The Kansas City Chiefs' run game was on point during the team's 27-20 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Kansas City’s second offensive drive of the game against the Jaguars in the AFC Divisional Round, quarterback Patrick Mahomes injured his ankle after being taken to the ground late on a passing play.
The injury hobbled him the rest of the game, forcing him to miss an entire drive as well. It was clear that the Jaguars saw this as their chance to get into the game and to try to upset Kansas City, but they did not account for the Chiefs' running game stepping up in such a big way.
With a creative and physical running attack, the Chiefs finished the game with a seven-point victory.
After seeing week after week of vanilla play calling, the Chiefs' offense opened the game with a creative look and a combination of two plays that they rarely have, if at all, put on film this year.
KC opens the game with a pin-and-pull option. 83 pins down the DE, and Brown wraps inside and up. 44 is the option man, and Mahomes sucks him in. Kelce releases to the outside and becomes the lead blocker. Pacheco takes the pitch and lowers his shoulder on Cisco. pic.twitter.com/t1mO6BflA3— Playoff James (@CJScoobs) January 24, 2023
This play combines pin and pull (a play in which the outside blocker pins an inside defender while the man the defender was on pulls around) and a speed option look (a play in which the quarterback and running back go the same way toward and unblocked defender, as the quarterback has the option to pitch the ball or run it himself based on what the unblocked player does).
Mahomes waits for Travon Walker to come up the field, and then he pitches it to Pacheco, who blasts ahead for a first down, lowering his shoulder and punishing Andre Cisco in the process.
Later in the game, the Chiefs would return to the look, but they had to put in a slight wrinkle given Mahomes' ankle injury.
Mahomes pitches it to Toney. Not a true option with Brown blocking 44, but a similar concept to the first play of the game for KC. 87 climbs getting on two guys, shoves 37 out of the way, while Toney makes a man miss and decleats 2 on his way to set up first and goal. pic.twitter.com/Es9x95f5zS— Playoff James (@CJScoobs) January 24, 2023
Rather than having Travis Kelce pin down and Orlando Brown Jr. pull outside, Kelce leaves the line to block the secondary immediately while Brown has to contact the defensive end just long enough for Mahomes to get the pitch off to Kadarius Toney.
Toney gets in space, making two Jaguars defenders miss tackles while he powers through another would-be tackler to set up first-and-goal.
On the drive by Chad Henne, the Chiefs used different looks to gain yards on the ground against a defense that was set up and expecting to stop the run.
Henne in the game. Jags have 8 for 8 in the box, accounting for the blockers and the RB. Doesn't matter. KC runs opposite the strength which creates better angles for the double team and Smith to climb. Good cutoff block by 77 on the backside. Easy nine yards for Pacheco. pic.twitter.com/3aPU2H7oyR— Playoff James (@CJScoobs) January 24, 2023
The Chiefs lined up in 11 personnel (one tight end on the line of scrimmage, one running back in the backfield), with JuJu Smith-Schuster lined up in the slot. The Jaguars match the Chiefs body for body, but Kansas City runs inside zone to the left, away from the strength of the formation.
This makes it easier for the offensive line to block the front side and gives them an advantage on the angles they can work to get to the second level. As a massive hole opens, Pacheco powers ahead for a nine-yard gain.
While the creativity to hit Jacksonville with different looks helped the offense manipulate plays in their favor, the Chiefs also beat up on the Jaguars' front seven all game long. Hard-nosed running backs and vicious run blocking helped pave the way.
KC hammered Jax with zone. 65+52 work in combination on the 2i. 52 with a shove to knock the DT off his feet. 65 clears out the filling LB. Pacheco hits the hole with a head of steam. 62 does a great job of not letting the 3tech cross his face. pic.twitter.com/uWRHKaTDc6— Playoff James (@CJScoobs) January 24, 2023
Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith both had particularly good games, dominating the line of scrimmage and creating push on nearly every play. This made it easy for Pacheco to run confidently through the holes created for him, as he pounded his way to a 95-yard game on only 12 carries.
The Chiefs ran zone virtually every play — before and after the Mahomes injury — out of multiple looks and formations. The play following the injury, the offensive line would come out red hot, as it knew it was time to take over the game.
