you’ve seen it take off.
The man looks like he’s shot out of a cannon any time he touches the ball. Just look at the way he’s able to bend that run back to the edge after getting near the line of scrimmage. After turning the corner it’s vapors for Hill, who goes nearly 71 yards untouched against a strong Denver defense.
That’s impressive to say the least.
Along with Hill, Kelce has had his best season ever, leading to a First Team All-Pro nod. Much like Hill, the Chiefs do a great job of manufacturing touches from all different spots on the field for Kelce, whether it’s on a tunnel screen (like he took 80 yards for a score against the Broncos), or coming out of the slot on crossing routes, fades, seam routes or simple hitch routes.
Plus, he’s the complete package as a blocker as well, really providing a second mold to the prototypical “move” TE with New England’s Rob Gronkowski.
Up front, Kansas City isn’t very good, but fortunately for them the current mix works.
Here’s how they’ll likely line up on Sunday from left to right:
LT — Eric Fisher
LG — Zach Fulton
C — Mitch Morse
RG — Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff
RT — Mitchell Schwartz
Fisher really struggles with power on the edge, so that could play right into the hands of James Harrison this week, while the guards can be a concern at times too in both phases of the game.
But with Morse and Schwartz the Chiefs have two studs up front. Morse has been one of the best centers in football since making the move to the position from tackle in college, while Schwartz was a steal from the Cleveland Browns in the offseason and has been worth every penny this season, shutting down Von Miller twice while providing major stability to the position.
They’re not a great unit as a whole, but some individual parts are terrific.
On special teams, kicker Cairo Santos is — literally — hit or miss in the kicking game. He’s missed just four field goal attempts on the season, but he has mental lapses and can push an extra point wide every now and then in a big spot.
At punter, Dustin Colquitt has quietly had a superb season, showing off his great leg strength and soft touch all season long. On the year, Colquitt averages nearly 46 yards per punt and dropped more than half of his punts inside the 20-yard line this season. He’s a major weapon on special teams for KC.
And then that takes us to Hill, who has gone absolutely bonkers in the second half of the season with the ball in his hands.
In Week 17 against the Chargers he caught a punt inside the 5-yard line and then sprinted his way for a touchdown, shocking the Chargers, who were expecting a fair catch that deep inside his own end.
Not with Hill though; he has the green light from the coaching staff to catch the ball wherever he wants too because he’s such a significant threat.
Let’s not forget that he returned a punt 80+ yards against the Steelers in that Week 4 loss, but it was ultimately called back due to a penalty.
This is a massive test for the Steelers’ special teams units this week, which have been relatively poor down the stretch.
A few slip-ups on special teams could easily be the difference between heading to New England/hosting the AFC Championship Game and heading home for the season to break out the golf clubs.