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’re using statistics, film and quotes we’ve heard this offseason to preview how different aspects of the unit could look in the coming season.
In this edition, we’ll focus on the specific ways the Chiefs can attack their AFC West foes.
Every NFL fan will tell you that the AFC West appears to be the toughest division in football. Even last season, it was already one of the most competitive. But now — with quarterback Russell Wilson on the Denver Broncos, wide receiver Davante Adams on the Las Vegas Raiders and defensive end Khalil Mack on the Los Angeles Chargers — I’m confident all three teams will be competing for playoff spots.
Each team has gotten better this offseason, but there are still weaknesses on each team’s defense that the Chiefs’ offense can exploit. So let’s see exactly what they are.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers are an exciting team headed by a young, defensive-minded head coach: Brandon Staley. Still, their defense was one of the NFL’s worst last year, allowing 27 points per game. The unit was especially weak against the run.
This offseason, they improved the interior of the defensive line by adding former Los Angeles Rams’ defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day, but the second level didn’t see much change.
Tranquill may not be as relied on this year with a fully-healthy Murray, but if he does win a role, the #Chiefs already have experience taking advantage of him in coverage— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) July 13, 2022
Just not explosive enough to close the throwing window on the first one, or complete the tkl on the 2nd pic.twitter.com/l28blsDrKN
Out of the team’s returning linebackers, Drue Tranquill led the team in 2021 snaps. He wasn’t a Week 1 starter — but as injuries mounted, he played more and more. Now, he’s projected to start as one of the team’s two inside linebackers. This won’t upset the Chiefs’ offense.
In last year’s thrilling Week 15 overtime win, the two completions to tight end Travis Kelce on the game-winning drive were aided by Tranquill’s lack of athleticism to cover in space — along with a very bad missed tackle. If he’s on the field, the Chiefs will target him when they need it most.
The Chargers improved at IDL by adding Sebastian Joseph-Day, but their ILBs should still be Kenneth Murray & Drue Tranquill for the most part— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) July 13, 2022
They attacked Murray's weakness in sifting through blocks w/ horizontal runs in Wk 3 last yr pic.twitter.com/1QdTO6Q0eq
His running mate at linebacker is Kenneth Murray Jr., who missed six games last year due to an ankle injury. His absence forced the Chargers to play Tranquill more often, which reduced the team’s coverage ability; Murray’s athleticism was what made him a first-round pick.
However, Murray struggles to sift through a wave of blockers to make plays against the run, which the Chiefs tested in Week 3 with jet sweeps and other horizontal runs. Both of the plays shown here feature Murray whiffing at the point of attack.
The bottom line: The Chargers’ edge rushers and defensive backs are the strengths of the group, but the Chiefs can exploit their linebackers in both the passing and running game.
Las Vegas Raiders
For the Chiefs last year, the Las Vegas defense was always a welcome sight. Kansas City scored 41 and 48 points in the teams’ two matchups — but the Raiders’ defense won’t look exactly the same in 2022.
New head coach Josh McDaniels brought along a new defensive coordinator: Patrick Graham, who was formerly with the New York Giants. It’s hard to know exactly what his defense will look like right now, but we do know the personnel.
Raiders added to their edge rush with Chandler Jones, but KC should still have the advantage when attacking the middle of their defense on inside runs pic.twitter.com/ftUSzxlTyZ— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) July 13, 2022
The signing of edge rusher Chandler Jones is a huge deal, pairing him with left defensive end Maxx Crosby to form one of the league’s most threatening edge-rushing duos. But last year, the defensive interior could be exploited — and this offseason, it hasn’t been improved enough to expect much to be different.
The interior rotation will have a hard time dealing with the Chiefs’ interior offensive linemen on quick-hitting inside runs that avoid the edge defenders — as well as in pass protection. They have average linebackers in Denzel Perryman and former Tennessee Titans player Jayon Brown, but they tend to be overcoming the defensive tackles’ weaknesses rather than utilizing their strengths.
Stiil, the secondary is the biggest weakness of the Las Vegas defense. The obvious name to bring up is safety Jonathan Abram, who has had a tough time against Kansas City’s pass catchers.
The Raiders made what I think will be an important addition to the CB room with Rock Ya-Sin, w/ Trayvon Mullen projecting to start opposite— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) July 13, 2022
Mullen had a tough time keeping up in last yr's Wk 14 gm. Falls on the Mecole double move, then draws 2 flags in coverage pic.twitter.com/qG3f1VZsur
The last time these two teams played, however, the Chiefs picked on cornerback Trayvon Mullen. After falling hard for a double move, he allowed a 44-yard reception to wide receiver Mecole Hardman — and then later in the game, drew two penalties in coverage.
The bottom line: It may take some time for the Kansas City offense to get used to the Raiders’ new-look scheme, but they’ll have the personnel advantage up the middle and on the perimeter.
The Broncos’ defense has been a thorn in the Chiefs’ side for a long time — and there’s reason to believe it will continue to be. But former head coach Vic Fangio is no longer the ringleader; the new regime brought in former Los Angeles Rams’ assistant Ejiro Evero as defensive coordinator.
Broncos' LB group mostly stayed the same from 2021 to 2022, although we may see new names in the starting lineup— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) July 13, 2022
Last year's leader in LB snaps Baron Browning was abused in RB coverage by the #Chiefs in the Wk13 matchup pic.twitter.com/WDItscNMjq
With the talent they have in the secondary and at the edge, the Broncos — like the other AFC West foes — will continue to be exploitable in the middle of the field. The linebacker group didn’t see any significant additions, so players like Josey Jewell and Baron Browning are still there for the Chiefs’ running backs and tight ends to prey upon.
There's a lot of good edge rush and secondary playmaking in the AFCW, but each team still has a soft spot on the interior #Chiefs need to utilize the advantage they have in IOL v. IDL+LBs pic.twitter.com/S42sRdDXBR— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) July 13, 2022
To go with that linebacker group, Denver has an uninspiring group on the interior of the defensive line. They lost Shamar Stephen and Shelby Harris, who were two of their top three defensive tackles; Harris had developed into one of Denver’s best defensive players before he was traded to the Seattle Seahawks.
The bottom line: Denver has a defense full of playmakers at the most important positions, but they seem to lack difference-makers both at linebacker and defensive tackle. Just like the other AFC West teams, this will play into the Chiefs’ strength: their offensive line.