Chiefs Offense Airing It Out at OTAs





This last weekend some OTAs (Organized Team Activities) kicked off in Kansas City. In one press conference, Andy Reid seemed to be a little unsure if the workouts were mandatory or voluntary. Check out the first 1:15 or so. Well let me clear that up, they were voluntary, so the whole team wasn’t there. These tend to be rookies, players looking for some extra reps to secure a roster spot, and often the starting quarterback.




The Reissue Issue

As I was reading through some articles on the OTAs, I came across one on the KC Chiefs website that mentioned second year player Demarcus Robinson and starting QB Alex Smith. The article mentions Smith throwing a pass that traveled 40 yards in the air and hit Robinson in stride.


What struck me in this article was the sense of deja vu I had. I felt like I had heard/read that same thing for the past couple of seasons. In training camp the QB to WR connection was on fire, picking up 30-40 yard chunks of yardage. I believe one former KC receiver said it was going to be bombs over Baghdad.


With this history in mind, I began to wonder if it was going to be the same thing all over again. Big yard gains from down the field passes in the OTAs and Training Camp, then dink and dunk passes from behind the line of scrimmage to 5 yards beyond it. Let’s take a look at the last few seasons with AS11.




By The Numbers

I pulled up the Top 30 Quarterbacks based on total yards passing, then took a look at Air Yards / Attempt, Air Yards, and Percentage of Air Yards. The resulting table is below.

As you can see, Alex isn’t really tearing it up with the different ratings concerning air yards. He took a step back going from year 1 to 2, but has been steadily climbing on the Air Yards, Air Yards / Attempt, and Total Yards categories. There isn’t really a season in here where it seems he was pushing the ball down field. Most of the work (greater than 50%) was being done by the receiver.


These stats really don’t look that great, but where is the bar? I went ahead and compiled a listing of the league leaders each of these years in the Air Yards / Attempt, Air Yards, and % Air Yards categories. That table is below.

Honestly, I was a little surprised the Air Yards / Attempt weren’t larger than this, but I guess it is due to the number of attempts. Each year, the league leader was 1.5 to 2.2 more Air Yards per Attempt than AS11.


Air Yards matched my expectation better. If you compare the league leader to Smith, you can see about 1,000 more yards per season through the air. Lastly, the Percentage of Air Yards is also drastically different when comparing the Smith to the league leader. In these years, it is about 20% more (or technically, 50% MORE) than Smith’s. 




The Smith Effect

No matter how we look at it, Smith isn’t an Air Yards QB. Based on the number of years he has demonstrated these low rankings, I don’t think we can chalk it up to poor offensive line play, receivers not getting open, or even play calling. I am sure there are plenty of plays (I think we can all name bunches of times we have watched receivers streaking downfield basically open) where receivers were open or coming open.


Alex Smith is just that risk averse that he doesn’t wait for the play to develop or just heave it up. He may extend the play with his legs, but he really doesn’t look downfield when he is on the move. Smith will either take what he can get with his legs or look for a short yardage option.


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The Smith Impact

No matter what we see in highlights and articles on plays made during the training camp. No matter how many Tweets ding in our notifications. No matter how many times we run the numbers. We will end up with a risk averse quarterback that averages a little over 3 yards beyond the line of scrimmage on a pass attempt.


If we treat that as a given, what does it mean for the 2017 season?  Well, I would say we should evaluate the members of the team that will be on the receiving end of those passes  The ability to move the ball through the air will depend on what those players can do after the catch.




The Ability at YAC

If you take a look at the table above, you can see a couple of areas I highlighted in yellow. I thought we should look at receiving percentage, yards after catch per reception, and air yards per reception.  


First, the receivers need to be able to catch what is thrown their way. Under the Recpt % column, I highlighted the receivers that haul in better than 70% of what is thrown their way. The names here match what I would have thought. These are they guys that tend to get the short yardage routes. Spencer Ware, Travis Kelce, Charcandrick West, and Tyreek Hill.


The next area I considers was the Yards After Catch per Reception. What I found interesting here is that the same 4 guys had the top YAC/Reception. I would have thought the guys running the longer routes would have had higher numbers based on there being fewer players being them. Instead we see the players getting the short yardage passes taking it further.


The last area, Air Yards per Reception, mostly confirmed what I thought about the players getting the short yardage passes having a higher completion percentage. The exceptions being the butter finger brothers, Albert Wilson and Demetrius Harris. The four players named earlier were catching the balls about 5 yards or less down field and Chris Conley and Jeremy Maclin were averaging 8.6 and 9.3 Air Yards per Reception.


Setting Up 2017

It looks like we have most of the personnel we need to play in an AS11 led offense. If Kelce, Maclin, Hill, Ware, West, and Conley can keep on track, then we just need to shore up a couple of spots. We need another wide receiver and tight end to step up and generate YAC. 

