KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A couple of years ago, late in the season, then-Raiders coach Jack Del Rio lavished upon Chiefs counterpart Andy Reid what many construed as an insult but could just as well be called a compliment.
Del Rio opined that Reid’s offense often relies on “gimmicky things.”
“If the word is something that somebody doesn’t like, that’s just too bad,” Del Rio said. “Those are effective plays. You can call it what you want.”
Maybe so many Chiefs fans wouldn’t have taken umbrage if he’d called them creative, pioneering or simply forward-thinking.
But regardless of the semantics, the fact remains that after two decades in the NFL, Reid remains one of the most inventive coaches to be found on any sideline.
“There’s just some stuff that he does sometimes that you don’t ever think of, and then you see it and you’re like, ‘That play is going to work.’ And it works every single time,” Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes said.
“Just the way that his mind thinks and how he exploits defenses, he just knows how to make plays up, it seems like, and they work every single time.”
Well, not every time. There was that ill-advised throw to tackle-eligible Cam Erving last year against the Jets, and a few more gadget plays over the years have gone awry.
But the entirety of the Chiefs offensive is in many ways a master class in offensive innovation, made all the more dangerous by the fact Reid has the proper weapons at his disposal in Mahomes, speedy wide receiver Tyreek Hill, star tight end Travis Kelce and running back Kareem Hunt.
The pieces are in place for him to run anything in his ever-expanding playbook.
“I think you try to find the best scheme you can and also the best players you can. And when you can combine the two at a very high level, you can see some good things,” Chiefs offensive lineman Mitch Schwartz said. “That is a huge credit to coach to be able to mix things up and change things.”
Reid’s offensive system has changed over the years, but its roots remain in the West Coast system that longtime 49ers coach Bill Walsh taught Mike Holmgren, who in turn taught the Packers’ old offensive line coach. It is predicated on short, horizontal passes to stretch the defense, and then attacks with the running game or downfield throws for bigger gains.
Reid used it successfully during his early years in Philadelphia, too. But in the late 2000s, he began to incorporate elements of the college spread offense, and unveiled a new-look system with Michael Vick at quarterback that began to give defensive coordinators fits.
The quick, high-percentage passes were still there, but so were the quintessential college read-option, a dizzying array of run-pass options, and other plays Del Rio would call “gimmicky.”
“We had some of the run-pass-option plays in college,” Mahomes said. “Not to the complexity that we had the other day, that we’ve had this past year and all the time with Coach Reid.”
One of those run-pass options was on perfect display last week against the Chargers.
Twice, in fact.
The first time, the Chiefs were just shy of the goal line and Mahomes faked to the running back, then lateraled ahead to DeAnthony Thomas, who was so wide open that he could have moonwalked into the end zone. The play worked so well that they ran it again to Hill a quarter later, and again the Chiefs had the kind of walk-in touchdown that left the Chargers looking foolish.
There were also some pop passes, jet sweeps and a myriad of other calls that run counter to the prevailing notion of an NFL offense — not the least of which was a wheel route to Anthony Sherman that the husky fullback wound up taking 36 yards for a third-quarter touchdown.
“One thing working with Coach Reid, you have to be flexible,” Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said. “He’ll expand your mind and push your limits.”
Reid acknowledged that some plays he draws up on a whim, but “I also have good guys that have some good thoughts, too. I keep it open and kind of formulate what I like, then the guys put in their input and we come up with what we come up with. That’s the fun part.”
In a copycat league such as the NFL, any bit of creativity is certainly entertaining.
Notes: SS Eric Berry (Achilles tendon) and LB Ben Niemann (hamstring) missed practice Thursday, making it unlikely they will play Sunday in Pittsburgh. … Chiefs TE Demetrius Harris is back after serving a one-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. “Demetrius has always been an important piece of the puzzle,” Bieniemy said. “With him missing last week, we kept it moving. But hey, you always want your important pieces around.”