Sobre el gran partido del WR novato de los KC Chiefs, Rashee Rice, contra los Bengals

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Patrick Mahomes and Rashee Rice engaged in a conversation last week that sprouted from frustration. You might have seen it, actually, because they had it in front of, oh, about 75,000 people and 20 TV cameras.

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The topic: Rice had failed to recognize the defensive coverage during a play. So a throw went one way. He went the other.

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Enough about last week, though, right?

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The remainder of this column will cover one of the Chiefs’ best developments of the season — one that, by no coincidence, came during their most encouraging offensive performance in weeks.

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The Chiefs beat the Cincinnati Bengals 25-17 on New Year’s Eve at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium, an outing that clinched yet another AFC West title while presenting a lot more progress than the final score indicated. It marked the Chiefs’ second-best mark for offensive yards per play of the year.

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And they got a heck of a lot of them on one play.

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From an unlikely source: Rice.

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I don’t mean that the way it probably initially sounds — Rice is the team’s leading wide receiver, and he’s had at least 50 yards in five straight games. But they don’t typically all come in one chunk.

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Rice burned the Bengals for a 67-yard bomb down the right side of their defense, a play that turned the Chiefs’ first fourth-quarter comeback of the season into something of a layup. But it’s the reasoning — the story behind the play — that makes it relevant for the future.

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What if that wasn’t the route that Rice was originally supposed to run? What if he, after the conversation with Mahomes last week and several more during the week away from the cameras, converted his intended route into something that would exploit what he saw in coverage?

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Well, you get this reaction from your teammates, for starters: “That’s something a lot of rookies don’t do,” fellow Chiefs receiver Justin Watson said.

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Here’s how it went down. The Bengals busted a coverage, and Rice knew before the snap that they’d busted it. The cornerback lined up opposite him, Cam Taylor-Britt, showed outside leverage, meaning he was trying to force Rice inside. This happens to the Chiefs a lot — cornerbacks forcing them into safety help over the middle.

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But here? A problem.

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“I saw it was only one safety high,” Rice told me. “I basically understood there was something wrong with the defense, because he had outside leverage, but he didn’t have inside help. I knew that (Taylor-Britt) would widen out, and the single safety was too far from me.”

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The original play asked Rice to run a short hitch. But he beat Taylor-Britt off the line to the inside as he’d suspected, trusted his pre-snap read that the back end would be open. Then he just kept flying. And Mahomes put it on him.

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“He did a great job of recognizing the coverage and converting the route and getting down the field,” Mahomes said. “He does a great job of that.”

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Sixty-seven yards. It’s the Chiefs’ longest play of the season.

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But it’s not just a team breakthrough. It’s an individual breakthrough — and not the only one Rice had Sunday. I’ll get to that soon.

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Rice had not caught a pass all season that traveled at least 20 yards in the air, per PFF data. Which means the route he chose — the route to which he changed — had not supplied him with a catch in his NFL career.

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Saw something in the coverage and adjusted to it anyway.

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Wasn’t his only adjustment Sunday.

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Let’s go back to the top of this column and unravel a few more details. During the Chiefs’ abysmal outing against the Raiders last week, Mahomes threw a ball to Rice that indicated he anticipated Rice would stretch a little more vertically. But Rice hadn’t spotted that this was the route the coverage would allow, and therefore Mahomes’ throw fell to nobody.

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It looked ugly. It also looked like a perfect microcosm of the afternoon.

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A week later, with the Chiefs trailing by four points in the second half against the Bengals, Chiefs coach Andy Reid dialed up the exact same play. And immediately after gathering the snap in the shotgun, Mahomes turned and looked toward the guy who had failed on the play six days earlier.

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Got the same coverage. Rice shuffled vertically toward the middle of the field.

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Bang.

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Twenty-four yards.

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“He did a great job of recognizing the coverage and learning from the previous week,” Mahomes said. “That’s just kind of how he’s been all year long. And I think that’s why you see him continue to get better and better as the season goes.”

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For awhile now, we’ve been looking for growth from the Chiefs’ offense as a whole, shining the light brightest within the wide receiver room. It always had to come from the individuals first, and there’s never been a better candidate than Rice.

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Well, there’s never been a candidate you’d choose before Rice. He’s shown enough promise in his skill-set that it’s evident he’s a guy. On Sunday, he showed promise of another kind.

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He’s a quick learner.

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When I asked him if he makes that deep-shot adjustment in the opening week of the season, he practically answered before I finished the question.

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“Nah.”

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Really?

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“I wouldn’t have been as confident,” he said, “because (this time) I was able to read the defense.”

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And give the Chiefs their longest play of the season.

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And a reason to be a little more optimistic about what comes next.

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Sam McDowell es columnista deportivo de The Kansas City Star y ha cubierto a los Chiefs, Royals, Sporting KC, KU y MU durante más de una década. Ha ganado premios nacionales por columnas, artículos y trabajos empresariales de la APSE y otras organizaciones.



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