Analyzing Doug Pederson’s play-calling: Week 10 vs Broncos

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With Training Camp another week closer, the excitement surrounding the new-look Eagles Offense continues to build. But what exactly can we expect from Pederson’s West-Coast Hybrid? After two articles analyzing Pederson’s second half play-calling as the Chiefs Offensive Coordinator, we begin to see some patterns emerge..but how many of those patterns would be present when the Chiefs clashed with the 7-1 Denver Broncos?

The Broncos had the best Defense in the NFL last year..that’s a fact. But when they restored their rivalry with the Chiefs, they found themselves down 19-0 at halftime. A perfect opportunity for Pederson to take control of the Chiefs Offense..but the situation would prove to be a true test of his coaching ability.

With Manning having a passer rating of zero and throwing three picks in the first half, the Chiefs Offense received a healthy boost from their Defense to say the least. So, with the pressure off and what was rapidly becoming a very angry Broncos Defense..how would Pederson approach the second half?

Drive one:
Result: Punt
Pass: 0/2
Rush: 1 att, 0 yards

The Chiefs did anything but start the second half off with a bang. An incomplete pass intended for Jeremy Maclin fell incomplete before a no-gain rush and a Travis Kelce drop bought the drive to a swift close.

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It seemed as though Pederson was finding his feet early on. The Chiefs Offensive Line is hardly the strongest in the league and was coming up against a dominant Broncos D-Line with their backs now pushed to the wall. In both passing plays, Smith was forced to make a quick decision.

The idea was there for Pederson. Try to go deep and assert the authority to keep the momentum on their side first..and if that fails, rush up the gut and pick up easy yards over the middle. It just so happened that Charcandrick West ran into a brick wall as Malik Jackson shed his block to stop the run while Kelce dropped a dart that narrowly avoided being picked off before making its way to the Chiefs tight end.

 

Drive two:
Result: Field Goal
Pass: 0/3
Rush: 3 att, 3 yards

Manning may have failed to put points up for the Broncos..but they weren’t going down without a fight. Smith started the second half 0/5 due to what can only be described as exemplary pass rushing. Smith rarely had more than a few seconds to get the ball out of his hands and in fairness, did very well to avoid being sacked on any of the plays so far.

Everything Pederson tried was stopped dominantly by Denver. The plays themselves weren’t the problem..it was the Chiefs lack of stability on the Offensive Line that made it difficult to execute any of them against such an elite Defense. The routes over the middle for Kelce were becoming a minefield as you’ll see below and Smith just didn’t have the time to drop back and find a receiver deep down the field without being pressured from every angle.

The Chiefs did well to get into Field Goal position and edge the lead just that little further..but it would be an uphill battle trying to push any further down the field.

 

Drive three:
Result: Punt
Pass: 0/2
Rush:  3 att, 17 yards

The narrative was writing itself at this point..but as the saying goes if you want a job doing well, do it yourself. This is where the decision to draft Carson Wentz really makes sense for the Eagles. Alex Smith knew that the pocket was constantly crumbling around him so used his mobility to create his own space.

In the first play he burst through the middle of the trenches in an attempt to find a wide open Jason Avant over the middle..an attempt that was knocked down by Trevathan.

Maybe it was this that triggered something in Smith’s mind..or maybe Pederson relied on his quarterback to spot a weakness and turn it into a strength. The Chiefs moved the pocket to the left hand side, enabling Smith to scramble 17 yards up the field. The reason I say that this could have been a Pederson decision is due to the routes ran by the receivers. A bunch trio all charging at the Broncos on the right hand side hand side draws the majority of attention while Kelce obviously catches the eye of Von Miller.

The running lane could not be clearer for Smith..if that was the intention then it’s a very smart play by Pederson. If it wasn’t, then that’s exactly the kind of thing we will be looking to see from Carson Wentz as he develops in Philadelphia.

A no-gain rush was followed up by a messy screen pass that fell incomplete. The Chiefs tried to pick up the pace on this drive and hit the Broncos with short and snappy plays to keep them guessing. With the exception of the 17-yard scramble however, the Defense didn’t falter.

