No one expects the Kansas City Chiefs’ running game to be the focal point of their offense — but given the anticipated run-blocking prowess of the team’s new offensive line, 2021’s expectations have been higher than usual.
The Week 1 matchup against the Cleveland Browns offered the Chiefs an early test against a likely playoff team. Kansas City running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s 2020 debut against the Houston Texans went much better than Sunday’s game — but when facing a stingy Cleveland front seven, you have to take what you can get.
First play from scrimmage, Brown and Thuney get split by 2i, Brown needs to be better reaching but Thuney doesn’t do him favors by being in a hurry to get to second level. pic.twitter.com/BUBoXU2bXV— Talon Graff (@CoachGraff34) September 15, 2021
The Chiefs started the game with a run that didn’t go quite as planned; when a double-team isn’t properly executed, a play can end badly.
If left tackle Joe Thuney engages his man longer — giving left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. time to take over the block — Edwards-Helaire doesn’t get hit in the backfield. We also see that Brown’s first step needs improvement; he wastes it with a false step before attacking his man.
Smith has no base for his second step which allows DL to get him unbalance, causing a pile up that CEH runs into, looks like there’s a hole to right if 25 cuts it back but if Smith stays up it’s a gainer pic.twitter.com/ryImPZWQVO— Talon Graff (@CoachGraff34) September 15, 2021
Right guard Trey Smith has been hyped up as a sixth-round draft steal in the draft. Given that he earned the starting spot so quickly, the hype is warranted.
With Smith, there are a great many things for which we should be excited — and the more reps he gets, the more technically sound he becomes. Once he has been coached up some more, he will be a perennial Pro Bowler.
Brown & Niang’s first steps are to crotch of DEs, 2nd step inside keeping position, Smith’s first step goes to the outside foot of the DL instead of the crotch so he’s leaving the inside vulnerable if DL slants, which he does, making Smiths 2nd step less effective & halts LG pull pic.twitter.com/DangIBJ2gi— Talon Graff (@CoachGraff34) September 15, 2021
Here is another example of Smith’s execution needing some attention. The tackles do a good job, playing sound football with their footwork. But the rookie from Tennessee is beaten — simply because in his initial step, his aiming point is off.
Once things like this get cleaned up, we are going to see Chiefs running backs find open grass a lot more often.
Thuney’s initial read is to combo up to 44 but box changes after the motion, C should now work up to 44 & LG should combo up to 43 who bumps inside the box. Instead he goes for his pre motion assignment (44), leaving Brown alone with Garrett who knifes inside pic.twitter.com/YlQXVad8bH— Talon Graff (@CoachGraff34) September 15, 2021
The problem we see here will be solved in the film room.
The defense shifts with the motion, so Thuney’s blocking rules have now changed. When the linebacker (44) shifts down, he becomes the center’s responsibility. Thuney should be on a combo block with Brown — and if he does that, Garrett probably doesn’t make the tackle on Burton.
Looks like play is designed to hit B gap but 96 disrupts double team to fill gap, CEH gets caught by backside DE when he tries cutting up pic.twitter.com/xpPBSp3rHC— Talon Graff (@CoachGraff34) September 16, 2021
The Browns refused to be double-teamed, which caused issues throughout the game.
On this play, a run designed to go off the guard is forced to cut up early, allowing the unblocked back side defensive end to make a tackle from behind.
13 personnel, Smith & Creed both working up to second level, Belldozer working the 9 tech down the line, Gray and Kelce getting noses dirty too, not pretty l, but I’ll take that yardage every play pic.twitter.com/R07dUsxJIq— Talon Graff (@CoachGraff34) September 16, 2021
We’ll end with a positive note: a run that gets some nice yardage.
It’s a three-tight end set with Travis Kelce, Blake Bell and Noah Gray. The two rookies on the interior get to the second level, allowing Edwards-Helaire to sneak through and almost break free. The play isn’t executed perfectly — but sometimes, the result is all that matters.
The bottom line
These are just some of the issues that will need to be cleaned up for the running game to reach the next level. Sunday proved to be a tough day to get too much going on the ground — but by Week 18, this could all be totally different.
As the season progresses, the Kansas City offensive line will continue to improve — and many of the miscues we saw against Cleveland could be chalked up simply to being in Week 1. But we will keep an eye out to see if they consistently pop up.