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How the Chiefs’ run game woke up, leading to victory in Jacksonville

A struggling passing attack finally got help from the run game in Week 2.

Syndication: Florida Times-Union Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union / USA TODAY NETWORK

After six quarters of football in the Kansas City Chiefs’ 2023 season, the rushing attack was a huge point of concern. Through the first half of the Chiefs’ Week 2 win, the team’s running backs had combined for 47 rushing yards on 16 handoffs. The group only had two carries on Sunday at that point.

That aspect of the game almost felt abandoned by the coaching staff. That doesn’t just refer to a lack of called runs; it was the style of runs they were calling — and how little it took advantage of the individual talents making up the unit.

In the first half against Jacksonville, both handoffs come from a traditional shotgun formation, initially sending the running back parallel to the line of scrimmage. This is a theme in the Chiefs’ offense because it allows them to use the pass part of a run-pass option the most effectively.

However, it puts the running back at a disadvantage, not making any progress upfield and being in a tougher position to turn and take advantage of a cutback lane. On these plays, it didn’t matter as much; the offensive line did not execute the assignments.

The predictability of the Chiefs’ run game may be hurting its impact on the game, which needed to change. When the offense took the field after halftime, it was apparent the coaching staff believed that to be the case.

On the first play of the third quarter, the Chiefs present a formation with three tight ends, using the big bodies to pry open a hole in the Jaguars’ run defense. Instead of a shotgun handoff, quarterback Patrick Mahomes is under center. Instead of a basic blocking scheme, the Chiefs pull left guard Joe Thuney and tight end Travis Kelce to set up a counter run.

The play is made at the point of attack by tight end Noah Gray. He initially helps tight end Blake Bell secure the edge defender, then comes off just in time to snatch the play-side linebacker and seal the corner for running back Isiah Pacheco to turn. Thuney also plays a key role, continuing to work down the line of scrimmage until the correct opportunity for a kick-out block presents itself.

The team continued to use gap runs with pulling blockers, mixing up the ways it was presented.

On this play, they once again use a set with three tight ends — but don’t pull an offensive lineman. Instead, Gray motions into the kick-out block; the pre-snap movement forces the defense to shift over. Bell is the second pulling player, but Pacheco doesn’t follow him; instead, he takes advantage of the defensive overflow and hits the open cutback lane hard.

For this 10-yard run, the Chiefs put right guard Trey Smith in the best position to utilize his strengths. The play call is Power, meaning Smith is pulling and leading Pacheco through the hole; he is attacking the play-side linebacker — and that’s exactly what he does.

Smith’s powerful paws seal a lane at the second level for Pacheco to hit. It’s also worth pointing out the effort of wide receiver Skyy Moore, staying with safety Rashawn Jenkins to keep him off Pacheco.

With time winding down in the fourth quarter, the Chiefs needed to move the chains one more time — and didn’t mess around in how they accomplished that. They call the same run play twice, a counter scheme that uses Gray and Bell to help bulldoze their way to victory.

It’s a sequence that can build confidence in the players making up the rushing attack, but not to the extent the fourth-down conversion did earlier in the game.

After too many jet sweeps and tight end sneaks during this preseason and Week 1, the Chiefs kept it simple for a short-yardage situation. On fourth down, Pacheco aligns as an off-set fullback and dives into the line behind collapsing blocks by the right side, led by right tackle Jawaan Taylor and Trey Smith.

It’s a play that used to be at the top of the Chiefs’ play-calling sheet, one that simply relies on the big bodies to fire off and make enough of a wedge to pass the sticks. The Chiefs’ usage of tempo before the snap is an extra boost; after lining up in one formation initially, the team scrambles to another and snaps the ball quickly.

The bottom line

Over the third and fourth quarters of the Chiefs’ Week 2 win, Pacheco received 11 of the running back group’s 12 carries — and ran for 66 yards on those plays. Four of those carries turned into a first down.

It greatly impacted the team, doing enough to hold off Jacksonville in a 17-9 effort, but it didn’t happen by accident. The coaching staff made a conscious effort to better weaponize the individuals up front and in the backfield.

It is an encouraging sign for the run game moving forward, but only if we continue to see the same effort we did during the second half Sunday. The pass offense is going to be fixing its bugs as quickly as possible, but a meaningful rushing attack will only make that easier to get through.

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