For the first time in the Patrick Mahomes era, the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense will not feature what has been the league’s most dangerous, big-play threat: wide receiver Tyreek Hill. For this reason, the 2022 season won’t look quite the same.
So in this summer series — The Reid Remix — we’ll use statistics, film and quotes we’ve heard this offseason to preview how different aspects of the unit could look in the coming season.
We started by explaining the basics, then took closer looks at Mecole Hardman, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and the newcomer wide receivers. For this edition, we’ll be examining how the Chiefs can maximize their run offense.
What we know
The Chiefs’ run game has not been a significantly impactful aspect of the offense during the era of quarterback Patrick Mahomes. A lot of times, it feels like a run play is just a buffer between pass plays — hopefully gaining positive yards on a basic zone scheme while the coaching staff and signal-caller prepare for their next shot through the air.
The philosophy has naturally led to a vanilla run game that does nothing more than what it’s asked to do: get from one play to the other without turning the ball over. The run game got even more watered down when the Chiefs began to heavily use run-pass option (RPO) plays as their primary run game. The possibility of a pass forces offensive linemen not to fire out and be as aggressive blocking while also not fully taking advantage of receivers as blockers because they are possibly catching a pass.
In 2022, there’s reason to believe the rushing attack could be more impactful than past seasons. I’ll explain how:
The offensive line
In their first year as a group, the Chiefs’ starting offensive line was one of the most physically dominant in the NFL. Right guard Trey Smith and center Creed Humphrey were a huge reason why — bulldozing defensive linemen out of the way and creating lanes for the ball carriers. On the left side, left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. excelled in a similar sense — while all three likely benefitted from veteran left guard Joe Thuney and his experience understanding how to attack a defensive front.
Creed and Trey worked together really well on zone runs on Sunday— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) October 6, 2021
Each time, Trey passes off the double-team effectively to Creed, allowing him to get to the second-level quick enough to spring CEH for a big run #Chiefs pic.twitter.com/yXbWaC2W7c
Those skills helped spring some big runs like the two above, but simply running inside and outside zone isn’t going to be as effective against every defense — especially ones with better linebackers than the Philadelphia Eagles. The strengths of the offensive line can be further maximized by running a wider variety of rushing schemes.
Andy opening up space for the GT Counter with orbit motion— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) June 29, 2022
Mecole's action widens 55 from the box on both of these, opening up space at the 2nd level once RB clears the kickout and pull blocks pic.twitter.com/zdAgnpOoj5
One run play that the Chiefs have used in a limited fashion is the guard-tackle counter run — and there’s good reason to continue using it, especially to the left.
On the play, the backside guard and tackle pull to create a gap for the back to hit. Smith’s powerful kick-out block that usually results in a pancake — although it doesn’t on either play here — sets the table for the backside tackle to pull through the hole and lead the back. The left side is asked to down block on these, creating the room for the pullers — and that plays right into Brown’s strengths as a player, as well as Thuney, who understands angles well.
Andrew Wylie is an ideal right tackle for this play because he moves well in space compared to someone like Lucas Niang. Rookie Darrian Kinnard will be in the mix for that spot, and he had good experience in college pulling from the tackle position.
#Chiefs need to take some pages out of the Bucs' run-game playbook. This OL is made to excel on pin&pull schemes like this— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) June 29, 2022
Jones' speed around the edge on outside runs is more explosive than anything KC's had in the backfield recently pic.twitter.com/BSx34T2vs8
They should also take some pages out of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ run-game playbook. Tampa was a much more powerful run team, using “duo” — a run call that creates double teams across the line — and pin-and-pull runs to maximize their strong offensive line.
The pin-and-pull play shown above is a great example of how a player like Creed Humphrey can be further utilized lead blocking in space. It’s also an easy way to use the strengths of the rest of the offensive line. The rules to this play are simple for offensive linemen: if you have no defender over you, pull to the play side. If you have a defender over you, pin him away from the play.
Not only do these run plays play into the offensive line’s strengths, but they also play into new running back Ronald Jones’ skills; he was at his best for the Bucs on these type of plays.
One of the offensive trends that became a huge part of the Los Angeles Rams’ Super Bowl championship last season was the usage of receivers as blockers. On the surface, the advantage the offense gets is simple: if you can utilize a receiver like you would a tight end or fullback, you can disguise your intentions to run the ball much easier based on personnel.
A couple examples of strong blocks by MVS and Juju— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) June 29, 2022
MVS driving the DB to create space for RB, while Juju's is a crack-back block that he times up and executes powerfully pic.twitter.com/EyNLdRwQnR
First of all, the Chiefs signed two players who have shown strong play as a blocker in the NFL. Juju Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling have the physicality to be an effective blockers on the perimeter — but with defenses’ shift to lighter linebackers, I believe they can be used to block in the box as well.
Down the stretch last yr, #Chiefs used more Y-Insert runs -- where TE folds back inside to the playside LB to lead the ballcarrier— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) June 29, 2022
Neither of these are executed perfectly, but using Juju/MVS on that insert block could be a way to run on defenses in light, pass-defense personnel pic.twitter.com/Y7hwDBaNt5
One wrinkle we saw the Chiefs use down the stretch of 2021 was a “Y-insert” run, where the tight end (Y) folds back into the box and leads the running back to the second level. Against lighter personnel, there’s no reason to think Smith-Schuster or MVS can’t take on a linebacker in space — and their effectiveness doing that can allow Kansas City to effectively run from wide receiver-heavy formations.
The Chiefs moreso now have the WRs to execute run plays like hits. Look at 18 seal the safety coming down.— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) June 29, 2022
Then the inverted trap block by Gronk, something any Chiefs TE can be asked to do. Jones really knows how to get downhill and hit those seams created by pin blocks pic.twitter.com/V3SZREoQhm
Wide receivers that can effectively make these seal blocks you see above — including the amount of separation Chris Godwin makes in the first tweet — can be a huge asset on off-tackle runs like these. Their athleticism also allows them to get to blocks quicker than a tight end could on certain plays, which further maximizes the space created.
The bottom line
Under head coach Andy Reid, the Chiefs have never had this dominant of an offensive line — and frankly, they’ve never had as good of blockers at the wide receiver position.
The team needs to buy into those specific strengths of their team. It could lead to more significant plays on the ground and create another layer of unpredictability for the opposing defense.
Overall, the offense featuring the rushing attack will maximize the talent of the unit in its entirety.