Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill did not all have their minds and bodies taken over by aliens.
So, there must be some other logical explanation for what happened when the Chiefs’ explosive offense suddenly hit the skids for a half in a 40-32 loss to the Raiders on Oct. 11. That Week 5 defeat remains Mahomes’ only loss in his last 27 starts.
To understand how the Raiders temporarily solved Mahomes and what the Buccaneers might borrow from the blueprint in Super Bowl 2021, The Post watched the coaches’ film of the game and enlisted the help of two avid film analysts — NFL Network’s Brian Baldinger and NBC Sports’ Chris Simms.
In a game that featured 72 points and 903 yards of offense, the focus is on the four third-down plays and the one fourth-down play that caused the Chiefs — the NFL’s top offense in first downs (25) and yards (415.8) per game — to go scoreless on their first four second-half possessions: Three punts and an interception.
“They played two-deep safeties and press man-to-man across the board,” Baldinger said. “They made Mahomes really hold the ball waiting for somebody to come open. When you know the safeties are back there, the corners could gamble a little bit and play trail technique if they had to because they were trying to disrupt the timing out of the backfield.”
The real key to those five plays was Key. As in, Arden Key, a third-year lineman with three career sacks and no starts since 2018.
The Raiders scrapped their typical four-man defensive front in favor of a nose tackle and two defensive ends, and inserted Key as a stand-up “spy” on Mahomes.
On a third-and-8, Key freelanced his way to the far right to create a four-man rush — and Mahomes threw incomplete to Kelce.
On a third-and-9, Key stood directly over the center and mirrored all of Mahomes’ steps until he scrambled out of the pocket. With Mahomes’ eyes locked on the charging Key, Maxx Crosby got a sack from behind.
On a third-and-7, Key faked pressure, dropped off and then charged at a scrambling Mahomes. The quarterback changed directions and threw a pass to Kelce that was knocked down by Trayvon Mullen’s sticky coverage.
On the next snap, Key stood still in the middle of the field. He walked a few steps while others ran at full speed, and the disguise gave right guard Andrew Wylie no one to block. Mahomes was intercepted for the first time in the season, and it was returned to the 2-yard line to set up the game-sealing touchdown.
“That made Kansas City change and realize, ‘We can’t just keep running guys downfield on deep crossers, go routes and post routes. We have to have something else,’” Simms said. “The Raiders blitzed a few times early in the game and got burnt and said, ‘Screw that. We’re going to rush four or three and play coverage the whole game.’ ”
The NFL is known as a copycat league, but Baldinger hasn’t seen many teams copy the strategy.
Then again, so much had to go right for the Raiders just to be in that spot. They made enough explosive offensive plays to be tied 24-24 at halftime and, after the adjustments, executed defensively on first and second downs to create third-and-longs.
“The Bills tried to play soft and keep everything in front, too,” Simms said, “but the Chiefs have a million different ways to throw the ball short now — and still call deep passes.”
“Mahomes is willing to be patient and hit Kelce for 6 yards and he runs another 8 or 9 yards and that’s a 15-yard gain. That game was a jump-off spot where they realized they had to change and couldn’t just go bombs away play after play.”
The 6-foot-5 Key isn’t the traditional “spy” with linebacker speed, so Baldinger suggested the Buccaneers might be better off using one of their four linemen in that role, rather than Devin White or Lavonte David. Ndamukong Suh was employed as a stand-up spy at times in the NFC Championship game, but here’s an idea if they want to borrow from the Raiders.
“Could they do that with Jason Pierre-Paul? That’s a good comparison for Arden Key, and he’s playing pretty well,” Baldinger said. “I wouldn’t say he’s 2011 good when he was maybe the most unblockable guy in the league, but he’s moving pretty good. He has the ability that they could replicate something like that.”