Two weeks into the season, the Kansas City Chiefs have the most entertaining offense in the league. They shoved 42 points right into the Patriots’ faces by using a read-option scheme, letting Alex Smith sling it, and deploying rookie running back Kareem Hunt like prime-era LaDainian Tomlinson. Yesterday was more of the same: a 27-20 win over the Eagles that included tight end Travis Kelce catching a shovel pass at the 15-yard line and then leaping into the endzone from the five.
The read-option shovel pass to Kelce is a play that the Chiefs have brought out periodically in the past, and so far this season it’s worked to great effect. Kelce rumbled for a few positive gains after taking shovel passes against the Patriots, and yesterday’s game showed off the full potential of the play.
It’s a fun play to watch because it is the perfect marriage of scheme and personnel. Kelce is a running back in a tight end’s body, and Andy Reid has always shown a willingness to get Kelce the ball in the parts of the field where he’s most dangerous. But it’s not just Kelce’s strength and elusiveness that makes the play deadly, it’s also the quality of the decoys.
The Chiefs run the shovel pass to Kelce out of a variety of formations, but they always involve Tyreek Hill sprinting across the backfield to fake a sweep. The sweep might be a long-shot play for a lot of teams, but Hill is one of the fastest players in the league, and his ability to destroy a defense when he gets in space gives him a remarkable gravitational pull when he’s in motion. Watch this version of the shovel pass play from Week 1 against the Pats, and notice how hard the two Pats defenders on the right side of the formation sell out in order to keep Hill from getting to the edge:
The Chiefs added another wrinkle to the play yesterday, faking a handoff to the left side after using Hill to get the defense leaning to the right side with a fake jet sweep. With the defensive formation stretched in two different directions, the middle of the field was left wide open for Kelce. Look at where cornerback Patrick Robinson (No. 21) and middle linebacker Jordan Hicks (No. 58) are when Kelce receives the ball:
Both guys let Hill move them left, and Nigel Bradham’s (No. 53) momentum is carrying him away from Kelce because he’s following the run fake. To be fair to Hicks, he recognizes the play fairly quickly, and perhaps would have been able to fill the hole and make the tackle if it had been a normal tight end taking the shovel pass. Travis Kelce is not normal, though, and by the time Hicks got back to the middle of the field, Kelce had blown by him:
Conventional NFL wisdom says that defenses will eventually learn to sniff this play out and come up with ways to keep Kelce from rampaging up the middle of the field. But what happens when the Chiefs respond by giving the ball to Hill on the jet sweep and letting him terrorize the edge while the defense keys in on Kelce? And then what happens when Kareem Hunt starts getting that handoff on the opposite side? (He got a toss out of the same formation in Week 1 that went for a touchdown.) There aren’t any easy answers to those questions, which is all the evidence you need that the Chiefs have one of the coolest plays in the NFL in their pocket.