Will Gavin Escobar, De’Anthony Thomas, and Robinson be the ones to fill those roles? I can see Thomas and Robinson having the potential, but not Escobar based on his past. I hope John Dorsey and Andy Reid see something different, we need another receiving tight end.

All in all, I think we are in fairly good shape but can always look to improve. What do you guys think? Given that AS11 is QB1, do you think we have the receivers to have an effective offense? 


Until next week, there’s The Rub!


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Frank Leggio
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Frank Leggio

Frank Leggio is an operations director living in the Columbus, OH area.He has two sons and a couple of Beagles.He was born in Germany, went to high school in KS and college in CO.
Frank Leggio
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  • Merlin

    Interesting read. I for one am surprised that Wilson had a better catch % than Maclin. Maclin had a down year, but still. Harris at the bottom was not a shock. You would expect an ex-basketball player to have better hands.

    • Chiefly Bacon

      You know what they say about basketball TEs, catch and dribble.

    • PaulfromnorthMO

      What is surprising is that Harris actually caught over half of his targets.

    • I think a few of those got stuck in his helmet gril.

  • Chiefly Bacon

    Great read Frank. It seems to me that this is a major part of Chiefs quest for their next QB. Smith plays really well when Chiefs are ahead, but when they have to come back, it often falls to the defense to create TDs off turnovers, because the offense can’t move down the field fast enough.

    • Agree. His comebacks are very rare. He should be thinking he is playing with house money, instead he plays like he is playing with his house money.

  • Chiefly Bacon
  • PaulfromnorthMO

    These air yards, air yards per attempt and the rankings of each for AS11, are why so many people are so thrilled with the drafting of Mahomes.

    • Merlin

      I am curious what the stats would be if you eliminate all the passes thrown behind the line of scrimmage. The Chiefs screen a lot and there is only about 2 yards between Smith and the leaders.

      • tm1946

        Success may be more important than where the pass is thrown. Fans love the long ball – one play, one TD. But winning football with -2 yard passes but keep moving the ball and win the game…. pretty good stuff.

        • I agree. If we win the game and throw every pass behind the line, would that be OK? Probably not, as you say, fans love the long ball. There would still be dissent.

          • tm1946

            I firmly believe if Alex won a SB for the Chiefs there would be fans with issues. I suppose there are fans in NE who do not like Brady…. stupid fans but…..

      • Me too. I don’t know where to find that one though. How many times have we racked up negative yardage by on those plays too?

      • PaulfromnorthMO

        On the other hand, the longest pass of the year, that 80 yarder to Kelce against Denver, was probably about minus three air yards.

    • Sure they/we are. But what is funny to me is that the league leader with the highest air yards per attempt is only 2.16 air yards per attempt more than AS11s best year of 3.23. That is all of 6 and a half feet. Is that really that much of a big deal?

      2016 Season – Derek Carr 3.68, Aaron Rodgers 3.91, Philip Rivers 3.94, Eli Manning 3.34, Drew Brees 4.15, Tom Brady 4.17, Ben Roethlisberger 4.12, Cam Newton 4.23.

      These guys are all within 3 feet of AS11. Is that really a difference maker?

      • PaulfromnorthMO

        One yard per attempt, over approximately 500 attempts per season, would increase AS11’s total yards by about 14%. That sounds significant.

        • That is a total yardage argument not an air it out, throw the long ball, bombs over baghdad argument.

          Even at 1 yard per attempt, 500 yards, at 25 air yard plays (taking into account the current average of 3.2) that would be 25 over the season or 1.5 25 yard completions per game.

          Does that win games or make bigger stats?

          I would say it might be the difference in some games.

          • PaulfromnorthMO

            You’re correct, I looked at that wrong, with an extra 500 air yards, that would increase his air yards by over 30% (I’m doing quick math in my head). That is significant.
            I’m not factoring in additional plays, just increasing the yardage on the approx. 500 attempts Alex makes now.
            BTW, I really like the count down clocks, they just don’t move fast enough.

      • Laurels and limitations

        when you are talking about the threat of stretching defenses out, yes. Defenses knowing that a QB is looking to take advantage of them downfield is much different than when the defense knows that said QB is not. Alex Smith scores on just 3.1% of passes which is very near the bottom of the league. Smith beat out Wentz, Flacco, Osweiller and Fitzpatrick in 2016. .Also, when you look into the full stats from QBs around the league those slightly fewer feet per attempt only put about 7 passers behind him in the same year.

        • On your last point, that supports what I am trying to say. I don’ think think the average air yards per attempt is a very good measure of a successful QB. I don’t think it is the overall number that is as important as a situational number. Like, for a first down or touchdown, when it is needed in a game. Some of these guys have higher air yards per attempt because they’d are always behind and trying to eat up points quickly.

