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.
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.
KC found themselves in a "break glass in case of emergency" situation on Sunday when Taylor and Morris left the game.— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) January 9, 2024
Joe Thuney kicked outside for the first time in a while. Early on he was trying to re-adjust to having to set wider against quicker players. pic.twitter.com/uSNqHORZNl
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.
I like the reach block from Thuney here. Good get off the line of scrimmage and he does a great job of working to get his head across the defender's body. Great footwork to get started and a great fight to complete the reach block. Bell should have climbed to the second level. pic.twitter.com/hlHjAWdB9a— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) January 9, 2024
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.
Overload OL for KC. Tackle power with Thuney pulling. Thuney goes for the first blocker in the box he sees and tries to log him in. Watson came into block, but KC might have had a chance for a rip if the run bounced to the outside. pic.twitter.com/lauQ2rxwe0— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) January 9, 2024
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.
Thuney matched up against Mack. He gets help from Gray with a chip and does a good job initially of landing inside hands and getting on Mack. Mack just has him in the length and strength department and walks him into the pocket. Not a horrible rep at all though. pic.twitter.com/kwU8YDIRYu— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) January 9, 2024
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.
Thuney vs Mack. Initially, Mack throws the long arm and starts to drive, but Thuney does a good job of resetting his hands and starts to set his anchor. Gabbert has time to step up and take off, and Thuney out-leverages Mack and knocks him down. Very good recovery. pic.twitter.com/gzwk4vhpB9— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) January 9, 2024
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.