Each NFL team uses the preseason in their own way regarding play calls and how they best want to evaluate players fighting for spots on their roster.
With play calling, all teams will tell you that everything is pretty vanilla in the preseason. They aren’t going to give away too much and they also don’t want to put too much on the younger players still understanding the concepts of the playbook.
They want young players to play fast and to do as little thinking as possible when they’re on the field. This goes for both teams.
Also, once a play is ran in a game during the preseason, it’s on film for every other team in the NFL to dissect and plan accordingly for when they play against your team.
After practice on Wednesday in an exclusive interview, Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith talked about play calling and how to evaluate the offense as a whole, including the first team, when the entire playbook isn’t being used during the preseason.
“It’s never fun to go out there and kind of hamstring yourself by not being able to run all your stuff,” Smith said. “But at the same point, I’ve played long enough. You’d love to throw a ton of touchdowns every time you’re out there—but in two weeks, they wipe the slate clean and no one really cares how many touchdowns you throw or how many games you win in the preseason.
“So, there is some gamesmanship there and I definitely understand that and don’t mind it. It’s not bad to save some stuff and have it ready for the season and not show some things. You kind of have to make do. It’s kind of like a double-edged sword a little bit when you are going out there and you got to execute with what you’re working with and sometimes it’s not everything.”
Knowing defenses aren’t showing their hands either, Smith doesn’t believe that a shortened playbook should keep the offense from finding success from the plays that are called.
“It’s no excuse,” Smith explained. “When we’re in the film room, we still take it very seriously that no matter what we’re running, we should still be able to execute it.”
As they prepare like it’s the regular season this week for the their “dress rehearsal” with the Minnesota Vikings, Smith and the Chiefs offense will open the playbook a little more this week and game plan like it’s a regular season game.
“We’ve had our hands on the game plan a little longer than normally for these preseason games,” Smith said. “Certainly, you would expect a little better control of the game plan.”
Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said a lot of the play calls they’ve been making through the first two games have been about evaluation.
They weren’t trying to take advantage of what they saw from the defense, which can be said for defenses again, as well, in regards to how they attack the offense.
But if they use a certain personnel group or certain play call and it’s successful, they wouldn’t necessarily hammer that throughout a preseason game to find success.
“That’s our experimentation in training camp,” Pederson said. “We put those packages and personnel groups together so when we get into this type of week where we can see it in live action, whatever we do. We don’t need to see a ton of that particular group.
“We’re still trying to see what guys can do. But then as we get closer to the regular season, now, and this is part of that week where you now focus in on a certain aspect of the game, or we’re going to be call specific in certain areas. We’re going to try and put our guys in the best possible situation.”
One of the areas where they might try and put guys in the best situation would be on third down and in the red zone—two areas where the Chiefs haven’t been as successful as they would like through the first two preseason games.
Overall, the Chiefs first-team offense has gone just 3 for 10 on third down, including 0 for 3 on third-and-5 or shorter.
The Chiefs have been to the red zone five times overall in the preseason, walking away with just one touchdown.
Smith hopes that treating this week like the regular season, including game plans and like Pederson said, “call-specific in certain areas,” the offense can be more successful than they’ve been in the first two preseason games.
“You don’t have any specific red zone stuff in,” Smith explained of the first two games. “Third down is the same thing, pretty vanilla. But you’re not going to win with X’s and O’s all the time and that’s our mentality. No matter what we got in the game plan and what gets called, we should be able to go out there and execute it and make it work.
“You’ll be able to game plan and get more in depth into those situations because they are so important and we do spend more time on them during the season so, they’re more familiar and hopefully, you convert more.”
As far as what specifically he wants to see from the offense on Saturday, Smith kept it simple.
“Score some touchdowns, win the game,” Smith said. “You’d love to go out there and you’d love to have success every play and that’s our goal. That’s what we’re striving for. Our job as an offense is to move the ball, put some points on the board and last week, you know, we struggled in the red zone for a lot of different reasons. This week it would be nice to capitalize on some of those drives.”