The Play that Saved the Chiefs

“2-3 Jet Chip Wasp.” It is a play that will go down in Chiefs history as arguably the most important ever. With just over 7 minutes remaining in Super Bowl LIV, trailing by 10, and facing a 3rd-and-15 from their own 35-yard line, Kansas City was reeling. Yes, the big comebacks had seemed easy throughout the playoffs, but Patrick Mahomes and the offense looked like a shell of themselves through the first 3 ½ quarters. This play changed that.

First, let’s start with the formation and route combination. The Chiefs were in a 3×1 set with the three receivers to the same side all appearing to run in-breaking routes. This is not an uncommon concept to see out of this offense.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of Gamepass

The 49ers would be rotating to a cover-3 look. That meant the deep middle safety (Jimmie Ward) and two outside cornerbacks (Emmanuel Moseley and Richard Sherman) were each responsible for a deep third of the field.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of Gamepass

By the time Mahomes planted his back foot, Moseley could see all 3 routes moving away from him, including Tyreek Hill’s. It did not appear that anyone was threatening his deep 3rd zone of the field. What he did see, though, was Sammy Watkins breaking inside right near the first-down marker.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of Gamepass

Moseley broke on Watkins’ route, abandoning his deep third. Unfortunately for the 49ers, Hill would be breaking his route back to the corner into the zone vacated by Moseley. By that point, safety Jimmie Ward was the only man who could take Hill’s route. Not ideal for San Francisco.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of Gamepass

The result was a 44-yard gain that gave the Chiefs life and kick-started their comeback.

SBLIV 3rd-and-15

That’s a great route combination for beating cover-3. However, it requires lots of time for those routes to develop. This is the other critical element to this play. Look how deep Mahomes’ drop was.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of Gamepass

He planted his back foot at the 21-yard line. That’s a 14-yard drop from the line of scrimmage. You generally don’t see quarterback’s drop more than 8-10 yards. This is because the further the quarterback drops, the tougher it is for offensive tackles to push their pass rushers around the pocket. The deeper the drop, the more ground the tackles have to cover.

There is one quarterback in the league who consistently takes these deeper, Tecmo-Super-Bowl drops, and that’s Patrick Mahomes. He doesn’t do it all the time, but he’s done it enough for us to see that it is intentional.

There are quarterbacks in the NFL that would struggle to throw the ball 15 yards from the line of scrimmage off of a 14-yard drop. Mahomes has the arm strength to attack any area of the field, so he uses these deep drops to occasionally buy time. Something that would be considered a defect in any other quarterback’s game is actually a feature of Mahomes’.

In fairness to Emmanuel Moseley, he is used to playing behind a pass rush that forces the ball out quickly, not quarterbacks who take 9-steps and a hitch out of shotgun before throwing. Also, Watkins’ route broke right at the first-down marker. It is not inconceivable that, from his perspective, Watkins was the main target. The result of this play was due more to great design and execution by the Chiefs than poor defense by the 49ers.

This is what makes Kansas City’s passing game so difficult to defend. Andy Reid uses route concepts that make teams defend every square inch of the field. Mahomes has the talent to make them pay when they don’t. These two elements of their offense combined to catapult the Chiefs to their first Vince Lombardi Trophy in 50 years.

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