Analyzing Doug Pederson’s play-calling: Week 8 vs Lions

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We learned some interesting things about how Doug Pederson runs his Offense by analyzing his second half play-calling in the Chiefs week 7 win over the Steelers. The next article in our series takes us across the pond to the United Kingdom. After finally breaking a bad run of form against the Steelers, the Chiefs travelled to London to face the 1-6 Detroit Lions. They made the most of their momentum in what was a dominant 45-10 win..but how much of the rampant Offensive success was down to Doug Pederson?

Pederson took control of the Offense in a comfortable scenario. The team were up by 19 and were yet to allow a touchdown. It was a contrasting situation to what Pederson experienced just one week ago..but how would this affect his play-calling?

Drive one:
Result: Touchdown
Pass: 4/5, 38 yards, 1TD
Rush: 6 att, 23 yards

Before we break down the drive itself..theres’ one thing that stands out massively. One of the big takeaways from Pederson’s play-calling in week 7 was the rushing success. The use of a fullback really helped the committee backfield to act as a constant threat to the Defense and it looked to continue under Andy Reid in the first half of this game.

126 yards rushing in the first half alone and a career high 49 yard run from Alex Smith saw the Chiefs dominate on the ground. The quarterback even went on to score a rushing touchdown of his own..but under Pederson, things got off to a shaky start.

The rushes looked like this in the opening drive of the second half:

West- 2 yards
Davis- 3 yards
West- 3 yards
Alex Smith scramble- 10 yards
West- 4 yards
West- 1 yard

In comparison to the 126 yards accumulated in the first half, this was not the start that the Chiefs expected. Was this down to play-calling, or did the Lions finally just catch on? All will be revealed later but luckily for the Chiefs, Alex Smith made up for the sudden halt of rushing dominance with some big passes. West redeemed himself after his opening 2 yard rush by catching a pass out of the flat on a play-action. The most interesting aspect of this route however is how Travis Kelce quite literally runs rings around the Lions.

The TE who played a small role in the second half of the Chiefs week 7 win split a pair of Defenders before running into an open space between two more, in essence making his man chase him around the football field as he then pushes back to help block for West.

We’re beginning to see that Pederson likes his receivers running routes that are unpredictable. Seam routes and verticals are rare to come by at this stage and most routes involve plenty of opportunities for the wideouts to achieve separation..something that will be a breath of fresh air to the likes of Nelson Agholor in Philadelphia.

A few plays later, Kelce becomes the focus of attention and almost comes up with a huge catch over the middle..until he drops it. A sight all too familiar to Eagles fans, but the drop isn’t the main focal point here. Kelce rips to the center of the field like a hot knife through cake and it’s very much the kind of play where we can expect to see Zach Ertz flourish.

Maclin catches a ball over the middle a few plays later on a route that’s almost identical to the one above..only with much more ground to cover because he’s starting out wider. But the motion is almost the same. Moments later, Kelce then caught another pass over the middle for 18 yards.

The touchdown itself also came from Travis Kelce on a short-pass play that almost resembles a screen. It’s the first time I’ve questioned a Pederson call purely because of how messy the play looked. The rushing game may have lost it’s explosiveness..but with the ball on the one yard line and a lead so big..the decision to drop back that far and pass to Kelce who then had to find his way through copious amounts of traffic was a strange one. Still, the result was another touchdown..and an even more breathing room for the Chiefs.

 

Drive two:
Result: Punt
Rush: 3 att, 6 yards
Pass: 2/5, 9 yards

The absence of the ground game was again a factor in the Chiefs’ second drive of the half..but it’s not the reason for the team’s inefficiency on this series. A drop by Albert Wilson to kick things off really set the tone for the Chiefs as Alex Smith made the best of a tricky situation. Two more rushes of one yard or less and the Chiefs were beginning to lose some of that momentum gained.

On 3rd & 13, Smith again tried to find Wilson who despite an incompletion was able to draw a pass interference flag..saving the drive temporarily. But what’s interesting here is the amount of open receivers Smith had at his disposal. Three receivers could have easily picked up a check-down pass which would have probably been the best option. The important thing here is not to get complacent. There’s a big lead and a long way to go on this drive..even if you punt it after a short gain, it’s better than risking an interception. Credit to Pederson for presenting Smith with that opportunity and having the conservative mindset on this drive..luckily for him, the officials saved what was a relatively poor QB decision.

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A screen pass to Kelce a play later went for four yards, but it’s interesting to see how heavily involved he is here in comparison to week 7. Not only that, but how when Kelce becomes a focal point of the Offense, most of the plays are aimed towards the middle of the field as opposed to the outside routes we saw work so well against the Steelers.

