Unstoppable: the Chiefs' only competition on offense is self-inflicted wounds
As Sunday demonstrated, the only chance defenses have is for Kansas City to make mistakes.
The Chiefs offense cannot be stopped when its playing its game. It cannot.
Now don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying they have been dominant every game. I’m not saying every drive ends in a touchdown. And I’m not saying that the Chiefs are guaranteed to put up 40 points.
No, what I’m saying is this: the Chiefs offense cannot be STOPPED when its playing its game. No matter the defense, no matter the scheme, no matter the talent on the other side of the ball… When the Chiefs are on their game, the opponent becomes largely irrelevant. The only thing that can genuinely stop the Kansas City Chiefs… is the Kansas City Chiefs.
Sunday’s domination of the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship served as an excellent example of this reality. The game started off about as favorably as possible for the Bills, managing to put points on the board early and getting a 9-0 lead on the back of a muffed punt by Mecole Hardman. They even stopped the Chiefs on Kansas City’s first drive and forced a punt.
The problem is that it was fool’s gold, and had very little to do with what the Bills themselves had done. On 3rd and 4 on the Chiefs’ first drive, this happened.
The Chiefs dialed up a deep shot to Tyreek Hill, who was able to get excellent separation from Tre’Davious White (who is Buffalo’s best cornerback and was an All Pro last season, by the way) running a version of his post-corner bread and butter route. Mahomes delivered an exceptional throw dropped right between White and the deep safety, and the Chiefs had a 30+ yard gain that would move the chains and put them in scoring postion. Except Hill dropped it.
It was a really, really tough drop. It was very nearly as bad (though not as impactful) as Hardman’s muffed punt. The throw was essentially perfect, as was the route, and the Chiefs were about to get a big play. But instead, they had to punt the ball.
This “stop” wasn’t really a stop by the Bills. They didn’t stop anything. Instead, they benefitted from a self-sustained wound by the Chiefs in the form of an unforced error.
The Chiefs had several unforced errors early on offense and special teams, and that’s what led to the Bills taking the lead and “holding” the Chiefs to no points early. Once the errors stopped, the barrage began. Their next six drives went: TD, TD, TD, FG, TD, TD (not including an end of half kneeldown). Just like that… it was over.
And that’s the reality of the Chiefs. There’s no “stopping” them for 4 quarters. They can be slowed down for a time, but barring self-inflicted wounds they will always put up points. And that’s the reality the rest of the NFL needs to start dealing with, especially in the postseason. Look at the work they’ve done on offense when the games count the most.
The simple truth is that the Chiefs don’t get "stopped.” They only stop themselves. Look back at any game in which the Chiefs had a below-average (for them) day on offense. You’ll find it littered with self-inflicted wounds like drops, or missed assignments blocking, fumbles, or other weird mistakes that led to dropped production. You will not find a single game of their offense just getting beaten start to finish (with a healthy Mahomes). And that’s because it doesn’t exist.
The reason for this isn’t just that Mahomes is a metahuman, though that’s part of it. But let’s not even start with him. This is about the totality of the Chiefs’ situation on offense, which is like nothing the league has ever seen before.
First and foremost, Mahomes is throwing to some of the most dangerous players on earth, starting with the best receiving tight end I’ve ever laid eyes on.
That’s Travis Kelce being covered (well, not covered, but an attempt was made) by 2019 All Pro and 2019/2020 Pro Bowl cornerback Tre’Davious White. This is not the sort of matchup tight ends get on a weekly basis, even the best in the league. Teams don’t “waste” their best cover corner on a tight end. But Buffalo thought they could utilize White to neutralize Kelce and allow them to focus extra attention elsewhere.
They were wrong. Because Kelce can’t be covered. There are a few players (like Derwin James and Stephon Gilmore) that give him more trouble than most, but I’ve never seen a player more impossible to cover than Kelce. I didn’t say “tight end.” I said “player.” Kelce is always, consistently open. And this play demonstrates the impossible dilemma he creates for any defender in man coverage.
Kelce has excellent feet and runs some of the best routes in the league. He’s also a plus athlete. Because of those things, linebackers can’t stick with him. However, he’s also a massive human and can brush off contact easily to create separation and wall off smaller defenders, which is what he does here. White just isn’t big enough to handle the contact Kelce gives here, and he’s not alone. There’s no one (again with perhaps the exception of James) with the requisite size, athleticism, and skillset to deal with Kelce.
Normally, the answer to a player who is impossible to cover 1x1 is to mix in more zones, but Kelce is even better in that situation than he is against man. There might not be a better player in the league than Kelce at finding the soft spots in zone coverage and sitting down for easy yards. And he’s not the only problem teams face in Kansas City.
There’s also the problem of Tyreek Hill, who has become one of the best receivers in the NFL with a skillset that is much more varied than “he’s fast.” Hill is also tremendously difficult to cover alone (perhaps even tougher than Kelce), with no defender able to consistently keep pace with his once-in-a-lifetime speed paired with unreal quickness and solid routes. He creates another problem for defenses, though, in that he can turn any play into a huge one.
