It’s no secret by now.
The early portion of the 2022 season was a struggle for Kansas City Chiefs left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. In some instances, the blocking on the edges from the tackles was something the team was clearly having to win in spite of.
While there are and will continue to be moments of imperfection, Brown especially appears to be trending in a positive direction.
Pro Football Focus’ grading can be questioned, most definitely, but these grades actually make sense on the surface. The pressures allowed have noticeably gone down, and — sans a holding penalty on Saturday — Brown was almost invisible against the Seahawks, in a very good way.
Five years into his NFL career, Brown’s greatest strengths and weaknesses are well established. He leans on his length and power to win matchups with his hands. His foot quickness makes him vulnerable against speedy pass rushers.
Having seen Brown in Kansas City for nearly a full two years now, another trend is beginning to take shape. Both in 2021 and now 2022, his quality of play seems to steadily improve as the season wears on. One could theorize this might have to do with physical conditioning, continuous repetition and muscle memory or a variety of other potential topics.
I would pose that the colder weather works in Brown's favor.
As temperatures dip at or below the freezing mark, history tells us a few things. For one, players slow down in general. Speed becomes less of an advantage in these conditions, and that’s a boost in favor of Brown. Furthermore, teams tend to run the ball at a higher rate when it's brutally cold as it was Saturday. Anytime that’s the case, defenders have to honor the potential of stopping the run more while slowing their efforts to rush the passer.
Brown, like many others on this third down rep, does his job. Takes everyone to keep the chains moving though. pic.twitter.com/xFQiz5lEY6— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) December 27, 2022
At Arrowhead Saturday — where Brown can also time his pass-set footwork with quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ verbal cadence so consistently — he was able to win so many different kinds of pass-blocking reps in a variety of ways.
Sometimes, it showed itself with Brown leveraging his mental processing ability:
One of the reasons everyone was excited to see Brown and Thuney play together in the first place -- Seattle's game gets completely shut down.— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) December 27, 2022
Drive still ends on missed execution. pic.twitter.com/GBrtW31ZUX
Other times, it was the patented length that enabled Brown to shut down a pass-rush attempt very early into the play. During the game against Seattle’s three or four different pass rushers they threw at Brown, he made it hard for those players to get a feel for how he would try to block them each time.
There was a good steady mix of timing with not only feet but also his hand placement.
Not an approach that can be used 100% of the time but Brown attacks early and lands the hands here.— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) December 27, 2022
When he plays well, it all starts with the punch consistency. pic.twitter.com/Avdr96N2do
Below, we see arguably the most impressive play from Brown’s game this past weekend. The Seahawks defender tries to expose Brown’s weakness with jab steps that would ideally throw Brown into a panic, leaving him with marginal balance and body positioning.
Brown didn’t oblige. Rather, he appeared to be in control, playing the game on his terms. When Brown made the opponent attempt to fight through his body instead of giving them easier outlets to just run by, he’s a very hard lineman to beat.
Brown is always going to be tested with foot quickness-based moves by rushers.— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) December 27, 2022
A great job to hone in on his leverage here and maintain a patient base throughout. pic.twitter.com/71NDP15E4R
Ultimately, Brown is a critical cog in this Kansas City offensive efficiency machine.
When he’s at his best, the unit has a greater chance to put up high yardage and point totals against anybody. It positions Mahomes to be his best self and continue mounting plays together worthy of winning the NFL MVP award — which Mahomes should secure a month from now.
Actively blocking two Seahawks here lol— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) December 27, 2022
Always nice when a good clip of the article subject aligns with a Mahomes moment too pic.twitter.com/nIG4gQFKzj
As I start to look into a strong game from OBJ Saturday, first want to show a cool design from the KC offense.— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) December 27, 2022
Expecting Cov-3, the play action motion to the right combined with Watson running the Deep 1/3 corner across the field makes 57 accounting for McKinnon very difficult. pic.twitter.com/BG9VIgFeoy
When the playoffs begin, fans can count on players like Mahomes and tight end Travis Kelce to be at their very best. They can even trust the coaching staff to put together the very best game plans possible for any given opponent. These are things we have witnessed for four years now under Mahomes and head coach Andy Reid.
What will take things to the highest level, and perhaps enable the Chiefs to get all the way through a loaded AFC conference, is if players like Brown and the rest of his fellow offensive linemen peers continue to be at their best.
The bottom line
There’s going to be another long, nuanced conversation about whether or not the Chiefs should re-sign Brown here a couple of months. He is the team’s most controversial to-be free agent at a critical position.
Whether you’re someone who believes Brown should get a long-term extension — be franchise tagged for another season, or simply be allowed to leave in free agency and subsequently replaced — the fact is it’s in the best interest of this 2022 Chiefs team for Brown to continue playing better and better.
As for Brown himself, this next month-plus is the opportunity of a lifetime: another crack at securing life-changing money as he attempts to be a key contributor to another Kansas City Super Bowl run.