KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Charcandrick West stood in front of his locker in the mostly empty Chiefs training facility this week, the backup running back holding court after an out-of-nowhere two-touchdown performance in last weekend’s victory over Houston.
He mused on just about every topic imaginable, from Kansas City’s unbeaten start to the unexpected play of quarterback Alex Smith to the success of rookie running back Kareem Hunt.
When asked about the Chiefs’ creativity on offense, his grin threatened to break his face.
“It’s a dream, man. They’re making the Madden guys’ jobs hard,” West said, referring to programmers and designers at EA Sports who are responsible for the signature NFL video game.
“I don’t know how they’re going to get all of this stuff in the game next year,” West said.
If they’re trying to replicate the Chiefs’ playbook, it might push the limits of technology.
Whether it’s a jet sweep run through any number of players, on any position on the field, to the tunnel screens that have allowed tight end Travis Kelce to rack up the yardage, one thing is clear: The game plans that coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Matt Nagy have put together this season have pushed the boundaries of what seems possible in a league known for its copycat tendencies.
“Every week, defenses are trying to do something to take away what you’re trying to do. That’s always been the case,” quarterback Alex Smith said. “I think the goal is to be really balanced. You want a lot of guys that can produce, you want to do it in a lot of different ways, so you’re not one-dimensional — so they can’t shut you down that easily.”
One dimensional? Heck, the Chiefs are pushing the boundaries of three-dimensional.
In some ways, that’s nothing new. Reid long ago earned a reputation for being an offensive innovator, putting Donovan McNabb and Co. in creative situations in Philadelphia. But many years, he’s been held back by the talent on the field, forced to play to the strengths of a team lacking the right quarterback or playmaking wide receiver capable of fully realizing his vision.
That doesn’t appear to be the case anymore.
Alex Smith has never been considered a superstar, but his running ability combined with an uncanny knack for avoiding turnovers has allowed Reid to put his quarterback in unique situations.
Like the pistol. Or the kind of read-options that fans are accustomed to seeing on Saturdays.
Throw in the versatility of Hunt out of the backfield, the ability of Kelce to catch screen passes while also stretching the field, and the world-class sprinting speed of wide receiver Tyreek Hill, and you have a trio of playmakers that allow Reid and Nagy to try out just about anything.
Jet sweeps. Shovel passes. Laterals and traps and all kinds of misdirection.
“Their video is really impressive, and analytically — from a number standpoint — they’re really impressive,” said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, whose team will try to figure out the Chiefs on Sunday.
“Individually and collectively, they’re doing it at a high level,” he said. “They have balance. They’re running the ball. They have a young, talented runner who is doing a good job. It’s a lot of things going on well with the Kansas City Chiefs.”
The numbers bear that out, too. The Chiefs are second in the NFL in total offense, lead the league in yards per play and points per game, and are third in time of possession. The balance is evident when you consider they’re second in the NFL in yards rushing and ninth in yards passing.
All that creativity has also come in handy as the Chiefs have dealt with a rash of injuries.
They have yet to have their entire offensive line healthy, and figure to have missing pieces again Sunday with right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif still out with a knee injury and center Mitch Morse limited by a foot injury. Wide receiver Chris Conley was lost for the season last Sunday with a ruptured Achilles’ tendon, while running back Spencer Ware went down in the preseason with a knee injury.
Reid mostly dismisses any notion that things are markedly different this year, but he does accept that defenses have begun trying new wrinkles to slow the Chiefs down.
“More in the run-game stuff than the pass game,” he said, “but everyone has their own flare.”
Including the Chiefs, where Reid’s creativity is keeping them one step ahead.