Kansas City’s Shovel Option
The season kicked off on Thursday with a 15-point Kansas City Chiefs win over the New England Patriots. Since quarterback Tom Brady reclaimed his job from Matt Cassel, the Patriots have only lost four games by 15 or more points: this week’s game, 2016 against the Buffalo Bills, 2014 against the (mostly) same Kansas City Chiefs and 2010 against Colt McCoy’s Cleveland Browns. What? Yes.
One of the biggest takeaways from the opener was how the Chiefs embraced “the college offense.” The team used the pistol frequently, likely due to Chris Ault’s influence, and called the option enough to make Albert Breer sweat. Ault, who invented the pistol offense at Nevada, was on Kansas City’s staff for parts of the first three years of head coach Andy Reid’s tenure at Arrowhead.
On Thursday Night Football, Reid brought the speed option back to life. More importantly, he ran an run play with a shovel pass option off of it five times. Three times, it was out of the same formation (two tight end and three backs.) As far as I could tell, the team didn’t run another play out of the formation all night. The results of the shovel option plays? +8, +7, +7, +8 and +4. 34 yards on five plays isn’t a horrible number to give up on defense, but you shouldn’t be consistently giving up that many yards on a down-to-down basis on the same concept either, out of the same formation nonetheless.
It should be noted that Urban Meyer, who coached Chiefs starting quarterback Alex Smith at Utah, helped make two future first-round picks (Smith and Tim Tebow) famous with this play.
Let’s take a look at those three plays out of the double-tight formation first.
14:44 in the 2nd, +8 run
The play is fairly basic. There were three backs in the backfield. The back furthest behind the quarterback swung opposite of the play (always left) with the right up back lead blocking and the left up back becoming a potential ball-carrier by crossing over the quarterback. When the left up back is handed the ball, he will be in a two (right up back, right tight end) on one situation on the edge with the ball in his hand. That’s pretty ideal.
The quarterback (Smith) decides to give him the ball based on if the edge defender (C-gap defender, first man on or outside of the playside offensive tackle) darts after the ball-carrier or not. If the defender stays put during the run action, the back is in an ideal position to make a play on the outside. Give. If the defender chases the back, that option is canceled.
Enter the backside tight end. On first glance, you don’t notice the tight end on this play. It looks like he’s pulling and following the backside guard, who is also pulling. No one pays attention to pulling blockers. They don’t earn you fantasy points. What you’ll see though is that the tight end stops before the line of scrimmage to look for the ball. He’s the second option on this play, a shovel pass on a run-pass option with the read man being the edge defender. If the edge defender widens out to take the back-side up back, that pulls a man out of the box, giving the backside tight end a wider lane to work with on the inside.
Smith read Dont’a Hightower staying put (#54.) He handed the ball off for eight yards.
4:35 in the 3rd, +8
One quarter later, the Chiefs go to the same play out of the same formation. The result (an eight-yard gain) was the same, but the process led them to a different path to the result. This time, the option man was Cassius Marsh (#55), who was traded to New England late in the preseason. He widened out, which took Smith to the shovel option.
15:00 left in the 4th, +4
The third time that New England saw the same play out of the same formation, they stopped the Chiefs for a four-yard gain. Marsh again took the up back option off their plate, so the ball went to the tight end.
2:29 left in the 2nd, +7
This is an example of another formation that the Chiefs can run this play out of. As long as they have a left tight end/wing player and running back, they should be able to execute the function of this option play. Again, it only has been shown to go to the defense’s left. Marsh was the read man. Marsh didn’t widen out enough to Smith’s satisfaction. That ended up being a give read for seven yards.
13:57 left in the 3rd, +7
For whatever reason, Game Pass didn’t want to show the coaches film for this play. It’s out of the same 2 x 2 formation as the late second quarter play, but the back is offset to the playside instead of the backside this time. The wrinkle on this play was the pitch action during the reading Hightower, who took on the slot blocker, which led to a shovel to the tight end for a seven-yard gain.
Overreacting to Brady
The fact that Smith outplayed New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in one single game has seemed to have rattled some people. It’s shaken them to the point where they are again doubting if Brady is declining, this time at the age of 40.
ANY/A is a stat that Setting the Edge believes strongly in. Essentially, it measures yards per drop back with touchdowns counting as 20 yards and interceptions counting as -45 yards. Since taking back over the Patriots from Cassel in 2009, Brady’s ANY/A (yards per pass) is at 7.51. Brady’s 36 passes for 267 yards (completion percentage is the plague of NFL analysis) for zero touchdowns and zero interceptions (along with three sacks for 20 yards) put Brady’s ANY/A for the night at 6.33. Over 39 drop backs, that’s about 43 yards left on the table, relative to Brady’s average.
That’s….not that big of a deal. In the 124 games between 2009 and 2016, there were 43 times when Brady left more yards on the table. That’s 33.59 percent. That’s about a third of his games. Three of those games came in last year. Five of those games came in 2015. A 6.33 ANY/A would have ranked him 17th in the NFL last year, better than quarterbacks who were invited to the Pro Bowl.
Despite losing a game, the Patriots have the sixth-best chance to avoid a 0-2 start among teams with no win according to current odds. New England gets a long week of preparation before facing the New Orleans Saints, who will be coming off a short week of preparation after Monday Night Football. Stay calm. This corrects itself often.