What the Commanders’ offense will look like under Eric Bieniemy
Breaking down the type of offense that new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy will bring to Washington
The Washington Commanders have finally found their new offensive coordinator after hiring Eric Bieniemy from the Kansas City Chiefs. Bieniemy was a surprising option to be available given his success with the Chiefs, which would typically lead to him getting a job as a head coach, but instead he’s having to take a lateral move to get out from the shadow of Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes to further prove just how good of a coach he is in his own right.
It’s not fair on Bieniemy, but the Commanders should benefit significantly from hiring a coordinator that has played in three of the last four Super Bowls and won two of them. Yes, there are legitimate questions to answer regarding how much of that success is down to Bieniemy and how much is down to Reid, but at the very least Bieniemy will have learnt a huge amount from being on Reid’s staff for 10 years and his offensive coordinator for the last five.
So what can the Commanders expect from a Bieniemy-led offense? Let’s take a closer look.
The Chiefs are known as one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL and they generate a lot of that from their passing attack. Reid, Bieniemy and Mahomes work together to generate explosive plays in the passing game and score a ton of points that way. But while they are more of a passing team than run team, contrasting Rivera’s desire to be a run-first offense, the Chiefs do have quite a diverse rushing attack that still provides a foundation for the offense to build off of.
The Chiefs like to use a bunch of different run concepts from a variety of looks. While they might not specialize in the zone scheme to the extent that Kyle Shanahan might, they still use it frequently. This clip shows two different zone runs. The first comes from a run-heavy look with the quarterback under center. It’s 22 personnel, meaning two backs, two tight ends and just one wide receiver. The two tight ends align to the left but Travis Kelce motions across the formation all the way outside to the right. The backs align in the I formation and the fullback leads the way for the running back on an outside zone scheme to the right.
The second play is another example of a zone run but from a completely different set up. This time the Chiefs are working out of an 11 personnel group with one back, one tight end and three receivers. It’s also a shotgun run rather than having the quarterback under center. One of the receivers to the right comes in motion before the snap on a jet sweep fake. The tight end then follows the receiver’s motion as part of a sift block to cut off the back side edge defender and give the linebackers some false keys. From the end zone angle, you can also see how the scheme is set up to help the offensive line. You’ll notice before the snap that the offensive lineman to the left take much wider splits from each other than the offensive lineman on the right side of the line. This is to help widen the defenders and close the gap to them, making it easier for the left tackle and left guard to make their blocks.
The jet sweep and tight end sift block cause the linebacker to hold his spot, forcing the safety to step up and fit the run. The offensive line picks up their blocks and create a nice big hole for the running back to run through on his way to a big gain.
Bieniemy has the ability to run the zone scheme from run-heavy looks or spread looks with various personnel groups and motions involved. He also is perfectly capable of using gap scheme runs too.
This clip is an assortment of gap scheme runs from the Chiefs this year. The first is a power scheme from the gun, with the left guard pulling to the right side and wrapping around for the first linebacker. They also get a nice block from the tight end on the defensive end and a wide receiver helps pin a safety inside too, something that Washington’s receivers are pretty good at. The second play is a counter scheme, but with a twist. On a counter scheme, the pulling guard kicks out the edge defender instead of wrapping around for the linebacker, who is picked up by another blocker, typically a tight end following the guard. But the Chiefs have the right tackle follow the guard and wrap around for the linebacker. With both the right guard and tackle pulling, the edge defender on that side is unblocked, so the quarterback has to account for him by either threatening to run or threatening to throw a quick pass.
The third play is a trap scheme from the Super Bowl. It’s designed to look like a power or counter scheme initially, but actually plays out very different. Both the left guard and left tackle act like they are going to work in combination on the defensive tackle, but then after stepping towards the defender, both leave him be and work up to the second level to block the linebackers. That defensive tackle is then “trapped” by the guard pulling from the other side of the line. This opens up a nice big lane in the heart of the defense, but unfortunately the running back lost his footing on a slippery field.
The Chiefs also liked to use misdirection runs at a higher rate than most in the league. Every team will incorporate a couple of jet sweep runs so that they can get the benefit of faking them on their normal run schemes. However, the Chiefs handed the ball off on jet sweeps more often than just about anyone, using that misdirection to take advantage of aggressive defensive lineman.
Here are three jet sweep runs all from the same game against the 49ers (the first is technically a pass as Mahomes tapped the ball forward instead of directly handing it off, but the concept is the same). On all three plays, you’ll see the Chiefs attacking aggressive defensive lineman that like to rush up the field as quickly as possible to try and get to the quarterback. On each occasion, the Chiefs used that aggression against them, allowing them to rush up the field while the offensive lineman worked up to the next level. The receiver running the jet sweep was able to run by the unblocked defenders each time as they paused to try and diagnose where the ball actually was. By the time they figured it out, the receiver was well past them and already up the field behind a wall of blockers. All three of these plays resulted in touchdowns.
Bieniemy and the Chiefs weren’t fully committed to one style of run scheme over another. It was purely a situational call. If they knew the defense was likely to use a certain front that was tough to run zone plays against, the Chiefs would call more gap scheme plays and vice versa. That does require the offensive line to learn a lot more schemes, so it's more of a mental workload for them, but it also gives them the best angles and looks to execute their assignments on any given play.
A big part of Bieniemy’s offense with the Chiefs was run-pass option plays (RPOs). The Chiefs were outstanding in their ability to design RPOs with meticulously detailing to stress the defense as much as possible and ensure the most optimum looks to either run the ball into or pick up a solid gain with a quick pass.