(Photo via si.com)
The trips formation is a big part of the Kansas City Chiefs offense. On a few occasions in 2017, the Chiefs called a variation of trips in excess of 15 times a game.
Andy Reid, offensive coordinator Matt Nagy and Co. used this formation to isolate their All-Pro tight end, Travis Kelce, on the inside of the formation. With receivers spread out from sideline to sideline, Kelce is afforded an abundance of space with a two-way go on any release he takes, without having to worry about the sideline as an added defender.
RELATED CONTENT: How the Philadelphia Eagles' slot fade play became so effective
Opposing defensive coordinators were well aware of the threat that Kelce posed from that alignment, often using extra defenders to bracket him. When faced with this game plan, the Chiefs used a variation of the 3-man levels concept. The base play is diagrammed below.
When calling the levels concept, many coaches teach their quarterbacks to throw to the trips side against two high safeties. This adage does not hold up against modern defenses, and offenses must adjust.
With Travis Kelce running the post route over the middle (highlighted in green in the diagram), defenses often bracketed him with the weak side safety. This coverage is known as a version of Cover-4 (quarters), and is often referred to as “Solo.” When the weak side safety turns inside to help on the post route, he leaves the corner in a 1-on-1 with the single receiver. In the diagram below, the weak side safety is shown in red. This coverage allows the middle linebacker to sink down and defend the angled hitch route from No. 2 quickly.
RELATED CONTENT: How Oklahoma's counter plays help the Sooners' offense go
The term “Solo” quite simply refers to the 1-on-1 matchup to the single receiver. The single receiver’s route and the corner are shown in green.
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith correctly diagnosed this coverage in 2017. The following video shows a few clips where Smith quickly locates his single receiver after realizing the post route is bracketed.
Alex Smith identifies the safety to the single receiver as playing low to help on any crossing routes. He sets his feet and takes the 1-on-1 matchup with Tyreek Hill.
The same principles apply when the defense plays with a single-high safety. The receiver to away from trips has a 1-on-1 matchup.
RELATED CONTENT: How the gallop technique works for offensive linemen
When the defense plays more of a true Cover-2, they will use three defenders to defend the single-receiver side. The corner and safety will bracket the single receiver, and the weakside linebacker will have to account for the checkdown. This places the middle linebacker on an island. The post route has inside leverage on the other safety, leaving him in a 1-on-1 matchup with the middle linebacker. If the middle linebacker turns and runs with the post route, Smith was quick to hit the spot route from the No. 2 receiver.
In this clip against the Dallas Cowboys, notice how Smith keeps his eyes on the boundary safety as he drops back. The safety’s movement keys where he will throw the ball. When he sees the safety get over the top of the single receiver, he knows he has a 2-on-1 with the middle linebacker to the trips side of the field.
Double move adjustment
A hitch or fade is not the only way to attack the single coverage on the short side of the field. With the slant route being a focal point of the Chiefs’ offense, Reid used the Levels framework to call a sluggo (slant-and-go). The read does not change for the quarterback. The sluggo is the option for the quarterback against single coverage.
The Chiefs free release their running back to make the play look like their often-used slant-flat combination. The corner takes the bait, and the Chiefs get a big play.
The trips formation is a good way to simplify reads for the quarterback. In this case with the Chiefs’ version of “Levels,” the single receiver is the target unless he is double-teamed. If he gets double-teamed, the offense has an advantage over the middle of the field with a 2-on-1.
Want to see more content like this? Check out our Coaches Notes feature.
Follow Bobby Peters on Twitter: @b_peters12.