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Film room: How Chiefs short passing game broke Raiders’ defense

Las Vegas couldn’t stop Kansas City’s dink and dunk approach

Kansas City Chiefs v Las Vegas Raiders
Nate Hobbs, Rashee Rice
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

Patrick Mahomes threw for nearly 300 passing yards and two touchdowns during the Kansas City Chiefs’ 31-17 win over the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 12. However, unlike in years past, it wasn’t the deep shots that did the Raiders in against Mahomes and company this time around.

According to Pro Football Focus, Mahomes only attempted one pass over 20 yards past the line of scrimmage in Las Vegas and said throw fell harmlessly incomplete. But on attempts from zero to 19 yards, the quarterback was 19 for 21 with 260 yards and that’s the range where both scores came from.

How did that happen? Let’s flip on the tape and find out.

I’ll start this breakdown with a quote from Antonio Pierce’s post-game press conference when he was asked about the Raiders’ inability to defend against the Chiefs’ crossing routes.

“Disappointed. We knew it was coming,” Pierce explained. “There was a lot of speed on the field, opportunities there for us to get the guy down, give us another chance and we didn’t do that.

“That’s a little bit of an anticipation, increasing that awareness by formations, which I thought we did a good job of awareness and working on that throughout the week. Then in the game, again, what we talked about this week was execution, and in critical moments, especially late in the second half, we didn’t execute at a high level.”

Granted, this play came in the second quarter and not in the second half, but it is a good example of what the coach is talking about.

Kansas City comes out in a three-by-one set with the three receivers at the bottom of the screen in a bunch formation to keep the inside and outside cornerbacks off the line scrimmage. That’s a good formation to run a crossing route out of, especially with Jack Jones—the wide corner at the bottom of the screen—playing seven yards off the ball against Rashee Rice.

With Las Vegas in man coverage, Jones has to navigate through the trash to avoid getting picked, forcing him to play catchup against Rice so it’s an easy pitch and catch for the third-and-eight conversion.

Jones can help himself out by playing closer to the line of scrimmage—around where Amik Robertson is pre-snap—and cheating inside a little more to anticipate the crossing route since that’s the Chiefs’ bread and butter. That being said, there isn’t a lot more the corner can do as it is a good play-call by Andy Reid, especially since the Raiders are using Marcus Epps to bracket Travis Kelce on the other side of the formation.

Had Las Vegas played Two-Man/Cover 5, Jones could have had safety help to crash on the crossing route and prevent the first down. Now, the other end of the sword is that call would leave Marcus Peters one-on-one with Kelce, which isn’t a matchup the Silver and Black want either. This is part of what makes the Chiefs so tough to defend.

While the missed tackle was highlighted more in-depth, that happened before this play and this actually ended up being Marcus Peters’ last play as a Raider.

Las Vegas runs Cover 4 and Peters locks his eyes on the outside receiver and over-plays his inside leverage. Notice how he’s almost perfectly stacked underneath the safety—Isaiah Pola-Mao—meaning Peters is not in his area. Because of that, he doesn't see the back leaking out ot the flat, so he’s not in a position to rally and tackle to prevent the first down.

That’s inexcusable for a veteran corner and from here on out, Jones and Robertson were the Raiders’ boundary corners.

Here, the Raiders are in Cover 6 with Divine Deablo on the Cover 2 side of the play-call and lined up across from Kelce. Against this flood concept from the Chiefs, Deablo has to carry Kelce down the field on the vertical route.

However, he’s flat-footed while getting hands on the tight end and doesn’t impede the route. That leads to the linebacker getting beat and leaves enough room for Mahomes to drop a nice ball right over Deablo’s head, hitting Kelce in-stride for a big gain.

We’ll get a good look at one of Mahomes’ touchdowns in the clip above.

Las Vegas shows a single-high coverage pre-snap with Tre’von Moehrig as the free safety and Pola-Mao—the other safety—lined up across from the slot receiver at the bottom of the screen. They’re giving Mahomes a man or Cover 1 look but end up rolling to Cover 2 with Robertson—corner at the top of the screen—serving as one deep-half defender and Moehrig widening post-snap.

Robert Spillane does a great job of being physical and putting the receiver on the ground, however, he gets caught with his eyes in the backfield and the same receiver finds the open grass on the off-script play.

Also, the pass rush doesn’t even come close to hitting home and Nate Hobbs takes the cheese as the flat defender, meaning he starts to come downhill on the running back in the flat. Plus, Hobbs’ eyes are in the backfield too, so he doesn’t see the receiver wide open in the end zone to help Spillane.

Scrambles have killed the Raiders all year and on this rep, Malcolm Koonce does a good job of forcing Mahomes out of the pocket so that he doesn’t have time to find Kelce, who is wide open at the bottom of the screen. However, Robert Spillane comes downhill instead of staying in his zone and letting the defensive line pursue the scrambling quarterback, leaving Rice wide open for a first down.

We’ll get another example of Las Vegas’ linebackers struggling in coverage here. They’re in Cover 3 and Kelce runs a drag route between the second and third levels of the defense. Deablo points out the route but doesn’t get any hands on Kelce to disrupt the timing of the route, and he doesn’t work laterally to help tighten the window in the middle of the field.

Simultaneously, Spillane is in no man's land and takes the cheese by working downhill, likely to pick up the running back instead of playing his zone back to front. That creates an easy throw for Mahomes to his favorite target for a first down.

Holy coverage breaks!

The Raiders are running Cover 1—or at least, that’s what I’m assuming—and Robertson follows No. 84 as the wideout goes in motion and runs a spot route. However, that motion creates a switch release between the two receivers so Hobbs also follows 84, leaving No. 11 wide open on a go route.

To make matters worse, it looks like the Raiders are trying to pass off the short drag route by Rice to avoid getting picked/caught in the trash like Jones did on that third and eight play above.

However, Hobbs is late to see Rice working across the formation and loses the foot race. It’s almost better for the Chiefs that Mahomes didn’t see the initial coverage break on the go route as 11 is able to get a block on Moehrig to help lead Rice into the endzone.

Leaving one guy wide open is bad enough and two is just flat-out unacceptable at this stage in the season.