In Week 1’s 44-21 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense almost played a perfect game. The Chiefs could get in any personnel package they wanted, attack any matchup and perfectly execute every run or pass play they pleased. The quarterbacks, play-calling, weapons and offensive line were all in harmonious sync.
It was beautiful to watch. From an offensive perspective, you literally couldn’t ask for much more.
Going into Week 2’s Thursday Night Football matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers, we expected this offensive machine would continue operating at high efficiency. Sure... the Chargers are a significantly better defensive team than the Cardinals — but head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes are always incredible in September. Combine that with new personnel (and a new offensive scheme) and it was reasonable to think it would take a long time for the NFL to catch up to what Kansas City was doing offensively.
And then… the Chiefs’ offense sputtered. They weren’t terrible by any means — but two offensive touchdowns and six punts are nowhere close to what we normally see during September Chiefs games. The offensive line was giving up consistent pressure, wide receivers weren’t getting open and Mahomes was missing passes he typically hits.
Watching the game live, it was hard to pin down exactly why the Kansas City offense was struggling. Everything just seemed... off. Play timing wasn’t clicking, so it was hard for the Chiefs to generate any consistent offense.
But after viewing the All-22 film a couple of times, the picture becomes clearer. It wasn’t just one thing. Instead, a cascade of issues caused Kansas City’s offensive inefficiency. Here are three of the main issues I saw on film:
1. Joey Bosa and Derwin James are amazing players
These two players consistently blew up what the Chiefs wanted to do offensively. In particular, Bosa was dominant. The Chiefs had a ton of issues running to his side, where he blew up multiple running plays that put the Chiefs in tough third-down situations.
Bosa also made a significant impact as a pass rusher, collecting pressures from both tackles. At one point, Kansas City had a shot to Mecole Hardman (who was open on a post corner), but Bosa disrupted the timing of the play.
Reason #3 for offensive sputtering: Joey Bosa is also very good lol— Nate Christensen (@natech32) September 18, 2022
KC tried multiple runs at him (Zorro, G-T counter), but Bosa blew up. KC largely stopped running at him afterwards. Bosa also made multiple plays as a pass rusher, causing a hold here pic.twitter.com/uFAEQoTLny
Derwin James also was impactful, making big tackles in space and disrupting Kansas City’s play-action game.
Play #3: It wasn't just the passing game, but Derwin made a huge play here to stop a potential big play— Nate Christensen (@natech32) September 18, 2022
Outside zone from under center, the Chiefs block this up super well. Derwin makes a good play from depth, shoe-string tackle saves a big run pic.twitter.com/VahisICztn
Here, the Chiefs are running an outside zone play — and it’s blocked very well. The whole offensive line gets movement off the ball — creating the potential for a big play — but Derwin saves a potential touchdown by inserting late in the run fit and making a huge tackle of Jerick McKinnon in space.
Derwin also made an impact on the passing game.
Play #2 from Derwin; KC's 1st 15 script, wanting to hit Gray on the Over route. It's open for a bit, but Derwin peels off his zone to take away the throwing window. Forces Mahomes to hit flat. Punt two plays later pic.twitter.com/XCyiSGKjda— Nate Christensen (@natech32) September 18, 2022
This is Kansas City’s second pass of the game. The Chiefs are rolling out to hit Noah Gray at the second level. He’s open for a while, but Derwin peels off his underneath zone to close him off. This forces Mahomes to check down to fullback Michael Burton.
Two plays later, the Chiefs were forced to punt.
And then there was this play.
Derwin’s touchdown-saving tackle was worth four points in the game.
Bosa and Derwin are both All-Pro level players, so it’s nor surprising that they disrupted the game. But the level at which they affected the Chiefs was impressive. Kansas City wasn’t super-willing to target Derwin in any part of the field — and after he blew up multiple running plays, the Chiefs didn’t want to run at Bosa, either.
2. The Chiefs struggled to pick up blitzes and simulated pressures
The Chargers’ entire defensive unit had a hand in the contest; head coach Brandon Staley called an excellent game — including exotic pressure packages with blitzes and simulated pressures.
