Let’s take you back to Week 7 in the NFL when the Chiefs had just lost an embarrassing game to the Tennessee Titans in which they scored 3 points, the lowest scoring output in the Patrick Mahomes era. In this game, Patrick Mahomes faced a scary head injury late in the 4th quarter. Since Week 7 on, the Chiefs have won 6 games in a row all while outscoring their opponents 163 to 65, including holding their last 3 opponents (Cowboys, Broncos and Raiders) to under 9 points each. So what have Chiefs done differently since Week 7? What has caused the resurgence of this Mahomes-led team?
The Proliferation of the Screen Pass and Making it Easy for Mahomes
In Weeks 1-7, Mahomes was making poor mistakes with the football, which resulted in 11 turnovers (9 INTs and 2 fumbles lost). Mahomes was trying to push the ball down the field too often and not take the short check down when effective and necessary. From there, Andy Reid made a conscious decision to make sure he was putting his QB, his offense and his team in the right position to be successful. The solution was increasing schematic mismatches, which would improve the ability to get the ball to his playmakers in space involving the usage of the screen pass, quick passes and betting on YAC.
This is a method that Coach Reid has implemented as his “fall back” for a long time. Eagles President Joe Banner said of Reid, “When things aren’t going well, Reid falls back on the screen. I’ve seen him do it before. He is running a ridiculous number of screens, including screens to RBs, WRs, TEs.”
To quantify what Banner is saying, since their Week 7 loss to the Titans, the Chiefs have run the league's 5th most screen passes averaging 4.5 per game, with an average of 8.23 yards per attempt. When extrapolating this out to passes behind or right at the LOS (-10 yards to 3 yards of target depth), the Chiefs have completed on average 11.6 of said passes over the prior 5 weeks (Weeks 8-13). Not only have the Chiefs used the short and simple passes to their advantage, they have been highly effective when doing so. They have averaged 6.89 yards per attempt including converting on a league-high 31 total first downs.
When working with the level of skill players that Reid and Mahomes have in Kansas City, the nature of the offense works best when they are able to get the ball in the skill players explosive hands and allow them to pick up YAC. Since the Week 7 disaster against the Titans, the Chiefs have relied on exactly that. Banner said that “Reid will bet on scheming up run after catch and quick passes due to the recognition that his offensive line was vulnerable… This will minimize their need to hold blocks.”
Yards After the Catch:
In Weeks 8 through Week 14 (5-0 record):
- The Chiefs have accumulated the league's 2nd highest yards after the catch per reception (7.1)
- 63.7% of the Chiefs passing yards have come after the catch
In Weeks 1-7 (3-4 record):
- They held the league's 18th most yards after the catch per receptions (5.4)
- Only 48.6% of it came after the catch in the first 7 weeks.
So how did Reid create more space for his explosive weapons to pick up yards after the catch?
In Weeks 1-7, Patrick Mahomes average time to throw was 14th highest (2.84s) while in Weeks 8-14, he averaged 2.78s time to throw. While this might seem small, it has caused the OL to allow fewer sacks, 10, compared to the 15 from Week 1-7.
Let’s give the Chiefs defense some credit. They were amongst the league's worst before their resurrection, including four home games in which they have allowed less than 10 points. The last time a defense was able to accomplish this was 1960 by a team called the Dallas Texans.
Pressure: The defensive improvement has come with Reid and DC Steve Spagnuolo being able to cause more pressure from the inside. Moving Chris Jones back to his natural position has created the speed and power mismatch Jones has shown in the past. Jones was able to accumulate more sacks from the EDGE/DE position, but has caused far more chaos on a regular basis from the interior. Over the past 6 games, Jones' pressure rate has seen a low of 13.9% (a good number for many) and a high of 30.3% (a gaudy number for any pass rusher). When he played more along the exterior of the DL in the first 7 games, he had a low of 7.1% and a high of only 17.9%. When looking at the entire defense as a whole:
Total Pressures: 120
Total Pressures: 152
The team that won the turnover battle over the past 10 years has won that game at a 78.7% rate. As the differential increases to plus-2 (87.6%) or plus-3 (92.5%) the rate improves even more. During the first seven games, the Chiefs only won the turnover battle only one time (in a game they won). Offensively, they turned the ball over a collective 15 times and only forced seven turnovers. Across their winning streak, they have won the turnover battle five times (all wins). They have turned the ball over only six times while creating 16 turnovers including five this past week against the Raiders.
Let's also touch on a possible game-changing trade made for the Chiefs. On Nov. 2, the Chiefs traded a conditional 6th round pick for Steelers pass rusher Melvin Ingram. Adding Ingram pushed Jones back inside, and despite playing on only 52% of snaps, Ingram has generated 15 pressures, a 12.6% pressure rate and a 13.5% pass rush win rate.
Both the pressure rate increase and the improvement at forcing turnovers have come with their young players improving. Former Jets and Dolphins Executive Mike Tannenbaum says, “The improvement from their young players, specifically Willie Gay Jr and Nick Bolton has led to their resurgence and has sured up their LB corps.”
For a team that many felt was out of the Super Bowl hunt after their 3-4 start, the Chiefs offense, defense and identity as whole has changed and improved. The Chiefs now sit at 9-4 with the 3rd seed in the playoffs and had the 3rd highest Super Bowl odds going into Week 14.