Chiefs’ unpredictable offense keeping opponents on their toes

The Chiefs' offense has continued to surprise opponents this season, most recently with a two-touchdown performance from backup running back Charcandrick West last week.
David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

KANSAS CITY, Missouri — Charcandrick West stood in front of his locker in the mostly empty Kansas City Chiefs training facility, the backup running back holding court after an out-of-nowhere two-touchdown performance in the win over Houston last week.

He mused on just about every topic imaginable, from Kansas City’s unbeaten start to the unexpected play of quarterback Alex Smith to the success of rookie running back Kareem Hunt.

When asked about the Chiefs’ creativity on offense, his grin threatened to break his face.

“It’s a dream, man. They’re making the Madden guys’ jobs hard,” West said, referring to programmers and designers at EA Sports who are responsible for the signature NFL video game.

“I don’t know how they’re going to get all of this stuff in the game next year,” West said.

If they’re trying to replicate the Chiefs’ playbook, it might push the limits of technology.

Whether it’s jet sweeps, shovel passes, laterals and traps and all kinds of misdirection, one thing is clear: The game plans that head coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Matt Nagy have put together have pushed the boundaries of what seems possible in an NFL known for its copycat tendencies.

“Every week, defenses are trying to do something to take away what you’re trying to do. That’s always been the case,” Smith said. “The goal is to be really balanced. You want a lot of guys that can produce, you want to do it in a lot of different ways, so you’re not one-dimensional — so they can’t shut you down that easily.”

One-dimensional? The Chiefs are pushing the boundaries of three-dimensional.

In some ways, that’s nothing new. Reid long ago earned a reputation for being an offensive innovator, putting Donovan McNabb and Co. in creative situations in Philadelphia. But for many years, he’s been held back by the talent on the field, forced to play to the strengths of a team lacking the right quarterback or playmaking wide receiver capable of fully realizing his vision.

That doesn’t appear to be the case anymore.

Smith has never been considered a superstar, but his running ability combined with an uncanny knack for avoiding turnovers has allowed Reid to put his quarterback in unique situations.

Like the pistol. Or the kind of read-options that fans are accustomed to seeing in college football.

Throw in the versatility of Hunt out of the backfield, the ability of tight end Travis Kelce to catch screen passes while also stretching the field and the world-class sprinting speed of wide receiver Tyreek Hill, and you have a trio of playmakers who allow Reid and Nagy to try out just about anything.

“Their video is really impressive, and analytically — from a number standpoint — they’re really impressive,” said Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, whose team will try to figure out the Chiefs on Sunday.

The numbers bear that out, too. The Chiefs are second in the NFL in total offense, lead the league in yards per play and points per game, and are third in time of possession. The balance is evident when you consider they’re second in the NFL in yards rushing and ninth in yards passing.

Reid mostly dismisses any notion that things are markedly different this year, but he does accept that defenses have begun trying new wrinkles to slow the Chiefs down.

“More in the run-game stuff than the pass game,” he said, “but everyone has their own flair.”

Including the Chiefs, for whom Reid’s creativity is keeping them one step ahead.