While it’s easy to reflect on the highlight-reel plays like those from quarterback Patrick Mahomes and tight end Travis Kelce, there was something more significant about Kansas City’s win.
Before Sunday night, the Buccaneers’ run defense — which was was giving up just 3.8 yards per attempt — was one of the league’s best rushing defenses. The strength of this vaunted Tampa Bay defense has been in the trenches, with players like Vita Vea, Logan Hall and William Gholston. After facing running backs like the Dallas Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, the New Orleans Saints’ Mark Ingram and Aaron Jones and the Green Bay Packers’ A.J. Dillon, Tampa Bay had given up just 238 rushing yards.
Then the Chiefs showed up in Tampa Bay, grinding out 189 yards on 37 carries for an average of 5.1 yards per carry.
And we learned something: when the Kansas City offense is running the ball with authority, it is unstoppable.
But for what seems like forever, we have seen the Chiefs — specifically, head coach Andy Reid — struggle to consistently run the football. While it’s understandable to emphasize the passing game when the ultimate quarterback weapon is on the field, an effective running game might make the difference between being a good offense and an elite one.
If CEH and Pacheco run like that in any game the Chiefs are the best offense in the NFL...— Price Carter (@priceacarter) October 3, 2022
Case in point: if Kansas City could have run the ball better in the second half of last season’s conference title game against the Cincinnati Bengals, it’s likely the Chiefs would now be defending their third-straight AFC Championship.
This year, it’s even more important that Kansas City commits to being able to run the ball.
In 2021, much was made about the Chiefs’ struggles against two-high safeties and deep shell coverages. To some extent, it forced Kansas City to reinvent its offense, with wide receiver Tyreek Hill transformed into a glorified Julian Edelman who was relying on yards after the catch to impact the game.
With that dynamic threat gone, the Chiefs will have to find more ways punish teams that play light boxes against them. That’s why Kansas City’s running game must continue to be strong.
Thanks to the pregame comments of Buccaneers linebacker Shaquil Barrett, the Chiefs’ offensive line came into Sunday night’s game motivated and angry — and it showed in the running game. Since general manager Brett Veach’s 2021 overhaul of the offensive line, it has been much more physical in the running game than it has been in the passing game.
So when Kansas City runs the ball, it is not only forcing teams to put more men in the box, but also playing to the offensive line’s strength. And when the big boys up front are engaged and playing well, it benefits both the running and passing offense.
“We all know it starts with the big guys up front,” said Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire after Sunday’s game. “And that was something coach Reid started the week off [with] this week — just challenging those guys — and we all know how it all unfolds.
“Once he challenges those guys, it’s obvious that he’s challenging all of us. We did what we needed to do: [we] came out and they handled business.”
On Sunday night, the Chiefs proved they can run the ball on anybody. They also proved they have more than one weapon in the running game.
Against Tampa Bay, rookie Isiah Pacheco looked like the player we had all heard about during training camp. His speed, aggression and resistance to contact bring something to the running back position that the Chiefs have been missing since Kareem Hunt was released in 2018. Both Edwards-Helaire and Pacheco have shown they can make plays — and that’s without even mentioning Jerrick McKinnon, who gained 315 all-purpose yards during the 2021 playoffs.
While Sunday should be viewed as a major success for the Kansas City offense, it also presents a challenge: run the dang ball! The team has now proved it can run against some of the league’s stoutest run defenses. As the Chiefs continue to develop into the team that it will ultimately become this season, the running game needs to be a major part of its new identity.