Things have officially come full circle.
My debut film review last July considered how new Kansas City Chiefs left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. would fit into the offense. Now we close the season looking at his performance during the Chiefs’ 27-24 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in Sunday’s AFC Championship game.
On Tuesday, Kansas City general manager Brett Veach spoke like a man intent on retaining Brown as quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ blindside protector for the long term. Will this be the right approach? To find out, let’s look at the film from Sunday’s game.
After a full 20-game season in Andy Reid’s offensive scheme, how has that accumulation of game experience helped Brown’s game — even in ways that are hard to see in real time?
Orlando Brown (#57 / AFCCG) — love this hand flash move as a changeup to keep DEs guessing. The type of nuanced things you can keep working into the repertoire with age. pic.twitter.com/6QHBcvV5p4— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) February 2, 2022
The small hand flash we see in this play makes the defender show their hand early, giving Brown another pitch to throw at elite pass rushers.
Remember: Brown is still just 25 years old. Despite being named to the Pro Bowl in three of his first four seasons — 2021 included — there is still room for him to improve in subtle ways. It is fair to assume his prime playing years are ahead of him — not behind him.
There are ways Brown can be beaten as a pass blocker — but when it comes to power or a bull rush, even the league’s strongest edge rushers can struggle to defeat him.
You’re just not going to beat Zeus with power through his huge body. One of the NFL’s best couldn’t do it Sunday, there’s no use in trying. pic.twitter.com/BNuLYuDJEm— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) February 2, 2022
So defenders very rarely try power rushes against Brown. But since this reduces the types of pass-rushing approaches he can expect to see, that’s a good thing. And when Brown is playing defenders who rely on their strength, he can neutralize them with relative ease.
But when a pass rusher has a combination of great speed, power and hand technique, Brown will get his share of losses in one-on-one matchups. On last week’s Arrowhead Pride Film Room show, we talked about the challenges that Bengals defensive end Trey Hendrickson would present for Brown in Sunday’s game.
Hendrickson (#91; 14.0 sacks in ‘21) is one of the elite pass rushers who has all the tools to give the best LTs problems, and he got Brown a handful of times Sun. pic.twitter.com/oqKbPUr5iB— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) February 2, 2022
Over the course of a game, a player of Hendrickson’s caliber is going to beat any left tackle at least a time or two; he really is that good. So to maintain realistic expectations for Brown, we must acknowledge this.
But pass rushers who are especially skilled with their quickness and acceleration off the snap are the ones who give Brown the most trouble; such defenders can erase the intersect lane, clearing past Brown’s hips and feet so they can run toward the quarterback at the top of his dropback.
Since most of Brown’s losses come against great speed, these plays can quickly become borderline disastrous. This season, Mahomes improved at stepping up in the pocket — something he needed to do regardless of who was playing left tackle. So if Brown is going to be the long-term left tackle, the importance of Mahomes’ skill in that area will be magnified; nearly all of Brown’s losses come around the far edge of the pocket.
Still... if a player is going to be a good, highly-compensated left tackle, they need to dominate rotational pass rushers. On Sunday, Brown did just that.
Now, when 91 left the field, it was light work for Brown every single time. pic.twitter.com/22Z9yRt39i— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) February 2, 2022
Plays like this one — where it appears that Brown is hardly breaking a sweat — show that at minimum, he is a good left tackle. As we’ve detailed, there are some distinct ways to beat him in pass protection. But overall — while playing one of football’s most difficult positions — he is a dependable pass protector.
When we’re discussing Brown’s potential contract, we can’t forget his contributions in the running game. If he’s considered a good pass blocker, he is a great run blocker.
Hard not to enjoy watching OBJ engulf people in the run game. pic.twitter.com/NKhUaS7Bb8— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) February 2, 2022
As they go through their post-season scheme evaluations — which is happening as I write — the Chiefs’ coaching staff must consider how they could alter their running game in 2022. We now have a full year of tape showing how the revamped offensive line can move bodies at will — especially against less physical defensive fronts.
In previous seasons, run-pass option concepts — using short passes as an extension of the running game — had to make up a big chunk of the team’s approach; the offensive line didn’t do a great job creating holes. But this is no longer the case.
Should the team scrap RPOs altogether? Of course not. But as opponents continued to emphasize defending those kinds of plays, now is the time for the Chiefs to evolve — allowing their monstrous offensive line to do what they do best: attack downhill.
This isn’t suggesting the offense should be adjusted just for Brown. Instead, it’s about the whole offensive line. If Kansas City retains Brown long-term, that means he, left guard Joe Thuney, center Creed Humphrey and right guard Trey Smith will be together for at least the next three seasons. These guys have the ability to impose their will with power and physicality. So let them do it!
I’m not suggesting the team should pass less frequently; it can continue to let Mahomes lead the charge. But adapting — leaning into more of a physical, play-action passing approach — will force defenses out of light boxes. This would help Mahomes hit on deep, explosive downfield plays with greater efficiency.
What should the Chiefs do with Brown?
Whether Brown should be the team’s long-term left tackle is not entirely up to him.
If the coaching staff chooses to adjust its primary offensive scheme — allowing the offensive line to do what they do best — Brown would be a great left tackle. Beyond his skill, it is evident that the Chiefs love the leader and professional that Brown has become among their offensive linemen.
But if the plan is to roll with the status quo in schemes and play-calling — Veach indicated he is likely to add multiple starting-caliber wide receivers to the roster — Brown wouldn’t be an ideal scheme fit. Even if it is at the expense of power, the team would be better off with a tackle who is more agile. Brown just isn’t meant to drop back over and over again, facing explosive pass rushers who can tee off on his weaknesses. So without a change in the team’s offensive emphasis, extending Brown would mean the Chiefs will find themselves paying a lot of money for a solid-to-good left tackle. That would be dangerous.
Just the same, Kansas City needs to place the franchise tag on Brown. The roster currently has too many other needs to open a big hole at a premium position. But a three to five-year contract extension only makes sense if the team is going to evolve the offense in a way that better fits its big fellas up front.
What should the Chiefs do with Orlando Brown Jr. this offseason?
This poll is closed
Sign him to a long-term extension
Franchise tag him for 2022
Let him walk in free agency — and seek alternatives at left tackle