The Chiefs faced their first loss of the season this past Sunday and the issues that plagued them in the game against the Lions followed them into Arrowhead. The offensive line not being up to par and the receivers’ inability to get off of man coverage consistently hampered the offense. The Chiefs scored on their first two possessions of the night and then couldn’t score for the next six straight drives.
All the while, the defense held the game close and even though some will tell you the defense is the reason the Chiefs lost this game, I’m here to tell you that’s simply not true. There are many things that go into a team win or loss, but when you have the best offense in the NFL and are going up against a defense that was missing, arguably, their two best players, the Chiefs should have put up well over 13 points in this game.
That’s not to say the offense didn’t have its moments because they did, there were quite a few plays that Mahomes looked like the superhuman that he is and we saw a breakout performance from an unlikely guy in Byron Pringle, who showed us all the potential that was seen in training camp and preseason before he was injured last year. To my eye, he was one of the only receivers finding consistent space to work against man coverage. He had a great day, but when it comes down to the issues of the offense, much of the blame should fall on Andy Reid’s shoulders.
But before I lay into him, let’s talk a bit about the individual issues that have been plaguing the Chiefs that really came to light this past game. Offensive line play has been poor for the last three games and although I thought Cam Erving played pretty well in relief his first two games at left tackle, he has begun the decline that most if not all Chief fans were expecting.
I plan on talking about just the bottom clip. I think the top speaks for itself. Reid trusts his offensive line with the protection of Mahomes a little too much and when you’re facing an edge defender with an agenda like Justin Houston has, Erving should have received some help. Nonetheless, he is on an island against Houston and this is where an experienced player like him can take advantage. Erving has awful footwork and has been getting by mostly with his ability to hand fight and Mahomes’ ability to escape the pocket when in trouble.
As Houston engages Erving, we see him drop his right leg back to anchor himself, which is a mistake. It stops his feet from moving with Houston and he stops altogether. This lets Houston slip right by him on the outside and he can’t recover because his foot is still behind him. He falls as Houston runs around him and gets the sack on Mahomes.
As a Tackle, the key is to keep the rusher in front of you as much as possible and when you stop moving your feet that allows the rusher to do whatever they want because you aren’t moving. Houston abused Erving’s inability to move his feet and get proper depth on his catch foot and went around him all night getting pressure on Mahomes of forcing him out of the pocket. It’s starting to become more of an issue in the back of Mahomes’ mind as he’s developed some happy feet. This hasn’t cost the Chiefs yet, and it might be nothing at all, but it’s starting to appear that he doesn’t fully trust his line on every play.
I will admit, the first example I posted on twitter is a bit ticky-tacky, but it’s an example. This one, however, is just him not comfortable in the pocket that is there. After a few seconds, you see him start moving around even though the pocket was actually quite good. This play ends up working out for the Chiefs because of Mahomes’ pure talent and Hardman able to locate that ball while being harassed, but I am worried, though not hugely, that this could manifest itself later in the season and make him throw a ball before he’s ready to or make him step into a sack.
I know Mahomes’ ability to create plays is a coveted part of his game, but sitting in the pocket helps you go through your reads and trust in the offensive line is paramount for a quarterback. It’s more of something to watch going forward, as if it continues to pop up in games, it could affect his play negatively.
The run game needs to get going as well, I know it’s not as efficient as throwing the football but what I think the run game brings is a physicality that helps with confidence in all facets of the game for linemen. Lately, they have been getting little to no push up front or just beat at the point of attack. The linemen aren’t the only culprits, however, the “blocking tight end” Blake Bell needs to do a better job as well. Getting more physical in the trenches can be something that gives this team an edge, but until then, run plays will continue to look like this (the majority of them).
I am not entirely sure why the Chiefs ran to their weakest run blocking side, any side with Erving on it is the weakest run blocking side. But this play was going nowhere quickly and it starts with Andrew Wylie. Denico Autry is an exceptional defensive tackle and knows how to read a guard. Wylie was too top-heavy when going to block him, just meaning that he was leaning forward too much, and that gives Autry the opportunity to swim around the block and get into the running lane.
Erving was supposed to help double team Autry and get to the second level but ends up there anyway, then we have Bell. He should be pulling for a wham block on the defensive end, but instead goes for the cut block. The end can see this coming a mile away and evades the block. The two defenders that go unblocked, then make this tackle.
