In this weekly series for Arrowhead Pride, I’ll ask one big question about the Kansas City Chiefs’ season. Last week, I wrote about George Karlaftis and Leo Chenal potentially emerging as elite players for the team long-term.
This week, we’re talking about what currently is the most irritating issue with the Chiefs: Jawaan Taylor and his terrible case of the penalties.
Is the Jawaan Taylor penalty situation a fluke or a real issue?
If you’re looking to this post for me to complain about Taylor’s penalties, you will be disappointed. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least discuss them in some capacity.
Before we can do that, we need to recap Taylor’s career history with penalties.
Through the first four years of his career, Taylor had been called for 39 penalties over 4,437 snaps: 0.9% of total snaps. Of those 37 penalties, 15 ended up being false starts, and Taylor had been called for zero illegal formation penalties — much to the chagrin of Los Angeles Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa. Taylor’s always been known as a guy who times the snap right to the point where it looks like a false start — but it rarely ends up that way. Taylor’s also known for pushing his alignment further back on his pass sets — a thing most offensive tackles do in 2023.
Prior to this season, this was never an issue, but suddenly it is. Through three games as a Chief, Taylor has already been called for three false starts and three illegal formation penalties. NBC broadcaster Cris Collinsworth made a deliberate point to mention Taylor’s alignment and get-off repeatedly in the Chiefs’ first game vs. the Detroit Lions, garnering a lot of discussion both within the league and with the fans on whether Taylor’s playstyle was technically legal.
I don’t feel these penalties are fair to Taylor for my money. From my vantage point, he’s doing the same thing most offensive tackles in 2023 do. When it’s an obvious passing down, tackles will tend to cheat their alignment to help them get more depth in their pass set. Since most modern defensive ends run 4.5 40-yard dashes, the league has tended to give more leniency to tackles in pass protection. Prior to this season, Taylor was afforded that leniency.
Suddenly, he isn’t.
I won’t engage in conspiracy theories about the situation, but it’s certainly fair to question the validity of these calls. Through three weeks, there have been 16 illegal formation penalties called, with three just being on Taylor. This could be a flukey occurrence with two officiating crews, but it’s certainly a strange storyline within these games.
The situation only gets weirder with how the Chiefs handle Taylor’s penalties.
After a rough stretch in Week 2 with penalties, Andy Reid took Taylor out for two plays mid-series. That almost never happens in the NFL with offensive linemen. Reid mentioned that giving him that break helped settle him down, but it’s still bizarre to platoon your franchise right tackle out in the middle of the game.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t just a Week 2 issue. Taylor was once again penalized multiple times for his alignment, forcing the Chiefs to play their hand with Taylor again. Now, this time wasn’t a clear benching. Taylor did have a cut in his mouth that forced the Chiefs to put swing tackle Prince Tega-Wanogho in for a series. Unlike last week, this wasn’t a clear benching by the Chiefs.
However, there’s still more to this situation. Tega-Wanogho would later sustain a quad injury that forced Taylor back into the lineup, but Reid mentioned that left tackle Donovan Smith uses a similar alignment to Taylor, except they won’t call the same penalties on him. Nothing Taylor does is contrary to most normal tackles, but they seem to be calling penalties only on him.
There’s no other way of saying this: the situation with Taylor has become bizarre. This has now reached national levels of discourse, with consistent questioning on whether Taylor’s alignment is legal or not. Regardless of my position on the issue, this has become an issue that almost nobody would’ve ever prepared for before the season.
This leaves a prominent question in our minds: what if this happens again?
Hypothetically, let’s say Taylor gets lucky and doesn’t get flagged for his alignment for a stretch of games. However, it’s Week 8, and that officiating crew puts a larger emphasis on Taylor’s alignment. They flag him for his alignment a couple of times, which potentially could come into effect on big plays for the offense.
If that happens, what do the Chiefs do? Do they potentially have to platoon someone to play right tackle again? How does this affect the ways the Chiefs call plays?
As much lobbying as Reid can do in this situation, it ultimately doesn’t matter if these penalties keep being called. If he runs into a big opponent like the Cincinnati Bengals or the Buffalo Bills, and this occurs with Taylor, what’s the adjustment? Do you need to have Taylor go into a three-point stance every snap? Most modern tackles don’t do that on passing downs, but it’s something to wonder about changing if this keeps occurring.
The frustrating part about all of this is Taylor’s genuinely playing well. His penalties are a red herring to what’s been a successful start to his Chiefs tenure. According to Pro Football Focus, Taylor’s only given up four pressures through three games. His pass protection has translated perfectly into this offense. If Taylor can just not get called for these penalties, we’re talking about one of the premier pass protectors in the league in an offense known for how much it drops back to pass.
Hopefully, this is just a blip on a successful season for Taylor. However, if/when this comes back again, I’m very interested to see how the Chiefs handle it.
The most worrying thing is if this comes back in a big game; for now, we hope the Chiefs’ lobbying fixes this issue.