Any reasonable person knows the man intended insult, and even the unreasonable among us can see the Chiefs took it in kind.
This is professional football, and to remind ourselves of what that means we should read those words in low, manly tones, because this is a world of muscle and testosterone and seriousness.
You can take your wussy tricks somewhere other than — drop an octave here — professional football, so there is no question that Raiders coach Jack Del Rio was commenting on the manhood of Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith specifically and the Chiefs offense in general two months ago.
“If he’s got to rely on throwing the ball, it’s really not his strong suit,” Del Rio said. “If you allow them to run the ball and do some of their gimmicky things, then he comes to life.”
Del Rio later tried to walk it back, because even professional football is subject to some level of political correctness, but he’s smart enough to know what he was doing. He may as well have said Smith sleeps with stuffed animals, and that the Chiefs offense should be broadcast on Nick Jr.
Smith and Chiefs coach Andy Reid stopped short of firing back, but anyone who has spent even a minute around Smith knew he was ticked when he heard it.
“I felt like we won the battle up front and I don’t know what was ‘gimmicky’ about that,” Smith said.
This was all fun to follow, in a high school gossip sort of way, but we all — and, more importantly, the Chiefs themselves — completely missed the point.
Instead of taking Del Rio’s words as an insult, the Chiefs should take them as advice.
Seriously. Get past the masculine overcompensation, and embrace the gimmicks.
From here on out, that’s what this Chiefs offense should do: embrace the gimmicks.
This is a good team, as long as they don’t play like a normal team. Let the freak flag fly. Make it Hungry Pig Left next time, and make sure there’s a next time. Use elaborate pre-snap motion to dress up otherwise simple runs. If the Chiefs are running a play that Jeff Fisher would approve of, then they’re running the wrong play. This should be death by a thousand bubble screens, and jet sweeps. More Wildcat, particularly in short yardage.
This is their best chance to win, which means this is their best chance to play for the Super Bowl, and save year four of the current leadership from a disappointing ending that would largely be put on an offense that Reid has had more than enough time to get ready.
The offense needs help. We can all agree on that. The Chiefs rank 15th in points per game, which is propped up by having more non-offensive touchdowns than any team in football. If we isolate offenses, the Chiefs fall to 23rd in points. Only the Vikings have had a lower percentage of their points come from the offense.
A lot of this is because of struggles on third down. Only four teams have been worse converting third downs, and one of them is the Browns, who probably shouldn’t count.
This was a particularly troubling problem against the Titans. The Chiefs converted just four of 14 third downs, failing on far too many short yardage attempts.
The noise you started to hear as you began this paragraph is The Star’s proprietary Oversimplification Alert, but a lot of the issues can be isolated to play calling, and mishandling the balance of maximizing strengths while minimizing weaknesses.
For instance, the Chiefs do not have a physical offensive line, which is a different thing than not having a good offensive line. This group is athletic, relatively reliable in pass protection, and good in space. But they struggle to push bigger defenders back at the line of scrimmage.
With this team, three yards and cloud of dust means three snaps and a Dustin Colquitt punt.
That weakness was highlighted when the Titans stuffed the Chiefs on consecutive runs near the goal line, but it’s been there all year. The Chiefs have run straight up the middle more than all but five teams in football, even as they’ve averaged fewer yards on those runs than all but seven teams.
It’s not what they do well, but they keep doing it poorly.
The Chiefs’ strengths are in Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and the ability to execute intricate timing plays that exploit advantages in numbers and uncertainty from the defense.
They’ve shown this a lot this season, but one moment that sticks out came against the Saints. Trailing by seven, on their own side of the field, Reid called a fake handoff to Spencer Ware that turned into an end-around to Hill for 18 yards. The next snap was a bubble screen to Ware in which Jeremy Maclin and Eric Fisher made key blocks for a 46-yard touchdown.
Two plays, both “gimmicky,” and it’s 64 yards and a touchdown. Twenty percent of their yards on offense that day came on those two plays, out of 52.
This is the rule, not the exception. Their best play against the Titans was Hill’s 68-yard touchdown run, and if it’s not gimmicky enough to have a 185-pound man lined up as a running back, the play worked because Hill took three steps to his right before taking the handoff, which set the linebackers up for wipeout blocks after Hill sprinted untouched to his left.
The Chiefs rank in the bottom half of the NFL in rushing yards and average, but it’s not that they can’t run the ball. They just need to give themselves some help with misdirection and tricks.
Against the Falcons, the Chiefs ran 15 gimmicky plays, and averaged 9.4 yards. Against the Broncos, it wasn’t gimmicky as much as the no-huddle that worked, which pushes the same idea of the need to drop convention.
In the last five games — going back to the Bucs loss — the Chiefs offense has attempted 23 third or fourth downs with 3 or fewer yards to go. This is subjective, but a film review of those plays shows eight that could be described as “gimmicky,” and 15 that are more traditional.
Each set converted five times, meaning the gimmicks were twice as successful. Isolating it even more:
The Chiefs ran up the middle without any trickery seven times on these plays, converting just one. But they’ve been effective with the Wildcat in these situations, including a 15-yard run by Ware against the Bucs (up the middle), and the touchdown by Hill in Denver.
Maybe this seems like a small thing, focusing on these third- and fourth-and-shorts. The Chiefs have a lot of things they could improve. Most obviously, perhaps, Smith needs to stop throwing interceptions in the end zone.
But part of how the Chiefs operate means their margin for error shrinks, and these conversions go from important to critical.
The Chiefs are at their best with trickery. Reid’s experience and creativity, the strengths and weaknesses of the both the quarterback and offensive line, as well as the existence of Hill (freakishly fast), Kelce (a high school quarterback), and Ware (same), make the Chiefs the ideal team to flip the intended meaning of “gimmicky” on its head.
Hungry Pig Right was more than hilarious. It was also a touchdown.
The Chiefs don’t have to be that extreme, but they do need to push the boundaries of gimmicks to be at their best as the playoffs approach.