Explanation of the Chiefs Offensive Play Calling

Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson explains how play calling works

Over the past two weeks against the Arizona Cardinals and Oakland Raiders, the Kansas City Chiefs offense has had 11 passing plays of 20-plus yards after only having 28 through the first 12 games.

These "chunk-yardage" plays, which have also included a few nice runs from running back Jamaal Charles—like his 63-yard touchdown run against the Cardinals—demonstrate the kind of explosive ability the Chiefs offense has when in the right situation with the right play call.

Last week against the Raiders, Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith completed passes to 10 different players, finishing 18 of 30 for 297 yards with two touchdowns. It was the second most yards Smith has thrown for in his Chiefs career, only trailing his 378-yard performance against the Indianapolis Colts in the playoffs last year.

Pederson explained the success the offense has seen recently in the passing game.

"The fact that maybe we are calling plays at the right time," he said. "We are getting the right look from the defense that's presenting us with that opportunity. And it's just a matter of the guys executing that play at that particular time and just throwing the ball and completing the ball down the field.

"It's been kind of a bright spot for us the past couple weeks."

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But what encompasses the right play call and right situation are more complicated than most realize.

The success with these "chunk-yardage" passing plays is a combination of good play calling, execution by the offensive line to give Smith time in the pocket for these deeper routes to develop and proper timing on the pass-and-catch.

While the execution on the field is what fans see every Sunday, the work done throughout the week by the coaches and players to prepare is paramount in allowing these plays to happen.

"It's all statistics and it's all based on film study, kind of what you're anticipating," Pederson said of the play calling. "You know how [the defense] is going to play certain personnel groups, formations going into the game."

The Chiefs have been creative in the different personnel groups and formations they've put on the field this season.

Earlier in the season there were a lot of three-tight end formations. Recently we've seen heavy bunch formations on the outside with tight ends Anthony Fasano and Travis Kelce, plus fullback Anthony Sherman.

Receivers Albert Wilson, De'Anthony Thomas and Frankie Hammond or Dwayne Bowe make up the lighter bunch formations on the outside.

The Chiefs have been particularly creative with how they've used Thomas and Sherman, who have made a habit of moving around and playing multiple spots on the field.

"Once the game sort of unwinds and you show those personnel groups, show those formations," Pederson explained. "After about two or three snaps like that, you kind of get an idea of how the defense is attacking this certain group or this certain formation."

Pederson said it's the preparation throughout the week that allows the offensive staff to make decisions during the game.

The starting roster of the Pittsburgh Steelers

"You go into the game studying the tape during the week and you're expecting or anticipating a certain look, front and coverage," Pederson said. "Then as the game unfolds, things might tweak a little bit. A defensive coordinator may play a certain personnel group a certain way or give you a certain coverage, maybe cover-1 or they're playing an all-two deep to our bunch packages.

"Sometimes the game kind of dictates how you begin to call plays from that standpoint. You kind of go into the game anticipating certain looks, but then we're communicating as an offensive staff and saying 'OK, here's what they're doing to the tiger personnel,' and then we tweak what we're doing based on the game situation."

While the overall play calling depends on a lot of factors, the first few plays of the game are known before the game even begins.

Pederson explained why they do this.

"[There are] a couple of reasons why you script openers," Pederson said. "We call them openers or the first 15. It's so the players the night before the game, they can sort of relax knowing what they can expect on first and second down. Third down, you go to your third-down menu, whatever that is, by down and distance, combining first and second down thoughts.

"We've been in games where it's been one through fifteen, and we've been in games where it's one-two-three-nine-fifteen-six-four. You jump around on that menu." Hopefully the Chiefs can pick the right plays off the menu on Sunday when they face the Pittsburgh Steelers in a key AFC matchup with playoff implications.

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