At different points throughout the Chiefs 38-31 loss to the New York Jets on Sunday, offensive coordinator Matt Nagy –– who was in his first game as a bonafide NFL playcaller –– allowed himself to smell the roses.
But only for a few seconds at a time.
“After a good play would happen, you had defensive players coming over to you, (playfully) hitting you,” Nagy recalled with a smile. “The energy was great.”
After a three-game offensive slumber, the Chiefs finally broke out under Nagy, racking up nearly 500 total yards in his first game holding the playsheet instead of head coach Andy Reid.
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And while Nagy was quick to praise Reid –– who still played a significant role in formulating the week’s gameplan since he installed the plays and ran the offensive meetings throughout the week –– and several other assistants who all had a hand in the stew, there’s little doubt Nagy passed the test.
“I thought he did a heck of a job last week,” Reid said Friday. “And he’ll have the go (again) this week.”
So what can the Oakland Raiders, who will face the Chiefs at noon Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, expect from a Nagy-led offense? Well, it’s quite possible that more college-style run-pass option plays (RPOs) will be in the mix, since the 39-year-old Nagy admittedly dialed them up more against the Jets than the Chiefs did the week before.
“It puts a stress on the defense, and it’s something (quarterback) Alex (Smith) has done since he’s been here,” said Nagy, who has an appreciation for the concept of RPOs. “That stuff’s been good to us ... the players like it.”
Several offensive players privately praised Nagy for his hand in the college-style concepts the Chiefs used to blitz the league over the first two months of the season, when they jumped out to a 5-0 start and averaged more than 30 points a game.
Prior to the Jets loss, however, the Chiefs had been dialing that stuff back in recent defeats. Reid’s willingness to hand over the playcalling to Nagy helped the Chiefs break that tendency, at least in the short term.
“He puts his own flair in it –– I think that’s important to know,” Reid said of Nagy’s playcalling philosophy. “Everybody does it their way.”
And Reid, apparently, is comfortable with Nagy’s way. So much so that even before he handed off playcalling duties to Nagy, there were times his apprentice would insist on running a play in a given situation, and Reid actually would, no questions asked.
Nagy insists that kind of selflessness is not a given in this league, especially when the head coach is calling plays.
“That’s the best part about Coach Reid –– there’s zero ego,” Nagy said. “He doesn’t care. If he thinks it’s going to work, let’s go. And if he has a play, and he brings it to us, we’re the same way. It’s an open conversation.”
That said, Reid still carries plenty of gameplanning juice during the week. The Chiefs still script the first 15 offensive plays of each game, and while Nagy called the plays Sunday, Reid and other members of the offensive staff –– including running backs coach Eric Bieniemy, receivers coach Greg Lewis and offensive line coach Andy Heck –– all had input on the script that led to two touchdowns on their first two drives.
“We get together and hammer it out,” Nagy said. “We all give our ideas and it’s been that way this entire year.”
But after those first 15 plays were done, the rest basically fell on Nagy, who was approached by Reid about the prospect of calling plays at the beginning of last week.
There was nothing concrete, however, and Reid continued to guide the team during the weekly offensive install sessions, where he stands in front of the team and teaches the finer points of the key plays they plan to run on first, second and third down and in crucial situations (like in the red zone or when they’re backed up near they’re own goal line).
“He’s the teacher in front of the whole group,” Nagy said.
But throughout the course of the week, as the opportunity to actually hold the playsheet and call plays seemed more and more realistic, Nagy found himself thinking through the different down-and-distance situations the Chiefs might find themselves in against the Jets, and what he’d feel most comfortable turning to, just to be prepared.
While Reid had oversight when it came to the plays that were installed, Nagy and several other assistants had the opportunity to present the case for certain plays in certain situations, as long as they could explain why they liked the play.
“You can’t just come in with a play and say ‘Here’s a play, this is gonna work,’” Nagy said. “You have to say ‘I think they’re gonna play man, I think we’re gonna get a matchup here, I like it.’”
Sometimes those plays didn’t work out, but that didn’t bother Reid, as long as the logic for calling the play was sound.
Nagy found himself enjoying this cat-and-mouse game with the defense, so much so that he was clearly looking forward to doing it again, even though he only grinned coyly when asked if he’d have that responsibility Sunday, which Reid later revealed he would.
“It was an experience I’ll never forget,” Nagy said. “Ever.”