This is s simple slant route that is supposed to gain a decent little chunk of yards to set up third and manageable. But because the Bills don’t have any help in the middle of the field, it turns into 71 yards gained due to the fact that no one can keep up with Hill in space. This is the sort of play you used to see from Reggie Bush in college, but no one is supposed to be fast enough to do it to NFL defenders. But Hill is.
No other team has a Travis Kelce. But no other team has a Tyreek Hill either. And certainly no one has both. Their presence alone makes for a dangerous offense. But of course, it’s not like the Chiefs are lacking playmakers elsewhere.
The Chiefs’ “other guys” consist of multiple players capable of creating chunk yardage plays, from Watkins to Hardman to Robinson to Edwards-Helaire to Pringle to even Darrel Williams. Between that group, it’s a near certainty that someone will rack up a big play at some point throughout the game. What this means for opponents is that even if they manage to slow down Hill and Kelce, they risk giving up something big elsewhere if they direct too much attention on the All Pros.
The Chiefs’ collection of weapons on offense is on par with anything in the NFL, and features a pair of unique superstars. That alone would make them a very, very good offense. Then Andy Reid enters the room.
Reid has used this same exact concept (getting a quick throw to the sideline in short yardage situations) multiple times this year, but every time it looks different. Here, he uses Hill’s motion to get the defense to tell on itself in terms of man vs zone, and then utilizes the threat of Hill for a handoff (a look they’ve utilized) to draw eyes away from Williams.
In the meantime, Reid has one of his receivers bump the first Buffalo defender at the line, far too close to be called for a pass interference or pick. This play was over before the ball was even snapped based on the way the Bills lined up and the play Reid had in place for them.
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This sort of thing happens multiple times per game for the Chiefs, where if they simply execute as the play is called they’ll gain yardage. Additionally, Reid is exceptional at showing defenses new looks that send them multiple directions and blowing coverages.
Can you imagine a team leaving Travis Kelce wide open in the end zone? I can’t. But Reid can make it happen.
Here, the Bills are trying to blitz their way to success and send more players than the Chiefs can block. But note how Reid slows down the pass rush with Hardman’s motion, as they have to hesitate at the edge for fear that Hardman was tossed the ball on a sweep. Then Kelce, who showed as a blocker for a split second, leaks into the second level while Mahomes backpedals just long enough for the entire blitzing defense to get sucked towards him. In the meantime, two receivers cross in the end zone to force the Bills into a spot that requires careful communication, and Kelce is lost in the shuffle.
The only way the Bills could have “stopped” the Chiefs in these examples would have been a dropped pass or terrible throw. Those things happen to Kansas City sometimes, but without them teams are generally left flailing against Reid’s scheming combined with their talent level. Those two pieces alone would lead to an excellent offense, and did back in 2017 with Alex Smith at quarterback.
But then you drop Mahomes in the middle of it, and the whole thing explodes. Because even if a defense somehow covers Kansas City’s weapons for a bit, and dials up the right play… it very often doesn’t matter.
This isn’t fair. The Bills dial up a very good blitz on this 3rd and 6 that results in a free rusher in linebacker Matt Milano, a very capable player. They’ve also got the “hot” option (running back Darrel Williams) covered well enough that a quick throw there would likely see the Chiefs stopped short of the first down. This play is a win for the defense. Until it isn’t.
Mahomes makes Milano miss initially, long enough to turn his eyes down the field. In the meantime, Kelce sees that the initially coverage is good but flowing towards Williams, so he moves towards the middle of the field into the soft spot of the zone (remember what I said earlier about Kelce being even better against zone than man coverage?). This gives Mahomes a target.
Milano, to his credit, doesn’t get entirely shaken by Mahomes’ juke and manages to start to wrap him up. But Mahomes throws it anyways, getting just enough on the ball while being tackled to allow the Chiefs to move the chains.
In addition to being the greatest creator on broken plays the league has ever seen, Mahomes is exceptional in the pocket and at reading defenses and throwing players open, regardless of situation. He often even assists in creating these openings with his own movement.
There’s no real defense for this sort of thing, and that’s sort of the point. Mahomes is capable of shredding zone defenses, but their personnel and Andy Reid’s schematic ability makes it impossible to consistently play man coverage (as does Mahomes’ scrambling ability when defenders turn their backs to cover down the field).
If one wants to fully understand the Chiefs’ offensive situation, look to how detractors of the team try to denigrate the accomplishments of Reid, the Chiefs’ weapons, and Mahomes.
People trying to cut down Reid claim that any coach could succeed with these weapons and Mahomes. People claiming that Hill and Kelce aren’t that great try and argue that with Mahomes throwing them the ball and Reid calling the plays, it’s an inherent advantage to the Chiefs’ “big 2” playmakers. And of course, those who still (somehow) doubt Mahomes will scream into the void that Reid and the playmakers minimalize how special Mahomes has been.
Of course, the very fact that all three of these thought processes even exist shows precisely why the Chiefs are who they are. Reid IS that great. The weapons ARE that great. And Mahomes, most of all, IS that great.
With all of them combined? The best defenses can hope for is that they’ll drop a few passes, miss a few protections, make a boneheaded mistake like a fumble, etc. Because really, at the end of the day, the only thing that can stop the Chiefs’ offense is themselves.