On October 6, 2019 the Indianapolis Colts will travel to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs. In this Week 5 match-up I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea of how they may attack our Colts.
Since moving to Indianapolis the Colts are 13-5 against the Chiefs, which includes a 4-1 record in the playoffs. Unfortunately the Chiefs have a very real chance to even that record over the next decade and they will likely start this weekend.
Let’s figure out what we can expect in Week 5.
I’m assuming if you’re commenting on the headline you’re probably not even going to read this far but I’ll write this anyway, before you start in on me on “moral victories” you need to realize the only way the Colts have any kind of victory at all this week is if it’s a moral one so take what you can get and try to appreciate the article more than the headline hurt you.
If you dig into head coach Andy Reid’s background you will find he was an assistant under famed West Coast Offense innovator Bill Walsh. If you assumed then, that the breakdown that follows would be about a team running a West Coast Offense, you would be wrong. Reid started his career using Walsh’s system and he did so with great success, leading Philadelphia on a very successful 14 year run. Andy Reid’s well documented downfall in Philadelphia was multifaceted but for the purposes of this article, his ability to craft an offense wasn’t what sent him packing from Philly.
This article from ESPN’s Bill Barnwell tells the story more completely than I will here but in 2013 shortly after being hired in Kansas City, Reid hired former Vikings head coach Brad Childress as a “spread game analyst”. Reid also hired former Nevada head coach and creator of the Pistol Offense, Chris Ault as a consultant. Reid’s vision in 2013 is now being realized, Andy Reid invested real time, energy and Clark Hunt’s money into creating a college style offense that would work in the NFL. And it’s really working.
You probably already know about all of the big numbers, the highlight plays and the no-look throws from “Showtime” Patrick Mahomes. As an aside, that’s a terrible nickname. You know about those things but a system can’t be built on the back of 50 yard throws, right? Probably. I’ll get to the specifics in a minute but I wanted to point out something I noticed early on watching these Chiefs. While some teams will work all game long to set up just a few deep throws the Chiefs, when they’re clicking, seem to be setting up deep throws on every set of downs.
Chiefs sequence 1 pic.twitter.com/9FYhsibGhn— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 30, 2019
Short pass, short pass, run, 4 Verts for a long touchdown.
Granted, Mahomes will take a shot down field if he has a match-up he likes as evidenced by the first play of the next sequence.
Chiefs sequence 2 pic.twitter.com/vqul7ZxogC— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 30, 2019
On the first play Mahomes has man coverage with a single high safety. His other receiving options were running short routes but Mahomes sees his receiver get even with the cornerback without help over the top and it’s an easy decision to throw to his receiver. The rest of this sequence goes just as I noticed. Run, short pass, short pass, deep shot.
Chiefs sequence 3 pic.twitter.com/talZeHI9qj— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 30, 2019
Short throw, short throw, flood concept. The flood concept is designed to test all three levels of a defense, specifically working well against zone coverage, Mahomes had a deep option but that route is rarely a good decision, here he did the right thing and checked the ball down to the back. Run. Deep concept for a touchdown.
This isn’t accidental. The concepts the Chiefs are using do have a basis in the West Coast Offenses of old, they work a lot of short high percentage throws, they get the backs involved catching passes and they try to get the ball in the hands of players capable of picking up yards after the catch.
Where this Andy Reid offense goes off the West Coast rails is the fact that on every drive where they don’t go three and out (most of them) they’re calling multiple deep passing concepts to let their speedy receivers and their quarterback with a big arm, test the defense down field.
If it seems like this is bad news for our Colts, you’re right. It is. But this isn’t just bad news for the Colts for week five or the 2019 playoffs. This is bad news for the Colts for the next decade plus. These Chiefs aren’t doing anything “gimmicky” there aren’t any tricks. This isn’t like the Wildcat offense that can just be “figured out” this Chiefs offensive system is creative but they are using time tested principals to spread the field out and stress defenses in a way that best suits their quarterback’s strengths.
You might be thinking “Yeah but the Lions kept them in check most of the day, how did they do it?”
The Detroit Lions ran 33 plays in the first half while the Chiefs ran 35. The Lions had the ball for roughly 16:20 while the Chiefs had the ball for roughly 13:40. The Lions did their best to limit the time the Chiefs offense spent on the field. The third quarter was a bizarre mess of fumbles that isn’t repeatable. The fourth quarter ultimately came down to the Chiefs executing late against a tired Lions defense that played well most of the day. So if keeping the Chiefs offense off the field as much as possible, playing good defense and capitalizing on offense is the same thing as “figuring this offense out” then, yeah, I guess the Lions figured them out.
Let’s get into the embarrassment of riches that is their offensive talent.
