USA TODAY International Edition
Chiefs rely on players to cook up plays
More than merely productive, prolific and efficient, the Chiefs offense is just fun.
In trekking back to the Super Bowl, Kansas City ran a play called “Ferrari Right,” where quarterback Patrick Mahomes went in motion – the quarterback in motion! – then darted back to take the snap while on the move. It ended with a short, precise TD pass.
Another play, dubbed “Stampede Right,” had Mahomes sprinting after taking the shotgun snap, then – fooled you! – flipping an underhanded pass to Travis Kelce. The tight end had released from a block and was wide open in the middle of the trenches. He caught the pass, turned upfield and scored.
There was also a shovel pass to Kelce installed for the win at Las Vegas called “Slot Machine Right.” And “Smoked Sausage,” a shovel pass to fullback Anthony Sherman, whose nickname is, well, “Sausage.”
These are a few examples of the exotic plays with catchy names the Chiefs are prone to pull out, especially near the goal line, that add spice to the substance of the league’s No. 1- ranked offense.
Where does this stuff come from? You might think the imagination came straight out of Miss Ottenhoff ’ s fourthgrade art class. Instead, Chiefs coach Andy Reid will take cues from Mahomes, offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and other players and coaches – and well, maybe just about anybody – in crafting these gridiron masterpieces. In some cases, the plays were hatched on the practice field. Others originated in the quarterback meeting room.
We’re talking about some serious group dynamics at work.
“I have a whiteboard in my office, and I’ll say, ‘ Hey, let’s get that on the whiteboard. We’ll see what we’ve got here,’ ” Reid told USA TODAY Sports. “Everybody’s had a piece of the pie. Sometimes, what we do is blend. Like, ‘ Ah, that looks good. But if we do this, that’ll make this better.’ We do that. But we take it from all comers.”
Reid has long had a flair for pushing the creative envelope and for mining deep into archival footage for strategical twists, too. During Super Bowl 54, the Chiefs converted a 4th- and- 1 from the 49ers 5- yard line on a play that was fashioned after one Michigan used against Southern California in the 1948 Rose Bowl.
In the Chiefs’ version, they lined up in a full- house backfield ( as Michigan did), used a spinning motion for multiple players, including the one who shifted to an H- back spot, then had Damien Williams take a direct shotgun snap. It worked. Williams bolted to the 1- yard line, setting up Kansas City’s first TD.
“I love creativity,” Bieniemy told USA TODAY Sports. “With all the different things we’re doing, the sky is the limit. Once we put it on the players, they will take ownership of it and find a way to make it work. It’s a collaborative effort.
After we install it, sometimes you don’t know how it’s going to come out. The thing that it does, it builds a little camaraderie. It keeps it light. It’s fun for these guys.”
Mahomes, the reigning Super Bowl MVP, described the process to local reporters this season. The quarterback’s creative wrinkles are often inspired while watching film of opposing defenses, he said, sensing opportunity in specific situations or against certain coverages.
It comes as no surprise that Mahomes said when he comes up with an idea it usually finds its way into the playbook. Reid’s no fool. Imagine the vibe that comes with added layers of engagement for one of the NFL’s most impressive talents.
“We try to find different ways we can take advantage of certain things that defenses do,” Mahomes said during a December news conference. “Then we have to make it to where it’s a play to get Coach Reid to at least think about it. And once it gets into his room, with Bieniemy and ( quarterbacks coach Mike) Kafka, they really make it and detail it up so that we can explain it to the offense, make plays and have success.”
You can believe that Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles has his unit bracing for unexpected gadget plays that could be coming in Super Bowl 55. Two days before the Chiefs defeated the Bucs in late November at Tampa Bay, Bieniemy chuckled when asked whether there was a trick play in the plan.
“I’m not telling,” Bieniemy said. “You’ll just have to wait and see.”
Sure enough, on their first drive, the Chiefs broke out with “Black Pearl,” which flowed from some brainstorming by Mahomes and Kelce. The title was a nod to “Pirates of the Caribbean,” given the huge ship positioned at one end of Raymond James Stadium. It was a sweet play on a 2nd- and- goal from the 1- yard line that began with Mahomes floating in motion to take the shotgun snap, then flipping the football to Tyreek Hill, who ran an end- around.
Hill then lateraled to Kelce, while Mahomes ran to the short corner of the end zone. Kelce had a pass- run option on the play and elected to throw to Mahomes. It didn’t work. Bucs corner Carlton Davis was in the passing lane and batted down Kelce’s throw. But they still got an “A” for the effort … and entertainment value.
“Here’s the fun part,” Bieniemy said. “We’re forcing everybody to defend every blade of grass out there on the field. Remember, I used to coach Adrian Peterson. We would line up with two tight ends and a fullback and run it right at you, right down your throat.
“Since being here, Coach Reid has helped me grow, to see this game from a different view. And it also says a lot about the leader he is. Keep these guys entertained. Yes, this is a job. But they can come to work and still have fun.”
Reid sounded a bit convincing with his all- comers business. At the end of an interview, the same man who once, during his Eagles years, suggested we play a game of racquetball and wager a cheeseburger, asked if I had a play to offer him.
“If you’ve got a good one, we’ll put it up there,” he urged. “Let’s go!”
Uh, Coach. You’ve got to be careful what you wish for. I told Reid about the time in the early 1990s when then- 49ers coach George Seifert made a similar proposition.
I drew up a play on a napkin, with all sorts of razzle- dazzle involving Jerry Rice & Co. Seifert took one look at the “play” and shook his head.
“No way,” he scoffed. “You’re trying to get us a penalty. This is illegal.”
Turns out the formation for my designed “play” had only six men on the line of scrimmage.
But here’s to betting that Chiefs players and coaches would insist Reid could still take a crazy design and make some magic.