In the first half of the Kansas City Chiefs’ 32-29 win over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday afternoon, the Chiefs offense consisted of quarterback Patrick Mahomes dropping back and making plays with his arm and legs. It worked well enough for the Chiefs to hold a 14-9 lead going into the intermission.
But as the Saints’ defense began to break down the Chiefs’ pass protection and slow down chunk plays through the air, the offense had to change its style. Late in the second quarter — and for the entire second half — the Chiefs emphasized handing the ball to running backs Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Le’Veon Bell.
Those two ended the game with 29 carries for 141 rushing yards and a touchdown — and neither had a run of more than 16 yards. The Chiefs were able to chip away at a rock-solid Saints run defense one carry at a time, which added up to Kansas City holding the ball for 41:14 — more than twice as long as the Saints.
After the game, head coach Andy Reid tipped his hat to the fifth different combination of offensive linemen the Chiefs have used this season.
“We scored points against a good defensive front; you’re talking about one of the best defensive fronts if not the best statistically,” Reid pointed out. “I thought we ran the ball efficiently — especially in the second half. We threw the ball well with the exception of a couple of blitzes that they had. They got us at the end, but we were clean for the most part.”
Reid said that he had talked to the offense about playing four good quarters of football — and said he was impressed with the effort he saw.
“They battled,” he said. “They fought the entire game. They got better as the game went on. The guys stepped up into their roles and found a way to get us across the finish line. Obviously, that’s a good defensive line. I thought they did a good job of battling the entire game.”
Before the opening kickoff, a Saints columnist dropped news that the Saints wanted to “turn this game into a street fight.” The whole team came in with that mentality — but it was especially noticeable in the battle between the Chiefs offensive line and the New Orleans defensive front.
Speaker to reporters afterwards, right tackle Andrew Wylie revealed that they knew they’d have to bring a heightened physicality against New Orleans.
“That was the game plan coming in,” he said. “We knew the only chance we had against that front seven [was] if we brought the fight to them — and we did. We ran for a little over 170 tonight. We took the fight to them, for sure. It was a brawl, too — it really was.”
At one point, the Saints’ defensive aggression went a little too far. In the fourth quarter, New Orleans defensive end Cameron Jordan got frustrated enough with Wylie to punch him in the helmet. The play led to his immediate disqualification — which was obviously a huge blow to the Saints defense.
“He was bringing it all game — and I like to think I was matching his energy,” Wylie said of his battle with Jordan. “I had him in tight there, and I wasn’t letting go. Things got a little hot, a little heated — but it’s not like we were talking or anything. I think he just got caught up in the moment.”
Football is a physical, emotional sport where players can lose their self-awareness in the heat of battle. Credit should go to the Chiefs offensive line for bringing an impressive physicality — without dirty play and extra-curricular efforts that could have turned into penalties.
Le’Veon Bell gave credit to his run blockers for his most productive day as a Chief. He rushed 62 yards and totaled 76 yards from scrimmage — both season highs.
When he was asked about how it happened, he summed it up with one word.
“Attitude,” he declared. “Obviously, going to a game like that, we know those guys could be tough up front. They’re really stingy in the run game — I think the week before they gave up a couple 100-yard runners — so we knew they would come in with the motivation to stop the run and not allow that to happen again. We had to come in with the mindset that we could get the job done with whatever we needed, whether we had to throw it or run it. Today — really in the second half — we were called upon to run the ball a lot. I think the guys up front did a tremendous job of moving guys off the ball and creating lanes for me, 25, and 31 to make some plays.”
Paradoxically, the Chiefs offensive front has had some of their most impressive performances when dealing with injuries. When right tackle Mitchell Schwartz left the game against the Buffalo Bills in Week 7, the Chiefs still ran for 245 yards. On Sunday, they took it to a talented defensive front with a left tackle who was dealing with a back injury and a right tackle who hadn’t played the position since college.
They certainly showed holes in pass protection — Patrick Mahomes was often under pressure and was sacked four times — but the line still took advantage of lighter boxes, helping Chiefs running backs put the game out of reach.
To do so against such a formidable opponent was an encouraging sign for how they’ll perform in the postseason — no matter which five offensive lineman are playing.