First play after Mahomes injury. 65 creates leverage on the 3tech and drives him off of the line, violently finishing the play. 52+62 with a nice common on the 0 nose to create movement and work to the second level. Good work initially by 87 to block up 41. pic.twitter.com/3pAVHJdVe6— Playoff James (@CJScoobs) January 24, 2023
Smith wasted no time attacking the 3-technique (the defensive tackle lined up on the outside shoulder of the guard). With low pads and heavy hands, he out-leverages the defensive tackle, driving him out of the play. He finished the play with a massive pancake block.
Jerrick McKinnon makes a couple of cuts and finishes the play by forcing a couple of defenders to drag him to the ground.
One of the things the Chiefs' offense has lacked this year — and the last couple, as well — has been explosive run plays. While the offensive line has been excellent in run blocking, with Pacheco and McKinnon both having efficient seasons, they have missed having big run plays.
If you pound the rock hard enough and long enough, eventually, that will happen.
Pacheco's big run. Offset zone, 44 drops so 57 crashes down, turns it into a combo on the run with 84 running inside to block 44. 52+65 are in combination but don't get a ton of movement. 10 helps them out, bouncing it to find a massive void. First time seeing his explosive speed pic.twitter.com/yqzKMHNc6n— Playoff James (@CJScoobs) January 24, 2023
The Jaguars' edge defender drops off the line at the snap after seeing Noah Gray motion away and watching Pacheco in the backfield. The Chiefs run zone to the left, with Brown and Joe Thuney driving the 3-technique nearly 10 yards down the field.
Pacheco takes the offset look from the quarterback and looks for a running lane. He makes a couple of cuts at the line looking for daylight and spots the convoy of Thuney and Brown. He turns on the gas, displaying the open-field speed that made him an interesting seventh-round pick.
A culmination of physical run blocking and the development of a physically talented rookie running back might add another dangerous layer to the best offense in the NFL at a time when they desperately need it.
Finishing the game
Running the ball down the field helped the Chiefs set up the late touchdown that would put them up two scores.
Mahomes does a great job to sell the throw on the RPO. Smith with a fantastic first step to reach the 2i and seal him outside. A massive seam opens in the A gap. Humphrey does a great job working to the second level. Another bruising run from Pacheco. pic.twitter.com/t9wUWfoKbi— Playoff James (@CJScoobs) January 24, 2023
Mahomes gives the run-pass option (RPO) but sells the pass well, giving the line more time to set up blocks and allowing Pacheco to power ahead. Once again, Smith dominates his individual assignment, which makes life easy for Pacheco.
While the rookie back had a big day, the team would turn to McKinnon late in the game to close things out.
Tough run by McKinnon. Jags have their defense aligned to play the run but 65 and 62 create vertical push off the line which still allows for a gain of four yards. 57 with a nice finish on the play. pic.twitter.com/sl8laj5fLY— Playoff James (@CJScoobs) January 24, 2023
McKinnon knows the objective is to hold onto the football and keep the clock moving at this point in the game. The Jaguars have started to close down the running lanes some, but with a good push from Smith and Thuney, he can muck it up for four yards.
Not every run will go the distance, but consistent four-yard plays like these can wear on a defense throughout a game.
Even down 10 points late in the game, the Jaguars still respected the threat of Mahomes throwing the ball, which led to McKinnon helping seal the deal.
KC clears out some space by showing the screen to the right. 15 gives it to 1 who makes a great cutoff of 77 who made a great backside cutoff on the 3tech. 52 just blows the nose off of the ball, moving him nearly five yards down the field. pic.twitter.com/2oTJc0EHe8— Playoff James (@CJScoobs) January 24, 2023
Right tackle Andrew Wylie makes this play work, reach-blocking the 3-technique and helping McKinnon set up his cut for a gain of eight yards. Humphrey mauls a head-up nose tackle five yards off the ball one on one, showing the attitude and physical dominance that his unit played with all game long.
The bottom line
The Chiefs pounded out 144 yards on Jacksonville, which ranked 12th in the NFL in total run defense this season. Averaging over 4.5 yards per carry, the Chiefs dominated the trenches.
With the health of Mahomes up in the air headed into the AFC Championship game, the running game must be there for the Chiefs to have a chance to win. The Cincinnati Bengals rank seventh in total run defense and will be coming off a dominating performance against Buffalo.
A year ago, the refusal of the offense to run the ball late in the game cost the Chiefs a trip to the Super Bowl. This year, they will need to rely on it. Every cog in the offensive line must do its part, and both Pacheco and McKinnon must continue to run hard and smart.
This crew has finally gotten a taste of how good they can be if they all work in harmony. This is the week to show it to the world.