The Chiefs’ offense started the Patrick Mahomes era with a mixture of creativity, speed, timing and misdirection on Sunday in the season opener at Los Angeles. They kept the Chargers’ defense off-balance and vulnerable in a 38-28 triumph. Seven Chiefs receivers caught passes and three had touchdown receptions as Mahomes threw for 256 yards and four scores.
Here’s an in-depth look at a few examples of how the Chiefs schemed and executed to take advantage of the Chargers’ defense. The coaches’ film is courtesy of NFL Game Pass. The game-day television broadcasts, a condensed 45-minute version of every game and the All-22 coaches’ film are available with an account at www.nfl.com/gamepass.
Tyreek Hill’s 58-yard touchdown
Situation: Second-and-4 from the Kansas City 42, first quarter
Alignment: The Chiefs break the huddle with what’s essentially 21 personnel with two running backs (Kareem Hunt and Anthony Sherman), one tight end (Travis Kelce) and two wide receivers (Sammy Watkins and Tyreek Hill). The fullback, Sherman, lines up as a tight end in this alignment on the same side as Kelce, but Sherman is off the line of scrimmage. Kelce lines up on the end line of scrimmage on Mahomes’ left in a three-point stance outside of Sherman. Mahomes is in the shotgun.
Hill initially lines up in a tight-slot, almost wingback position to Mahomes’ right, but he goes in motion upon the quarterbacks’ signal and ends up nearly at the top of the numbers on the wide side of the field and outside of Watkins, who is on the line of scrimmage and flexed as opposed to a true split wide to the right.
At the snap: Hunt, who’d lined up just to Mahomes’ right, comes across the formation in front of Mahomes and creates a pocket for Mahomes to hand the ball off. The mesh is very quick in this instance. While Mahomes has the option to hand off and make this a running play for Hunt, the offensive line cannot go block downfield or risk an ineligible receiver downfield penalty if Mahomes fakes the handoff and decides to throw.
“It was a run play with a pass option,” Mahomes said. “I read the linebacker and what he did on the pass-fake and I gave it to Tyreek.”
The run action freezes the two linebackers who lined up five to six yards from the line of scrimmage no deeper than the 47-yard line. Safety Derwin James, who also lined up six yards from the line of scrimmage just outside the hash marks and outside of Watkins’ alignment, flattened out when Watkins ran to the flat on the snap.
Neither of the linebackers got deeper than the Kansas City 47-yard line when Hill made the catch on the Los Angeles 48. Meanwhile, Watkins’ route kept James wide enough — one foot at the top of the numbers when Hill makes the catch — to create a void between the cornerback, who gave a six-yard cushion at the snap and dropped off to the deep portion of the field, the safety, who was playing deep center field, and the linebackers, who were held in place by the run action.
“It is an R-P-O (run pass option) play and I had a slant so he (Mahomes) was reading the linebackers,” Hill said. “I’ve just got to run my route and be there. There’s a certain spot on the field that I’ve got to be and he’s going to throw it there every time. After that, it’s history.”
Hill gets to his spot, almost to the near hash mark and behind the second level of defenders. He appears in the window between the two linebackers just where Mahomes delivers the ball. Mahomes uses a three-quarter arm slot to split the linebackers, with the nose tackle getting penetration in the A-gap and right in the quarterback’s face. The run action may have caused the tackle to take one extra step and allowed Mahomes to get the throw off.
Hill catches it at the Los Angeles 48-yard line. The deep safety closes quickly but doesn’t break down and ends up making an unsuccessful diving attempt at an arm tackle.
“Cheetah speed, baby,” Hill said.
Shovel-pass TD to De-Anthony Thomas
Situation: First-and-goal from the Los Angeles 1-yard line, third quarter
Alignment: The Chiefs showed a variety of formations and alignments with their 11 personnel group, particularly with Kelce’s versatility allowing him to effectively play wide receiver as well as tight end. They come out with one running back (Hunt), one tight end (Kelce) and three wide receivers (Chris Conley, De’Anthony Thomas, Watkins). Conley is on the line of scrimmage to the left, flexed and not in a true wide split. Kelce is lined up inside of him off the line and just off the outside hip of left tackle Eric Fisher, almost in a wingback position. Watkins is on the line of scrimmage to the right, flexed just to the hash marks, and Thomas is off the line inside of him in a wingback position off the outside hip of right tackle Mitchell Schwartz.
