Red Hot: Andy Reid’s Chiefs Are The Envy Of The NFL

Through the first six weeks of the season, the Chiefs are sitting pretty atop the AFC and were recently the last team in the NFL with a flawless record. They did finish 12-4 last season and earned a bye as the second-best team in the AFC, so it’s not a complete culture shock to see them as the last undefeated team in 2017. It’s how Kansas City has been doing it that has shocked everyone.

From overcoming a slew of injuries to turning a rookie running back and a game-manager into MVP candidates, the team’s success goes further than the efforts of the individuals. It’s all about the walrus with the headset that deserves all the credit. It’s safe to say this is the best coaching job of Andy Reid’s entire career.

Even after the Chiefs’ first loss of the season, the team still sits atop almost every power ranking no matter where you look, mostly because of how great they’ve looked this season. It’s rare that you can see a team lose and still remain untouched at the top, especially this early in the season where there are multiple teams with similar records.

It’s because Reid isn’t just meeting the lofty expectations attached to a Chiefs team that was expected by many to take a step backward and hand the division crown to the once highly thought of Raiders — he’s exceeding them in every single way.

When analyzing what changed between last year and this year, it’s clearly the offense. This team went from a middle of the pack unit to best in the league in just one year. Going from 20th in yards per game to 2nd is no simple task.

Yes, Kareem Hunt’s arrival in the NFL was more electric than any sort of promo The Rock ever cut for anything. Yes, Alex Smith has somehow morphed from game manager to Tom Brady without the Uggs. Yes, players like Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce are breaking off huge gains and reminding everyone that they can go to the house at any given moment.

Instead of giving those players the credit, why not give Reid the credit for putting each and every one of those players in a position to score.

It was evident since the season opener that Andy Reid was here to do two things this season: wear every oversized red shirt on the planet, and expose defenses. Well, guess what everybody? The Gap’s pre-fall sale on baggy extra-large red shirts ended weeks ago.

Now, it’s all about treating each and every defense like your sanity while hearing Chris Collinsworth commentate a game. Sure, you think your fine for the first two or three quarters aside from a big time slip up here or there. Then when that fourth quarter comes, you completely lose it. Reid has been an expert at putting the finishing moves on teams, dominating teams the whole season that think they’re stopping this offense late in games.

Even after their recent loss to the Steelers, the Chiefs still average a full four points more than the Lions who’ve had the second-most fourth-quarter success this season. That isn’t just because Hunt wears teams out or Tyreek Hill leaves them laying on the ground wondering what in the world happened as he chucks up the deuces as he trots in the end zone. It’s how they get to the point where they can take the top off the defense, another thing that can be attributed to Reid.

That was even before De’Anthony Thomas added a 57-yard touchdown to the mix. With so many explosive players, you’d think defenses just break down because they can’t handle the speed anymore. What Reid does is create simple plays in order to utilize big play ability.

These may be the kind of plays you see down at the collegiate level, but there is nothing college-like about watching Kelce, Hill or Hunt treat your defense like an 11-man human turnstile.

You can roll Chris Christie through that kind of gap in that line.

Reid doesn’t just utilize the skills of all his playmakers. What he does is use them as a threat. Tyreek Hill might be the best home run threat in football, racking up 12 touchdowns last season, but now he’s being used as the best decoy around.

It’s a masterpiece the way Reid uses Hill. He’ll constantly bait teams into paying too much attention to him while chipping away time and time again with an array of creative screens or shovel passes to Kelce or Hunt. He’ll even use his 5’10 receiver as a blocker to keep people guessing about where the ball is going and when.

Putting Hill in those types of situations is pretty much telling people you’re not going to do something and then winking in their face. It’s the most obvious slight of hand going on in football, but it works time and time again. Then, just when everyone lets their guard down, Hill is galloping past cornerbacks and safeties for a back-breaking score. You can’t keep a purebred talent like that caged up for long, but what you can do is bait the defense for an entire game.

While turning a rookie into one of the top running backs in football and using screens, pistol formations and shovels to set up the football version of a finisher from Mortal Combat is an impressive sort of trickery, Reid’s best trick yet is convincing everyone that he has turned Alex Smith into an elite quarterback.

They say the greatest trick the devil ever pulled is convincing people he didn’t exist. While Reid may wear the same color as the devil but will probably look more like his lame, overbearing dad than Lucifer himself, he did pull off one hell of an illusion with Alex Smith.

Please, do not consider this as an attack on Smith. It’s hard to argue with facts, and the fact lie in his stats. Smith is currently third in passing yards, fifth in touchdowns, and first out of qualified passers in QBR. The trick has been convincing those around the league that he has actually become the kind of quarterback who is known for the deep ball. Having the best QBR on long balls and constantly throwing them are two different things entirely. That’s where Reid has been able to truly work his magic this season and it all likes in the ALEX.

No, the ALEX is not the worst nickname of all time for a quarterback that surprisingly doesn’t have one yet. ALEX stands for Air Less Expected, which measures the difference between how far a QB threw a pass through the air and how many yards he needed for a first down.

For example, if you needed 10 yards to get the first down and then proceeded to throw it five, you would have an ALEX of -5. It may sound like rocket science, but it isn’t. It’s just a simple way of saying that Alex Smith is the same exact quarterback he’s been for his entire career: a glorified check-down artist.

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Smith isn’t just his former self, he’s worse than normal. Smith set the previous lowest ALEX in history back in 2015 with 3.4, and is well on the way of trouncing that record. It’s not just 3rd downs that has Smith throwing shorter than normal, as his -1.6 ALEX on second downs ranks 20th in the league.

He averaged just 6.8 air yards per attempt this season, 27th out of qualified quarterbacks. You name a time in the game, and you’ll find the same Alex Smith of old. He’s rarely aggressive and just happens to be the benefactor of Reid’s phenomenal play calling. Remember that rant Danny Green went on saying “they are who we thought they were”? Well, that video might as well be played on a loop if Alex Smith wins the MVP this season.

Smith isn’t a bad quarterback by any means, never has been, and never will be. Yet to think he’s just lept into a different level of play is unrealistic. What Reid has done is maximize his short game while opening up the top when the defense least expects it. It’s not easy turning a middle-of-the-pack quarterback into the captain of the best team in football.

That’s the leap that’s the most impressive part given the hand Reid has been dealt. Many people think about how easy it was to get from last year’s 12-4 team to one of the best teams a year later, and they go right towards the defense.

While Alex Smith was a solid game manager last season and they relied on a Spencer Ware-led rushing attack and big plays from Tyreek Hill, it was the defense that carried them. They finished first in takeaways and seventh overall in points allowed. Well, it’s hard to have the same kind of juggernaut defense when your entire roster is hurt.

All over the roster, this team has big-time injuries. If you look on the defense, you’ll notice Eric Berry, Steven Nelson, Tamba Hali, and Dee Ford all missing.

On the offensive line that has paved the way for Hunt’s stellar season, both Lauren Duvernay-Tardif and Mitch Morse are sidelined.

Even at the skill positions, they’re missing Spencer Ware and Chris Conley. Still, they manage to put up solid numbers on both sides of the ball. If you don’t know why yet, then you simply haven’t been paying attention.

Putting your best players in a position to make plays is such a simple idea that few truly achieve, at least at this level. What Reid has done is take simple talent and turn it into more than just a solid unit. This kind of offense makes well-oiled machines look like an 18-car pileup.

These players might earn Pro Bowl honors or even MVP recognition, on their way to a possible trip to Super Bowl LII, but all credit starts and ends with the man that hopped off the Pringles can, Andy Reid.

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