There’s no other way to put it: in Week 4, the Kansas City Chiefs offense struggled during their 23-20 win over the New York Jets. While the passing attack looked worse than it has for a long time, the running game was sharp — and generated most of the team’s offense. The team ran 35 times for 204 yards. Seven of those attempts (and 51 yards) came from quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs pounded on the Jets’ defensive front — and late in the game, took control of the trenches.
A diverse. successful rushing attack
Kansas City used seven different types of running plays to gash the Jets' defensive front.
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In total, 28 rushing plays were divided between Isiah Pacheco, Jerrick McKinnon, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Skyy Moore and Kadarius Toney. The Chiefs were successful (gaining four or more yards or converting on third or fourth and short) on 17 of them.
There was an uptick in the number of downhill running looks, including counter and power plays. There were also running looks to the sideline to keep the defense honest. These pin-and-pull tosses, jet sweeps and outside zone plays helped to take advantage of favorable numbers.
Kansas City only ran this play one time — but it was a doozy!
KC with the tackle over 12 personnel look. The motion shifts over the LB's in the box, creating more favorable angles. 65 pulls around and lays the lumber. Perfect inside-out block in space and 10 follows it and the cutback. 79 gets away with a gator block at the second level. pic.twitter.com/610iQWXq40— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) October 3, 2023
Lined up under center on a third down and short, the Chiefs bring right tackle Jawaan Taylor to the left side of the formation while tight ends Blake Bell and Travis Kelce line up on the right.
The Jets load the box. There are eight players looking to stop the run — along with a double-A gap look using both of their defensive tackles. This is designed to clog up the middle of the defense — and with both inside linebackers over the B gaps, the Jets are ready to stuff a short-yardage play.
Unfortunately for them, this is just what the Chiefs want. Wide receiver Rashee Rice goes into motion. Anticipating a jet sweep, the linebackers shift. This opens space on the left side of the line — and at the snap, right guard Trey Smith pulls around the end with Pacheco following.
Taylor and Donovan Smith make their down blocks happen, while Smith demolishes a safety in space. Pacheco blasts through the void and shows off his explosive speed on his way to a 48-yard touchdown.
In 2023, counter plays — specifically Y-counter plays where a tight end and guard pull — have been Kansas City’s best running play.
These are gap-scheme plays — and like power plays, they utilize downhill blocking and physicality at the point of attack.
KC opens with Y counter. 79 gives 62 help with a nice gallop hip check on the double team. 65 leads the way and makes solid contact with the edge. 87 pushes through and 10 grinds out some hard yards. 65 plays to the echo and baits 11 into a personal foul. pic.twitter.com/WSX5R86q9x— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) October 3, 2023
On the game's opening play, the Jets’ defense lines up in a loose 4-3 look that has two linebackers on the left side.
Before the snap, Kelce motions over, drawing the linebackers a little more inside. At the snap, Kelce and Smith pull around; Smith kicks out the edge rusher while Kelce follows through. The Jets pinch down on everything —and after a moderate gain, are able to stop Pacheco.
The Chiefs continued to go back to these looks, adjusting to New York pinching down the middle by making it more of an outside play.
Y counter again for KC. Thuney hooks the edge creating a log. Pacheco bounces it and turns on the gas. He burns his way to the sideline and forces some bad angles from the defense. pic.twitter.com/11x7haKlsl— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) October 3, 2023
On this play, we again see the Chiefs in a Y-counter to the weak side. As the edge rusher starts to pinch down, Joe Thuney pulls. This “logs” him to the inside, which seals the edge. Reading this well, Pacheco bounces to the outside.
Pin and pull
To keep working the outside running game, the Chiefs broke out a pin and pull play.
KC established the outside run game with a pin-and-pull toss look. 4 pins, 74 pulls, and flattens a DB. 65+62 are flying upfield on an angle to make blocks. Pacheco absorbs the contact and stays on his feet to fight for more yards. pic.twitter.com/92vK94Nwg1— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) October 3, 2023
On this play, Rashee Rice blocks down, pinning the defensive end inside. Coming out of a motion, Kelce takes the first man to the outside. Taylor follows Kelce as the first puller. He flattens the safety who has followed Kelce in motion — while Smith and Thuney both land blocks in space.
Pacheco takes the inside path and breaks some tackles to pick up extra yards.
While they are not traditional running plays, jet sweeps are an important part of the Chiefs’ running game. In an Andy Reid offense, the use of motion is common — so positive jet sweep plays are needed to maintain motion’s effectiveness in other plays.
On Sunday, Moore carried the ball in two jet sweeps — and once again, Kansas City’s offensive line was impressive while moving in space.
KC ran two Jet sweeps with Skyy Moore for 19 yards. Look at the explosion from Trey Smith out of his stance. He hits 57 on the run and gives him a big shove. Moore makes a nice cut to set up Taylor for a pancake on the safety. pic.twitter.com/MecVBaEWLv— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) October 3, 2023
As Moore takes the sweep, Smith explodes out of his stance, heading to the second level at an angle. Moore waits for Smith to give his defender a powerful shot before cutting back — which also sets Taylor up for a nice block.
The team’s most generic running plays did not generate a lot of yardage on Sunday — but while the Chiefs were trying to burn clock late in the game, they were effective. All evening, the Jets had been clogging up the middle by pinching their defensive tackles and having linebackers hover over the B gap.
While this worked against inside zone plays, the Chiefs found a late surge with some outside looks.
Zone left. NY tries to pinch down the LOS and bring LB's off the edge. Pacheco makes a nice read and accelerates to break a tackle. Once he is in the positive he slides and protects the ball in bounds to keep the clock moving. pic.twitter.com/7uTb85oIQM— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) October 3, 2023
On this play, Pacheco takes the handoff and heads outside as the defensive line pinches down. The play-side linebacker takes a poor angle to the ball — so after gaining the first down, Pacheco blows past him, wisely taking a slide to stay inbounds.
The bottom line
After three games showing vanilla looks in their running game, the Chiefs opened up the playbook at just the right time. With the way the passing game struggled in New York, the team had to rely on the running game to generate yards — and eventually, to ice the game.
Superb blocking by the offensive line (and a career day for Pacheco) led Kansas City to a victory. While the rest of the offense continues to figure things out, the team should lean into the running attack.