There are a couple key elements that can set offenses apart in the NFL. One of those is just having dudes, guys who are consistently in a position to make a player whether it’s with their size, speed or technique.
Another element is quality play calling and the ability to use your dudes to exploit weaknesses in your opponent.
When you’ve got both, you’re the 2019 Kansas City Chiefs.
Even without wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who’s still out for a few more weeks due to injury, the Chiefs have tons of talent at the so-called skill positions to make opponents sweat. Coach Andy Reid is also, arguably, the best play caller in the league, and has shown week after week in modern history that he can call a game that takes advantage of both his team’s ability and the other team’s weaknesses.
Reid will have an effective scheme in place for the offense against the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday afternoon, and it will be interesting to see if an RPO-heavy attack is part of it.
RPOs are a staple for Kansas City, but they haven’t been used much against Baltimore’s defense this season through two weeks. In Week 1 the Miami Dolphins were barely able to do anything right and didn’t scheme those into the gameplan.
Last week, Kliff Kingsbury’s Arizona Cardinals only used RPO concepts a couple of times and only used them to exploit the boundaries.
Kliff got a little tricky with this one. It’s a successful play in the sense that the “You can’t go broke taking a profit” cliche is accurate. Quarterback Kyler Murray reads outside linebacker Matthew Judon (99) and makes his decision quickly, going with the swing pass option. The important thing to note here is that it’s a short gain on RPO against man coverage to the outside.
The next example from Week 2 was again Murray reading Judon and passing for a short gain to the outside against man defense.
Thanks to his quickness and a couple good cut blocks, Christian Kirk gets a solid gain here after making the catch. This was about it in terms of traditional RPO concepts against the Ravens last week, and both plays gained yardage, but Baltimore never allowed a big play.
The Ravens have one of the NFL’s best defenses (currently ninth in the league based on DVOA) and they’ll likely defend the Mahomes-led Chiefs offense as well as anyone this year. Just like it will be interesting to see how many RPO concepts Reid and Kansas City employ, we’ll find out quickly how prepared Baltimore is to defend those plays.
In the first couple of games this season the Chiefs have mixed in various wrinkles with their RPOs to constant success. That includes passes behind the line of scrimmage, outside route concepts and working the middle of the field.
The first example from last week’s win over the Oakland Raiders is the sail concept down the left sideline against man coverage.
This play was featured in this week’s Mahomes Report, and with the All-22 tape you can better grasp the advantage the Chiefs have with one-on-one coverage. Once Mahomes makes the decision to throw, the speed and separation for Sammy Watkins on the outside is an unfair matchup. Baltimore has better defensive backs than Oakland, but they haven’t been tested down the field like this on similar plays yet. Meanwhile, it’s a proven area of success for Kansas City.
More similarly to what the Cardinals were doing with their RPO action in Week 2, here’s an example of the Chiefs working a pass behind the line of scrimmage, though this is more complex than what the Ravens had to face last week.
This just in: The Chiefs are good at using running backs in the passing game. That applies here. LeSean McCoy may be closer to the end of his career than the prime of it, but he’s still got an advantage matched up with a defender in space. Getting him in motion to start the play opens the field early, and with a full head of steam he races past safety Lamarcus Joyner (29) before running out of bounds after a decent first-down gain. We know the Chiefs can beat you with any of their position groups, and it complicates things for a defense that’s already playing catch-up due to the offense’s speed. The added benefit for Kansas City is that you can use McCoy, Damien Williams and Darwin Thompson almost interchangeably on plays like this.
Finally, and this is the crux of the whole situation, we already know how good Mahomes and his receivers are with slants on RPOs.
This wasn’t a featured type of play against Oakland, but it was against Jacksonville in Week 1. Mahomes, gimpy with a bum ankle, takes a hit and still delivers a strike to Watkins on the slant to his right. It’s man coverage again here, and Jalen Ramsey (20), one of the best cornerbacks in the league, isn’t able to defend the throw because of Watkins’ speed and route running. That’s difficult enough, but a throw as fast and placed as well as this one is almost indefensible already.
Go back to what both of those Cardinals RPOs had in common. They were against man defense and thrown short to the outside. Now, compare that to these Chiefs plays. Some throws were short, some were longer, some worked the outside, some took advantage of inside leverage up the field. All came against man defense.
It’s fair to say that just because the Chiefs have found success with those plays against that type of defense before doesn’t mean they will again. Then again:
When these two teams met in Week 14 of the 2018 season, Kansas City employed plenty of RPO concepts. That includes this wild throw from Mahomes to Hill for a nine-yard gain. Speed, paired with Mahomes’ arm talent, versus man coverage is a fight the Chiefs should win far more often than not.
Baltimore can defend as well as anyone, but this could be one aspect of the Kansas City offense it struggles to slow down.