Head coach Andy Reid handing off play calling duties to offensive coordinator Matt Nagy does not come without precedent but the real question centers on whether the transition of power can pay dividends for this team in the long-term.
Basing future success of Nagy’s tenure as play caller on analysis a single game poses a risky proposition. The small sample can not predict consistent future outcomes. But the evolution of the quarterback and offense, however, remains worthy of exploring even at this early stage.
The first 12 weeks with Reid calling plays exclusively can serve as a baseline. Quarterback Alex Smith averaged 3.5 pass attempts of 20 yards or longer (42 according to profootballfocus.com) through the first 12 games of the season. Smith held the second-highest NFL QB passer rating at 127.5 on those deep passes, .
Despite that success, unfortunately, Reid’s play-calling still tilted in the wrong direction. Through 12 games, Smith averaged 7.9 passes per game targeted behind the line of scrimmage. Worst of all Smith threw a whopping 13 passes behind the line of scrimmage in week 11 against the New York Giants after the team’s bye week with all the time in the world to prepare.
Enter Matt Nagy
Reid had Nagy take over the Chiefs primary play-calling duties for the Week 13 contest against the New York Jets. According to reports Reid still maintained “oversight” but Nagy took the lead.
New play caller Nagy proceeded to flip the script on Alex Smith’s passing distribution. What had been grossly in favor of short and backward passes became more deep-strike focused.
With Nagy calling the plays against the Jets, Smith proceeded to aggressively stretch the field. He attempted eight passes of 20 yards or deeper in Week 13. He completed five of the eight, four of which went for touchdowns. The Jets suspect secondary included two rookie safeties and a second-year starting cornerback accentuating the deep passing success. Through Week 13, Smith leads the league in deep passing quarterback rating at 130 with more than 40 percent of his 20-plus yard completions have gone for touchdowns.
In concert with a down-field focus, Smith attempted a season-low four passes targeted behind the line of scrimmage. That in turn helped spark an offense that can continue to grow as the push for the postseason continues.
Take a large grain of salt with the initial success, though. The team needs to see the trend continue. Nagy and Smith need to repeat the success it. They need to improve it further as well.
In Week 13, Smith didn’t stretch the chains efficiently. The majority of pass plays targeted receivers between the line of scrimmage and 10 yards downfield. As Nagy and Smith settle into their rhythm, the play call and route design must drift towards targeting passes for first downs between 10 and 15 yards downfield.
In the middle of a season that had gone off track, the continued evolution of Nagy’s play calling with Smith’s quarterbacking could determine the fate of the 2017 Chiefs team and its postseason potential.