          All those times we got into prevent defense, we gave up lots of yardage. All kinds, rushing, air, YAC, etc.

          I would say that AS11s style can win a lot of games, but not necessarily the important ones. Getting behind in a game or a close game, with the lead, where we need to extend a drive to maintain possession. That is where I think it hurts us the most.

  • tm1946

    Alex seems to have gotten a lot out of a less than stellar, mad bomber career. If Reid had some input into this, he also gets some credit/blame for getting a lot without doing all that much (in terms of chancy, fan loving stats, huge score QBing).

    All well and good but what you get is what the Chiefs are. A nice team, a good enough team with a good regular season record and not much else. OH yeah, and a few pro bowlers – if that matters to you.

    With Mahomes, we get the dream. A great QB who can run up score, wins and SB trophies…. until…. he does or does not. We will all see.

    At least we are not the Royals, local media is already saying the ownership is getting ready for a fire sale and rebuild for 2020…. at least we are not the Royals.

    • The thing with Reid and Smith is they do seem to get wins, just not enough post season wins. I couldn’t care less if we go 16-0 or 9-7 or win every game by 50 points in the regular season, I just care that we get into the post season and then score one more point than the opponent in each of those games.

      So, do we need a regular season QB and a post season QB?

      It is really frustrating watching conservative play calling/execution when we are losing a playoff game.

      • tm1946

        There is a whole lot of people who will probably be pointing out to you – look how bad we were before Mr Dorsey/Reid or we should be wetting our collective pants winning 10 to 10+ games a year.

        I measure myself not in that group. I say thanks for saving us, Mr Dorsey/Reid but if you do not want to move on, win in the playoffs or get your butts out of here. But I suspect many are happy to have the 10 wins, why be like NE?

    • PaulfromnorthMO

      But on the other hand, the Royals have went to three World Series and won two of them, even though it took 30+ years to do it. And in that same 30+ years, the Chiefs have won ?

      • tm1946

        Exactly, all depends on how to one looks at things…. something like 183 games a year vs 16. Management has lots of options in baseball, spend as much as you like vs NFL parity. Royals owners are fugal and Hunts are fugal but have to spend so much…. what do we have to show for it…. Well at least we can say we are a major league city…. just forgotten by the media.

        • PaulfromnorthMO

          That is true, about how one looks at things. There was a decade long stretch in there where the Royals could have dropped off the face of the earth and no one would have noticed.

          • Laurels and limitations

            Thought they DID fall off of the face of the earth! The Royals just weren’t bad in that time they was ugly.

  • Chiefly Bacon

    Thanks to his offensive line, Raiders QB Derek Carr felt pressure less than any other QB in 2016.— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 29, 2017

    • Chiefly Bacon

      Alex Smith faced the 5th least pressure in the NFL last year.

      • Laurels and limitations

        I wonder how much getting rid of the ball fast factors into that.

        • Chiefly Bacon

          I’m sure it plays a role, but everyone in the league is trying to do that these days (except maybe Roethlesburger). I don’t think it would be enough of a factor to drastically skew the data. Chiefs Oline was solid in pass pro.

          • Laurels and limitations

            Oh, I agree with this….just trying to start conversation. I’ll try again.
            Nu-uh, Chief’s o-line sucks!!

          • Doesn’t Alex have one of the top release times? I think this may be part of the problem. It doesn’t allow plays to develop, players to get downfield, or time to read a progression.

  • tm1946

    Good news – Marcus Rush, LB. 2016 top rush productivity in pre season…. what a sign.

    • Laurels and limitations

      and by all reports he is next to useless in run support. This seems more like a kicking of the tires move to me.

      • Chiefly Bacon

        I know there’s no chance of it, but I’d love to them try him at SILB. He’s undersized for the outside, but he’s a load on the inside and flexible enough to slip blocks and make tackles.

        • Laurels and limitations

          I like that he seems to have a knack for creating fumbles. Why do you say undersized though, he’s 251 according to rotoworld.

          • Chiefly Bacon

            He’s got decent height and weight, but he lacks the length and strength to handle NFL tackles in the run game. He could make the roster as a pass rush specialist and STs player, but he’d be a liability on run downs.

          • Laurels and limitations

            same thing I was reading.

      • tm1946

        Will be lucky if he is still around by training camp.

