Andy Reid is changing the landscape of professional football, and his band of destroyers are doing the dirty work.
The Kansas City Chiefs are off to one of the best offensive starts in league history, scoring a whopping 118 points through the first three weeks. On Sunday, Kansas City torched the visiting San Francisco 49ers for five touchdowns on five drives in front of a delirious Arrowhead Stadium crowd, all while looking capable of improving due to a few missed shots.
For years, head coaches and front offices have searched for talent to fit their schemes, to fit their ideals of how the game should be played. It was almost always on their terms, with rigid playbooks and a disdain for the college game, a sport that long ago began to spread the field.
Reid has gone the opposite way, turning the Chiefs into a souped-up version of Mahomes’ Texas Tech Red Raiders. It’s all there with empty sets, a wide array of options and the exploding scoreboard. Kansas City looks like the best Big XII team you’ve ever seen — unfortunately defensively as well — using All-Pro weapons and the best young talent we’ve seen in years at the quarterback position to run the circus.
All told, Air Reid has hit the NFL, and it’s proven to be devastating.
The concepts are boiled down to a few tenets. Kansas City is trying to spread out defenses both horizontally and vertically, putting specific pressure on the safeties to declare their area of help. Once that happens, Mahomes has his keys, and he decides where to go with the ball.
Additionally, Reid is using a dizzying amount of motion to confuse opponents pre-snap, showcased by a triple-motion against San Francisco. With the speed that Tyreek Hill and Watkins possess (along with Chris Conley, who ran a 4.35 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine), teams have to make snap decisions and rotate perfectly in unison.
The tricky part is getting a defense to shift a certain way, something Mahomes has been masterful with. The 23-year-old has been able to manipulate defensive backs with his eyes, something we’ve seen both against the Pittsburgh Steelers and 49ers on touchdown passes.
Notice Mahomes immediately after the snap. He scans right, bringing the single-high safety over with him. Once he commits, Mahomes pivots back left knowing that Demetrius Harris is filling the vacated space, giving the Chiefs one of the easiest 13-yard scores you will ever see.
Here’s another example of quick movement by Mahomes opening up a lane. It’s subtle, but it’s the difference between open and closed windows.
This might be the most terrifying thing about Mahomes for the rest of the NFL. His physical gifts are off the charts, but the mental side of his game is just as powerful. Combined with Reid’s creativity and three pass-catchers in Travis Kelce, Hill and Watkins that can all dominate single coverage, the Chiefs have an embarrassment of riches.
None of that even touches on the league’s rushing champion, second-year man Kareem Hunt, who can make a defense pay should it decide to present a light box behind Pro Football Focus’ sixth-ranked line.
As for the receivers, they’ve more than done their part. The Chiefs rank sixth in football with a 2.2 percent drop rate, not giving defenses much help in getting them off the field. Kansas City has done plenty of this from empty sets, notching a league-best 10.9 yards per snap in that alignment.
Going empty has long been a staple of the Air Reid offenses initially made famous at BYU back in the 1970s by Lavell Edwards, before being brought into the modern age by Mike Leach, Kliff Kingsbury and others.
Tellingly, Reid played college football for Edwards at BYU before becoming his graduate assistant in 1982.
When throwing, Kansas City ranks third in yards per attempt at 9.6 with an NFL-best 13 touchdown passes, despite checking in 25th in passes thrown with 93. The Chiefs are being ruthlessly efficient, a notion backed up by this: Kansas City has had 28 drives this year that didn’t end a half or game, and they’ve racked up 15 touchdowns against nine punts.
Incredibly, the Chiefs have not punted once when the game was within seven points.
For defenses, Reid’s scheme being married to this collection of weapons gives an impossible choice. Either blitz and leave man-to-man coverage behind it against a design built to get rid of the ball quickly, or drop the majority of defenders into coverage and hope for a mistake. If it doesn’t come, seven points likely will.
Whenever a player or unit gets off to a historic start, talk immediately turns to when it will be normalized. How much tape needs to be created before somebody puts on the clamps?
In rare instances, though, all the available film doesn’t matter. The Greatest Show on Turf, the ’07 New England Patriots, the ’13 Denver Broncos. There was no antidote to the poison.
Kansas City appears the next line in that lineage, thanks to a coach who has been waiting his entire career for this wunderkind under center, and a cadre of players hellbent showing the best way to attack is to spread and conquer.