When it was announced that Doug Pederson was going to be replacing Chip Kelly, the main criticism he faced was his lack of experience calling plays. However time went on and it was later realized that Pederson called every Offensive play in the second half of the Chiefs loss to New England.
Pederson met his next criticism head on during his first meeting with the Philadelphia media..”THAT” final drive.
With the pieces of a team suited to Pederson’s style falling into place, I decided to go back and rewatch the AFC Divisional game to evaluate Pederson’s play calling and gain a deeper understanding of what could well be seen in Philadelphia come September.
The first thing to take note of is how much of the game Pederson was in control for. In the Chiefs 83 total plays, Pederson called the plays for 52 of them..62%. At the time Pederson gained control of the Offense, the Chiefs and the Patriots were tied 10-10.
If you break it down play by play, you get a better understanding of how Pederson likes to run his Offense.
The last series is particularly intriguing, but we will get to that later.
I wrote an article claiming how Trey Burton could well be a perfect candidate to switch to a fullback position in 2016 following Pederson’s conversation with the media this morning, in which he stated he likes the position. That was clear in the opening series as he ran the ball with Knile Davis as a fullback numerous times, accounting for more than 4 yards per carry.
But if you look at the table above, you can see how the run game diminishes as the second half progresses. Why? Because the Patriots Defense began to catch on to the outside sweeps and dives up the middle. The fullback utilisation stopped abruptly and it seemed the only way that the Chiefs could move the ball down the field on the ground was through Alex Smith scrambling to safety after consistent pressure from the likes of Malcolm Brown.
Talking of which, this also explains Pederson’s admiration of Sam Bradford. The Eagles Head Coach claimed that having Bradford as a Quarterback aided his decision to come to Philadelphia. The huge similarity between the two is their spacial awareness and pocket presence.
Whilst that in itself may not be entirely relevant to the Patriots game, it is relevant to the gameplan he used. With 33 pass attempts in the second half and only 17 rushes, it was clear that Pederson favored Smith’s arm over what the Chiefs were producing on the ground. This could just be down to how the Patriots were able to shut down the run game in the third quarter..but not necessarily.
One thing Pederson seemed to lean towards was post routes. Two targets in the third quarter to the left hand side moved the Chiefs into good field position whilst a third pass found its way to Albert Wilson for a 10 yard touchdown. In each of these plays, there was a runner coming across the middle and the potential for the running back to move to the outside.
Watching the Offense play after spending months breaking down Chip Kelly’s Offense..you expect a slot receiver over the middle or a Tight End on a slant to make the catch with the ever impending possibility of a screen/ short pass to a running back.
The Chiefs were far more trusting in the arm of Smith and this allowed for much more creativity in terms of play-calling, as it will for Bradford going forward. More often than not, there’s somebody open because the Chiefs have so many dimensions of attack..the problem in the Pats game was that constant blitzing overwhelmed the Offensive Line and getting into a shootout with Brady never normally ends well.
To put the contrast in perspective, 39 of the 83 total plays were out of the Shotgun and 33 were passes. Out of the shotgun in Philadelphia, the majority of plays were runs straight up the middle.
The Chiefs were also able to dabble with screen passes..and succeed. The difference between what Pederson did occasionally and Kelly did persistently is how the play itself is executed. The Chiefs are able to draw plenty of open space whilst making sure an alternative route is open if that space closes up.
In comparison to the Eagles last year which saw much more of a reliance on the receiver running the screen to be open. This reliance meant that if opposing Defenses read the play correctly, there would be nobody blocking for the receiver or nobody to draw attention away..leaving them in a position to make minimal or even negative yardage.
The screen pass that Kansas executed as well as a catch out of the backfield against the Patriots were not only unpredictable, but had enough support around the player catching the ball that even if the play didn’t go as planned, there were alternate viable routes or help to get out of trouble. It kept the Patriots on their toes and helped pick up some nice yards..some unpredictable utilisation of a “Pederson screen” /dump pass would definitely be useful in Philadelphia.
But the main thing to take away from Pederson’s short reign over the Chiefs Offense is his game management..his most heavily criticised attribute and wrongly so. Going into the Chiefs final two drives, the team were 27-13 down to the Patriots with a little over 10 minutes remaining along with all three timeouts. The first drive after the Patriots field-goal may well have ended in an interception, but the premise and gameplan was still the same.
The final two drives combined for 25 total plays..15 of which were short passes, 4 were deep passes and 6 were rushes. When questioning Pederson’s lengthy 16 play final drive, we also have to question why there were so many short passes..and this is where his Head Coach potential really shines through.
Picture the scenes going into the final drive. With 6:39 on the clock, you forced the Patriots into a punt. But if the Chiefs attack as they did their previous two drives which ended in a pick and a punt, then Brady would likely regain possession with around 3-4 minutes remaining. The Chiefs Defense simply struggled to stop Tom Brady and if there’s one player you desperately need to prevent from scoring with the game on the line, you’d want anyone but Brady.
Pederson also witnessed the fading of success in the run game. The Chiefs can’t “run” down the clock and they can’t be too aggressive down field..but they have an abundance of short-pass plays both over the middle and post routes that are continuing to wear down the Patriots.
If the Chiefs can drive their way into the red-zone and score a touchdown, it might..just might give them enough time to prevent Brady from scoring again and regain possession with under two minutes remaining and a chance to tie the game.
So, that’s what he did. 16 plays, 10 passes and a 1-yard rushing touchdown. You can say what you want about the strategy that game and how it cost the Chiefs the game, but if anything it did the opposite..it presented them with a chance. Would you rather be within one touchdown and have a chance of getting the ball back with all three timeouts, or throw risky passes to potentially be within a score but knowing the Patriots will not only be running down the clock..but be giving Brady chance after chance with over 3 minutes remaining to seal the game?
For me, whilst unsuccessful, the tactic was extremely clever and very mature for someone who has never been a Head Coach. The biggest game of the season and Pederson kept his team within reaching distance.
Sam Bradford spoke about the control he will now have over the Offense and the ability to audible which was previously unheard of under Kelly. With a strategist such as Pederson behind him, this could be a dangerous combination. Pederson has a very, very clever mindset and an ability to read the game like he’s been a Head Coach for years. The change in playcalling during those final two drives and the carefully placed rushing plays highlights Pederson’s an extremely impressive coaching mindset. He may not have years of experience or pedigree, but as a former Quarterback and Offensive Coordinator..he’s learned a trick or two.
If we are take this as a base for what the Eagles can expect (even if the sample size is small), expect a much heavier pass/rush ratio, utilisation of Fullbacks, a diverse playbook and much more impressive game management.
photo credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports