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The Chiefs have a surprise that keeps defenses guessing

Kansas City is quietly humming along as one of the NFL's most effective offenses thanks to their package plays. Danny Kelly steps into the film room for a closer look at what's so frustrating for defenses trying to stop the Chiefs.

Jed Jacobsohn

Last week, I wrote about the Browns' emergence as a contender in the AFC North and in short order they went to Florida and lost to the previously winless Jags. So, with full realization this may be the kiss of death for Kansas City, I'd like to point out that the Chiefs are quietly better than people seem to be giving them credit for.

Per Football Outsiders DVOA metric, Kansas City is currently ranked ninth in the NFL, and they've gotten there with balance in the three phases: offense (10th), defense (14th), and special teams (13th). They're rushing for 140.3 yards per game (third), 4.5 yards per carry (eighth), and they're putting up 23.7 points per game, good for 13th in the NFL -- just behind the Atlanta Falcons -- and above the Cardinals, Browns, Panthers, 49ers, and Bears. On defense, they're giving up 20.4 points per game, good for sixth in the NFL, and Justin Houston (seven sacks) and Tamba Hali (four sacks) bring heat from the edge.

An ugly early season loss can set the tone for the narrative that's attached to a team, and the Chiefs' Week 1 stinker against the Titans may have colored perceptions. Since then, however, Kansas City has narrowly lost to the Broncos, blown out the Dolphins and Patriots, then dropped a close one on the road to the Niners before coming out of their bye with a big road win against the Chargers. The Chiefs might not have a quote-unquote elite quarterback, but what they do have is a very strong run game with a balanced and efficient pass offense, and they've paired it with a defense that features a disruptive pass rush and an improving secondary. It's an equation that you can use to win games with in the NFL.

Personnel and scheme

It's no secret that Andy Reid leaned on Jamaal Charles heavily last year to carry the offense (he led the team in rushing and receiving, by a lot), and that's not likely to change much, but Reid's looked to get other players involved this year as well, distributing the load. Dwayne Bowe remains the go-to guy on the outside, and the emergence of tight end Travis Kelce, as an offensive weapon to pair with Anthony Fasano, has meant the Chiefs have a little more balance in terms of targets. To utilize his best personnel on the field at the same time, Reid has looked to two tight end sets a little more frequently. I want to illustrate how that personnel grouping worked well for the Chiefs below:

Obviously, despite spreading the love a little bit, Charles is still the foundation of Kansas City's offense. That was apparent in Sunday's matchup with the Chargers. After falling behind late in the first quarter 7-0, the Chiefs needed an answer, and Charles provided it.

1-10-KC 34 (3:07 1st Quarter) (Shotgun) J.Charles left end to KC 42 for 8 yards (E.Weddle).

The Chiefs went to the well with this look frequently, using their "12 personnel," grouping that helps get some of their best offensive players into the game at once. Below, you can see the Kansas City line up with a trips/bunch formation at the numbers on the wide/open side of the field with Dwayne Bowe in front, Junior Hemingway on the outside, and Travis Kelce on the inside.

This is a packaged play for Alex Smith, and he has three primary options, all of which he could choose in the pre-snap to post-snap phase. Upon receiving the football, Smith has the option of 1) tossing it out to Kelce, who is a very smooth open field runner with some speed to get downhill, 2) hand off to Jamaal Charles, who is running left to the close/short side of the field, and 3) keep it himself on the read option.

In this case below, I think the choice was to hand off to Charles all the way, but the Chargers have to respect all options. That's why they've got five defenders rolled up and over the trips formation to the right, which leaves Charles with a numbers advantage on the left.

As Smith hands off, the Chiefs run what's known as a "pin and pull" blocking scheme up front. The outside tight end, Fasano, "pins" the weakside defensive end; the left tackle and guard "pull" behind him. The tackle takes the outside linebacker looking to set the edge, and that leaves the guard, in this case Mike McGlynn, to lead-block through the hole and take the first defender to come across his path.

Here, it's a San Diego inside linebacker. McGlynn cuts him down and Charles glides through and downfield for 8 easy yards. The first defender to contact him is the backside free safety. Why is this? Because the Chiefs had created a numbers game advantage at the point of attack. Because of the distraction on the right, Kansas City had three blockers against three defenders at the first level. If you can get math like that for Jamaal Charles and tell him his he just needs beat a second-level defender, you'd take that everyday, all day.

The Chiefs would, in fact, continue to take that.

After advancing to the Chargers 16-yard line, Reid says 'screw it' and dials up a very similar play again. Why not?

2-6-SD 16 (15:00) (Shotgun) J.Charles right end for 16 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

This play is slightly different than the two above in that instead of pulling their guard-tackle to the playside, they pin with their playside guard and pull center Rodney Hudson to the right to do a little lead blocking. The tight end and tackle to the playside do their normal thing.

This play is really a great representation of what Jamaal Charles brings as a runner. As the Chargers flatten out, Hudson is a little late to lead through the hole. Because of this, he just doubles up on the outside linebacker that right tackle Ryan Harris is working on, and as that happens, Charles decides to break it outside. Hudson does an awesome job of keeping with the play even as it's slightly broken down, and he heads out to block the safety looking to contain.

This is where Jamaal Charles does Jamaal Charles things.

Appropriately enough, this would be the run that Charles would break the Chiefs all-time franchise rushing record, passing Priest Holmes with 6,071 yards.

The Chiefs tie it up here, and on the road, in a divisional game like this, scoring that equalizer was a big deal.

The curve ball

The beauty of having multiple options within one formation is that when teams start cheating one way or another based on tendencies or their attempt to get a jump start or edge on the play, you can throw them a curve ball and run one of the other options.

The play below, which happened later in the third quarter, is not technically part of a packaged play because it looks like it's called from the huddle (packaged plays are called at the line pre-snap or simply changed at the snap, so they look exactly the same on each level; here, you can see the line block differently, meaning it was a called screen pass all the way, likely). That said, the defense is thinking a Jamaal Charles run is coming to the left, because that was the tendency the Chiefs had established.

Thanks to some shoddy pursuit angles and tackling, A.J. Jenkins breaks free (and then steps out of bounds on his own, d'oh). Still, nicely designed to keep the defense honest.