The narrative surrounding this Chiefs team is starting to turn more away from legitimate Super Bowl contenders with each passing week. To some, that may be a bit harsh, but as we all know national talking heads always take things week to week because that’s all there is to evaluate. Right now, the Chiefs are hurting up front on both lines and the lack of productive depth is hurting their chances in games as well as their franchise quarterback. Each of the last two games, Mahomes has come up from a hit limping on his bad ankle and it’s starting to affect his play. But let’s not pretend that he’s at fault for the Chiefs’ offensive struggles.
This offensive line cannot protect Mahomes, much less open up holes in the run game, with how banged up they are. Then add in the fact that Austin Reiter has been one of the worst centers in the NFL and you get an offensive line that cannot get push upfront. The Chiefs’ line is not strong enough at the point of attack and on most plays they run, there is at least one lineman being pushed back from the start. On run plays, oftentimes, that can force the running back to make a cut before he wants to or go to a hole he doesn’t want to. Reiter is guilty of this on many plays and it causes short gains.
Reiter does not have the necessary contact strength to get consistent movement against nose tackles and defensive tackles. Reader of the Texans pushed him around a lot in this game and you can see how. He gets lower and inside Reiter’s arms which allows him to dictate the encounter, he also gets off the ball well. Reiter should be blocking down on Reader, making the block “easier” but it’s not the case for him due to his lack of strength. The rest of the men on this play actually opened up a hole on the left side of the line and this could have gone for a decent gain, but McCoy was forced to cut back and only find a short gain.
These are a few problems with different members of the current offensive line; contact strength and pad level contribute a great deal in the run game and these “athletes” that Reid is so fond of in Erving and Reiter just don’t have great strength and it shows play in and play out. Running the football starts with a certain type of physical mentality and although Erving actually at least that has mentality, Reiter has neither and I’m not sure if he can find it.
Stats are nearly useless when evaluating a member of any offensive line, even more so when Patrick Mahomes is the QB they are protecting. He makes a lot of would-be sacks misses because of his ability to move in the pocket. Although Reiter has only given up one sack on the season, that is not indicative of his performance to this point, and that one sack was a big one.
This so happens to be the play that Charles Omenihu said he knew the protection and how to get to Mahomes. Rankin pulled to the right side to help the edge if Omenihu didn’t know that there would be a gap to the right to exploit I would be worried about his eyes. With all the room to work with to his left and help on the inside from LDT, Reiter should make this block with relative ease. He doesn’t keep his feet under him and reaches Omenihu with his arms only and that allows him to run through the area left by Rankin and get to Mahomes, forcing the strip-sack.
Your feet are the most important part of blocking for an offensive lineman. If you have poor footwork most pass rushers can exploit that and get to the quarterback. Reiter doesn’t move with Omenihu and that’s why he gave up this sack. Reiter is usually used as support on passing downs when most defenses go to two defensive ends and two defensive tackles but when he’s responsible for blocking a defender, he rarely wins outright.
The center is supposed to be the leader of an offensive line, they make protection calls, point out blitz pickups, and drive the communication on a line and this unit, no thanks to injuries, has not been what it was last year. The loss of Mitch Morse is starting to bleed into the season and I don’t think Reiter is the answer at center. The Chiefs have a few options in Stefan Wisniewski and Nick Allegretti. Wis has played a lot of guard the last few years and would probably be best as depth, and I loved what I saw on tape from Allegretti with his physicality and athleticism. If he is picking up the offense and protection calls I think he should get a shot to anchor this offensive line.
Last week the Chiefs’ playcalling was abysmal, with Reid refusing to adapt his calls for the players he had on the field and it showed with the decimated Colts secondary able to shut down the Chiefs receivers with man coverage. But this week saw the return of Tyreek Hill and with his return saw the defense refuse to consistently press Hill. There were a number of shorter-underneath routes that Reid employed with players like Hardman and Pringle. But Hill was on a snap count, so there were many plays that he wasn’t on the field and that saw the return of press coverage. In these situations, we still saw far too many long developing plays that allowed the Texans to play with the Chiefs.
The Chiefs are running a max-protect call up front and have just three receivers running routes. Looks to be deep hitch routes from Hardman and Robinson with an intermediate hitch route from Kelce, who is being held the whole time during his route and draws a penalty. But the Texans know that the other two receivers won’t get open quick enough so they play man coverage and send a linebacker late who wouldn’t get called out pre-snap because he isn’t showing blitz.
McCoy is running a delay route to the right and fakes like he’s helping on J.J. Watt. The linebacker seems to key on the pull from Rankin and that’s when he comes. Mahomes is in a six-seven step drop and doesn’t have time to get through his reads before the linebacker in upon him and throws him to the ground after the ball is thrown.
