On the latest episode of the Arrowhead Pride Out of Structure podcast, Bryan Stewart and I discussed the Kansas City Chiefs’ latest victory: a 34-28 triumph in overtime over AFC West foe the Los Angeles Chargers.
In comeback fashion, the Chiefs won on the back of quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the passing attack — rather than taking advantage of the Chargers’ suspect run defense like many speculated they would be able to do.
Between running backs Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Darrel Williams, they totaled just 44 rushing yards on 14 carries. It led us to ask this question:
How concerning was the Chiefs’ rushing performance against the Chargers?
It wasn’t ugly at first: Kansas City came out and was able to get positive gains on the ground during the first possession, earning 32 yards on four carries — including the seven-yard run by fullback Michael Burton to score.
For the remainder of the game following that drive, Burton combined with Edwards-Helaire and Williams for a total of 19 rushing yards on 11 carries.
What is encouraging: the Chiefs tried a wider variety of runs than just inside zones off RPO action — even if it didn’t come with more effectiveness. A guard-tackle counter run with left guard Joe Thuney and left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. leading the way only got five yards; later, another counter run with Burton leading up the hole only managed a few yards.
This offensive line is meant for those types of runs — but it’s beginning to become apparent that the running back room is not capable of taking full advantage of the benefits stemming from these running plays.
What is discouraging: In general, the running back room lacks long, explosive speed — meaning they are more short-burst ball carriers rather than home-run hitters. That’s fine, but it’s exactly why head coach Andy Reid leans on traditional zone runs so often: shifting through traffic and weaving through a box is where a player like Edwards-Helaire thrives, not flying through a hole and outrunning defenders to the sideline and then the end zone.
Williams does a good job of getting downhill — but once again, it’s in short bursts.
The bottom line
I’m coming to the realization that the call for a heavier usage of these home-run types of run plays is a lost cause — because the running backs simply don’t have the skillset to make it worth leaning on. There’s never the payoff of a long-touchdown run sprinkled in here or there; at the most, it’s intermediate gains.
It is concerning because the Chiefs’ passing attack came alive in this game — but we’ve seen it be shut down many times this season. An explosive rushing attack — one that can churn out big plays itself — is one way to counter that. Yet it might be that the Chiefs simply do not have that ability in their arsenal after all.
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