The dust has settled on another December week of NFL action, and the picture couldn’t be any more beautiful for those who support the Kansas City Chiefs.
The AFC currently runs through...— NFL on CBS (@NFLonCBS) December 19, 2021
1. Chiefs 10-4
2. Patriots 9-5
3. Titans 9-5
4. Ravens 8-5
5. Colts 8-6
6. Chargers 8-6
7. Bills 8-6 pic.twitter.com/4PjbNyCCPG
A big reason why this is the case — and why the Chiefs are on a seven-game win streak in general — is the way their all-new offensive line continues to gel more and more as they gain repetitions together.
Thursday night, we saw a return to the original starting five offensive linemen — left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., left guard Joe Thuney, center Creed Humphrey, right guard Trey Smith, and right tackle Lucas Niang (who had been out due to injury for the past month). In this film review, we will look at how the group fared in terms of their pass blocking performance against an explosive set of Los Angeles Chargers’ pass rushers.
The way that general manager Brett Veach transformed the interior of the Chiefs offensive line from a major weakness to bonified strength in one offseason has been nothing short of miraculous. As of last week, Joe Thuney and Trey Smith were ranked first (97 %) and sixth (95%) overall amongst NFL guards, respectively, when it comes to ESPN’s advanced pass-block win-rate metric. Creed Humphrey was the No. 1 ranked center in the league at 97%.
Reviewing pass pro this week - focus on the interior OL. Thuney doesn’t break a sweat w/ the LB. Creed and Trey pass of the twist beautifully. Hips stay square, eyes up, feet moving. 15 can step up as much as he needs to and fires what turns out to be a huge completion. pic.twitter.com/MqfvNZUTci— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) December 20, 2021
The best part about plays like that where defenses try to create confusion? They’ve been ending with those types of results pretty darn consistently. As the Chiefs continue to play better teams entering the playoffs — especially those with excellent interior pass rushers — it will be ideal to have their talented, strong trio helping protect Patrick Mahomes.
Big 3rd down play - saw some really good pockets develop like this throughout the game that were hard to come by late in 2020. Interior is firm, Brown jolts the DE w/ his punch, and Niang in this case does get his base underneath him w/ a well-aimed punch as well to win the rep. pic.twitter.com/xNjzT5cKjy— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) December 20, 2021
While still not dominant for the entire game by any stretch — and that would be unrealistic, anyhow — the offensive line continues to string together several snaps each game where they are entirely stonewalling the opposition in a way that enables Mahomes to go about his plan of attack however he wants to. If this starting five can remain healthy and continue to accumulate continuity, this will hopefully become even more common down the road.
This offensive line in particular is exceptionally good in the play action pass game b/c they all are physical, strong-handed types who don’t often let go once they have control of the defender. pic.twitter.com/ZlziMxm1dL— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) December 20, 2021
I don’t want to stray too far off-topic here, but I do believe that if the rushing offense was more explosive and threatening, they could run these sorts of play-action pass concepts at an extraordinarily high rate — with equally high-quality results.
One thing about Bosa and his quick pressure is it often forced Mahomes to do things that make him/the offense most dangerous - escape underneath the OT w/ his eyes up to find the uncovered receiver. Brown and Thuney also w/ veteran level work combatting the E-T stunt. pic.twitter.com/1zmvLrOxmH— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) December 20, 2021
During our Arrowhead Pride Film Room a couple of weeks ago, I pointed out that I hoped to see Mahomes become more intentional about utilizing his ability to make plays off-script again — especially going between the offensive guard and offensive tackle due to pressure coming at him from the edge.
We saw just that on Thursday night. Even if it wasn’t for the greatest reason — like him being pressured by Joey Bosa (more on that later) — it still forced him to go into playmaker mode. The interior linemen once again solidified things, so there was ample room to run out of the pocket, and the rest is history that can be found in Mahomes’ highlight package.
Anytime you play against one of the game’s elite players, they’re bound to win their fair share of reps. In this matchup, I am referring to Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa, who did absolutely all he could to make life hard on Chiefs offensive tackles Thursday.
Bosa is a freak and he def. gave Niang some fits Thursday as 67 returned to action. Has to really WORK to get to the top of his pass set and intersect Bosa, but by the time he’s there, doesn’t have a sufficient anchor underneath him to keep his hips + feet in Bosa’s path. pic.twitter.com/tGWXXMj8PQ— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) December 20, 2021
It's a game of inches, and this Mahomes dart in OT shows why. Bosa beats OBJ clean - Brown wants to quick set him and get hands on, but 97 is too quick + bendy, is able to corner perfectly at the top of Mahomes’ drop. Luckily that ball is out on time and w/ accuracy. pic.twitter.com/2ru6YJIywr— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) December 20, 2021
Especially into the second half, as the Chiefs’ offensive play-calling became more predictable in its pass-heavy approach, it clearly led to more significant struggles for Niang (No. 67) and Brown Jr. (No. 57).
As bigger, strength-oriented offensive tackles, when they are asked to drop back into pass protection over and over again, it becomes a real challenge for those players, who are slower with their feet than the likes of the former Chiefs offensive tackles — Mitchell Schwartz and Eric Fisher.
In Fisher’s case, he struggled more with powerful defenders. Whereas Brown and Niang do not, they will take some lumps against speedy edge rushers.
Ultra rare bad loss by Humphrey that draws a holding call - credit to Linval Joseph for how he displays really quick, violent hands. Fortunately, it wasn’t a sign of things to come throughout the night. pic.twitter.com/yYeF7iUN2A— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) December 20, 2021
I want to echo that Creed Humphrey did not have a bad game; I simply point out this play to show that even one of the game’s elite centers right now can be bested from time to time. On he goes, learning throughout a Pro Bowl-caliber rookie season.
The bottom line
All in all, the Kansas City offensive line’s pass protection continues to be much, much more part of the solution than it is a problem. The way they are best suited to attack defensive lines is quite different from what fans were used to seeing with the players they had from 2018-20, however, and that is OK.
In future contests, the Chiefs’ offense will need to be careful about allowing defensive ends just to pin their ears back and rush Patrick Mahomes without fear of any running plays — if possible.
With that being said, that’s pretty much what they did against the Chargers, and it still worked out in their favor because Mahomes did vintage Mahomes things. In their most vulnerable setup, the talent of their playmakers was too much to overcome. That’s positive.
Looking ahead, another significant challenge awaits the offensive line this Sunday as they host T.J. Watt of the Pittsburgh Steelers and his NFL-leading 17.5 sacks.