Pre-snap, the Chiefs give an empty-backfield look with Hunt split wide to the left off the line of scrimmage and Mahomes in the shotgun. Hunt shifts into the backfield lines up to Mahomes’ left, making him a threat to take a handoff.
At the snap: The offensive line and receivers other than Thomas fire out as though blocking for a running play with the forward lateral set to occur behind the line of scrimmage. As soon as the ball gets snapped, Thomas turns and darts parallel to the line scrimmage and about two yards in front of Mahomes. At the same time, Hunt begins to turn and goes through footwork as if he’s going to the handoff/mesh point with Mahomes. The precise timing works: Mahomes gets the snap and immediately flips it forward to Thomas, who is about to cut in front of him. A split second after Thomas has received the lateral, Hunt comes in front of Mahomes about a yard deeper than Thomas and mimics taking a handoff from Mahomes at the same time the ball is in the air on its way to Thomas.
The guys on the offensive line take their defenders to the right, which is where the Hunt run action appears to be going. In the video, you can see defenders coming off blocks and taking angles to pursue Hunt. On the perimeter to the strong side, Kelce needed only push the last defender on the line of scrimmage (Melvin Ingram) to the inside, which is where his momentum was going in pursuit of Hunt.
Conley is able to get outside leverage on the cornerback and stays on his block. Fisher blocks the safety (James) who walked up to the line of scrimmage, while the left guard, Cam Erving, directs the nose tackle to the inside, where the run-action is headed and away from Thomas’ path. Center Mitch Morse gets around Erving’s block and to the second level, where he has a tough angle to block the linebacker. He gets away with turning Denzel Perryman’s shoulders as the two fly by one another. Perryman is reading the Hunt run-action.
After shoving Ingram out of Thomas’ path, Kelce has nobody left to block on the perimeter. The pursuit is all going in the opposite direction. Fisher handles the safety and Conley maintains his block on the corner, allowing Thomas to walk into the end zone.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid chuckled when asked during his Monday conference call about the shovel passes. After talking about the play being a good way to get multiple people involved in the run game, he uttered in the most understated manner imaginable, “The misdirection can be an issue there; sometimes it can get you.”
Sherman’s 36-yard touchdown catch
Situation: First-and-10 from the Los Angeles 36-yard line, third quarter
Alignment: Similar to the run-pass option touchdown to Hill in the first quarter, the Chiefs line up two running backs (Kareem Hunt and Anthony Sherman), one tight end (Travis Kelce) and two wide receivers (Watkins and Conley). Sherman lines up as a tight end on the same side as Kelce, once again off the line of scrimmage and inside of Kelce to Mahomes’ left. Kelce lines up on the line of scrimmage on Mahomes’ left in a three-point stance outside of Sherman. Mahomes is in the shotgun.
On the wide side of the field, Watkins is on the line of scrimmage and flexed to the outside of the hash marks. Conley is off the line, split wide to the top of the numbers. As opposed to the RPO play, Hunt is now lined up to Mahomes’ left and runs a swing route as both Kelce and Sherman release into the pass pattern.
At the snap: The Chargers have two linebackers in coverage to account for the two-tight end look, as well as a corner with deep responsibilities on that side of the field. The linebacker, Perryman, runs with Kelce and has corner Trevor Williams to help over the top. Kelce runs a seam route between the numbers and the hash marks. Sherman, who lined up inside of Kelce, runs a wheel route up the sideline, with outside linebacker Kyle Emanuel in coverage. The corner, Williams, stays over the top of Kelce — who logged more than 1,000 receiving yards last season — and Sherman gets behind Emanuel.
“The throw to Sherman was a beautiful throw,” Reid said. “I was anticipating the corner falling off on (Sherman) and (Emanuel) carrying Kelce, but he read right through that. It ended up being how we practiced it during the week. We were trying to get our corner to fall off on Sherman and give him that look too. That was a good play for him.”
Mahomes is able to drop, set up and step up as the offensive line provides a relatively clean pocket against a four-man rush. All five receivers release into the pattern. The defensive end blocked by Fisher does get a hand on Mahomes as he releases the pass, but it doesn’t stop Mahomes from dropping the ball right over a leaping Emanuel and leading Sherman up the sideline and away from the closing Williams.
“(I had to) just run under it and catch it,” Sherman said. “I mean, he put that thing on the money. I didn’t really have to do much, just put my hands up.”