It isn’t easy to be enthusiastic about Kansas City Chiefs football after what happened this past Sunday in Cincinnati — we get it. We all feel that.
And yet, here we are, ready to dive into the offensive film from Sunday to reflect on what was. More importantly, to give an honest assessment of what took place, especially as it relates to the Kansas City offensive line. Both starting offensive tackles — Orlando Brown Jr. and Lucas Niang — were out for the game within the first five offensive plays Sunday. It was the exact type of nightmare scenario the Chiefs saw play out last year with offensive line injuries.
How would they react? Would the depth constructed in the offseason hold up? In this review, we’ll look into that — and I think Chiefs fans will come away more encouraged than before reading this article.
I’ll be the first to say, there are times during Chiefs games called by Tony Romo in which I want to hit the mute button. Even in this particular game, those moments popped up for me. However, Romo did make a point several times during the broadcast that I agree with resoundingly: this Chiefs team is more dangerous than versions from previous years, and it’s largely because of the powerful, downhill style of offense they are capable of displaying. They can get a yard or two when they really need it, and they don’t have to trick the opposing defense much, if at all to do so.
All season long, especially on the Arrowhead Pride Film Room show, we’ve talked about wanting to see Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy adopt more gap-style run plays where they pull guards, tackles, fullbacks, etc. and play to the strengths of their very physical, strong offensive line. On Sunday, we saw them continue to shift more in that direction.
The Chiefs ran eight (8) plays where they had some form of a “puller” — either a “counter” or “power” run scheme designed to move defenders at the point of attack and run through a specific gap. The results? Yardage gains of 23, 12, 10, 6, 1, 0, and two goal-line touchdowns by Darrel Williams. In other words, six of those eight plays could be considered successful for the offense. Overall, Chiefs running backs Darrel Williams and Derrick Gore averaged 7.35 yards per carry on 17 totes — a tremendous output.
Something encouraging? KC is embracing gap/power run principles as more of their bread & butter right in time for the playoffs. You can win games this way in any type of conditions. pic.twitter.com/GFiYU2RFev— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) January 4, 2022
The likes of Nick Allegretti, Creed Humphrey, Trey Smith and Andrew Wylie all take tremendous joy in roughing up the opposition — it stands out on tape. Beyond that, the overall timing in which the offensive line seems to have figured out when it comes to sequencing their blocks — climbing from the defensive line level to linebacker level — also looks improved. Especially on run-pass option (RPO) plays, the alternative to their gap/power style runs, this great sense of timing presents itself.
Cincinnati was more prepared for some of Kansas City’s staple plays than other teams have been — it was evident they committed to film study last week. Even still, the patented fullback belly to Michael Burton and the “tight end sneak” by Blake Bell worked in key spots due to the strength and power of this offensive line.
Andy Reid will have to be careful not to become too reliant on this style of offense throughout the playoffs — they still must trust quarterback Patrick Mahomes above all else. However, in the right doses, this physical approach to running the football can be a major reason for winning football throughout January.
As many know already, the Chiefs’ typical left guard, Joe Thuney, was forced into action at left tackle for the first time in his career Sunday due to injuries. The general narrative is that he performed very well, which holds up as we evaluate the film. Especially considering the circumstances, Thuney deserves a heavy dose of credit. He showed why he is worth the 5-year, $80 million dollar contract he received last spring.
However, he was faced with having to block one of the NFL’s best pass rushers in Bengals defensive end Trey Hendrickson. Even though Hendrickson’s streak of having a sack in 11 consecutive games came to an end, he still won his fair share of pass-rush reps against Thuney.
Cool way to get Kelce an open look inside the 5 by taking some attention off him w/ the block & release late. Hendrickson (91) nearly wrecks the plan, too. pic.twitter.com/QbmFSSw91c— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) January 4, 2022
There were a few plays like this in which Mahomes either threw the football or escaped pressure from Hendrickson just in time to avoid disaster. In the second half, one of those quick pressures nearly resulted in an interception, too. The innovative way they got Travis Kelce an end-zone target here was good to see because teams do so much to make that hard on the Chiefs down inside the red zone. As playoff games begin, I believe we will see Andy Reid “open up the playbook” even more in an effort to really challenge opposing defenses in ways that attack their specific weaknesses most.
Reviewing KC's offensive line play and how it impacted the game - amazed how often this D-Rob 'Dino' route works just outside the red zone. Hill commands so much attention, too. pic.twitter.com/4LX6CyDmXy— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) January 4, 2022
Mecole runs 'Wasp' - this is a good pocket to work from vs. 5-man pressure. Cincy's in 1-high man cvg, Hardman puts together one of the best plays I've seen him make, snap to finish. Play can be explosive vs. a variety of defensive looks if it's blocked up like this by the OL. pic.twitter.com/FNbUgSJdOu— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) January 4, 2022
Good pockets were created by the Chiefs’ offensive line several times on Sunday against a very good Cincinnati pass rush, and the result was a fair number of chunk passing plays we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from the Mahomes-led offense. While each offensive linemen had some plays I am certain they’d love to have back, for the most part, it was another really strong performance that allowed Mahomes to be his best self, finishing with an 86.0 total quarterback rating (QBR) and a 113.9 passer rating — both excellent numbers.
CIN threw a lot of different looks out up front, but Mahomes continues to ascend back into his normal levels of play. OL handles the DB edge pressure beautifully and it sets up a 20+ yd conversion. pic.twitter.com/f5IJJrFGvi— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) January 4, 2022
There is zero doubt that a higher level of comfort working with this offensive line has contributed to Mahomes stacking multiple great performances together. His confidence appears markedly higher, and it has the unit playing closer to their full potential.
Even on the occasion that the pocket is muddled by a blitz or defenders put together a great pass rush rep, Mahomes is back to letting his natural instincts and playmaking ability take over the game. He’s not thinking about avoiding mistakes or interceptions — Mahomes is simply reacting to create offensive production the only way he knows how: big-time players make big-time plays.
The bottom line
That ugly loss is in the rear-view mirror, and now it’s time for the Chiefs to prepare for their regular-season finale Saturday afternoon in Denver.
Is the first-round bye lost? Odds are, yes. We’ll see what happens this weekend. Either way, the most important thing is having critical players stay healthy and play well in all phases regardless of when or where games occur.
The arrow is pointing up for the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense, largely due to the play of their deep, talented linemen. If that can hold up — and I suspect it will in the cold weather playoff football naturally brings — Patrick Mahomes and his accompanying weapons will be set up to continue playing their best football of the season when it matters most.