Amid the buzz of potential candidates for the Indianapolis Colts head coach opening, fans were able to see a little bit about how Matt Nagy calls an offense in a big game. The Kansas City Chiefs notably went on to lose to the Tennessee Titans in the Wild Card round and many were displeased with what they saw from the Chiefs offense as the Titans controlled most of the clock in the second half.
Nagy is reportedly supposed to be interviewing with the Colts today, so I took another look at what happened to the Chiefs in the second half in order to determine how much of that had to do with Nagy and his play-calling.
First, we have to acknowledge a few things. Alex Smith has total control of the Chiefs offense at the line of scrimmage and whether they stay with the original play or check to a secondary option. Very much like what Andrew Luck would have should Nagy become the Colts next head coach.
Possibly just as importantly, Nagy is running Andy Reid’s system. That’s not a bad thing by any means. In fact, it’s a compliment. I think that if Nagy were to bring a heavy dose of the system to the Colts, it would be great for what the Colts are building with Marlon Mack and T.Y. Hilton as the major big-play artists. It employs nice misdirection, some great route combinations downfield and it’s got the protection up front with the right amount of playmakers to make that system fire.
Let’s remember that the Chiefs built a 21-3 lead going into halftime with Nagy being equally responsible for that quick start, as he is for what you’ll choose to put on him for the final 30 minutes of play. There are other issues that I’ll point to that impacted the loss as well, but I’ll just put it out there up front — Nagy didn’t do anything in this game that should make anyone discouraged about his style of play-calling. Let’s go.
Playmakers Were Utilized
Here, we’re just talking about Kareem Hunt and Tyreek Hill for the most part in terms of playmakers. Of the 21 plays the Chiefs ran in the second half, Hill or Hunt were utilized in 9 of those plays to some degree. They had 8 touches between them, but I’m counting an RPO play in which the ball was pulled out of Hunt’s stomach and run by Smith.
That’s 42% of the possible plays within the half, and Hunt was used on 6 (28.6%) of those. That may seem a little light for Hunt, and I don’t necessarily disagree, but his total rush attempts and receiving targets add up to his having right at 34% usage on the season.
Not too far off. In fact, with one more touch, he would have been at 33% for the game. Just pointing it out, not praising nor trashing it either way. In theory, we can say that the Chiefs passed too much, but again we’re using 21 plays to determine this while the opponent puts up 19 points while the offense doesn’t turn the ball over at all.
Hunt was the third-best rusher in the league on first and second downs, gaining 4.94 yards per rush and got into the end zone 7 times (T-6th). For future reference, all 5 of Hunt’s attempts in the second half were on first and second downs — he gained 17 yards (3.4 YPA).
Another point needs to be added here on my behalf. Many have questioned if Reid or Nagy was calling the plays throughout different times in this game. Yes, both had a playsheet. However, I never saw Reid’s mouth moving as opposed to seeing Nagy’s almost every time he was on camera.
Again, just adding context.
Alex Smith, Role Players Missed on Some Key Plays
Now that we’ve got 9 of the 21 plays accounted for, we need to look at Smith and the others who were involved — in the remaining 12 plays — to divvy-out their contributions to what happened.
On the Chiefs’ first possession of the second half, a 3rd-and-1 situation arrives and Smith checks at the line of scrimmage. We can’t say what he checked away from obviously, but the second option was an option play that was completely blown up by Jurrell Casey for a loss of a yard. Punt.
Is that on Nagy or Smith? Can’t really say, I suppose — at least I can’t.
Following a muffed punt, the Chiefs were unable to do anything with an extra opportunity to put points on the board as they started inside the Titans’ 30-yard line. I’m not putting this on Nagy either.
Hunt had no room to run on a first-down attempt, Hill couldn’t get upfield on a quick bubble screen and on third down, Smith missed an open receiver dragging across the field, stepped up into the pocket and ran for a 1-yard gain. Then, kicker Harrison Butker doinked the upright on a field goal attempt which completely flushed away their extra possession.
Following a Titans touchdown (21-16), the Chiefs offense started off moving the ball up the field. On their first three plays of the possession, they picked up 20 yards via passes to Hill, Albert Wilson and a 7-yard run by Hunt. Hunt was then stopped for a 1-yard gain on 2nd-and-3, then we saw a critical drop by Orson Charles on a key third-down attempt.
Possibly, this falls equally on both he and Smith, but the ball was thrown slightly behind Charles. However, the drop was just as egregious in my opinion. Either way, take your pick, it was a great play call and it was open.
The Titans then put together another touchdown drive, taking up more than five minutes of game clock and now the Chiefs find themselves trailing 22-21 with a bit over six minutes to go in the game.
Smith targeted his other tight end, with Travis Kelce out concussed, Demetrius Harris for a 13-yard pass and catch, then Smith pulled the ball out of Hunt’s stomach and ran up the sideline for an 18-yard gain. That was negated by a really cheap holding call on Harris which negated 17 of those yards Smith picked up with his legs.
Hill then dropped a gimme which would have picked up at least 5 yards, then Smith doesn’t get the ball out of his hands on time again and takes a sack, but does convert on third down to Harris for another big catch. Hunt nets a small gain, but then Smith wasn’t able to fit a ball into Harris due to great coverage by Johnathan Cyprien putting the Chiefs into a difficult 3rd-and-9 situation.
Smith’s sticky fingers and pre-snap issues show themselves again as he checked at the line of scrimmage, had an open receiver, but didn’t pull the trigger. As a result, he gets sacked right at the line of scrimmage and now they are forced to go for it on 4th-and-9 just outside of the 2-minute warning.
It all came down to the question of whether Smith’s accuracy could be the determining factor in a win or loss. The play was of perfect design (Reid’s system), but was also executed perfectly from the protection and route-running perspective. The center did quick-snap Smith a little bit, but Smith was able to gather it.
Smith took a quick drop and had the middle of the field WIDE open as both Titans safeties were on the outer thirds of each side of the field. Smith missed here bad and the ball floated out away from the middle of the field and over the top of Wilson. Wilson adjusted, but had no chance to haul it in with two defenders having a better shot at the ball than he did. Game Over.
Let’s be honest here. Nothing, from my point of view, gave me any indication that Nagy was a bad play-caller. You can side yourself on either end of the results, and there’s a case to be made depending how much emphasis you put on a couple plays versus looking at the whole picture.
Nagy certainly could have called Hunt’s number a couple more times, his plays would have been more diverse — and likely more effective — had Kelce not been knocked out of the game, but the players had their shot to make the plays and, in the end, they didn’t make enough of them. Drives were killed, and with their defense allowing those 19 points any missed opportunities by the players set the offense behind the sticks.
The argument can certainly be made for Nagy calling a very good game. Considering how much latitude Smith has at the line of scrimmage and that he is forced to do everything he can to dial up successful plays and maintain an unpredictable approach, I just can’t kill him for anything he did. Moreover, it impresses me to see what his play-calling can provide the Colts offense when players do execute the way the play dictates.
If Chris Ballard was watching that game, and you can absolutely bet that he did and re-watched it as well, he’s not upset about what he saw. One way or another, when Nagy goes into his interview with Ballard and Jim Irsay — and whoever else is in there — this loss, his play-calling in this single game, won’t be any sort of a determining factor to begin with, but definitely won’t be negatively looked upon either by my estimation.