Stram's moving pocket has been just as effective in enhancing the Chiefs" passing game. Instead of dropping straight back for seven to nine yards, setting up and throwing, Dawson loops out to either side, with his offensive line moving with him, forming a mobile wall of protection against the rushers and opening up the passing lanes.
Contrary to popular belief, quarterbacks don't try to throw over the on-rushing linemen but through the gaps in the charge. In the last few years, this has become increasingly difficult as defenses have emphasized the all-out rush, in an attempt to suffocate the play at its origin. Stram calculated that ideally the defense should be kept in front of the passer and spaced out. The drop-back passer allows the rush to converge, while the moving quarterback forces the defense to hesitate and to cover more of the field, giving the offense the initiative for the first time in years.
Stram has refined the moving pocket since he first used it at Purdue with Dawson in the '50s. It's still a variation of the old roll-out pass but with more sophisticated blocking, making it a more difficult maneuver to defend against. In essence it's an application of schoolyard football, but the movement is by design, not opportunity.
"I changed the concept by not releasing the tight end," Stram said. "The defensive ends are the contain people, who are supposed to funnel everything back into the traffic in the middle. When the tight end stays in to block on the defensive end, the containing responsibility shifts to the linebacker. That takes away the possibility of the blitz, since the linebacker can't leave his position. Then the defensive line comes in at a slant, creating good blocking angles for our offensive line. They can't exert the pressure on the quarterback that they can in a straight drop-back pass play.
"The first time we used the moving pocket, holding the tight end in, was against the San Diego Chargers in 1964. They had a couple of giant defensive linemen—Ernie Ladd and Earl Faison—and Faison and Ladd were knocking down six or seven passes a game against us. From the moving pocket Len completed his first 11 passes in a row, four of them for touchdowns."
Defenses still haven't caught up with the Kansas City offense. "We have enough variety to take advantage of any overloads they come up with," Stram said. "We'll put in some more variations this year, too. The moving pocket, for instance, doesn't eliminate the drop-back pass. We still use it about 25% of the time. And we vary it with a lot of play-action passes, too."
Since Stram has absolute charge of the club in all but fiscal matters, he can try anything he likes. And he is adamant about there being but one boss. "The coach has to be supreme," he said. "I establish the ground rules immediately for our rookies. They know what's right and what's wrong. You don't win with just ability. You have to have attitude and discipline, too."
Despite his deep interest in the tactical and strategic aspects of the game, Stram realizes that this isn't the coach's main challenge. "Selling is what's vital to a coach," he said. "We're in the people business, getting the best out of players. It takes no ability at all to cut someone. The challenge is to make people express their full potential and make the sacrifices they must to do it. We're lucky here now. The veterans indoctrinate the rookies and provide them with an example. We have a reputation as one of the hardest-working teams in pro football, and I'm proud of it."
Stram has certainly sold his club on the productivity of his systems, and he has sold them on Stram, too. During the strike, when the veterans were vacillating as to whether or not they would play in the College All-Star Game, Stram hired a helicopter to take him from the Chiefs' training camp to the field where the vets were holding informal workouts. He dropped in on them on the morning of the day they were to vote and talked to them. They had already voted once to uphold the strike by not playing in the All-Star Game, but after Strain's visit they took another vote and reversed their decision.
Stram hasn't told anyone what he said to his players, but he has expressed his feeling in other contexts. "We must win," he says. "That's what this is all about. To win you have to sell your people on your ideas, and to do that you have to believe in them yourself. But the people do the blocking and tackling and execute the plays. You look for every little edge you can get, and that's why we use some things other people don't. I think there is a place for imagination in this game, and I like to think I coach with imagination. I don't claim the things I do are new, because nothing's really new in football. I expect to see a lot of clubs in the I and the stack defense, and I don't mind. Emulation is a great compliment. The sets don't win the games on offense or defense. It's how and when you use them—the imagination you show in your concepts."