There was a time when teams in the National Football League could successfully operate — and by operate I mean win big — by implementing the often referred to use of the “Offensive Triplets.” That would be: the QB, the RB, and the Receiver. Perhaps the most popular example of the triplets was Dallas Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin. Over the years, to climb to the Super Bowl, a number of teams employed that 3-man attack that included a top notch trio who were drafted at the QB, RB, and Receiver positions. However, the recent success of the 2017 Kansas City Chiefs is a reminder of a different trend in the path to success. So, another nail in the triplet myth coffin.
A good example of a triplet champion is the 1983 Washington Redskins. They had Joe Theismann at QB, John Riggins at RB and Charlie Brown playing wide receiver. Brown had over 1,200 yards receiving that season and that sum represented more than one-third of the yards he gained in his whole career. RIggins had 1,347 yards rushing and was named to the first-team All-Pro (only Eric Dickerson’s 1,808 yards exceeded Riggins’ total). Joe Theismann was also a first-team All-Pro that season but also led the league with five game-winning drives.
We have a tendency to remember the stars of any given season and forget that every championship is a “team” win. While the 1983 Redskins depended on those three for a huge chunk of their offense, RB Joe Washington gained 772 yards that year and Art Monk had 746 receiving yards.
The 1969 Kansas City Chiefs were a team of the future as designed by head coach Hank Stram. They not only had multiple players who made a contributions, but a coach who designed the offense that might best resemble Andy Reid’s with so many sets and different plays from those varied sets that defenses couldn’t key on any one thing, or player. QB Len Dawson, RB Mike Garrett, and WR Otis Taylor were certainly the stars of that offense but don’t forget that coach Stram also utilized, RBs Robert Holmes and Warren McVea almost as much as he did Garrett. Yes, Otis Taylor was the “star” wideout that season — and especially in the Super Bowl — but WR Frank Pitts (470), RB Mike Garrett (432), and WR Gloster Richardson (381) combined for 1,283 yards receiving in a year when Len Dawson and Mike Livingston threw for a combined 2,446 yards..
The San Francisco teams of the 1980s always had more than QB Joe Montana, WR Jerry Rice, and RB Roger Craig as major contributors. I’m not one to say that defense wins championship because it takes balance across the whole team to scale the heights. Len Dawson said recently that the team in 1969 won it mostly because of their defense. The current Chiefs are a team that’s had a championship level defense for a few years now but hasn’t had the requisite offensive pieces necessary to excel… until now.
Dick Vermeil was a brilliant offensive mind who never was able to assemble a defense like the one the Chiefs have now. Very few head coaches can build a team away from their own tendency. Andy Reid has forever been known as an offensive guy, but he allows his DC to build as they are willing.
That recipe may finally work this year. For the first time since Hank Stram’s team in 1969, these Chiefs have a talent-balance that could take them to the Super Bowl too. There’s no sign of “triplets” plaguing this offense. Yes, QB Alex Smith is having a banner year — much as Joe Theismann did in ’83 — and yes, the Chiefs have a rip roaring rookie RB in Kareem Hunt, but by cutting ties with WR Jeremy Maclin, they essentially opened the door for several receivers like Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Albert Wilson, Chris Conley, as well as Kareem Hunt, to offer a wider range of options that defenses must deal with.
It’s clear that when the season began that Andy Reid’s intent was to share carries between Spencer Ware and Kareem Hunt. That would have been ideal, even knowing what we know about Hunt now. The Chiefs still have a need to find and incorporate another RB into the offense.
When that happens, the Chiefs will finally be running the kaleidoscopic offense that Reid has designed. When you think back over the past 15 years about the New England Patriots — something I don’t really care to do — you’d be hard pressed to identify any of those teams as possessing a set of triplets. No, the Pats have maintained possibly the best QB to ever pull a jersey over this head and surrounded him with a variety of very good — not always great — talent. The surprising aspect of Bill Belichick’s approach to me is that he seems to restock his team every year while Andy Reid has used a divergent approach by keeping as many of his core players and coaches together as possible.
- The Dolphins of the early 1980s had not only Larry Csonka, but Mercury Morris, and Jim Kick at RB.
- The Packers of the mid-1960s had not only Jim Taylor but Paul Hornung, and Elijah Pitts at RB.
- The 1999 St. Louis Rams had two great WRs in Tory Holt and Issac Bruce.
- Yes, the 2013 Seattle Seahawks had Russel Wilson and Marshawn Lynch holding down the QB and RB spots but the wide receiving duties were shared by Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin, and Jermaine Kearse.
Even the Dallas Cowboys of the early 1990s had other significant contributors like FB Daryl Johnston, TE Jay Novacek, and WR Alvin Harper. More importantly, it was their defense that helped to bring those championships home. In fact, in my memory, only the 2000 Baltimore Ravens and the 2015 Denver Broncos, stick out as teams that won the Super Bowl on the backs of stellar defensive play alone.
Without needing to get into number or statistics, the 2017 Kansas City Chiefs have the optics of a balanced team both on offense and defense. The real triplets are: 1) offense, 2) defense, and 3) special teams. Now all they need to do is straighten out their Special Teams.
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