For the first two-and-a-half quarters of their season opener, the Kansas City Chiefs looked nothing like the playoff contenders that more or less everyone predicted they would be in 2016. Down 24-3 to the San Diego Chargers, the Chiefs’ season looked over before Week 1 had even come to an end. What had been touted as the most talented Chiefs roster since head coach Andy Reid arrived in Kansas City looked completely outmatched in every aspect of the game.
Early in the game, the Chiefs’ passing attack was focused on short throws in the middle of the field and screen passes. These were often sniffed out by the Chargers defense, who weren’t fooled—for example, one running back swing screen to Charcandrick West was stuffed by defensive lineman Cory Liuget because West was motioned out of the backfield. Andy Reid’s play calls were repetitive and predictable. When the Chiefs tried to pass the ball deep, their offensive line couldn’t provide protection for quarterback Alex Smith—he was sacked twice in one drive in the second and another time in the third quarter.
Starting with 6:02 left in the third, the Chiefs’ offensive gameplan shifted. Smith began targeting running back Spencer Ware. Chargers linebackers Manti Te’o and Denzel Perryman have good coverage skills in sideline-to-sideline coverage, but lack the long speed to keep up with Ware and tight end Travis Kelce. In traditional come-from-behind mode, Smith began throwing intermediate and deep passes to Ware, Kelce, and wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and Chris Conley.
The routes ran in the Chiefs comeback are rarely seen out of the Kansas City offense. Kelce and Maclin in particular each caught a back shoulder fade, while Ware was targeted on a deep corner route in overtime. Combined with a hurry-up offense, which allowed Smith to change plays and call them at the line, the Kansas City passing attack kept San Diego on its heels. This is only the third game out of 16 regular season games that Alex Smith has won where he threw over forty times. Replicating the comeback gameplan might not be an effective move, but certain elements should come in handy against teams that excel at smothering the short passing game.