In today’s NFL, red-zone success can mean the difference between winning and losing. While there are a great many ways for teams to get the ball into the end zone, at some point during a game — and through the course of a season — physicality is a big part of what is needed to score touchdowns.
The Kansas City Chiefs' offensive line was one of the team’s underrated strong points in 2022 — and it was critical to the team's red-zone success.
Let’s examine how it got the job done.
The numbers game
In high red-zone situations, Kansas City was still able to take advantage of light boxes — when the defense has fewer than six men in the tackle box as it tries to stop the pass.
High red zone look. 87's motion takes another LB out of the box. Sets up 65 + 52 with a perfect angle to reach the 3-tech and work to the Mike. At least 4+ yards of vertical push on the combo. Massive running lane for 25. pic.twitter.com/yZHSiGL9AY— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) July 18, 2023
On this play, the San Fransisco 49ers have four defensive linemen and just one true linebacker inside of the tackle box. The Chiefs put tight end Travis Kelce in motion, setting up a trips look to the left. This leaves the defense expecting action on that aide — so when quarterback Patrick Mahomes gives the ball to running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire on the right, it is not ready.
Center Creed Humphrey and right guard Trey Smith work a combo block to the second level, pushing back past the line of scrimmage. Left guard Joe Thuney gets just enough on his back-side reach block to the 1-tech defensive lineman — while Smith continues to work upfield vertically, driving the 3-tech further and continuing to set the angle for the run. Edwards-Helaire follows it, dashing in for six points.
Even against a defensive front as good as San Francisco’s, the Chiefs are able to collect on the box-count advantage; the offensive line is far too physical to be out-matched.
Moving the line
For an offensive lineman, there is no more satisfying feeling than moving the man in front of him from point A to point B — and in 2022, Kansas City’s offensive linemen felt a lot of satisfaction.
KC was aided by Wildcat-type play but the movement by the OL is unreal. The IOL all finish their blocks into the endzone creating 4+ yards of push on the play. Taking them for a ride. pic.twitter.com/gVWzkEE6Ce— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) July 20, 2023
Here we see the Chiefs' offensive line blast the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defensive line off the football. Humphrey and Thuney combine for a double team against nose tackle Vita Vea to out-leverage him from his spot. This surge creates the play’s initial push, engulfing the middle linebacker and keeping him from the spot. This allows both Kansas City linemen to stick with Vea, riding him into the end zone — just as Edwards-Helaire fights his way there.
Smith also gets in on the action, taking great steps to start the play. He uses good leverage before stabbing and exploding his hands into the 3-tech’s chest. He then uses his leverage to drive the opposing player downfield, finishing the play with a big shove that pushes the defender out of the picture.
Football can be complicated — but at the end of the day, it is a simple game. Controlling the line of scrimmage will lead to success.
Last season, the Chiefs' offensive line had two All-Pro selections. Thuney was named to his second All-Pro team, while Humphrey received his first nod as a second-team All-Pro. In the red zone, having two of the league’s best along the interior made all the difference.
62 has to go a long way to make this block on the 1-tech and he doesn't have much help. Does a good job to get square, but can't fully reach. On the fly he drops his pads and creates a vertical push, creating an angle. Pacheco finds the hole and uses his momentum to carry him in. pic.twitter.com/XdsyfxY1Xc— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) July 18, 2023
Thuney creates this play with a remarkable block. On the snap — with the zone run headed his way — he has to reach the 1-tech. His steps are clean He gains enough depth and width with his first step to get started, but he cannot quite get enough to complete the full reach. So on the fly, Thuney transitions into a drive block to create leverage — and simply throws his man out of the way.
Meanwhile, Humphrey works up to the second level to block the MIKE linebacker. Although he cannot finish the block, he slows the defender just long enough to take him out of the play.
Initially, running back Isiah Pacheco doesn’t have anywhere to run — so he decides to make his cut toward Thuney’s block. He then chugs into the hole — and the delayed MIKE cannot stop him before he crashes into the end zone.
Thuney’s block makes everything else work. It demonstrates the difference between a good player and an elite one.
The bottom line
In 2022, Kansas City’s offensive line completed its transition from a finesse unit to a bruising powerhouse — especially along the goal line. Even with two new tackles, Thuney and Humphrey’s All-Pro play — and Smith’s physical contributions — will put it in a good spot this season.
With the changes, the unit will still need some time to gel — but with the interior three remaining intact, the unit should still be a force in the red zone.