We made what is usually a mistake last night: We watched an NFL game. That’s usually a mistake because pretty much everything will make us mad. The announcers will personally buff the shoes of both owners like grateful peasants. The playcalling will be so conservative Jim Tressel would throw shoes at the screen in protest. The Patriots will exist; Worse, they’ll have at least eight players you see and go “OH THAT GUY dammit how’d they get him, he’s real good at this, someone must have been an idiot to let him get away.” Everyone will be a great guy, who “when we talked to him this week, he said [really mundane football thing] was gonna be a point of emphasis.”
That is usually a mistake. However, we’ll be damned if the Chiefs aren’t running what looks like a college offense at the pro level. There were several cribbed Matt Canada plays straight from the old Pitt/now-LSU playbook, including what was basically a four vert play married with a whole mess of nonsense happening in the backfield. (Hello, Jet Sweep fakes.) There was a shotgun toss play, a.k.a the Rocket Toss, which has been around for quite a while in one variation or another. The Chiefs even lined up in a bizarro read-option thing with tight end Travis Kelce at QB and Alex Smith in the backfield.
That’s not even a particularly college-ish thing. We just thought it was neat—like, almost as neat as when Travis Kelce shoved a football into a dude’s balls after a play was over.
Alex Smith even ran a speed option at one point. He pitched it, because Dont’a Hightower was right there, and as a smart person Alex Smith would like to avoid being hit by Dont’a Hightower, and possibly dying shortly afterwards. But: in theory Alex Smith could have kept it if the read was there, all on a speed option you’ll probably see Auburn or Clemson each run once this weekend. It was so spread-option-ish, adapted and tweaked for pro personnel.
That’s a delight to watch when it’s done well, which it was, because the Chiefs had over 500 yards offense in an NFL game, a sum roughly convertible to the 1,900 yards Mizzou will average this year on offense (while still going 6-6, because their defense will also allow over a mile of yardage per game.) It was also cool because everywhere you looked, the personnel fit the scheme. The Chiefs’ roster goes full spread offense: Alex Smith (Utah), Tyreek Hill (Oklahoma State,) Kareem Hunt (Toledo), specialists like De’Anthony Thomas, at least three or maybe four of the starting offensive linemen, depending how you count them, even backups like Pat Mahomes (Texas Tech), all from schools steeped in one variation or another of football that plays in space.
It’s a thing done well, for the moment, and done well despite having Alex Smith at QB—a player who even in college could not push the ball much further down the field than a converted punter. Andy Reid hangs out with Mike Leach and other college coaches, and grew up watching BYU’s pass-first offense revolutionize football as we knot it, so it makes sense that he’d be very, very willing to crib, steal, adapt, and wholesale import plays from wherever in order to move the ball.
It’s an opportunity to stump for spread offenses in general, and point out that there are NFL GMs who complain about what college hands them in terms of developed talent, and there are those who adapt. The Chiefs seem just fine with it, and Andy Reid clock management jokes aside, are really successful with it because they’re completely invested in the concept from the design to the materials chosen for the machine.
(Yes, we’ve been watching a certain horrendous offense and thinking about what it takes to succeed, and how some people can make that happen, and some can’t, and how that works at multiple levels. No, it’s not Florida. Yes, we’re lying, because seriously we don’t think that staff can pull this out because so much appears to be wrong, and so little appears to be right fundamentally, and all that goes back to the head coach, who made it this way and in year three has fewer and fewer excuses.)
This is also an opportunity to remind everyone that when shopping for skill position talent, never, ever turn down the savings you get with mid-major/non-Power Five conferences. Kareem Hunt came out of Toledo, T.Y. Hilton was hiding down at FIU, David Johnson was on the Kurt Warner career plan at Northern Iowa, Travis Kelce was at Cincinnati, Jay Ajayi was drinking pickle juice straight from the jar at Boise, Antonio Brown was at Central Michigan, and Julian Edelman was at Kent State.
For some reason, taking one of the top three receivers coming out of the MAC each year would work pretty well as a general draft strategy. Playing on Wednesdays just makes you run better routes or something. No, we haven’t figured out the science behind this and likely never will. Yes, we will reserve the right to crow about small school successes later on, if only because the talent differential between someone like T.Y. Hilton or Khalil Mack and everyone else around them is so obviously huge one could sound like a genius later by going, “Oh, that guy popping out on the screen like he doesn’t belong to the same species? He’s probably real good.”
You could even go a step further. Odell Beckham, Jr. and Jarvis Landry never even played in college on offense, as far as we know. Nope. Records are weird, it’s like they just walked right into the NFL without an ounce of experience. Sometimes you get lucky and get guys who are just that good. It’s rare, baby, but it happens.