Vahe Gregorian

Andy Reid’s mad science makes Mahomes-led Chiefs thrill to watch, burden to stop

Chiefs head coach Andy Reid draws on many in designing schemes

Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is influenced by his coaches and others, that help him formulate schemes.
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Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is influenced by his coaches and others, that help him formulate schemes.

Andy Reid’s father, Walter, was an artist who worked for Disney and created sets for musicals, movies and plays. He also was a renowned practical joker apt to use studio props at home for a little fun.

Combine that with Reid’s experiences as a teen catering backstage for television shows such as The Tonight Show, where he once declined to give John Wayne the extra meatball he wanted, and you can sort out where he got a foundation of imagination, innovation and even theater in his repertoire.

That’s long been Reid’s signature as a coach on the field … even as his demeanor at the microphone better reflects his more practical mother, Elizabeth, a radiologist.

But if the season opener at Los Angeles, perhaps fittingly near where he grew up, is any indication, his mad science for play-design is percolating on an entirely new tier now.

The beautiful mind that brought us such spectacles as Hungry Pig Right, featuring 346-pound Dontari Poe taking a lateral into the end zone, that made tunnel screens and jet sweeps and puzzling formations and perpetual motion trendy, has more exhilarating pieces to work with than ever. And he seems determined to take them to another dimension.

From the misdirection sleight-of-hand that paralyzed the Chargers on two short touchdown “passes” to constant pre-snap motion havoc to all that Patrick Mahomes’ rare arm can do with the likes of Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and, presumably soon, Sammy Watkins, this offense has fascinating potential — especially if running back Kareem Hunt has a second-year encore even approximating his rookie season.

Other than calling it “the fun part,” Reid essentially shrugs off questions about his hallmark that you just know involves pens and napkins in the offseason. Instead, he credits his assistants and says they “throw a few things up and see if they stick.”

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week after Sunday's season opener against the Los Angeles Chargers. Mahomes admits he needs to do a better job of getting down quicker when he runs with the ball.

But the truth is that he has a unique knack for creativity — typically with read options that boggle the mind and challenge players to be on point.

While this will amount to a novelty act and a trivia question if the Chiefs defense doesn’t get more salty starting this week at Pittsburgh, the combination of talent and ingenuity nonetheless makes the Chiefs one of the most compelling teams to watch in the NFL right now.

There’s just some stuff that he does sometimes that you don’t ever think of, and then you see it and you’re like, ‘That play is going to work,’ and it works every single time,” said Mahomes, named the AFC offensive player of the week after throwing for four touchdowns in the 38-28 win over the Chargers. “Just the way that his mind thinks and how he exploits defenses, he just knows how to make plays up.”

Kansas City Chiefs Patrick Mahomes ran into a little trouble on his quarterback sliding during Sundays win, but after viewing the video Kansas City Royals Whit Merrifield offered a little advice. Merrifield leads the American League in stolen bases.

Said the still-learning Watkins, on his third NFL team: “Not trying to bash (other systems), but I feel like they just line up and play. Certain times, we can just come out and line up and play ball and still beat you, but we also do a lot of stuff I would say that you wouldn’t normally see …

“I’m pretty sure these coaches don’t go to sleep (and are always at) the drawing board. When you’re in this business, you can’t just be bland and line up. You’ve got to have something to trick people’s eyes, that’s the key.”

Or create confusion, as Mahomes put it.

Case in point: On the two so-called pop passes for touchdowns to De’Anthony Thomas and Tyreek Hill, Watkins said, just look at the baffled defenders “checking their eyes” as “you’ve got two guys going this way, two guys coming that way, underneath, over top.”

Funny thing is …

“The pop passes aren’t really anything different than snapping it and handing it off on a jet sweep; it just looks different, so it feels different,” guard Mitchell Schwartz, later adding, “These things aren’t necessarily new, but they are new ways to do them. You are just trying to find matchups wherever you can. When you have speed like that, it seems like you can find a lot of good matchups.”

Speaking of not necessarily new, Schwartz finds himself wondering about the roots of Reid’s inspirations.

“Who knows how much of this stuff is just the base stuff they used to do in the ‘50s and ‘60s?” he said. “I think a lot of things are cyclical. It might have been from more congested formations, but I think a lot of the base concepts are probably similar if you go back far enough and look at it. There is a lot of stuff even when you go back to the ‘20s and ‘30s, there’s some crazy concepts that people are pulling out and it looks new because it is 90 years old, but it is just kind of a recycling.”

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Wherever it comes from, it’s fresh now. And mayhem on defenses as orchestrated by Reid, who at times can overthink situations and be prone to getting fancy when sheer force might be called for.

Even so, there’s no denying that the Chiefs offense is a nightmare to prepare for because of the blend of astounding skill-position talent, including arguably the strongest arm (Mahomes) and fastest player (Hill) and one of the best tight ends (Kelce) in the league, and an outside-the-box mindset that keeps on concocting.

“We just put some new stuff in,” Watkins said, smiling and adding, “I’m pretty sure he has a lot more tricks.”

Vahe Gregorian

Vahe Gregorian is a Kansas City Star sports columnist.

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