The Kansas City Chiefs‘ previous two victories both came on the back of quarterback Patrick Mahomes. In Sunday’s 27-17 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Mahomes racked up 331 passing yards and four touchdowns to establish a large lead.
But one of these wins came much more easily than the other. In Week 9 against the Tennessee Titans, Mahomes was forced to do everything — but against Jacksonville, he got a little more help from other parts of the offense.
The running game contributed 155 yards over 27 attempts. Both the running backs and the offensive line stepped up their game, helping to help make life easier for their quarterback.
Here’s what it looked like.
In his third week as Kansas City’s starting running back, rookie Isiah Pacheco seemed to have a breakthrough game — not only by the statistics, but by how confident he was on his way to a box score that included 82 yards on 16 carries; it was his season high for rushing attempts.
The #Chiefs' shotgun outside zone run looked better than it has all year v. JAX, and I believe it's because of Pacheco's improved reading of the blocks— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) November 15, 2022
He's setting up LBs better, threatening 1 hole then exploding to another
This is why he has earned the starting role pic.twitter.com/ftzDm3nRmW
The most encouraging part of his performance was how well he executed outside zone runs from the shotgun formation — a play that can be made (or broken) by a running back’s vision and burst.
Unlike in previous games, we see here that Pacheco consciously sets up linebackers by initially threatening to run through one gap — and then quickly bouncing to another. Since he commits to the wrong gap, the linebacker is moved out of the play — and Pacheco gains 13 yards.
On the next run, he actually helps right guard Trey Smith. The defensive lineman gets inside against Smith. Pacheco appears to be coming right to him — but he then bounces out, giving Smith the leverage to finish off the block. After that, Pacheco seamlessly gets back downfield, maximizing the yards earned on the play.
Beautifully blocked GT Counter from shotgun.— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) November 15, 2022
- Trey works to pin 3T inside
- Thuney with a textbook kickout
- Gray with an awesome pull block, pancakes playside LB
Pacheco hits this perfectly, want to see him run through full speed through the safety coming down at 3rd level pic.twitter.com/7U1yIzIyLW
Pacheco’s improvement on outside-zone runs is very encouraging, because it’s the main running play the Chiefs call. But that is added to his already-impressive plays on gap runs.
This counter run gained 10 yards by allowing him to get downhill. When the gaps are opened up this well as they are on this play, Pacheco is going to explode to the defense’s second and third levels better than the team’s other backs.
Still, it is important to note some great blocks. Smith pins his defender inside, pairing with left guard Joe Thuney’s perfect kick-out block to open a gaping hole. Tight end Noah Gray puts the cherry on top with a great pull block, taking the play-side linebacker out of the play — and into the ground.
Interior pass protection
Offensive linemen made holes in the running game, but they also kept Mahomes clean — especially the three on the interior.
#Chiefs pass protection had a very clean day, but especially on early downs -- when Jacksonville had their run-down DTs in— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) November 15, 2022
KC IOL erased them, and gave Mahomes plenty of comfort operating in the pocket pic.twitter.com/R1ngdhzX6Z
On early-down passes, Jacksonville had zero interior pressure; the Chiefs’ guards and centers stonewalled the Jaguars’ defensive tackles, who did not offer the Jaguars nearly as much pass-rushing upside as they got from the interior rushes they used on third downs and other obvious passing plays.
This made things easier on Kansas City’s offensive tackles, who faced a challenge on every snap from starting edge rushers Josh Allen and Travon Walker. Left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. didn’t need much help. On most of his opportunities, he swallowed his matchup; he had an impressive game in pass protection.
But at times, right tackle Andrew Wylie needed help. Smith was often free to step in — because center Creed Humphrey (and Thuney) calmly handled the two defensive tackles themselves.
The pass pro also got the job done against JAX's pass-down rush schemes, using 4 DEs and running stunts/games. They only blitzed twice— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) November 15, 2022
Whenever there were some leaks, Mahomes neutralized them with great pocket management and scrambled when he needed to for the 2nd straight week pic.twitter.com/uInqZhyxgI
On passing downs, the Chiefs’ interior linemen were still impressive, consistently stalemating Jacksonville’s situational rushers Dawuane Smoot and Arden Key — sometimes one-on-one. By himself, Thuney rarely had trouble staying in front of Key.
Even when a player was beaten — like Smith in the third play of this clip — a teammate often stepped in; we see how Humphrey buries the rusher as soon as he gets past the right guard.
It’s very hard to create a picture-perfect pocket on every passing down — especially against four defensive ends who have the athleticism to rush from all over. Even when there were slight leaks in the wall, there was still enough room for Mahomes to move and get to a scramble lane. On Sunday, the pocket never truly collapsed.
Next man up
The solid performances continued even after Wylie left the game in the second quarter after suffering an elbow sprain. Third-year player Prince Tega Wanogho stepped in, getting extended playing time in a meaningful game for the first time in Kansas City.
After Andrew Wylie left the game late in the 2Q, Prince Tega Wanogho stepped up to finish off the Jags— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) November 15, 2022
Similar to Wylie, he struggled power at times -- but the footwork was clean. Hands could be lower at times
Here's what should be most of his true pass sets pic.twitter.com/cjmrFnwCdg
In pass protection, he had the same struggle Wylie had been having: Walker’s power. The defensive end consistently earned penetration — even if it didn’t impact the play. That said, Wanogho settled in and stabilized that side, helping the Chiefs score their last two touchdowns.
As we see here, Wanogho displays clean footwork, staying in a comfortable position to strike with his hands as he gets into his pass set. Sometimes his hands are a little too high, but his fundamentals were outstanding — especially for a player who has primarily been a left tackle during both his collegiate and professional career.
In this game, Wylie was a better run blocker — but for any future games in which he has to step in and play, Wanogho made a good first impression as a pass blocker.
The bottom line
For the second consecutive week, Mahomes was really impressive — but one win was much easier than the other. That’s because the offensive line was more impactful against Jacksonville — specifically in the running game.
Pacheco’s improved play was also a big factor — but a clean game from the front five made it all possible. They will play better defensive fronts — but when the interior offensive line is as dominant as it was on Sunday, life is easier for the offensive tackles.