The Kansas City Chiefs' 31-17 win over the Las Vegas Raiders displayed both the best and the worst of the team's rushing attack. Let’s consider some lessons the Chiefs could learn from Sunday’s matchup that will help them continue to move the ball successfully.
1. Continue to trust the short-yardage game
This season, Kansas City’s short-yardage running game has faced criticism — but it’s largely been because the team has been unwilling to run the ball up the middle. Some of these criticisms have been warranted.
But when they have chosen to do it, the Chiefs have been one of the league’s best teams at running the ball in short-yardage situations — especially on third downs.
When running the ball in third and short situations the Chiefs have been one of the best teams in the league despite being middle of the pack in attempts. pic.twitter.com/GNAEh99c6k— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) November 28, 2023
We had a good example during Sunday’s game, when the Chiefs successfully utilized a trap on a third-and-goal situation.
Isiah Pacheco ranks fourth in 3rd down rush conversion percentage with a 77.8% conversion rate.— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) November 27, 2023
KC runs trap here, Smith lets the DT work upfield while Thuney pulls and kicks out. A hole opens, and even when the Raiders swarm the Chiefs create enough push to get Pacheco over. pic.twitter.com/1FrYVJbJKP
On the snap, right guard Trey Smith allows the defensive lineman through — and then works up to the linebacker. While the defensive tackle runs free, he is met by pulling left guard Joe Thuney in the backfield. Center Creed Humphrey uses a strong back block on the nose tackle to help open up a crease — and running back Isiah Pachecho hits it hard. While his initial surge wasn’t enough, some competitive spirit from the offensive line helped him drive in for six.
When starting left tackle Donovan Smith missed a series with an injury, rookie Wanya Morris stepped in. Even on a big third down, the Chiefs demonstrated their confidence in the rookie — and he made a key block.
Third and short, Wanya Morris in the game at LT. KC goes inside zone, and Pacheco follows Thuney and Morris. Nasty physical finish to the play for Morris. Great movement off the line in short yardage. pic.twitter.com/u9o008Nrf1— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) November 28, 2023
On this snap, the Chiefs are running an inside zone with Pacheco — but the Raiders’ defensive line tries to pinch down to constrict the play. When the defensive end who is lined up on Morris pinches, it becomes a combo block with Thuney on the fly. Thuney leaves to go up to the linebacker — but Morris locks on and drives the defender, allowing Pacheco to simply follow his blocks. Morris’ nasty physical finish is also a plus.
2. Mix it up
Earlier in the season, Kansas City’s rushing attack sometimes seemed stale. It was relying far too much on offset zone and other similar looks. The team has often tried to pound the football by lining up in heavier formations that were packed tight to the line of scrimmage.
But in the last few weeks, the Chiefs have made an effort to mix up their personnel, running more looks in lighter 11 personnel groupings (one back and one tight end) which is also helping expand their play-calls.
KC is running trap again out of 11 personnel. Light and loose box from the Raiders. Smith and Thuney avoid the 3tech and Trey Smith delivered the contact. Good job working to the second level by DSmith and Thuney. Pacheco hits the hole with a head of steam. pic.twitter.com/sG44uoB9Ey— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) November 28, 2023
On this rep from Sunday, the quick-hitting nature of the trap play was a perfect way to gash the Raiders' loose defensive front. The play is designed to quickly get things rolling downhill — which fits Pacheco’s running style (and the athletic interior offensive linemen) just perfectly.
They were also able to use power out of 11 personnel.
Power out of 11 pers for KC. Excellent movement from Smith and Taylor and a good job working to the LB. Thuney delivers a nice kickout, and Pacheco has room to operate. pic.twitter.com/aBzODHlmsW— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) November 28, 2023
The double-team block between right tackle Jawaan Taylor and Trey Smith sets the stage; they create a whole lot of movement. Thuney pulls — delivering a nice blow to Maxx Crosby — so Pacheco can charge ahead.
While Kansas City’s offset zone look was nice to help create tempo (and keep linebackers on their toes), the Chiefs had been using these plays far too often. But on Sunday — after establishing some different types of running plays — the team could go back to zone.
Kelce motioning back and forth is drawing a lot of attention, but Smith and Taylor in two-point stances do a good job of throwing the defenders off. Looks like it could be a pass-down, but it is a true zone with Pacheco. Nice gain and a big hole opened up. pic.twitter.com/RlUriftNLM— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) November 28, 2023
This variation of zone — unlike the Chiefs’ offset zone look — has Pacheco taking the handoff without a jab step so he can hit the gap quickly. The look involves having Travis Kelce motion back and forth. The light box helps the offensive line overtake the defenders, creating a lane for Pacheco.
3. Find a legitimate second option
Pacheco has been having a good season. With 669 yards, he’s on pace to go over 1,000. He’s now ranked 11th in rushing yards and is tied for ninth with 158 carries. But there is still room for improvement.
Yards per rush and average yards per rush after contact. Pacheco is ranking in the lower half of the league after the first contact is made. pic.twitter.com/pSEtsmKuN7— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) November 28, 2023
Pacheco ranks near the bottom of the league in average yards after contact. He uses his explosiveness and physical nature to hit holes hard — but after that, he’s not getting enough done.
There have also been some occasions where he has demonstrated issues with vision.
Would have liked to see Pacheco smash into the B gap here. Humphrey and Thuney did a decent enough job to work off of the DT and climb to the LB. The Raiders have players ready to fill the inside bringing safeties from depth to fit the run. pic.twitter.com/HkYLtU5YNE— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) November 28, 2023
Pacheco doesn’t miss open lanes all the time — but it’s happened often enough to make it a concern. Sometimes it has contributed to stalled drives.
There have also been instances where stale and predictable play-calling has put Pacheco (and the offensive line) in bad spots.
Even with Kelce in the backfield this zone run on first down just feels predictable. LV shows a light box, but presnap the safety walks up evening things out. This bumps the OL's blocking assignment and leaves 41 free to make the play. Appears KC was working an RPO. pic.twitter.com/M11KgWAcxR— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) November 28, 2023
When the running game is predictable — and Pacheco is the only available option to carry the football — defenses can key in. So the Chiefs would be well-served to find a good second option who can help carry the load.
While Jerrick McKinnon missed Sunday’s game with an injury, has been fairly unproductive in 2023. Clyde Edwards-Helaire has seen some time since coming back from his injury, but it feels like his best football is behind him.
This leaves La’Mical Perine and Deneric Prince as the only two in-house options. Perine flashed in the preseason — and would therefore seem to be the best candidate — but has only been given one carry this season.
This personnel issue might one for Kansas City to address in the offseason — but in the meantime, Pacheco is the man who is best-qualiified to find success on the ground.