It seems that Andy Reid realized that quarterbacks coming into the league were ill prepared to play the game the way it had traditionally been played. So Reid was faced with two possible solutions; the first was what most people have done, draft player after player and hope they can learn a system that was nothing like the one they excelled in at the college level, until you find one that sticks, or he could create an offense that would cater to the type of spread quarterback that was coming into the league while also being complex enough to function at the NFL level. After his system was established Reid just needed to find the right quarterback to make the system really work and for all of his adequacies Alex Smith wasn’t the guy.
The Chiefs traded up in the first round of the 2017 NFL draft to select Patrick Mahomes with the 10th overall pick. I have heard a lot of people opine on the mistake that nine teams made not drafting Mahomes that year. The problem with that idea is that none of those nine teams has Andy Reid and his offensive system. Mahomes likely would have been very good in a lot of systems, assuming he was given the time he needed to develop, but Andy Reid has allowed Mahomes to be truly special, maximizing his ability.
We’ve all seen the no-look passes and those make for great highlights but I’m not sure anyone has really talked about the amount of mental processing that’s going on from Mahomes on those plays. For him to be able to consistently do this he has to know the routes of all five receivers, he has to understand the defensive coverage, what the defense is trying to force him to do and he has to map out, in his head where everyone on the field is at any given point, meanwhile he’s busy avoiding multiple 300 pound pass rushers, in a matter of 2-3 seconds. I’m sure someone is going to try to downplay this and say it isn’t a big deal but the fact of the matter is, Mahomes hasn’t done this once or twice, he’s done it consistently, with a lot of success. I’ll get to the clips in a minute but it is impossible for me to overstate how special Patrick Mahomes is as a quarterback, mentally.
Looking off a safety
Mahomes looks off safety for completion. pic.twitter.com/q4HXOnDFSI— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 30, 2019
Here Mahomes looks to his first read on the play the deep route to his left. He knows he has man coverage and a receiver running across the field that will probably be open. Mahomes looks to Sammy Watkins a split second before releasing the pass in his direction.
You see this a lot
Mahomes avoids the rush, fires sharp accurate pass. pic.twitter.com/N0ecYyMkTc— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 30, 2019
Mahomes does a good job of avoiding pressure, keeping his eyes down field and delivering catchable passes. This is just one example but there are many to be found of Mahomes climbing the pocket showing good footwork and poise.
He’s not a running quarterback
Mahomes is a threat to run pic.twitter.com/GnUn5Ht0fG— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 30, 2019
But he is a good athlete and an opportunistic runner. He doesn’t look to run but he absolutely will if the opportunity presents itself. Mahomes is also very smart about not taking hits. You will often see him slide down in situations where maybe some quarterbacks wouldn’t have and considering what we’ve all seen with Andrew Luck, the way Patrick Mahomes plays is very smart.
I wanted this to be a clip for Travis Kelce
Mahomes amazing touch and accuracy. pic.twitter.com/Gjz7FjHo21— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 30, 2019
I saw on the play listing that Kelce had an 18 yard reception I thought to myself “This might be a good play to show what he can do.” Then I watched the play and Mahomes throws a pass that is nearly impossible to throw. He threw this pass to a well covered Travis Kelce, who had a safety coming in over the top. There weren’t a lot of places this ball could have been thrown, yet Mahomes drops it in perfectly.
If it seems like I’m gushing over Patrick Mahomes, I don’t mean to. It’s just that he’s doing things that no one in their second year of starting at quarterback has ever done. Patrick Mahomes is the best quarterback in the league, I don’t care what any TV analyst trying to drive ratings tells you, he’s the best there is and he turned 24, just 14 days ago. If he can stay healthy this is the guy that is going to break all of Peyton Manning’s records, he’s going to break all of Drew Brees’ records and most of Tom Brady’s. He’s going to rewrite the history books and we have to play him in week five.
I wish I could tell you his teammates weren’t very good, but well... you’ll see.
Before the season started fantasy football experts believed that Damien Williams was in for a big season as the Chiefs starting running back. Little did they know, the Buffalo Bills were planning on releasing LeSean McCoy and at age 31 McCoy would sign with the Chiefs to rejoin an offense run by McCoy’s coach during the majority of his time in Philadelphia. So far this season McCoy has started two games while Williams started the first two he has missed the past two weeks with a bruised knee. The third running back to know is Darrel Williams.
Chiefs McCoy pic.twitter.com/IQ8mUwzy1j— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 30, 2019
McCoy isn’t as quick as he used to be. That tends to happen to 31 year old running backs, but he still has excellent vision and often makes good decisions like the one above, cutting back to daylight once the linebackers had over-pursued at the second level.