 

Drive four:
Result: Punt
Pass: 1/3, 8 yard gain
Rush: 0 att

The now “snappy” Chiefs finally hit the ground running with a pass completion, their first of the second half. Charcandrick West caught the pass out of the backfield and took the ball up the field for an eight yard gain.

But..this is the best Defense in the league. Fooling them once is hard enough, fooling them twice..

yeah, not so easy. Smith was very lucky to walk away with an incompletion here as they read the play perfectly. The Chiefs then tried a slightly different look. With the use of a fullback, they were able to create enough space for Smith to roll to the right hand side and search out Jeremy Maclin who was cutting across the middle ahead of his blocker. The play was nicely designed but was overthrown due to yet more in-your-face defending from Denver.

 

Drive five:
Result: Touchdown
Pass: 1/1, 80 yards
Rush: 1 att, 1 yard

After a 17-play drive by Denver resulted in a Brock Osweiler interception following the benching of Peyton Manning, the Chiefs finally got the breath of fresh air they needed. At this point, the Kansas City Offense had been absorbing so much pressure off the edge that it almost came to be expected. Pederson capitalized on this brilliantly by launching West out of the backfield after the Broncos had set the edge..leaving a wide open window for Smith to throw into..and some open space for the versatile back to run rampant. The result was an 80-yard touchdown and a nail in the coffin. It’s this kind of play that we can expect to see from Darren Sproles or Wendell Smallwood in 2016.

 

Drive six:
Result: Missed field Goal
Pass: 0/0
Rush: 3 att, 8 yards

There wasn’t really much to say about this drive other than it was conservative..and smart. After a failed two-point conversion and a failed onside kick, the Chiefs picked up the ball in good field position with a 29-6 lead. It would have been silly to jeopardize it or take any unnecessary risks. Two rushes up the middle and one bounce to the outside pushed the Chiefs into field-goal range..and it was an opportunity that Santos unfortunately failed to capitalize on from 48 yards out. The Chiefs were right to play it safe with such a comfortable margin and an aggressive Broncos Offense waiting in the wings. Santos isn’t always reliable from that range, having only made 50% from 50+ yards and 9/11 in distances between 40-49 yards..but it was a safer option than going for it.

 

Drive seven:
Result: End of game
Pass: 0/0
Rush: 2 att, 12 yards

With the final drive of the game, the Chiefs simply ran down the clock and took two kneels to end the game and secure the win. Strategic, simple, effective..nothing more really needs to be said.

 

Takeaways from the play-calling:
+ Didn’t stick to one style..consistently tested new waters to see if they could break through against such a tough Defense
+ A frustrating start to the second half didn’t alter the strategy
+ Probably the most representative look of what we can expect in Philadelphia so far..unpredictable
+ Game management
+ Using the mobility of the quarterback to transform the success of a drive
+ Backfield versatility

 

–  A little complacent towards the end
– When throwing screens or short passes out of the backfield, they were often easily anticipated by Broncos, Pederson didn’t really change the looks on these plays..leading to some near picks.
– Passing game ineffective for most of the second half..Offensive Line almost cost the Chiefs numerous times
– Deep passes were often too easily covered for the Broncos..easy to read

Overall:
Most of the Chiefs work was done defensively this game, a huge lead heading into the second half really helped Pederson..but that doesn’t mean it was easy. The Broncos Defense looked terrifying at the best of times and where other coaches (cough Chip) would have kept pounding the same plays until they worked, Pederson was very calm..methodical..and creative. The result was a less than impressive second half statistically..but one in which the Chiefs didn’t throw an interception..didn’t fumble the ball..and didn’t make any potentially costing decisions.

When Pederson struck, it was hard and caught everyone off-guard. His play-calling experience is still very young at this stage, but the maturity showed here and the way the Chiefs were able to utilize every aspect of their Offense in a game where Defense wrote the narrative was very impressive.

Grade: B

 

 

Photo credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Gif credit: NFL

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