Analyzing Doug Pederson’s play-calling: Week 12 vs Bills

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Philadelphia Eagles
Sep 19, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson along the sidelines during the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. The Chiefs defeated the Eagles 26-16. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into week 12, the Chiefs were on a scintillating run. After taking down the leagues best Defense in week 10 and running over the Chargers a week later, the Chiefs faced a tough challenge in stopping Buffalo if they were to win their fifth consecutive game. Doug Pederson had arguably his quietist second half calling plays against the Chargers, but some inconsistencies on the field certainly didn’t help matters and he still lead his team to a win.

This is actually the first game in which Doug Pederson has taken control of the Offense when the team were behind. After an impressive display from Sammy Watkins and Tyrod Taylor gave the Bills a narrow 16-14 lead heading into halftime, it was up to Doug Pederson to show a new side to his play-calling. We’ve seen him manage the game, run down the clock and adapt to a shorter and snappier style of play-calling when needed, but this is the first time he has had to really attack..and attack against a Defense that held the Chiefs scoreless in the first quarter.

Drive one:
Result: Touchdown
Pass: 5/5, 70 yards, 1TD
Rush: 2 att, 4 yards

The opening drive of the second half started off with a screen pass to Travis Kelce. For those who have read my previous articles in this series, you’ll know that the Chiefs screen passes are hardly the tidiest things in the world..but there was definitely an improvement here. The motion was smoother and it seemed like the team had worked on it during practice that week after a few close calls against the Chargers.

A short pass to Albert Wilson picked up nine yards a play later on a route that screams “Nelson Agholor in 2016”. A quick fade from Wilson creates copious amounts of separation and left Smith with all the time in the world to find his man.

After a failed rushing attempt, Pederson continued to hurt the Bills on short pass attempts. The Offensive line seems to be far more disciplined than it was against the Chargers which means there’s a lot more comfort for Smith in the pocket. Maclin is able to cut back with ease to pick up another Chiefs first down, continuing the jabs to the jaw.

It was at this point where Pederson went for the knock out punch however. Smith again had plenty of time to find his man and a tricky deceiving route to split the double coverage opened a narrow window for Jeremy Maclin to haul in a 32 yard pass. When you look at the Bills coverage on the play, it’s clear to see they weren’t expecting it..a creative play from Pederson.

The drive ended in a 15 yard Travis Kelce touchdown reception. The Chiefs Tight end found plenty of space over the middle and was able to make a leaping catch in the end zone to give the Chiefs the lead. The most impressive thing about this play and drive overall was the Offensive line. There wasn’t a lot of pressure on this play but when Smith has a level of confidence in the players ahead of him, it’s crazy how much his overall play and consistency improves. Pederson trusts his arm a lot more and the result was a series of jabs followed by two deep passes for a touchdown.

 

Drive two:
Result: Field Goal
Pass: 1/2, -2 yards
Rush: 1 att, 5 yards

With the Chiefs starting in excellent field position after recovering a fumble at the Bills 34 yard line, the mindset predictably changed. With a four point lead in tact, the goal here was to put points on the board..and that’s exactly what Pederson did. A five yard rush kicked things off before a screen pass lost the Chiefs two yards.

A deep pass attempt to Conley fell incomplete after being mildly overthrown into very tight coverage. You can see the frustration in Jeremy Maclin’s body language after he was able to get wide open across the middle for what would have been a first down. The O-line held strong but potentially hindered Smith’s view over the middle, prompting him to air it out deep. The Chiefs kicked a 49 yard field goal to lift the lead up to 7..but it could have potentially been more.

 

Drive three:
Result: Field Goal
Pass: 2/3,  38 yards
Rush: 5 att, 21 yards

A failed two-point conversion by the Bills gave the Chiefs some slight momentum as they headed into their third drive of the second half. The emphasis changed as the Chiefs began to establish some dominance on the ground. Smith was able to run up the gut twice on this drive for 14 yards, adding another level to the offense that in this game was one dimensional until now.