McCoy clip 2 pic.twitter.com/f7qgU2eTvO— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 30, 2019
He doesn’t do anything special on this play he simply follows his blocker and shows that he still has enough speed to pick up more than ten yards on this outside run.
I spelled his name wrong, my bad
Darrell Williams pic.twitter.com/sDnJdJx0F2— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 30, 2019
Darrel Williams has been largely effective as a runner and receiver out of the backfield. All three Chiefs running backs have caught 8 or 9 passes so far, they will be used heavily in this part of the game.
This isn’t the most talented group of running backs the Colts will face this season, that said they really don’t need to be. McCoy, even at 31, is a perfect fit for what the Chiefs want to do on offense. Damien Williams is a versatile back more than capable of producing when called upon and healthy and Darrel Williams is averaging more than 4 yards per carry with a near 89% catch rate. These backs are very productive if not insanely talented. They are used incredibly well.
Here’s where this offense lacks for talent.
That’s a joke. It’s not that funny, but nothing about this match-up is. So buckle up sunshine, it’s going to be rough.
Sammy Watkins leads the Chiefs with 38 targets, Travis Kelce leads the team with 24 catches (one more than Watkins) and 369 yards (five more than Watkins). Demarcus Robinson is third on the team with 14 catches for 250 yards and three touchdowns while second round rookie receiver Mecole Hardman has 8 receptions for 167 yards and two touchdowns. This group of pass catchers is talented and deep and they’re missing their best player, Tyreek Hill who dislocated his collarbone in week one.
I wish I had better news for you.
The Chiefs #2 receiver pic.twitter.com/GcDCBIs2rA— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 30, 2019
Now you’ve seen him turn a slant into a 68 yard touchdown catch, so that’s neat.
Travis Kelce will produce at will
Travis Kelce is a problem. pic.twitter.com/mLUxeiX90d— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 30, 2019
As long as Mahomes is throwing him the ball, the Indianapolis Colts don’t have anyone that will be able to stop Kelce with man coverage. You could bracket him, but then you’re just opening things up for another talented receiving option.
Oh look a rookie
Mecole Hardman, ladies and gentlemen pic.twitter.com/MKYcKFTdVb— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 30, 2019
Hardman looks a lot like Tyreek Hill out there, both players are undersized but possess great speed. This was a great individual play off of what was nearly a bad drop. Notice Mahomes realize it’s not worth dying for.
But at least their offensive line is bad right?
According to Football Outsiders the Chiefs rank fourth in pass protection but 27th in run blocking. That might be true but this offense has scored more points than anyone else and they’re second in yards, so I guess if they have a weakness (run blocking) it doesn’t matter at all.
Starting on the offensive line for the Chiefs are Cameron Erving at left tackle, Andrew Wylie at left guard, Austin Reiter at center, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif at right guard and Mitchell Schwartz at right tackle.
A couple of notes, the normal starter at left tackle, Eric Fisher is set to miss extended time with a hernia. The Chiefs also have a couple interesting depth players along the line that we probably won’t see on Sunday but are guys that are developing that could play a role for the Chiefs in the future. Former Houston Texan Martinas Rankin has landed in KC after the Texans mercifly allowed him to seek new employment. Also providing depth is tackle Greg Senat who was a small school prospect taken by the Ravens in the 6th round of the 2018 draft. Senat was claimed by the Chiefs after being cut by the Ravens last month. Both could benefit from development in a system like the Chiefs’.
Maybe they’re not great on the ground
Massive hole on outside zone pic.twitter.com/5FAI2awwhl— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 30, 2019
But LeSean McCoy could have moon-walked through that hole smoking a Camel Light while trying to get an Uber for his ride home.
But at least we’ll get to Mahomes?
Chiefs offensive line clip. I don't even know what analysis to give this is going to suck. pic.twitter.com/4PUhn0kFRU— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) September 30, 2019
Nope. Here they give a max-protect look, keeping in more blockers. Even when pass rushers do manage to get pressure more often than not Mahomes side steps the defender and makes a play down field.
It would take a miracle, literal divine intervention, to think the Colts could get any kind of consistent pressure on Patrick Mahomes.
The only way the Colts stand a chance in this game, and even then it’s a microscopic chance at that, is to keep this offense off the field with long sustained drives that eat the clock and keep the ball out of Patrick Mahomes hands.
Tomorrow we’ll discuss the Chiefs defense at length, and the outlook there is better for our Colts but not overwhelmingly so. If you’ve considered taking up a new hobby this would be the week to do it. Take the energy you have to take on that new activity and let it roll all the way through next week’s bye, then come back around for week seven to a 2-3 Colts team fresh and ready to roll.