Skip to main content

The Chiefs’ Red Zone Offense Has Been Historic in 2022

In their 3-1 start, KC's goal line planning and execution have been among NFL history's best.

Four weeks into the 2022-23 season, the Kansas City Chiefs haven’t taken much time in showcasing the many ranges of potential outcomes that some projected when considering a team with this much overhaul.

In short succession, the Chiefs have proven they can win “ugly,” as evidenced in their Thursday Night Football struggle in Week 2; they’ve also proven that, even without that unnamed six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver, they can hang a 40-point game on any team walking. Conversely, they've also been susceptible to the occasional hiccup. See their Week 3 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, a team that ranks dead last in the NFL in Football Outsiders’ DVOA over the first month.

Poetically, that unpredictability was — in a way — to be expected. But if there’s one thing that was anything but unpredictable, it was that there would be some sort of an added onus on Andy Reid, Eric Bieniemy and the coaching staff to offset that unusual variance with scheming and play-calling of the highest degree of creativity.

And in Week 4, against a Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ run defense that ranked as the fifth-best heading into the week, boy did they deliver. They also managed to do so whenever they could smell the end zone just yards away:

Perhaps no play articulates that art of deception quite like the design on Noah Gray’s touchdown to help the Chiefs open up a 17-point advantage. (This play faked out yours truly when it first occurred live from the couch, then again on the All-22 view, and then again right before this paragraph.) Masters of pre-snap motion, Kansas City proved capable of even sneaking one past a defense that finishes perennially among the NFL’s best in red zone defensive play.

From a more long-term scope, it speaks to the brilliance of both Reid and Bieniemy’s ability to scheme up creative plays along the goal line, and the numbers suggest that this year’s version of the Chiefs’ offense could be in play for a historic output if their four-game sample size extrapolates over the 17-game season.

For reference: Football Reference’s Stathead database ranges all the way back to 1994, and in the 28-year history of its tracking, take a wild guess at who ranks No. 1 all-time in terms of touchdowns scored within an opponent’s 10-yard line? The 2022-23 Kansas City Chiefs.

To say it a second time: the four-game sample size is to be considered. Though, no team in NFL history has ever surpassed the 3.0 mark or the Chiefs’ current number (3.3). One reason it feels within reach: three Reid-coached teams rank among the top 20 on the all-time list. The Chiefs are also on pace to rank No. 1 in the tracking’s history in passing touchdowns inside an opponent’s 10-yard line (2.3).

At this point, the pessimist might immediately look to red zone struggles against the Colts or even the — apologies in advance — play from the one-yard line in last year’s AFC Championship Game to dispute that point. The fact is, though, you can’t only love the Chiefs’ gutsiness and use of subterfuge down in the red zone only when it works; it’s a part of what makes them one of league history’s most feared offensive attacks.

When the question of Andy Reid’s legacy comes about, that excellence around the goal line will be, to utilize a phrase, chief among the main topics. Focus your scope anywhere across the league, and you’ll begin to notice: more and more teams are beginning to look down at their call sheets and run that patented shovel pass. The Ravens’ offense ran a variation of it last week with Lamar Jackson and Mark Andrews; Joe Burrow the Bengals went to it as a means of getting their first win a few weeks ago.

Reid’s work as a pioneer in this regard shouldn’t go unnoticed. Under his supervision, that shovel pass has always been a cheat code for the Chiefs, whether they were inside their own 20-yard line or their opponents’ position. It’s become one of those plays where you know it’s coming, but are left without answers on how to stop it. 

It serves as one of the many ways in which the Chiefs' offense has had to, depending on how you want to view it, mature creatively under their new group. Mahomes hasn’t thrown a touchdown to a wide receiver since Week 2 and of his 11 touchdowns, nine of them have been to either running backs or tight ends. Additionally, they've largely been through innovative ways in condensed space within an opponent’s 10-yard line.

As it stands this year, the Chiefs are tied for No. 1 in terms of plays inside an opponent’s five-yard line (23), as well as touchdowns in that same setting (10). Under that same realm, it makes sense that Patrick Mahomes’s red zone passing statistics rival all-time bests. Since 2018, he owns an NFL-high 51 touchdowns to just one interception when inside an opponent’s five-yard line.

Analysts appear to still be in limbo in regards to if the Chiefs can 100% withstand the loss of Tyreek Hill and his big-play ability, primarily in must-score-quick, shootout situations. In the meantime, Kansas City has proven plenty capable of holding its own in essentially any situation. With Reid and Bieniemy on the sidelines, the Chiefs have been almost a sure thing for a six-point score the moment they can smell the red zone.