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Assessing where Orlando Brown Jr. can improve as Chiefs take on Broncos

The left tackle drew some criticism this week due to a tough performance in the Kansas City Chiefs' 27-24 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at San Francisco 49ers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs' third loss this calendar year to the Cincinnati Bengals was full of gut-wrenching moments, but none more than Patrick Mahomes being sacked on third down late in the fourth quarter.

It's easy to see that the star quarterback was looking to rip a pass downfield to either Travis Kelce or JuJu Smith-Schuster, but an almost instant pressure from rookie edge rusher Joseph Ossai forced Mahomes off his spot. A phenomenal second effort from Ossai resulted in a shoestring sack.

The man responsible for the sack became a polarizing figure across Kansas City this offseason by asking to be the richest left tackle in football. The team showed its trust in Orlando Brown Jr. by leaving him on the island late in the game, but as he discovered, the island can be lonely.

What is the island?

The reason that most left tackles are paid so high in the NFL is that they protect their quarterback's blind spots, but they also receive the least amount of help. This help comes from chip blocks from running backs or tight ends, which can help give their tackles more time to pass protect.

While reviewing the film and taking notes, I counted 11 instances in which Brown received some form of help from either a back or tight end in protection. This was 19% of snaps.

This is not totally uncommon for an average tackle, but the way he is perceived based on the contract situation from this summer does not do him any favors when it comes to evaluating his performance.

Why was his performance disappointing?

Not all downs in football are the same; some are much more critical than others. On these "critical downs," the team relies on its best players to step up and elevate their teammates. These downs are typically third and fourth-down situations because those are the plays that can either extend drives or end them. The Chiefs' left tackle was putrid in these situations last week.

It's an ugly look for Brown, but it needed to be stated. The Bengals routinely targeted him late in the game, but no more so than on third and fourth downs. They looked to exploit his biggest kryptonite — the speed rush. A critical miscue deep in the red zone put a hit on Patrick Mahomes and forced a throw-away.

Bengals defensive end Trey Hendrickson was playing the pass from the jump and ate up the extra space provided by the alignment of Noah Gray.

Brown appears to have wanted to "jump set" Hendrickson (aggressively get hands on him as quickly as possible), but that makes no sense in this situation, given the tight end’s inside release. The flat set is designed for a tackle to get his hands on the edge quickly, but that is not possible here since Hendrickson is lining up just outside the shoulder of the tight end. It can be argued that Brown should have been looking for the "vertical" pass set to protect his quarterback. The "vertical" set would have allowed Brown extra time to get into his protection and fight against the outside pressure.

Mahomes would erase this attempt one play later, but with enough time to throw the play before, he might have saved his body from unneeded contact.

What worked

It was not all bad from Brown against the Bengals. His overall numbers for the game were acceptable, with him winning close to 70% of his overall repetitions. He even displayed some nice work in pass protection early on in the game.

This is the kind of fight we need to see play in and play out, and it shows that the big man is more than capable of playing to the echo of the whistle. His upper body strength, great size, length and football IQ will usually put him in a position to win most passing reps and help him win consistently in the run game.

I had Brown with a 75% run-blocking win rate in true run-blocking situations. He was technically sound and showed good physicality by moving to double-team blocks and setting the wall on zone plays.

What he should look out for against the Denver Broncos

While the Denver Broncos are a lowly 3-9 — last place in the AFC West — they do have some players on defense that could give the Chiefs and Brown some issues.

In their Week 13 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, the Broncos racked up 4.0 sacks while only allowing nine total points. The obvious player to give Brown issues is second-year outside linebacker Baron Browning.

Browning is an explosive and bendy edge who will be given plenty of chances to rush the passer on obvious passing downs. Although he only has 3.5 sacks on the year, he is the player that Denver will look to create isolated pass rush opportunities against Brown.

He lines up wide, trying to put tackles in space where he can take advantage of restricted mobility and use his own fast twitch speed to his advantage.

Browning is not the only Ohio State product that could be used to target the issues the Chiefs have had blocking speed rushers.

Jonothan Cooper is a seventh-round draft pick, but he has not looked it through his first two years in Denver. The outside linebacker has good length and speed off the edge, displaying that he has the motor to finish plays even when blocked by multiple players.

Although his sack numbers are modest, much like Browning, it is the speed and bend off the edge that could present the Chiefs with issues.

The bottom line

The Broncos have watched Brown's film from the Bengals' loss. They know how they can get after Patrick Mahomes, and they know which scenarios they can beat the big man.

It will be up to Brown to remedy his performance from a week ago. While most of "Chiefs Kingdom" is chalking this game up as a cakewalk, it might not be that simple. The Broncos have the personnel on their defensive line to turn this game into a headache for Kansas City.

With an entire fan base keying in on his performance this week, Brown needs to show up big in the worst way. The opposition will try him with every trick in the book and sell out to get after Mahomes.

He will need to thrive on the island if he wants to be one of the game's elite tackles.

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