Every championship team has superstars who can lead the team to the mountain top. In Super Bowl LIV, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes had the time to run 2-3 Jet Wasp, hitting wide receiver Tyreek Hill on a third-and-15 play — leading to a Travis Kelce touchdown reception that turned the tide of the game.
But the season is a marathon. With the additional 17th game this season, it feels even longer than normal. And this is where a team’s depth is tested.
Yes... the stars lead you to championships — but there are unsung heroes along the way. In 2019, quarterback Matt Moore stepped in, winning a pivotal game against the Minnesota Vikings that was crucial in obtaining that season’s first-round bye.
And if the 2021 Chiefs eventually become Super Bowl champions, their unsung hero may be reserve offensive lineman Andrew Wylie.
On this season’s completely rebuilt offensive line, Wylie — who has primarily played as a guard at the professional level — went from being a two-year starter to a backup. And then, with injuries to starter Lucas Niang and veteran backup Mike Remmers, he was called upon to play right tackle — the position to which he was infamously moved for Super Bowl LV, when he did not have his best game while protecting Mahomes.
Kansas City offensive line coach Andy Heck values Wylie for his versatility.
“Even before this year, he stepped in and started a bunch of games for us at left guard, at right guard, tackle [and] so on,” he told reporters on Thursday. “Then this year — same thing. He’s been ready to go at any one of those positions. We needed him at tackle — and then he stepped in.”
But for Heck, it doesn’t stop there.
“The other thing that Andrew brings — really — is an energy, a toughness. He’s a tough kid that loves football. He’s absolutely essential to what we’re doing here. Those kinds of unheralded guys that do the dirty work like that? That’s what it’s all about.”
So far this season, Wylie’s story has been one of redemption. Except for the Week 15 against the Los Angeles Chargers — when Niang returned — he has played at right tackle since Week 9’s win against the Green Bay Packers. Wylie has battled some of the league’s best edge rushers in those five starts — including Maxx Crosby (twice), Micah Parsons and T.J. Watt.
It hasn’t always been pretty. Still, Wylie has done the dirty work Heck spoke about — and fought the entire time. According to Pro Football Focus, Wylie has given up 24 pressures (including four sacks) over nearly 400 snaps. It’s worth noting that 15 of those pressures came in his first two starts. In the last three, he’s only allowed only seven.
So far this season, PFF has given him a blocking grade of 65.2. That may seem low, but we should maintain perspective: Wylie is the third-string tackle. When dealing with injuries throughout the season, getting average play from third-string offensive linemen is essential.
In the team’s 36-10 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, Wylie earned his best grade of the season: an 82.8 against Watt. That was the line’s second-best grade behind rookie standout Creed Humphrey.
Let’s see what Sunday’s film tells us about his performance.
Andrew Wylie has been an unsung hero of this 8-game winning streak.— Kristian Gumminger (@kgumminger) December 30, 2021
Here, Wylie does a great job with his initial punch. Completely stuns the pass rush plan and then squares up to stonewall the rest of the snap. pic.twitter.com/tqP4hTBCBl
On this play, Wylie is going up against rookie Isaiah Loudermilk. A good first punch leaves Loudermilk somewhat stunned — and shutting down his entire pass-rushing plan. Wylie stays square in his base, giving Mahomes time to find Blake Bell coming across the field for a first-down reception.
Watt uses his speed here but Wylie keeps up enough to to run him 12-yards pass the LOS and doesn't hold the jersey. Gives Mahomes a lane to step up and create a big play to Gore. pic.twitter.com/tF6NwGtDW3— Kristian Gumminger (@kgumminger) December 30, 2021
Here, Watt takes a wide angle — and Wylie uses this aggression against him. Wylie’s feet are slower — putting him in a chase position — but he can push Watt 12 yards past the line of scrimmage, allowing Mahomes to step up and create. Wylie does a great job of continuing to direct Watt around the edge without holding him or pulling on his jersey. This is the kind of play where Mahomes is at his best; he finds Derrick Gore downfield for a 50-yard gain.
Watt uses power here against Wylie, but again Wylie battles and fights here to redirect him enough to turn him around the edge and give Mahomes an alley to create.— Kristian Gumminger (@kgumminger) December 30, 2021
It wasn't always pretty, but it was effective and gave Mahomes opportunities to create those big plays. pic.twitter.com/F06Olb4p2Z
Wylie did give up two pressures in the game.
At the end of the second quarter — after using speed up to this point — Watt uses a power rush. It catches Wylie a little off guard, but he redirects Watt around the edge just enough to give Mahomes a lane to step up and deliver the ball to Josh Gordon — who is unable to bring in the ball.
It wasn’t a perfect day — and it hasn’t been an ideal stretch over his five starts — but during this eight-game winning streak, Wylie has done enough to allow the Chiefs’ offense to find itself. With Lucas Niang coming off injury (and the Reserve/COVID-19 list), Wylie is now likely to go back to the sidelines. But if the Chiefs do go on a playoff push for another appearance to the Super Bowl, his effort (and fight) will be a big reason why the team made the turnaround that it did.