The Chiefs’ spoke concept
One of the Chiefs favorite plays when they were looking for a gain of between 5 and 10 yards was their ‘spoke’ play. The spoke concept is a variation of the common spacing concept which consists of two sit/spot routes and a flat route.
The difference between spoke and spacing is that there is an additional corner route. I think this is a better play for spread offenses, such as the Chiefs, than regular spacing as it stresses the defense more as there are four receivers to one side and they are spread out more than they usually are with spacing, while still providing the easy read and throw that spacing does.
It’s similar to their ‘stallion’ concept as the ball usually goes to the sit route in the MOF. https://alexbyrne.substack.com/p/the-chiefs-stallion-concept
It can be a good complement for teams that throw swing screens to the back.
It can also provide a complement for teams that run arches/short post from bunch formations as if it’s ran from a bunch the initial route stems will mimic those of arches.
The Chiefs do a great job of forcing the defense to cover every inch of the field. This play is a good illustration of how they stretch the defense horizontally.
In 2018, the Chiefs ran it the same away approximately 20 times throughout the course of the season, with only a few minor adjustments on occasion. They always ran it from their favorite formation, trips with the back weak, but with the back using fast/tare motion, it essentially became quads. The trips were always to the field. In 2018, almost all of their plays from quads were spoke. In 2019, their quads game became much more diverse.
This is the main way they ran it (formation changed sometimes)
Mahomes has a three step drop from shotgun, which would equate to five from under center.
The protection is always five man half slide. They pre-dominantly slid to the weak side. They seemed to avoid calling this if they expected pressure as they were only blitzed a couple of times when using it.
The X receiver’s route was tagged, and he ran everything from fades to smoke routes. He was usually the first read for the quarterback on the play as he was usually isolated. A lot of the time when teams use fast motion they read the backside receiver if a defender runs with the back, or read the frontside concept if no one follows the back. However, I think it was based on matchup as sometimes Mahomes didn’t read it even when the back was followed.
There were a couple of times when Mahomes would throw it straight to the back. This is again likely based on the matchup with the linebacker as if the back is faster he will almost always beat him to the edge as the two spot routes slow the linebacker down.
So, if Mahomes turned down both the matchup with the X receiver and the back pre-snap, he always read it from inside spacing to outside spot, and then to the back. This is the same way that regular spot is read. The inside spot route is essentially an over the ball/sit route, but he usually ran to the playside tackle rather than actually over the ball.
The corner route in the example above is an alert, but I don’t think that’s the case with the Chiefs as Mahomes never considered it.
This is the variation they introduced in 2019- they still ran the above one in 2019 but this was more common
As you can see, it’s very similar to the 2018 version. The only real difference is that the back now runs the outside spot route rather than the flat route. From what I saw, the outside spot route (the back) is a slightly better option in this example as the defense usually flows more towards the sideline as there are two flat threats instead of one. However, it removes the possibility of throwing it quickly to the back on his swing.
They always ran this from a tight bunch. Instead of motioning the back they usually just aligned him strong. They ran the ball away from trips quite a lot, so that could have being a reason why they created this variation as it balances out their run/pass ratio from trips with the back strong.
A possible improvement to either of these plays is to change the sit receiver’s route to a juke route if there is a defender in the area where he sits down. The reason I think this would be an improvement is that the apex (first defender inside of the CB) is usually around that area if there is 4 to one side- load flow.
In the play above, the receiver would pivot back outside if he was running a juke route as the defender is walling off the inside. If the defender was sitting directly where he sits down then he could run up to him and juke him inside, attacking all of the space created by the quads. An alternative to literally juking him is for the receiver to ‘sit and go’. Both achieve the same thing so it’s more a matter of preference.
If there was no defender in the area he can simply sit down like he usually does.
This adjustment would make the play close to foolproof as almost all of the negative plays the Chiefs had when using this concept (which were not much) came when Mahomes turned down both pre-snap options and couldn’t throw the sit.
Having this adjustment essentially gives the quarterback three one-on-one options: the X receiver, the back, and whichever receiver runs the juke route.