The Kansas City Chiefs offense has had better days than it had against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 2. Edge rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram gave Chiefs offensive tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz fits — and Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes got more skittish with each pressure.
After scoring just six points in the first half, the Chiefs began to help their tackles with chip blocks from their running backs and tight ends — but the quarterback also made a small adjustment, utilizing the hard count to get Los Angeles pass rushers out of rhythm.
It worked. During the fourth quarter and overtime, three separate Chargers defensive linemen drew offsides flags from Mahomes’ hard count — and it wasn’t a coincidence that the Chiefs scored 14 of their 23 points after the third quarter.
“We work on changing up the snap count all throughout training camp,” Mahomes told reporters on Thursday. “There are some rough days where you get a lot of false starts, but it always makes you better whenever the season comes along. I have the unique advantage of having a unique voice that’s able to get those guys to jump offside, so I try to utilize that as much as possible.”
That hard cadence is even more effective when there’s no crowd noise to drown it out — as was the case during Sunday’s game, which was the team’s first experience playing in an empty stadium. Mahomes said there are both positives and negatives to playing without fans.
“You get to use verbal snap count on the road,” Mahomes noted. “Especially when we’re playing places like Baltimore, you’re [usually] not going to be able to use that because of the crowd — especially Monday night — so that definitely is an advantage. Only thing that’s kind of a disadvantage, you have to change a lot of your code words on a lot of your audibles because everybody can kind of hear you on the TV copy.”
It’s safe to assume Mitchell Schwartz appreciated Mahomes’ help with the hard count. You could tell the pass protection got better in the second half — but it appeared that the offensive line’s ability to block legally did not; two of the Chiefs’ five holding calls came on what could have been a game-winning drive at the end of regulation.
Those late penalties prevented the Chiefs from scoring a touchdown, which would have allowed them to avoid going to overtime. Schwartz — a ninth-year veteran — said he has noticed some trends in how holding penalties are being enforced.
“It seemed like last year, they went towards flagging things that if you saw a tug or if you saw anything of that nature, then it’s an immediate flag,” he said. “Which is a little bit different from the past. If you were moving your feet, that was the most important part of it. You can get in compromised situations with your hands and your leverage, but for the most part, if your feet are moving, you’re not really restricting the guy to the point of it being the flag.”
Left guard Kelechi Osemle’s holding penalty — the first of the two late-drive holds — looked like a justifiable textbook hold. But the flag on right guard Andrew Wylie — the one that negated a 25-yard pass to running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire at the 10-yard line — was weak.
This is a weak holding call, no? pic.twitter.com/VZvThuII2R— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) September 25, 2020
Wylie is moving his feet — like Schwartz said — and even turns his shoulder instead of extending his arms as the defender gets moved to his outside shoulder. The defender does a good sell job, and the referee takes away a huge play.
Still, across the league, holding calls have been significantly down this season. In Week 1, holds were called at a rate 78% lower than in Week 1 of 2019. Schwartz joked that the Chiefs reversed that statistic all by themselves in Week 2 — but also said he wouldn’t mind if the league-wide trend continued.
“It seems like that’s the kind of the stuff they’ve bogged down this year — at least from what I’ve seen,” Schwartz observed. “Obviously, as an offensive lineman, I love to have as few holding calls as possible.
“My understanding of holding has always been that if he’s away from your body and you’re tugging him and preventing him from going a direction, that’s going to be flagged every time. If he’s within your frame — and you’re moving your feet with him — for the most part, that’s not a true restriction of movement.”
Based on Schwartz’s definition of holding, Wylie played it right. The Chiefs won the game anyway — but that could have been a pivotal penalty. Against the Baltimore Ravens this Monday, such a penalty could be even more significant Schwartz acknowledged that Baltimore presents a different challenge.
“You’ve got a lot of guys, they tend to like to blitz a lot too,” said Schwartz. “Everyone’s a little bit different — and they’re all good players. They do a really good job of it. Who you’re going against isn’t as cookie-cutter as some weeks where, ‘Oh, I’m going to see this guy 85% of the snaps.’ You’re going to get a rotation of them. They’re able to roll through. The front seven seems like its 12 or 13 deep — and it’s pretty much all awesome players.”
“When you play a defense like this that does a lot of different things — very multiple, do a lot of different blitzes, a lot of different coverages — you have to make sure you’re ready to go and have answers for everything,” Mahomes emphasized. “I’ll just try to do whatever I can to make sure I’m prepared for everything they can show us — and whenever they give us an unscouted look, try to have a positive play and get to the sideline and figure out the best way to go about it for the rest of the game.”
Monday’s game will be a battle of AFC titans — but intricate details like these could be the difference in the game.