After ESPN’s Bill Barnwell identified the Kansas City Chiefs as one of 16 NFL teams with 2021 vulnerabilities, the football analytics site Pro Football Focus published another list of five teams with Achilles heels to begin the season.
Sam Monson’s list also included the Chiefs — but for an entirely different reason:
Kansas City Chiefs: Offensive line cohesion
The Chiefs are going to serve as an interesting case study on how important cohesion and chemistry are for an offensive line. We know that stability on the line is a good thing, but Kansas City was forced to completely overhaul its unit this offseason and will likely be starting five completely new players on opening day this season compared to a year ago.
Mike Remmers is likely to be the only starter in Week 1 who was playing football for the Chiefs in 2020, and he didn’t come into the lineup until Mitchell Schwartz got injured early in the season. Remmers was intended to be the backup at right tackle.
The interesting thing about this overhaul is that the line still looks good on paper. The average PFF grade for the four who played last season was 73.3, and big-money free agent signing Joe Thuney didn’t have his best season. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif is returning after spending a season on the front lines of the medical field battling COVID-19, and he had been the team’s starter at right guard for the previous five years. The key is that none of these players have played together before. It is a completely new combination of starting linemen, and how much that affects the overall ability of each player is an unknown.
Complicating matters further is quarterback Patrick Mahomes‘ tendency to play the game in a certain style, often dropping beyond the typical landmark for a quarterback to buy himself extra time and space to make some of the incredible throws he’s become known for. Longtime starters from last season, such as Schwartz and Eric Fisher, are used to those nuances, but the new group of players has to pick that up on the fly.
The impact that lack of cohesion has can be measured and is already one that oddsmakers in Las Vegas factor into the betting line for a game. On average, each additional offensive lineman a team doesn’t carry over from the previous Week 1 is worth about seven-tenths of a point to the spread. For the Chiefs, that’s all five linemen.
Given PFF's tendency to reduce every NFL discussion to a set of numbers, it’s fascinating to see Monson bring up a factor that essentially defies measurement: the unit cohesion of an offensive line. Don’t get me wrong, though: I think Monson is correct to identify it as a potential concern for the Chiefs. You can make a solid argument that the team’s offensive line problems in Super Bowl LV weren’t so much about depth as they were about making the season’s most drastic alteration to the line’s chemistry. It’s just surprising to see a PFF writer make such a point.
Still, I don’t think I’d pick this particular problem as one of the five most identifiable vulnerabilities among NFL teams. I’m happy to agree that to be effective, offensive linemen need good chemistry. It’s just that under head coach Andy Reid, the Chiefs have seldom faced this particular problem to begin a season — and this is hardly the first time since his arrival where significant parts of the Week 1 line were unsettled before training camp has begun. I can’t say whether it’s Reid, offensive line coach Andy Heck or some other factor — but I do think that unit cohesion has rarely been an issue when Kansas City has picked its best five offensive linemen to begin their seasons.
So I’ll agree with Monson that the Chiefs need to get it right. I’m just not all that worried about it.