After a couple of rushes went for 5 yards and a sack on Alex Smith, the Chiefs were forced to punt. Pederson had the right mindset here, burning nearly 4 minutes off of the clock and recognizing that what worked so well in the first half..may not have the same effect in the second.

 

Drive three:
Result: Punt
Rush: 1 att, 2 yards
Pass: 1/2, 7 yards

There wasn’t really much to say about this drive..because at this point the motive was clear. Short plays over the middle and try to find a way to rush the football. While the ground game still suffered despite a different look, Smith continued to exploit the space over the middle with a slant route to Jeremy Maclin.

Albert Wilson had a no-gain reception in what became an increasingly frustrating individual game before the Chiefs punted the ball. Pederson’s conservativeness at this point I think has to be applauded. It would be very easy to become overzealous and start going for huge plays or even worse fall into traps. With a 31-3 lead, the hard work is done..all the Offense has to do is bring it home.

 

Drive four:
Result: Touchdown
Rush: 1 att, -1 yards
Pass: 1/1, 17 yards, 1TD

An impressive punt return set the Chiefs up in excellent position to start this drive and deflated the Lions Defense completely. The  Kansas City Offense took full advantage of this and stabbed them in the heart with a 17 yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Maclin.

The decision to throw to Maclin over De’Anthony Thomas looks puzzling at first when you look at how much space there is. But when you look at the play a few more times, you can definitely see a mismatch with Jeremy Maclin height wise..and it was something Smith did well to exploit. The decision to attack deep probably caught the Lions off-guard after the conservative nature of their last two..the amount of receivers that find space with ease is a real testament to that. Pederson saw the opporunity for a big gain..and he came away with a touchdown..which surprise, surprise..was thrown over the middle.

 

Drive five:
Result: Touchdown
Rush: 2 att, 36 yards, TD
Pass: 0

Something very interesting happened here. Alex Smith was taken out of the game in favor of..Chase Daniel. The new Eagles backup was dropped in to get some reps with the game now officially out of reach for the Lions. Maybe it was a surge in confidence for Pederson knowing that he is in such a comfortable position or maybe it was just a complete drop in morale for the Lions..but the result was the same.

Finally, the Chiefs got their mojo back on the ground and were able to almost mirror one of my favorite plays used against the Steelers. Daniel handed the ball to West out of the shotgun who then completely cut outside the pocket and took the ball 32 yards down the field. The Lions fell for the read option and went straight for Daniel..opening up the perfect opportunity to dig the dagger even deeper into the heart of the Lions Defense. A good play call, but the execution could not have been better.

On a slightly underrated note..look at how Chase Daniel shrugs off the oncoming hit like it’s nothing..#GOAT

The Chiefs then ran the ball with Ware, who again attacked the outside and picked up a touchdown. The Chiefs had finally re-established ground game momentum..and this drive shows how devastating it can be in such short bursts.

 

Drive six:
Result: Punt
Rush: 4 att, 15 yards
Pass: 2/2, 4 yards

Knile Davis picked up a snap as the Chiefs fullback on a five yard gain as the unit continued to confuse the Lions with a variety of looks..but the most interesting thing about this drive was obviously Chase Daniel. At the time, it probably would have been overlooked..but this is a likely scenario for the Eagles..and with Daniel being dropped into a live-game scenario, it was intriguing to see how he’d get on.

Pederson used familiar looks for Daniel, there was nothing out of the ordinary..just short, simple passes for the backup to complete and help close the game with the now added help of the backfield. The result of the drive was a predictable punt as the Chiefs handed the Lions one more chance to regain some dignity after falling to a 45-10 deficit..one that would not shrink in the end.

 

Takeaways from the play-calling:
+ Travis Kelce was heavily involved and it made a huge difference
+ The Offense lost running game spark, but adaptability helped retain offensive dominance
+ Conservative nature helped drain the Lions Defense before striking deep when least expected
+ Game management
+ Spread the field much more evenly than he did in week 7

 

–  A few questionable plays called inside the red-zone
– Exploited middle of the field well, but often left open receivers in better scenarios on outside

Overall:
Pederson’s Offense put up 21 points in the second half in what was a simply dominant affair..but one that could not have been any more different from the first half. It’s the change in circumstance and adaptability that really shines here..it’s a quality Chip Kelly seemed to lack entirely during his reign as Head Coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Grade: B+

 

Photo credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
GIF/ Screenshot credit: NFL

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