This season, the Kansas City Chiefs offense has been one of the most pass-reliant in the NFL. So when the team fell behind in the two playoff games that led them to the Super Bowl, they were ready for the challenge. They had no choice but to throw on almost every play, coming from behind to erase deficits of 24 and 10 points.
But as exciting as those comebacks were, head coach Andy Reid has also been using his rush offense effectively in the postseason, deploying it in the right situations. Of the 24 times, a Chiefs running back was given the ball in a meaningful postseason situation, 10 of the carries resulted in either a first down or a touchdown. In comparison, the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans combined for 33 such rushing opportunities in their postseason games, converting just seven of them.
Reid relies on the passing game to get chunks of yardage — but in the last few weeks, the running game has been reliable for short-yardage conversions. In fact, during the playoffs, the Chiefs have been successful on all eight of their rushing attempts that needed three or fewer yards to convert.
The Chiefs offensive line has been a big part of this success. Let’s take a look at how they’ve been getting it done.
Beautiful sight with two good guys burying opposing defensive linemen into the ground. Great job by Fisher to secure the edge on a 3rd & 1 play. pic.twitter.com/GHj8Lawj8j— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) January 24, 2020
On this third-and-1 play, Reid trusts his big men up front to get the job done — and they do.
Center Austin Reiter smothers the 1-technique defensive tackle with good hand placement and leg drive. Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz gets a pancake with a good jump off the ball — and a little help from stumble. Left tackle Eric Fisher engages, getting perpendicular to the line of scrimmage to allow for the hole.
The formation also helps. The Chiefs used to run this play a lot when Spencer Ware was in his prime. Here, they put running back Damien Williams at the fullback position, bringing jet motion to try and get defenders to move in the opposite direction of the handoff. From there, it’s a zone run for the player at fullback.
Even though he scores on this play, Williams makes it look a lot harder than it is.
The left side of the line opens a huge lane in the B gap. The work left guard Stefen Wisniewski does on this play is important. For a split second, he gives Reiter some help — allowing the center to get in control of his matchup — and then gets in a great position to seal off the linebacker and open a path. Fisher has control of his man — and once again, Schwartz reaches to get inside the defensive tackle, driving him to the ground.
In fairness to Williams, on the goal line, it’s probably smart to find a slight crease and hit it at full speed. When you’re that close, the push works as it does here.
Throughout this season, the interior offensive line has been criticized — and rightfully so — but in the postseason, they have stepped up their game.
This play is a great example. Reiter and right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif get push with a double-team, joining Wisniewski — who shows great technique — in building the seam. Wisniewski turns his butt to the hole, keeping the defensive lineman from getting his hands on Williams.
Ideally, you’d like both offensive tackles to come off their initial double teams more quickly — thereby cutting off the linebackers, which they fail to do here — but Williams’ momentum renders their tackling attempts ineffective.
The OL's been doing work in the postseaon. This could have been a big run with more patience and vision from Williams. Wis gets around and seals the DT from the oustide, Bell and Fisher seem to be in good position. pic.twitter.com/Kn07zn9Cji— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) January 24, 2020
Some of the offensive line’s success doesn’t show up in statistics because of bad vision from the ball carrier.
In this case, Williams simply isn’t patient enough to wait for a seam to open in the C gap. He gets thrown off course by Texans defensive tackle D.J. Reader’s explosive jump off the ball — which shoves Duvernay-Tardif a few yards into the backfield. Wisniewski fights to get turned and seal his defender from the outside run — and then a lane appears with backup tight end Blake Bell making a kick-out block and Fisher heading up the field. Williams just doesn’t see it.
This isn’t the only instance where solid run blocking goes to waste. With the minimal number of times Chiefs running backs see the ball, it’s important that they take advantage of every chance to find lanes in the zone running game. If the line had set up this run on third-and-short — with this as the result — it would be a terrible missed opportunity.
Chiefs offensive linemen aren’t the only ones making big blocks in the running game. Against the Titans, tight end Travis Kelce had a notable day as a blocker — and Bell was also trusted to make a few blocks. These won’t always be pretty, but the duo tends to take advantage of the blocking mismatches they get against secondary defenders.
On this Williams touchdown run, it is Kelce who makes the final block on the edge, allowing Williams to turn upfield. Kelce manhandles Titans cornerback Adoree Jackson, very easily turning him the opposite direction. Bell and Schwartz are able to get just enough of the defenders to slow them down. Duvernay-Tardif also does a great job, running with Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey and eventually getting him to the ground.
The bottom line
So far in the playoffs, the offensive front has done a great all-around job with its run blocking. I watched all 24 of the meaningful running snaps over the two games, coming away impressed with all of their performances.
As he usually does, Schwartz put on a clinic. His ability to clear the edge on his side is elite. Wisniewski was the most up-and-down of the group — but his highlight plays more than made up for his blunders; he is truly a fighter. Reiter had some really good reps, power-stepping towards his defender and stalemating them. Duvernay-Tardif’s play in the postseason has been dramatically better than the regular season, taking care of his business much more than he did in the back half of the campaign. And Fisher — who wasn’t perfect against Texans pass rusher Whitney Mercilus — bounced back in a big way against the Titans.
There is no doubt: against the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl, the offensive line will face a more talented defensive front. But there’s reason to be confident their effectiveness in short-yard situations can continue.