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The Reid Remix: How the Chiefs’ offense can attack the weaknesses of AFC West foes

In our weekly series, it’s time to take a closer look at the defenses of divisional opponents.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Las Vegas Raiders Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

Denver Broncos

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.

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.

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.

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