Analyzing Doug Pederson’s play-calling: Week 15 vs Ravens


Doug Pederson’s play-calling has been extremely interesting to not only analyze, but watch evolve throughout the 2015 season. With a seven game win streak in tact, the Chiefs headed to Baltimore to take on the Ravens.

Pederson was plagued by Offensive inefficiencies last time out against the Chargers despite a relatively impressive play-calling performance. Could he find his rhythm early as he took the reigns in the second half with the Chiefs inheriting a 24-14 lead?


Drive one:
Result: Punt
Pass: 2/2, 6 yards
Rush: 1 att, -2 yards

The execution problems looked like they’d continue for Doug Pederson after the first passing play of the second half sent the Chiefs back three yards. The play itself was primed to capitalize on mismatches against a depleted Ravens Defense. Jeremy Maclin had broken coverage with ease while Travis Kelce had also found space on the other find of the field. Instead of throwing to the three viable options, Smith insisted on throwing in the flat to Charcandrick West.

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To make things even worse for Dougie P, the Offensive line seemed to have definitely lost its sparkle. To put it bluntly, this was just messy blocking by the Chiefs O-line that left West with a mountain to climb. The Ravens looked too prepared for the run to be halted by the Chiefs Offensive line..and it showed here.

A small dose of redemption graced the Chiefs a play later though. A bubble screen pass executed perfectly gave Maclin and the Chiefs 9 yards after the blocking ahead of him opened the running lane. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough for the first down and the Punt unit was sent out onto the field.

The play-calling here was sound for the most part. Despite the Ravens stopping the run with little rouble, the screen pass and amount of options given to Smith on the first play were encouraging.


Drive two:
Result: Punt
Pass: 2/2, 12 yards
Rush: 4 att, 5 yards

Another stuffed run saw the Chiefs scratching their heads following the start of Pederson’s second drive before West finally got a bit of help from his line. His shiftiness has to be applauded after adapting to run through the hole created by the Left guard. It was a short gain..but an important one on a cleverly designed HB dive.

Smith followed this up with a pass into tight coverage over the middle to Avant. That progress was again undone as an outside rush from West sent the Chiefs back a yard. At this point, it was clear the running game wasn’t working. Whether it was inside or outside..anything short was just too easy for the Ravens. Pederson’s willingness to adapt and try different looks is key here though, he isn’t pounding the same button, hoping the machine magically turns on.

The intent to keep the passing game short was still there though as Smith found Avant again for a short gain. Kelce was wide open on a drag route underneath and a pass out of the backfield would have been just as effective. Smith’s decision-making has hampered the progress of the Offense in the last few games but has somehow avoided throwing an interception.

Pederson continued to leave Smith with all the tools to get the job done, but again was forced into a punting scenario. The running game became stagnant and there appears to be a reluctancy to throw deep down the field in a ten point game.


Drive three:
Result: Field goal
Pass: 6/7, 62 yards
Rush: 6 att, 25 yards

The Chiefs were finally able to instill some balance to the Offense on their third drive of the second half as the backfield began to contribute in moving the chains. Picking up 18 yards in their opening three plays, the Chiefs were finally getting some confidence again..and to make things worse for the Ravens, Smith had found his stride.

One play after West picked up the first down, Smith finally took a shot downfield..and it paid off. Maybe Pederson was holding off on the deep pass until he felt Smith was comfortable in a pocket that was forever collapsing in the second half, or maybe it was a case of catching the Ravens off-guard. Either way, it worked.

Smith found Kelce over the middle for a 29 yard gain, moving the Chiefs onto Baltimore’s side of the field. A big statement for an Offense that was unusually quiet until this point.

Some more short run-gains, screens and comeback routes later..the Chiefs found themselves on 3rd and 9 with the ball on the 17 yard line after Smith hd been wrapped up for a sack. What Pederson did here is arguably the defining example of what we can expect in Philadelphia..a game manager.

Pederson ran the ball..not with the intention of picking up the first down, or ending the drive with seven points..Pederson wanted a field-goal. He wanted three points to give the Chiefs more of a cushion after burning nearly half of the quarter off of the clock. It puts the Ravens in a tricky scenario as they know the Chiefs can just make their way down the field with a series of short passes and balanced runs, thus near enough closing the game if they fail to put anything up on the next drive.

It’s not flashy, it’s not exciting and it isn’t nail biting..but it’s smart. It’s something Chip Kelly lacked and when we talk about red-zone efficiency and how it was simply terrible under Chip, we can expect to see a far more polished red-zone offense under Pederson.


Drive four: 
Result: Punt
Pass: N/A
Rush: 3 att, 8 yards

After Marcus Peters intercepted a crucial red-zone pass, the Chiefs had possession of the ball with 2:50 left on the clock. Peters had intercepted a pass just one drive earlier and returned it for six so at this point he had really put the finishing touches on the Chiefs eighth consecutive win.

All three rushes were targeted at the right hand side..two of them ran by fullback Knile Davis. The idea here was simple, run down the clock. They gave the Ravens possession with 1:50 left on the clock and very little hope of getting back into the game. The conservative and level headed mindset of Doug Pederson was the clearest it has been all season in this game.


Drive five:
Result: End of game
Pass: N/A
Rush: N/A

The only reason this little two play stretch is included here is because of the quarterback kneeling the football. It wasn’t Alex Smith, oh was CHASE DANIEL. The Eagles backup kneeled the ball down beautifully not just once..but twice. His knee flexed perfectly at the sna..who am I kidding, this was a simple two play drive to drain what little time was left on the game clock.


Takeaways from the play-calling:
+ Adapted quickly to inefficient run-game early on
+ Kept the passing game short to avoid risking turnovers
+ Waited until perfect time to air it out to Kelce
+ “Every drive ends with a kick” mentality worked well when conserving lead
+ Gave Smith plenty of options
–  Most conservative game we’ve seen despite a 10 point cushion to start against a depleted Defense
–  Should have relied on Smith more than inefficient run game in third quarter
–  Passing Offense felt very “check down” orientated for the most part


Pederson still lacked some execution from his Offense, but the direction of the play-calling was much clearer. There was very little in the way of risks and once inside the red-zone, the intentions were crystal clear. Pederson’s game management has been impressive in almost every game so far in this series, but it stood out the most here because the entire gameplan was based around that “short, snappy offense” that seems to be more of a key factor than we first thought.

Grade: B-


Photo credit: Steven Senne/AP