Implementing 13-personnel looks was one of Kansas City’s keys to success in Los Angeles.
The Kansas City Chiefs entered their Sunday Night Football matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers looking for a win that would extend their lead in the AFC West, and that’s exactly what they got.
After going blow-for-blow with Los Angeles for the majority of the night, Kansas City crafted a late-game drive to take the lead and got a turnover to seal the game. Multiple players factored into the win, with superstars and role players alike doing their respective parts to contribute. Andy Reid’s team is now 8-2 following a Week 11 victory, and a three-game lead over the Chargers with an added tiebreaker makes the division race look like it’s all but wrapped up at this juncture.
Now that snap counts have been released, what jumped off the page? Let’s take a look at three notable takeaways from another week of Chiefs football.
1. All three of the Chiefs’ tight ends played important roles
The absence of Jody Fortson was painfully obvious for the Chiefs in their Week 9 overtime win against the Tennessee Titans and after a week to get back into the swing of things, Fortson was back in full force in Los Angeles. The wide receiver-turned-tight-end hauled in a pair of passes for 51 yards and was in the game for 18 snaps. Second-year tight end Noah Gray played a season-high 60% of Kansas City’s offensive snaps, getting targeted three times and also chipping in as a blocker. Travis Kelce, naturally, was the star of the show and had three touchdowns.
Not only did Kansas City average 10 yards per play when in 13-personnel (one running back and three tight ends), but their 13 plays of that kind averaged a staggering 0.73 EPA per play. Going heavy on offense forces the opposing defense to at least attempt to match that, or else they suffer the consequences. The Chiefs are in a rare spot in that they have three quality tight ends, and they made the most of all three of them in Week 11. Many factors played a role in the win and while 20% of the entire offense’s snaps isn’t anything crazy, the success rate was yet another example of 13-personnel looks working for the Chiefs in 2022.
2. Justin Watson is clearly a trusted target
Already without Mecole Hardman and once JuJu Smith-Schuster went down in Week 10 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, it was Justin Watson who saw a significant increase in his workload. The veteran wideout was on the field for 46 snaps (73%), which easily cleared his previous season-high of 26 the week before. On Sunday night against Los Angeles, that number jumped to 57. Watson was on the field for a whopping 88% of the Chiefs’ offensive plays, and his three receptions for a season-high 67 yards led all wide receivers on the team.
Rookie Skyy Moore got a bigger piece of the pie as well and Kadarius Toney’s hamstring injury undoubtedly had an impact on how receiver snaps were divvied up, but Watson is clearly one of the most trusted pass-catchers on the Chiefs. Dating back to the offseason, the chemistry he built with quarterback Patrick Mahomes has led to him securing a roster spot and playing meaningful snaps en route to a chase for the postseason. Watson isn’t some end-of-the-roster piece in the Chiefs’ eyes — he’s a legitimate receiving threat, and one who is distinctly a top candidate to step up when others go down.
3. Frank Clark’s return shuffled the defensive end picture
In his first game back from suspension, defensive end Frank Clark played 52 snaps against the Chargers. That was good for an 80% share, which led the defensive end room by a comfortable margin. Trailing Clark was the trio of George Karlaftis (55%), Mike Danna (48%) and Carlos Dunlap (35%). This marked the lowest snap percentage of Karlaftis’ rookie campaign, which could merely be a coincidence but also might be a testament to the depth of Kansas City’s defensive line.
With players like Danna having versatility along the line and even star defensive tackle Chris Jones having played some defensive end in the very recent past, Steve Spagnuolo’s front is beginning to act like the sum of its parts. Everyone is contributing something in one way or another, whether it’s a Karlaftis pressure or batted pass, a Danna sack, a Jones double-team or a quality edge being set by Clark. The Chiefs’ defensive line is a better group than it was a season ago, and that’s a plus as the home stretch of the 2022 season arrives. How much better is the end unit, specifically? That will depend on a combination of sustainability, Spagnuolo’s rotations and overall health.