That didn’t mean that they had changed mentalities however. You simply cannot take your eyes off of Travis Kelce..or something like this happens. Smith made the most of a collapsing pocket and found his star TE over the middle for what turned out to be a huge gain.

After this, the plays shortened. The screen pass made a return and was again thwarted by the Bills as the short rushing gains continued to mount up. The result was another Field Goal and a five point lead for the Chiefs. Pederson has a tendency to be very aware of the game situation and plans accordingly. No unnecessary risks but at the same time ensuring complacency doesn’t set in..it’s a skill that’s becoming increasingly prominent the more we study the play-calls.

 

Drive four:
Result: Field Goal
Pass: 3/6,  20 yards
Rush: 6 att, 56 yards

Moments after forcing the Bills into a punt, Doug Pederson enjoyed his longest drive of the afternoon, burning close to 7 minutes off the clock on 14 plays. The drive started out in a dangerous spot but it only took one play for that to change. Spencer Ware did what Spencer Ware does best, shed tackles and use his physicality to pick up a huge amount of yardage.

An aggressive pass to Kelce fell incomplete before Maclin hauled in yet another screen for a nine yard gain. Just two plays later, Maclin caught another screen pass for a similar gain. The Bills seemed more equipped for this one, blitzing without hesitation..but the former Eagle was still able to find some running room on the outside.

Albert Wilson dropped an easy grab..most likely because of the persistent rain making said grabs 10x harder. The offensive line then finally began to give away as we’ve seen in recent weeks. Smith had plenty of options on the play below but was forced to scramble and throw the ball away. While the ground attack was still strong, Smith was now struggling to find his star receivers and tight ends down the field. With the O-Line beginning to suffer too, even shorter passes became tougher.

Pederson always does a good job of spreading the field. It’s something I noticed in the first analysis and something that continues to impress me. Every receiver becomes a valid passing option..unlike what we saw in Kelly’s Offense that was very much a one-man or no-man scenario. This adds so much to the Offense and with the different abilities the Eagles receivers possess, could really bode well for some of the formerly less impressive wideouts.

Another field goal for the Chiefs left a tall mountain for the Bills to climb and only 3 minutes to do it in. Pederson did well to include a rushing attack to prolong the drive and turn a dimension that had previously been relatively quiet into an unpredictable and imposing threat.

 

Drive five:
Result: End of game
Pass: 0
Rush: 3 att, 11 yards

The Chiefs simply ran down the clock to close the game and secure their fifth consecutive win. With a healthy cushion and two minutes left, there was no need for heroics. The Chiefs kept it simple and were overcome the first half deficit to keep their win streak alive and become legitimate playoff contenders.

 

Takeaways from the play-calling:
+ Wore down Defense with a series of short passes before striking deep down the field
+ Game management
+ Included all elements of Offensive scheme
+ All receivers became viable passing options
+ Using the mobility of the quarterback to transform the success of a drive
+ Screen passes seemed much more effective/ tidier

 

–  Screen passes lost their effect towards the end, became predictable.
–  Felt like Chiefs were playing for Field Goals at times..not always a bad thing but could have easily been a wider margin of victory
– Relied on Smiths arm to secure a lead, Offense unbalanced until later in the half
– With O-Line uncharacteristically strong, lack of backfield use seemed strange

 

Overall:
The Chiefs scored on every drive in the second half with the exception of the clock killer at the end. It’s the first time we’ve seen this level of consistency from Pederson and the first time he’s had to come from behind to secure a win. Despite a few minor discrepancies, this was by far the most confident and composed second half we’ve seen by Pederson so far. 

It would have been easy to become complacent or go deep down the field on every play..but the huge 7 minute drive in the fourth quarter really helped secure the win for the Chiefs and a lot of that falls on the shoulders of Doug Pederson and his intuitive play-calling.


Grade: B+

 

Photo credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
GIF credit: NFL

 

 

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