Chiefs can strike big with play-action pass

Just two games into the preseason, it looks like teams are already adjusting to the Chiefs new offense.

Several times during Saturday's 27-17 loss to Arizona, the Cardinals appeared to wait until the last possible moment to put an eighth man in the box. Once the ball was snapped on certain plays, a safety would suddenly fly into the picture to help defend the run. And after the handoff to Larry Johnson, Brodie Croyle would turn around and see an extra man at the line who hadn't been there when he'd scanned the defense before the play.

That sort of camouflage wasn't necessary a year ago. As you've surely read in a variety of articles in recent weeks, KC's quarterbacks didn't have the ability to change the play in the previous system, meaning the offense often ran the ball straight into eight-man fronts.

There was no need for opponents to hide what they were doing when the Chiefs couldn't adjust to what the defense was showing them.

But now that an audible system is in place, things are different. If a defense comes out with eight men near the line of scrimmage, Croyle can easily call a pass play to take advantage of it. Knowing that, teams will want to conceal their plans, just as the Cardinals did Saturday.

Since the preseason started, I've watched KC's offense with great interest – as everyone has – in the hopes of seeing the new Chan Gailey scheme unfold. The Chiefs aren't going to show everything during meaningless games, of course, but we can still get a sense of what's to come.

And after a running play during the Chiefs' second offensive series Saturday, when Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson ran down into the box and stopped Johnson, I had a thought about Gailey's offense - the play-action passing game should work wonders this season.

The Chief have run some play-action during the preseason, but mostly just bootlegs, which have turned into quick dumpoffs to the fullback or tight end, as the quarterback is usually throwing on the run. Unless the entire defensive line is fooled by the fake to the running back – like KC's line typically was against Jake Plummer and the Broncos, for instance – the quarterback rarely gets a chance to set his feet and fire the ball downfield.

But I'm talking about the more traditional play-action – plays where Croyle will stick the ball into Johnson's gut, pull it back, and quickly scan the field for an open receiver while the defense bites on the run fake. This may sound rather basic, but in some ways, especially with the new audible wrinkle, it's almost like something new for Kansas City's offense.

The Chiefs have always been able to use the play-action pass, of course, but the success was mostly based on how well they fooled the other team into thinking a run was coming. Now they can gain an extra advantage by catching defenses out of position.

If Gailey had called for a play-action pass on the snap when Arizona sent Wilson into the box, the Cardinals would have been caught with their pants down. Because Wilson didn't want to commit while Croyle still had an opportunity to change the play, he was running towards the line of scrimmage as the ball was snapped, so that he'd be in position to stop the run.

Had Croyle faked the handoff and looked to throw downfield, Wilson would have been forced to slam on the breaks, spin around, and scramble desperately to get back into coverage. With all due respect to Wilson, one of the most underrated players in the entire league, he probably wouldn't have retreated into coverage quickly enough.

But for plays like that to have success, the Chiefs will need receivers who can take advantage. We're already familiar with the talents of Dwayne Bowe, but another piece of the puzzle fell into place later on in the game with Devard Darling. On a third down play in the second quarter, Darling ran right up the sideline, badly beat cornerback Eric Green, and got himself into position to make a big catch.

From the limited angles shown on the telecast, it appeared Green may have had safety help on the play. But that didn't seem to matter to Darling, as he was wide open regardless. Unfortunately the pass was overthrown and nothing came of it.

Still, the potential was there. Now imagine that same pass route being run on a play where the safety, instead of hanging back in coverage, is charging towards the line of scrimmage at the snap. If Chiefs receivers can beat their coverage like Darling did Saturday, we're not just talking about a successful gain, we're talking about a touchdown.

In many respects it's a matter of luck. After all, the play has to be called at the right time. But the more teams start disguising their efforts to stop the run, the more chances the Chiefs should have to catch them in that sort of mismatch.

These may just be isolated examples from preseason games, but opportunities should be bountiful during the regular season. As long as defenses have to focus on stopping Kansas City's ground attack, the play-action attack will always be waiting in the wings.

And with a healthy Johnson returning to form, receivers who can work their magic downfield, and a cannon-armed quarterback like Croyle, that aspect of the offense should thrive.

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