In the AFC Championship Game, Patrick Mahomes made it clear to the football world that the current title of best quarterback in the NFL belongs to him. He was dynamic, calm under pressure, and able to beat the Titans in every way that a quarterback can. That said, it certainly helped to have a head coach like Andy Reid who can break down defenses as well as any offensive mind in the league.
One of the difficult things about playing the Titans Defense is trying to decipher the coverage. Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees does a great job of incorporating disguise and lots of post-snap movement. This seemed to give both the Patriots and Ravens trouble in the previous two weeks.
Not the Chiefs. Andy Reid did a great job of putting Mahomes in position to be able to identify the coverage. Kansas City’s second touchdown of the game was a perfect example.
First, look at the formation and personnel distribution. The Chiefs aligned in a 3×1 set with tight end Travis Kelce to the right and 3 wide receivers to the left. The Titans matched up with a safety, Kevin Byard, over Kelce. To the 3-receiver side, the Titans matched up with 3 cornerbacks. This was man coverage.
The next thing to decipher was exactly how cornerbacks Logan Ryan and Tramaine Brock would play man coverage against Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman. Given how close Hill and Hardman were aligned to each other, the Titans very well could have treated this as a “stacked” formation and matched up to the releases instead of to the man. This means Ryan could have taken the shallow route and Brock could have taken the deeper route.
To get a better idea of how Tennessee would be playing it, Andy Reid motioned Hardman inside of Hill right before the snap. The deeper corner, Brock, followed.
This likely meant that the Titans were matching up to the receiver instead of to the releases. This was important for Mahomes to know because of the route combination. As you can see below, the idea was to have the outside receiver (Robinson) keep his man on the perimeter and the inside receiver (Hardman) occupy both his man and the deep middle safety. This would leave Hill in a 1-on-1 situation with Ryan.
Knowing whether the Titans were matching up to the receiver or the releases helped Mahomes confirm that Hill’s route would not be covered by the softer corner, which would have taken it away. It also confirmed that there would be no help for Ryan over the top. Mahomes knew he could then target the mismatch.
The motion on this play also made it more difficult for the Titans to adjust to Hill quickly becoming the #2 receiver by alignment. Hill normally aligns inside as the #3 receiver (as he did before the motion on this play). He often runs routes across the field from this position. If he remained inside, the Titans could feel good about their chances of double-teaming him with Ryan or Brock and the deep-middle safety. Reid probably saw something on film, though, that indicated the Titans were likely to double the inside #3 receiver regardless of name. He made sure Hill would not be receiving the double-team here by motioning Hardman inside of him.
Alternatively, had the Chiefs not used any motion and just aligned Hill as the #2 receiver right out of the huddle, perhaps the Titans could have adjusted their coverage to either play the releases or ensure that the double-team would be on Hill. The motion right before the snap made this difficult to do.
The Titans would end up double-teaming two players at the snap and rushing 3, yet Tyreek Hill still ended up with an advantageous 1-on-1 matchup. The Andy-Reid factor, ladies and gentlemen. That’s also a pretty damn good throw by Mahomes, by the way.
With two of the best offensive minds in football going at it in Reid and Kyle Shanahan, Super Bowl LIV should be an entertaining one.
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