The Chiefs’ offense clearly wasn’t whole Sunday against the Oakland Raiders. Kareem Hunt’s release and Sammy Watkins’ injury undoubtedly altered the dynamics on that side of the ball, but there was another presence that was largely missing in Oakland.
Top receiving threat Tyreek Hill wasn’t sidelined. He didn’t miss the game. He simply wasn’t the same force of nature he’d been throughout the first 11 games of the season. After all, Hill racked up an eye-popping 10 receptions for 215 yards and two touchdowns against the L.A. Rams in his previous game.
Hill recorded just one catch for 13 yards despite being targeted six times against the Raiders. That’s his fewest catches and yards in a game this season. So where did that explosive Hill go over the bye week?
Let’s check out the video. The game film is courtesy of NFL Game Pass. The game-day television broadcasts, a condensed 45-minute version of every game and the coaches’ film, are available with an account at www.nfl.com/gamepass.
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Believe it or not, the Raiders were aware of Hill’s game-breaking ability. They clearly made the choice not to allow Hill to beat them or dominate one-on-one matchups against their secondary. They devoted multiple defenders to bottling up Hill.
In general, the Raiders dropped a lot of defenders into pass coverage to cut off the first options of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
“Yeah, so they played a little bit of 2 — Cover 2 — and so that can disrupt your timing a little bit and you have to hang on to it,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “But that’s OK, though — it’s not a bad thing, I mean, as long as you complete the ball, that’s the good thing.”
In the example above, Mahomes and Hill failed to connect on a pass attempt where the Raiders had Hill blanketed.
Situation: First-and-15 from the KC 39-yard line, 11:00 remaining in the second quarter.
Alignment: The Chiefs broke the huddle with two tight ends (Travis Kelce, Demetrius Harris), one running back (Damien Williams) and two wide receivers (Chris Conley). Mahomes lined up under center with Williams directly behind him. Hill lined up on the line of scrimmage split left a couple steps outside the hashmark. Conley lined up wide of him to the left and outside the bottom of the numbers. Both tight ends were to the right, with Harris in a three-point stance on the line and Kelce off the line about a step to the right of Harris’ outside hip and off the line.
At the snap: Harris remained in to block. Conley ran a post route underneath Hill, who ran right up the middle of the field with a defender in coverage and two deep safeties, each responsible for one deep half of the field. Mahomes carried out a play-action fake to Williams, and Williams slipped into the left flat after the play fake. Kelce ran a center route/in-cut and settled into the space between the linebackers scrambling back into coverage after being held by the play-action fake.
Despite the defender playing man-to-man coverage on Hill and two deep safeties squeezing in on his route, Mahomes got greedy and decided to throw deep.
From the end zone angle, it’s clear that Mahomes had a window to throw to Kelce. As Kelce comes out of his break, he shows his hands to Mahomes looking for a pass. You even see Raiders weakside linebacker Tahir Whitehead turn and point as he noticed Kelce uncovered with space around him in the middle of the field.
“Once I kind of settled myself down — I felt like I was kind of trying to do too much at the beginning of the game — and just kind of took what they gave, like we’ve been doing all season long, guys made a lot of plays,” Mahomes said.”
Mahomes and Hill also looked to be slightly off in terms of timing. On this third-quarter throw, Hill does beat the coverage after lining up in similar position on the line of scrimmage a little more than a step outside of the hash mark.
The man-to-man defender, Nick Nelson (23), couldn’t keep up with Hill. The safety on the backside, Marcus Gilchrist (31), chases Hill from the opposite half of the field. Mahomes held the safety on that side, Karl Joseph (42), close to the line of scrimmage with his eyes by staring at Demarcus Robinson’s route on that side of the field.
Mahomes, knowing the extra defender on that side of the field isn’t in position to recover to Hill, goes over the top. However, Mahomes’ throw led Hill more upfield than across toward the corner. The slight adjustment Hill had to make might have cost them the inch needed for a completion and a touchdown.
Another misfire came on the above play when Mahomes wanted to go left, pulled the ball back down and then got outside the problem. Mahomes came back to the right side and found Hill in one-on-one coverage running toward open field. Mahomes, who threw on the run, just underthrew the pass and allowed Rashard Melvin to make a leaping pass breakup. If the ball led Hill, that’s a touchdown.
“You come off a bye like that and sometimes you have that in the pass game,” Reid said. “Just the timing is off a bit. In (Mahomes’) case, he should keep firing there and that’s what he did, and you have to have a short memory on those things.
“If you get cautious, then you’re going to have where you’re second guessing yourself and you’re going to end up with turnovers. He was able to keep it going and then at the end he made some pretty significant plays for us along with (Travis Kelce) and (Demetrius Harris) had a couple nice ones.”
Kelce to rescue
There’s a risk in paying so much attention to the deep threat of Hill and having the safeties so locked onto Hill’s every move in order to provide help to the cornerbacks. It leaves Kelce room to operate against linebackers, which nine times out of 10 is a mismatch in the Chiefs’ favor.
The above clip shows that even when the coverage succeeds in suffocating the Chiefs’ wide receivers and deeper routes, dropping so many men into coverage can still haunt a defense.
Kelce enjoyed a career day at Oakland with 168 receiving yards and 12 catches, including a pair of touchdowns. This particular 25-yard gain set up the Chiefs’ final touchdown of the day, which provided the margin of victory.
Situation: Third-and-5 from the Oakland 29, Chiefs lead 33-30 with 2:25 remaining.
Alignment: The Chiefs broke the huddle with one tight end (Kelce) and one running back (Ware) along with three wide receivers (Hill, Conley and Robinson). Mahomes set up in the shotgun, with Ware to his left and Kelce lined up on the line in a three-point stance to the left.
Hill motioned halfway across the formation, but eventually came back to the short slot almost right on the right hash mark. Conley lined up outside of him a step outside the hash mark and Demarcus Robinson split wide of them both outside the numbers.
At the snap: The Raiders only rushed three on the line. Mahomes looked right where Hill and Robinson were running a route combination with Robinson going from the outside position to running up the seam while Hill ran a wheel from inside to up the sideline.
Mahomes pulls the ball back down and breaks out of the pocket. Kelce ran a shallow drag across the formation, but he throttled down when he reached the far hash mark and recognized Mahomes had started to go on the run.
At that point, Kelce had the chance to work in space one-on-one against Whitehead. Kelce reached back to his basketball-playing days and spun off of the body of Whitehead while using his right arm/elbow to clear his body and create separation to where Mahomes had room to loft the ball.
“Travis (Kelce) and Patrick (Mahomes), they must live together or something,” Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said. “They made some incredible plays. Give some credit to those guys. You can’t do anything sometimes but tip your hat.”