The run game has rarely been a priority for the Kansas City Chiefs in the era of starting quarterback Patrick Mahomes. That felt like it could change when the team revamped their offensive line with powerful, physical players — but it has only been shown in flashes.
One game, they’re earning 189 yards on the ground against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a variety of run schemes — but the week before that, they were shut down by the Indianapolis Colts with only 58 team rushing yards and a noticeably ugly effort; they had a similar performance in the loss to the Buffalo Bills.
It isn’t a coincidence that the former was a comfortable win, and the latter two were losses and the team’s lowest single-game point totals of the season. Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy acknowledged the inconsistencies during his pre-practice press conference on Thursday.
“There is an identity, we’re still looking for it,” Bieniemy revealed to reporters about the run game. “Obviously we found it once upon a time. We got to re-identify who we are — but that’s just everyone being on the same page, everyone doing their part. We got good football players, we got good guys up front, we just have to play better.”
According to ESPN, the Chiefs have the fourth-best Run Block Win Rate — a metric that measures the success of the blocking, not the result of the play. That number would suggest the line is creating space that isn’t being utilized by the running backs.
Bieniemy believes that to be the case as well.
“We’ve left a lot of yards, we’ve left a lot of rushing yards,” Bieniemy reflected. “Our guys have to perform and make sure that we can maximize the opportunities being presented to us by running the football. Right now, we’re just not doing a good job. I know we’re capable of doing better, but we just have to continue to work at it.”
The Chiefs’ trio of running backs have all shown exciting spurts of play but nothing consistent enough — and that might be a result of how evenly the opportunities at running back are distributed.
“We’ve got trust in all of them,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid told reporters before practice on Wednesday. “They’ve all got kind of their plays and times that we try to use them. It just depends on the game. So, this game might be different than the last game. We try to give them as close to equal opportunities as we can, (Isiah) Pacheco came up a little short this last game here. Ten reps I think it was.”
The problem with a committee of running backs is it can prevent one individual player from gathering momentum and confidence throughout a game, but the Chiefs do try to feed whoever is playing well that game.
In Week 5, it was Jerick McKinnon — then the week before that, rookie Isiah Pacheco seemed to be the player of choice. Whoever pops the first big run or looks the most explosive that day tends to get the majority share of touches and snaps for that particular game.
“You want the guy who is in rhythm; if that guy has a hot hand, let’s roll with him,” Bieniemy emphasized. “Regardless, those guys know their roles; they’re all professional football players. When they step up to the plate, we expect them to perform at a high level. Their job is to go out there and perform, play — regardless of how many, or how few reps they’re getting.”
Pacheco should eat into the snaps more and more as the season goes, and it’s because he appears to be the player that earns the most “post-contact yards,” something Bieniemy noted as important at the running back position on Thursday.
No matter who is carrying the ball, the Chiefs’ coaching staff can help the run game by mixing in more under center, downhill run plays that allow the offensive linemen to fire off vertically rather than horizontally. It also gives the running backs momentum into the line of scrimmage so they can run through tight gaps and arm tackles.
That can be the identity of this run offense — if the Chiefs want it to be. Watch the win over the Bucs, and you’ll see that it’s possible. It’s just about sticking to that aggressive style rather than only bringing it out situationally.