Why KC's offense sputtered reason #1: KC struggled to pick up Staley's pressure packages— Nate Christensen (@natech32) September 18, 2022
Wonder if KC didn't scout these looks into the game plan. Simple sim pressure here. KC slides 4 to MIKE, LAC brings four but drops 2 to hot read (Kelce), leaves a 2-on-1 backside pic.twitter.com/c5TT3k8w9d
On this play, the Chargers come with a great simulated pressure, putting six guys on the line of scrimmage. Kansas City responds with a four-man slide to MIKE linebacker Kenneth Murray. But the Chargers bring only four rushers, getting a free runner on the back side of the protection. Andrew Wylie is forced to block two players at once — and that’s a recipe for disaster.
Reason #1 cont; not only was it simulated pressures, but the high blitz rate (36%) did seem to work against KC— Nate Christensen (@natech32) September 18, 2022
KC slides to MIKE, but the timing of the blitz is quick enough to where Creed doesn't see it, and the Chiefs are forced to punt pic.twitter.com/0g0P98pJce
This play is a rare loss by Creed Humphrey. The Chargers send five rushers. Kansas City slides to MIKE linebacker Kyle Van Noy. The timing of the blitz throws Humphrey off; he is late to identify it and out of position to slow it down.
My theory is that the Chiefs didn’t scout these pressure looks, so they weren’t ready to change their protections to account for it. Staley isn’t known for being a heavy blitzer — especially against the Chiefs last year. The timing of the blitzes also threw the Chiefs off. The Chargers came quickly with them, timing their pressures to the snap extremely well. They had a significant effect on Kansas City’s downfield attack.
3. The Chargers’ secondary blanketed Kansas City receivers.
The Chiefs struggled to get open looks in both man and zone coverages. Los Angeles used a lot more Cover 1 man coverages than we usually see — and the Chiefs had trouble getting separation.
Reason #4: KC had a lot of trouble beating man coverage— Nate Christensen (@natech32) September 18, 2022
Staley has turned to a lot of Cover 1 through three games, which Fangio also did against us. Having JC Jackson vs Kelce backside makes big difference, but WRs struggled getting open (plus pressure) pic.twitter.com/0mKmvSjiAb
On this play, cornerback J.C. Jackson does a good job against Kelce on the back side of the Chiefs’ patented 3 X 1 formation.
Wide receivers Juju Smith-Schuster, Mecole Hardman, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling also struggled to beat man coverage.
The Chargers also used a lot of quarter-quarter-half (QQH) and half-quarter-quarter (HQQ) coverage schemes — particularly when Kansas City had four receivers on the strong side. In QQH coverages, the defense plays quarters to the passing strength of the offense, and Cover 2 on the weak side. HQQ reverses that, playing Cover 2 against the passing strength and quarters on the weak side.
Last reason; Chargers did a really good job in zone coverage, particularly their QQH and HQQ looks— Nate Christensen (@natech32) September 18, 2022
When KC went 4-strong vs ARI, they were able to hit any crossing route or RB swing they wanted. Chargers flooded the strongside with 6 bodies, comfortable with JC on backside pic.twitter.com/5oH9BYIfqF
As we see on this play, HQQ was particularly effective.
Since Jackson is able to defend Kelce alone on the back side, the Chargers flood six defenders to the four-receiver side — leaving nothing open for Mahomes.
The bottom line
So overall, there were many reasons the Kansas City offense struggled against Los Angeles. Some were personnel-based — but the Chargers also had a very good game plan.
Still, we should be encouraged by the Chiefs’ offense. The unit still made plenty of plays and came out with a phenomenal win against another contender. The problem is that a lot of teams will play against this kind of defense against Kansas City (Hint: this is how the Buffalo Bills are likely to defend the Chiefs’ offense). So it’ll be up to the Chiefs to solve these types of defenses.
So while it was a great win, a lot of improvement is still needed.