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Against the Chargers, Joe Thuney reminded us why he is so valuable to the Chiefs

On Sunday, Kansas City’s offensive line found itself with a problem — but once again, Joe Thuney was the solution.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

In Sunday’s regular-season finale, the Kansas City Chiefs recorded a 13-12 defeat of the Los Angeles Chargers. With the team locked into AFC’s No. 3 playoff seed, most of the team’s stars sat out. But roster numbers forced the team to play some of their starting offensive linemen.

Left guard Joe Thuney started the game at left tackle. He left the game after one snap — intending to later rotate into his normal position — but late in the first quarter, rookie left tackle Wanya Morris left the game with a concussion. So Jawaan Taylor (who had also started the game by playing one snap — his at his normal right tackle position) checked in at left tackle. Late in the game, however, he left with what now appears to have been a knee injury.

Now the Chiefs were in a pickle. Lucas Niang — the only other tackle on the roster — was already playing on the right side. In this situation, most teams would be out of options. The Chiefs, however, had their break-glass-in-case-of-emergency alternative: moving Thuney to tackle. But this did not alter the Chiefs’ game plan in any way.

Versatility

During his first few reps at tackle, it did appear that Thuney had to adjust to being on the outside. He had to take more vertical pass sets — rather than the flatter sets that he would take as a guard.

On his first pass-blocking set, Thuney initially sets flat — and then turns his hips to the sideline. He gets his hands on the defender with his block — but the ball was out quickly that it didn't make much of a difference.

In the running game, Thuney looked good. He used his athletic ability to make a few nice blocks.

On this play, the Chiefs run zone — and while Thuney does not have a man lined up directly over him, he does have to reach the 9-tech just outside of tight end Blake Bell. On the snap, Thuney is hot out of the gate, using good, quick footwork to put himself in position to make the reach block.

As Thuney engages, he uses good leverage as he fights to overtake the reach block. He eventually wins the block — working his head across the defender's body — but the play is stopped in the backfield for a loss.

Here, Kansas City goes with an overloaded offensive line to pick up a third-and-short, running tackle Power with Thuney pulling. Being the first linebacker in the box, the middle linebacker is likely to be Thuney’s assignment. As he makes contact, he starts to turn the block outside-in (as opposed to a normal inside-out Power block), which opens up a lane to the outside.

Justin Watson flies into the box, but he’d likely be better off working against a secondary player. This is because La’Mical Perine has to bounce outside. If Watson accounts for a man in the secondary, Perine has space for a bigger gain.

Going against the best

If moving to a different position during the game wasn’t hard enough, Thuney had to go against one of the league’s best pass rushers. For the last decade, Khalil Mack has been a dominant player — and his 17-sack 2024 campaign has been the best of his career.

On this rep, Noah Gray gives help with a chip block as Thuney gets into his pass set. Mack hits him with a long arm — and taking advantage of his superior length, he pushes Thuney into the pocket.

But as the game went on, Thuney was able to make adjustments, finding ways to combat Mack’s length advantage.

On this snap, Thuney takes a more vertical pass set. He’s trying to meet Mack at the arc. Mack once again throws the long arm — but this time, Thuney drops his hips and starts to anchor into the ground while propping his feet behind him. Thuney also resets his hands, getting them inside against Mack.

This gives Gabbert enough time to step up and scramble. Mack continues to work his rush — but with his hands inside (and holding a full advantage in leverage), Thuney dumps Mack to the ground.

The bottom line

Given that he primarily plays guard, the Chiefs have sometimes faced criticism for paying Thuney so much. To me, this has never seemed fair to Thuney — because ever since joining the team in 2021, he’s been one of the NFL’s best guards. He was an All-Pro selection in 2022 and had Pro Bowl selections in both 2022 and 2023.

It has also been unfair because Thuney has played through injuries — and has been a vital contributor in Kansas City’s pass protection, running and screen-pass schemes.

For the Chiefs, being able to slide their All-Pro left guard out to tackle when they’re in a pinch is just the cherry on top. While Sunday’s game might have been meaningless, it should serve as a reminder of the skill (and versatility) Thuney provides to his team.

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