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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

How the Chiefs’ offense can use these late-season adjustments to excel in the playoffs

Patrick Mahomes (15) of the Kansas City Chiefs scrambles from the pocket in the third quarter against the Miami Dolphins at Deutsche Bank Park on Nov. 5, 2023, in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.  (Tribune News Service)
By Sam McDowell Kansas City Star

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A conversation emerged inside a Chiefs defensive team meeting this week, initially as mere observation but then as a real teaching point.

The topic? The Miami Dolphins, coming to Kansas City for Saturday’s frigid-temperatures playoff game, run about as complex of an offense that exists in the NFL. Or the intended illusion of complexity.

That behind-closed-doors meeting was referenced not once but twice in news conferences this week.

Odd timing, isn’t it?

Because as the Chiefs’ defense prepares for confusion, the team’s offense made a late-season transition in the exact opposite direction. And some spent the ensuing week wondering if that transition is the best solution for a Patrick Mahomes-led offense to finally look like a, well, Patrick Mahomes-led offense again.

As the Dolphins thrive on the complex, is simplicity instead the Chiefs’ answer?

The Dolphins’ offense excels with presnap deception. The idea is to get you to believe everything is headed one direction before they move in another entirely, and the hope is that by the time you realize it, their world-class speed is already one step ahead. It’s why they lead the NFL in presnap motion, per Sumer Sports.

That’s what the Chiefs want to be, too. It’s who they have been. The illusion of complicated. The appearance of chaos.

But this year, it’s been more than appearance. The Chiefs ranked second in the NFL in offensive penalties, tied for eighth in turnovers and first in dropped passes.

It has been chaos.

Until their last outing. Well, until the last game that included Mahomes and the starters – when, on a Tuesday ahead of a Sunday game against the Bengals, the offensive leadership settled on a change-up.

Settled on simple.

And it worked. What’s most relevant now, in that case, is whether the Chiefs can apply the nuts and bolts of their smoothest operation in months to playoff games in January.

That analysis should start by pointing out there has been some misconception about what a simpler game plan entailed. The Chiefs totaled their second-best yards per offensive snap output of the season in that Bengals victory, but that can’t just be attributed to a different substitution pattern.

In fact, what the Chiefs simplified most was their verbiage in the huddle. Shortened the play-calls.

The Chiefs also put Mahomes on the move by design rather than watching him move to avoid pressure. (Mahomes averages 2.1 rollouts per game, per SIS, and he had five in that Cincinnati game alone, a season high.)

And they made a handful of more quick throws. That, though, was part of a game plan based on the anticipated defensive scheme they’d be facing, head coach Andy Reid said. Maybe the rollouts were, too.

But this isn’t scheme dependent: The Chiefs cleaned it up presnap. In their analysis of why everything appeared to come in rhythm against the Bengals, they need to recognize the origin of the rhythm came before the play even began – because that’s potentially sustainable against the Dolphins, Bills, Ravens or whomever awaits on their playoff path.

Wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling mentioned the shortened wordage inside the huddles. But just as important is how quickly they escaped those huddles. A week earlier against the Raiders, one could pinpointed a disastrous 2-minute drill as the microcosm for presnap chaos. Over a 10-play span, the Chiefs on four occasions didn’t make it to the line of scrimmage until fewer than 10 seconds remained on the play clock.

You know how many times that happened – rushing to the line of scrimmage with the play clock in the single digits – against the Bengals over more than 50 offensive plays?


That’s how you not only clean up the presnap chaos but how you produce the postsnap success. And that’s the piece the Chiefs can carry into the postseason.

They offered Mahomes, the offensive line and wide receivers time to survey a defense. And there were two plays on film, given ample time to do so, in which it was obvious Mahomes altered a play-call.

And another in which a wide receiver altered one. Rashee Rice approached the line of scrimmage, noticed a busted coverage based on the Bengals alignment and converted his route to a fly pattern that produced the Chiefs’ longest play of the season.

That can happen when you have time to implement those checks.

The presnap cleanliness isn’t strictly a conversation about penalties. It’s a conversation about how to put Mahomes in a spot to produce the best postsnap results.

There shouldn’t be an excuse for that to be absent from the equation Saturday.

“At the end of the day, we wanted to be able to get the guys to go out and play fast,” quarterbacks coach David Girardi said in his summation of that game plan.

“So we simplified some things, let the guys go out, get set, go play. And I thought they did. The guys ended up executing the plan, and we were very efficient as an offense. That was just a lot of us trying to let them go play.”