The Chiefs still want to run the football, but unless something changes and they are able to consistently get push up front the results will be the same. The offensive line needs to start playing with something to prove and a chip on their shoulders because no defensive line in the NFL respects their ability to run block or protect their franchise quarterback. Things will get better when they get healthy, but even then physicality is needed upfront to succeed consistently. We’ll see what Stefen Wisniewski brings to the table, I think he can help shore up the left guard spot.
Now I get to lay into Reid a bit. The receivers have been struggling against man coverage for a long enough time that he should have a plan for when teams resort to it. As soon as he saw the Colts go to it and Watkins go down, he should have changed things up to help out the receivers and his struggling offensive line. Here are some examples of what I’m talking about.
Both of these plays resulted in sacks and you can see why; by the time Mahomes gets in his drop and going through his reads the receivers are still working to get to their breaks or are running vertical routes with the corners running with them. He has nowhere to throw the ball and then the pressure comes, in one case too quickly and in the other, there was more than enough time to get the ball out but everyone is running vertical routes or just got into their break.
Reid needs to help out the receivers with more crossing routes if they are going to face more man coverage, which they will until they prove they can beat it. Players like Hardman, Damien Williams and LeSean McCoy (when lined up as a receiver) would benefit greatly from running slant routes and crossing routes against man coverage because of their quick feet. It would help Mahomes get the ball out quicker which would also help the offensive line. Having Hill return to the lineup — hopefully — this week will alleviate some of the issues with that, but he could miss this next game, as well. Reid needs to be able to adjust his game plan to help the players on the field more. Then there is this play and most, if not all of you, know why Reid should be questioned for running this play. I’ll let your imagination wander with insults and foul language.
But not all hope was lost in this game, as always, there are bright spots to look at and Mahomes was at the center of them with a play that only he can make. Yes, it looks rather similar to something he did last year, and no, it did not lose its amazement.
I know people will claim that there is another QB that can do this but the simple fact is that there isn’t. Mahomes has always possessed the athleticism to escape the pocket and make plays that wow fans and experts alike but this is exclusive to him now. Pringle does a great job finding a zone the Colts weren’t paying much attention to and sitting in it for Mahomes to find him. But then you watch Mahomes move in the pocket, head on a swivel and forcing defenders to try and guess what he is going to do. Then he makes a man miss on the right edge of the line and throws the ball on a line, that never arcs at all, to where Pringle was waiting. Pure poetry in motion, literally.
Almost identical to what Mahomes did to escape pressure against the 49ers in week three of the 2018 season. Even on an ankle that wasn’t 100% he made defenders look like fools and the defense pay with his arm strength and accuracy. This play also highlights the breakout performer of the game in Pringle. He was consistently beating man coverage, and although he may not have been targeted enough, I would imagine that going forward he has earned himself some more playing time.
Before the season, much was made about the potential of Pringle and I even went to the lengths to say he was better than Demarcus Robinson as a “hot take”. But looking at him in this game that’s exactly what it looked like. He was quick in and out of his breaks, able to break down corners, and get open downfield against man coverage. We saw him find a way to get open for a huge touchdown and when it comes to the struggles Chiefs receivers have had in man coverage he has looked far and away better than every other receiver on the field not named Travis Kelce. I think going forward this will show up in the film room and Mahomes will look his way a little more? Hill coming back could help him in that regard as well.
There weren’t many bright spots but it’s always important to find them, if you can, in any loss. A team can always learn from the bad that happened but they have to build on the good as well. This game was rough after the Chiefs scored ten points, but they are still 4-1 on the season and in the driver’s seat in the division. Thinking any team is going undefeated (unless they have the Patriots’ schedule) is extremely unrealistic and losses can actually help a team grow. Another bright spot is that Reid has rarely lost two straight games as the Chiefs’ head coach.
I’m looking forward to seeing how the team responds to this loss and how Reid adapts his play-calling, if at all. I’ve mentioned Hill multiple times and he would help this team dramatically just by being there. But the keys going forward are the offensive line and protecting Mahomes. The receivers are going to figure it out, Pringle can certainly help as well with getting off man coverage. Now that the offense has had its issues in two straight games, I truly believe they will rebound this week against the Texans. But since we’re still upset about this loss, here’s a little Twitter thread to get your blood boiling. You’re welcome.