  • Chiefly Bacon

    Another narrative killer. Hali is still good:

    The Cardinals Chandler Jones led the NFL's 3-4 OLBs with 56 total QB pressures from the right side of the defensive line.— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 30, 2017

  • jimfromkcj

    To sum up the stats and put Smith in perspective for 2016. Rivers was the most prolific in total yards in the Western Division at #5 with 4386 yards, 33 TD’s, 21 Interceptions, 36 sacks and a rating of 87.9. Carr was #14 with 3937 yards, 28 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, 16 sacks and a rating of 96.7. Smith was #22 with 3502 yards, 15 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 28 sacks and a rating of 91.2. Simien was #24 with 3401 yards, 18 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 31 sacks and a rating of 84.6. So you can see why the Chiefs made a QB #1 on their draft. Although Smith was 2 spots ahead of Simien he had 3 or 4 more games played. That said, it could be said that Smith was the worst QB in the Division. It could also be said that Carr is the best although he was 500 or so yards under what Rivers put up. It is easy to figure out why so many pundits ave placed the Chiefs as #3 for 2017. We actually stayed the same on both offense and defense while the Raiders have made several additions to a defense that ws not very good and the Broncos upgraded their off line considerably. Even the Chargers had a good draft, but still have some weak spots the have to contend with. So it’s possible the Chiefs may be tail end Charley if Houston or Johnson don’t make it back totally healthy.

    • Laurels and limitations

      I agree with the QB ranking but not the need for Houston and Johnson being quite so paramount. KC has a solid roster and while I agree that Kc is better with Johnson and JH healthy, the team seems to find ways to succeed without them.

    • Chiefly Bacon

      Smith had a down year. He’s definitely held the Chiefs back from reaching their maximum potential. Chiefs are still, overall, easily the best team in the AFC West. Denver and SD are both dealing with brand new coaching staffs and Bob Sutton still whips Carr every time. Raiders have a ton of talent on their roster, but their coaching staff isn’t half as talented as the Chiefs’ and it shows.

      • tm1946

        Nit picking here but if Alex is what he is and has been since coming to KC…. isn’t that the maximum potential of the team. It is not like he is hiding in the bushes not giving his all. A little less production and that is it, Reid has no rabbits to pull out of his hat.

        • If the Chiefs had all the pieces to the puzzle last season, would they have beat the Steelers?

          It is difficult for Reid to pull a rabbit out of the hat when the top RB is gone. It’s difficult to make things happen when you have your fastest receiver running wind-sprints behind the line of scrimmage.

          It’s difficult to pass deep if the HC is calling plays 20 yards and in. This comment goes to Frank as well. Frank?

          Until 2016, the Chiefs didn’t have a speedster or for that matter even two WRs worth spit to field at the same time. they played Wilson instead of giving Robinson snaps. They didn’t call plays to conley. He was a second thought to me. Maclin was down all year just about, injured or emotionally out of it.

          They still won 12 games. Al went down in a pair of travesty no calls. He was out the next game and I think it took 3 more games to get back to being himself.

          Dorsey and Reid have put together a team that had 4 sequential winning seasons with 3 of them 11 or 12 wins.

          Is this a perfect team? Nope. But they have a belief. They play for each other. They really began to come around with the OL in 2016.

          But name one team out there that is perfect at all positions. They have 11 +11 that their fans say, yeah, these are the perfect guys? Or the Pundits? Everyone gushes over Brady but Brady is beatable if you defend his strengths and exploit his weakness. KC proved that in 2014.

          I am willing to see what Al Smith does. If he doesn’t get it done, he has Mahomes behind him. yeah, there are old farts here, tired of waiting. I am one of them but look, I am a realist also. There are only so many Rodgers and what’s his name in New England? I will wait and see what Carr does this year. EVERY DC IN THE NFL will know his propensity now. Same thing with the QB in Dallas, or Carolina or where ever. They have to prove it and for example, Much as Phil Rivers can do or did, or, as much as Carr did or can do, they haven’t proven it. Prescott didn’t do it. Hell, even Big Ben didn’t nor did Cam Newton. Well, the Chiefs have their shoulda’ could’a would’a’s but it is no different than the Raiders, Steelers, Panthers, Cowboys or even, oh heavens, the Pack. Come’on.

          so we had another season. It didn’t get where I thought it would get. I don’t want to wait for PH to be the guy or, not be the guy. That would be horrible. We have a good QB that won’t lose games. He is not the carry everyone on his back, but he carries the leadership load and the team believes in him. I will stick with Al at this point. Sheesh, this reminds me of the Cowboys when White took over.

    • While an awful QB can really hurt a team, a mediocre or better probably won’t. Given that this is a team sport, it is about the combination, not just one. Maybe it is better to have a QB that doesn’t lose and get the right pieces around him to win. Not saying AS11 is the prototype.

    • tm1946

      Hope you are wrong…. Houston and DJ “make it back totally healthy” – not likely to me.

  • Laurels and limitations

    DR is one of my favorite Twitter follows, he’s just fun, okay!?

    Better show you can do something !— Demarcus Robinson (@honeythunder14) May 30, 2017