With the injuries to the offensive line, the Chiefs attempted to help in a few situations with max-protection like on this play. But in general, when you don’t have Hill on the field it’s riskier to run this type of play even with a max-protect call on. Mahomes is in a deep drop, with receivers that have struggled against man-coverage, and with an offensive line that he can’t trust. I know this offense is predicated on deep shots and quick scores, which is all well and good, but sometimes I think Andy has too much faith in the players on the field, specifically backup players on offense. He leaves Erving on an island far too often and he’s seen receivers like Robinson, Hardman, and even Watkins at times struggle to get open against man coverage and plays like this run the risk of Mahomes getting hurt worse than re-injuring his ankle every week. But I digress.
The offensive line was the biggest issue from Sunday, but what exactly happened to the Chiefs late in the third quarter and into the fourth? Miscues and playcalling. The very first play after the interception from Ward was a drop by De’Anthony Thomas on a swing pass. Then we see another max-protect with three receivers running “Go” routes against man coverage and a single high safety shaded to Hill with zero underneath routes, the ball was slightly underthrown but the corner was in perfect position.
Going three and out on your final two possessions, knowing your defense can’t stop the opposing offense, is an embarrassment at every level of the offense. It felt to me that Reid threw in the towel on the last drive with his run on second and 14. No down and distance is safe with Mahomes and the best shot they had to come back in this game was on Mahomes’ shoulders. That’s why fans decided to leave the game after that run play, it felt the same way to them.
But not to worry, it’s not all doom and gloom for this team. They are still in the driver’s seat in the division with a proven track record against teams in their division over the past few years. Tyreek Hill came back in this game and didn’t disappoint with the huge touchdown to start the Chiefs off up 7-0. That was one of the most athletic plays of the season and very reminiscent of him climbing the ladder against the Chargers in the season opener last season. Something that could really help the Chiefs going forward is the use of Hill and Hardman in Stack formations.
When a team uses stack formation it forces the defense into off coverage on one of the two receivers, you don’t want to trip over your teammate trying to cover your man. In both clips, the Texans chose to play press-man on Hill, for obvious reasons. This affords Hardman a free release at the line and when you have two speedy guys with one getting a free release that’s a win and an easy read. Hardman is able to take advantage of these releases and gets good yardage on both plays. The effort at the end of the second one is the type of energy I love to see in a player.
I believed that the return of Hill would be most beneficial to Hardman because safeties would travel more with him as opposed to Hardman, which would open up more deep routes for him. But this could be even better simply because it could get him the ball in space more and getting any player as fast as Hardman or Hill in space is a good thing. Using these two players on the same side of formations is going to spell danger for defenses going forward.
Another bright spot was Martinas Rankin, who finally got a shot to play with injuries piling up on the offensive line. He wasn’t perfect, who would be in their first start in a new system, but he showed some qualities that could keep him in the starting rotation as the Chiefs get healthy. I thought he would be ideal to slide in for the injured Fisher, but Rankin proved himself useful on the interior, another versatile lineman that Reid and the staff covet so much.
This is the kind of thing you want to see on the offensive line, especially when protecting Mahomes. He does a good job keeping his feet, moving with the tackle and doesn’t allow him to get inside leverage when hand fighting. Keeps the defender at bay and even though Reiter trips over LDT trying to pick up the blitzing LB, Mahomes is afforded enough time to throw this beauty off his back foot to Kelce across the formation.
Rankin did have a few bad snaps, but I also saw some good push in the run game. They used him to pull multiple times as well, which leads me to believe that he has picked up the offensive playbook and is ready to do what needs to be done when called upon. I was pleasantly surprised with him at left guard, but with the Broncos coming up I would consider switching Rankin and Erving. Erving hasn’t exactly provided anyone with the confidence that he can keep Mahomes upright, but I wouldn’t expect a change on the OL, given the short week.
The Chiefs now go on the road to play a Broncos team that is feeling confident after winning a couple games in a row and seeing the Chiefs struggle in their last two games. Going on the road into Denver is no easy task and the games are usually close, but they know they can’t lose this game. The Texans played them very well and the Chiefs didn’t deserve to win that game. That’s a feeling that will stick with them.
I have said it once and I’ll say it again, the Chiefs need to be more physical up front to win these games and establish themselves. I know they are injured but everyone has to step up in these kinds of situations, I don’t care what the players are saying in the locker room or during press conferences because they know it’s about what shows up on the field. Having Hill fully integrated into the offense and the possibility of Watkins returning sure will help their odds. I’m willing to bet that we see a different offense than we’ve seen in the last two weeks. Look for more stack formations and the defense shy away from pressing Hill which will create easy yards underneath. Time to go to work.