It was good to see the Kansas City Chiefs’ new-look offensive line in action — even if it was for just two drives in the team’s preseason opener against the San Francisco 49ers. Left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., left guard Joe Thuney, center Creed Humphrey, right guard Trey Smith and right tackle Lucas Niang shared the field for the offense’s first 11 plays of the contest.
In those plays, the Chiefs’ play-calling broke down as follows:
- Four traditional running plays — two zone runs and two counter runs
- Three dropback passes
- Three play-action passes
- One jet sweep
Offensive line coaches will love this play. Just watch Trey Smith and Lucas Niang on the backside.— Chris Roush (@chrisRroush) August 15, 2021
Clyde Edwards-Helaire has a huge hole to run through. #Chiefs @geoffschwartz pic.twitter.com/JgpkKG32ft
The first play from scrimmage was an inside zone run that went for 10 yards and a first down. Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire showed good vision on the cutback — but the lane was there because right guard Smith bulldozed the defensive tackle. Niang also got to the second level quickly, sealing off a linebacker so Edwards-Helaire could get the whole 10 yards.
During Chiefs head coach Andy Reid’s tenure, these zone runs have been the primary running scheme. He has sometimes sprinkled in gap-run schemes — but with the revamped offensive line, these could become more prevalent. There were two of them while the starting offensive line was on the field.
Looks like 2nd run of game could've popped with better discipline from CEH.— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) August 15, 2021
Counter run means Bell is leading through hole to playside LB. Clyde doesn't follow his lead like he's supposed to, but look at the open grass outside of Bell's block. Should've hit it more off-tackle pic.twitter.com/lMBvtXvOf4
The counter blocking scheme starts with the play-side offensive linemen down-blocking — meaning the tackle, guard, and center block the gap to their inside and drive the defender away from that side. If there are no defensive linemen immediately to their inside, they go to the second level and cut off a linebacker. The play-side offensive tackle’s down-block leaves the defensive end free, allowing the back-side guard to pull and block him inside-out — otherwise known as a “kick-out” block.
The play-side tackle’s down block and the kick-out block thus creates a hole for the running back. The play-side linebacker has not been blocked — which is why another pulling player leads the ball carrier through the hole to take on that defender. The leading blocker is traditionally an off-ball player like a fullback or tight end — as it is in this example — but it can also be the back-side offensive tackle, as we’ve seen in training camp practices.
On the starting offensive line’s first crack at running it live, they block it well. The defensive end flies upfield, which helps Smith execute the kick-out block. Tight end Blake Bell leads through the hole and stalemates the play-side linebacker — but Edwards-Helaire tries to hit the run inside of Bell’s block rather than reading it and running off of Bell’s leverage.
If Edwards-Helaire had hit the lane created from Bell’s block, there was a lot of open field to the outside.
More fun w/ counter!— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) August 15, 2021
3rd&2 Trey Smith kickout and Burton leads thru hole. You'd like to see a cleaner, more gathered block by Smith on 36. Bell needs to leverage his down block better to prevent the DL from reaching arm out
Trey was the pulling G both times 1st-team ran counter pic.twitter.com/ukE5oUXTmN
On their second attempt at running counter, Smith was once again responsible for the kick-out block — but there was no defensive end flying upfield to make his job easy. The kick-out became an off-ball defender — and initially, Smith sort of whiffed; we’d like to see him gather himself and better seal off the defender.
Since they ran it towards the tight end side, Bell is also down-blocking. He pops the defensive end inside of him — but doesn’t maintain leverage on the defender’s outside shoulder. It allows the defender to reach out with his arm to disrupt the running lane.
Either way, the third-and-short was converted.
Niang and Trey Smith working to stop a stunt— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) August 16, 2021
Good job by Smith to come off & quickly pick up stunting DE; Niang doesn't stay square, allowing DT to get him off-balance and win to his inside. You'd like to see Niang stay tight to Smith's hip seal off that lane for DT #Chiefs pic.twitter.com/LX5xjfVejC
In the six passing plays, there were no sacks or quarterback hits. However, the third-down pass on the first possession gave Smith and Niang an opportunity to handle a stunt.
The defensive tackle attacks Smith’s outside shoulder to Niang’s inside shoulder, which should allow the stunting defensive end to have a lane towards Smith’s inside shoulder. However, Smith recognizes it and comes off to pick up the defensive end effectively. Niang — who was initially getting depth to take on an outside speed rush — now has to close down on the defensive tackle attacking the gap inside of him.
On this play, Niang doesn’t close the lane quick enough — allowing the tackle to get through and have a path towards the quarterback. Niang’s unbalanced footwork is the main reason he isn’t in a good position to close off his inside gap — but this could also be a case of the young linemen learning to communicate. If Smith recognizes the stunt coming, he needs to verbally alert Niang — so Niang can know to stay tight to Smith’s hip and close that lane off.
The lone jet sweep play didn’t result in a big gain — but Niang, Smith, Humphrey and Thuney all executed their assignments well. With a quick-hitting outside run like that, the linemen need to get to the second level of the defense fast — and they all put themselves in good position to cut off linebackers and other off-ball defenders without getting caught up with defensive linemen.
The first-team offensive line had a good preseason debut — but we should remember that the 49ers didn’t play any of their starters along the defensive front. Just the same, the Kansas City offensive linemen executed the running plays and kept their quarterbacks clean — but still have some lessons to learn from their performance.
Best of all, the three rookie starters did not stand out by looking like first-year players. They all had reasons to feel good about their first game action.