On paper, the Kansas City Chiefs’ starting offensive line — unchanged from last season — appears to be one of the league’s top 5 lineups. In the team’s preseason home opener against the Washington Commanders on Saturday, the unit faced a defensive line that might be just as good.
Let’s look at the film to see how things went.
While watching the game live, we saw many times when quarterback Patrick Mahomes was scrambling in the backfield — which may have left the impression that the offensive line wasn’t protecting him at a high level. But that first impression would have been incorrect.
While none of the five offensive linemen had the best outing of their respective careers, they all performed quite well — especially as pass blockers.
Looking at the #Chiefs OL from Saturday - this play:— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) August 23, 2022
- Loop at your own risk vs. Trey Smith (65)
- Wylie's hand quickness impressing so far on first drive
- Brown Jr. battles through Sweat's great initial rush w/o committing hold
- Gotta mention Skyy's route pic.twitter.com/wkwwAxOZGC
On the live view, looks like a play where Mahomes has to fade from pressure to make a play.— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) August 23, 2022
Reality: it's a great pocket on a play that captures Mahomes' insane field vision. Wants 83 early but sees Holcomb about to rob it for a potential pick. pic.twitter.com/AWqwArAQKW
One of the primary takeaways is how well the offensive tackles did with their hand quickness and placement. Many fans have been pushing for right tackle Andrew Wylie to be moved out of the starting lineup, but the tape doesn’t support that move. Compared to how he played as a tackle two years ago, Wylie has clearly improved — and right now, there isn’t a better option on the roster.
That’s a credit to offensive line coach Andy Heck, who has held that role in Kansas City since head coach Andy Reid arrived in 2013. While the raw talent available to him right now is plentiful, he has done an excellent job of maximizing each individual’s potential — especially in hand usage, which is a critical area.
3rd-and-10; want to pay attn. to Brown here:— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) August 23, 2022
Watch the hands - Allen (93) wipes them off initially but they're replaced just as quickly. W. pic.twitter.com/0IZAWvZems
Hand quickness from Wylie. Caught in a tough spot in clip 2; that's going to happen with Mahomes sometimes. pic.twitter.com/f794Amv5RZ— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) August 23, 2022
Just as in 2021, Wylie showed he is a serviceable starting right tackle — even when playing against quality competition. At times, both he and left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. can be victims of their own aggression — and teams with multiple top-flight edge rushers will win their share of reps against them.
We should also remember that it is the preseason, which is a time for some offensive experimentation. Before the regular season begins, Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy are trying out different plays and scheme adjustments to see what works most consistently for their players — and offensive linemen are obviously included within that. To some degree, they are experimenting with their individual approaches.
Again, continue to be thoroughly impressed with the hand placement of Wylie and Brown from Saturday. pic.twitter.com/xgdkOmRXIN— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) August 23, 2022
Brown gets a smidge overaggressive here with his punch and gives up inside-out leverage. pic.twitter.com/HFsXkP1BJ7— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) August 23, 2022
So far this preseason, there are still some signs of right guard Trey Smith’s youthfulness. Right now, his biggest hurdle is helmet and pad level — along with knee bend — which is leading to body-control issues when he is up against highly powerful, dynamic pass rushers.
Veteran left guard Joe Thuney isn’t as physically strong as Smith, but he is more technically sound. That’s s why you will only rarely see Thuney lose as a pass blocker. His smooth, effortless body control can be seen on almost every play; it enables Thuney to block with a very solid anchor. It is to Smith’s benefit that an elite professional (and leader) like Thuney is part of this line.
92 for Washington can play, but the gap between where Trey Smith is now and where he wants to get can be seen here comparing to Thuney. pic.twitter.com/JJKTFVkSlY— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) August 23, 2022
Again - Sweat (90) is able to get underneath and narrow 65's base, straight-legged. Leaves him unable to mirror for long. pic.twitter.com/RRa390vsF6— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) August 23, 2022
The Commanders’ defense did a really nice job of covering Mahomes’ first read — but the offensive line largely made up for it by winning so many reps in the first couple of seconds. The result? All of the Mahomes Magic that we saw after No. 15 broke from the pocket — even on some plays where it wasn’t really necessary.
Six carries for 12 yards. Two yards per carry.
That is all that the team’s primary ball carriers Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Isiah Pacheco could manage on Saturday. Just as with the starting unit’s lone drive against the Chicago Bears in preseason Week 1, the rushing attack’s lack of success was just as frustrating as it was a year ago.
Is this because of the running backs? Or does the blame fall on their blockers? Is it because of the blocking schemes that are being used?
It is, of course, a mixture of these factors.
Let’s start with the positive: for the second straight week, the Chiefs went to their go-to short-yardage running play for another successful conversion.
Why does the Burton FB trap work seemingly every time?— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) August 23, 2022
B/c Smith's initial burst and pad level is special. Doesn't sustain here, but gets the needed push to convert. pic.twitter.com/O3Ez0RZXma
At some point this season, an opposing defense might actually stop one of fullback Michael Burton’s trap runs — or it will continue to be a play that always works. But as we saw in the Divisional round playoff game against the Buffalo Bills last season, Kansas City has counters built off this look that they can use to keep defenses guessing.
The main reason this continues to work isn’t Burton himself — although he still deserves credit. It’s Kansas City’s great trio of interior offensive linemen: Thuney, center Creed Humphrey and Smith. For a team that essentially can’t — well... won’t — utilize the quarterback sneak, the ability to make this play work so consistently is a big factor in its drive efficiency.
Let’s give credit where it is due: Washington’s defensive front seven played very well. They were fast and very physical. The linebackers filled their gaps with great aggression — to the extent that if it were a regular-season game, I would suspect Reid, Bieniemy, and Mahomes might have used more under-center play-action passing concepts.
Run game - wonder what this result looks like if Smith takes a different angle and keeps ideal leverage vs. the LB (55). Hope we get to find out soon. pic.twitter.com/HUkMqeCtuI— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) August 23, 2022
A frustrating type of run to watch live, but there wasn't a ton more yards to be had - if any. 55 and 52 made things murky for KC's backs all day. Initial push at the DL level is why it's +4 and not +1 or 2 yards. pic.twitter.com/vOV2A5lxlO— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) August 23, 2022
Simply put, the opportunity to break off an explosive run just wasn’t there for Kansas City’s running backs. We should remember — again — that in a preseason game, the coaching staff isn’t going to great lengths to plan for a specific opponent. For that reason alone, the team’s running game might have looked much cleaner if the game was being played a month from now. It also could have been worse — so we’ll see what September brings.
Still, we will be watching the team’s running backs — especially as cutdowns ramp up in the next week. Edwards-Helaire’s career 4.4 yards per carry should be the bare minimum expectation behind this group of blockers. The Chiefs hope (and expect) they will be able to generate more long, explosive running plays with a healthier Edwards-Helaire and the rookie Pacheco. But if they don’t prove capable during the first few weeks of the season — if not sooner — a new face could be added to the group.
It remains to be seen if Mahomes or the offense’s key skill players will play in Thursday night’s home matchup against the Green Bay Packers. Head coach Andy Reid was noncommittal on Tuesday. Still, the offensive line will play at least a little bit — simply because there aren’t enough bodies to sit the entire group.
But this might not be terribly relevant, since Kansas City has likely already begun some level of preparation for the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1 — a team that doesn’t have the defensive line talent that Washington possesses. In that game, the Chiefs’ offensive line will have a great opportunity to play at a level that will set the tone for the coming season.