The Chiefs came back home after a much-needed bye week and demolished their division rivals, the Oakland Raiders, 40-9. Looking at the score tells a very different story than what actually happened, at least from the offensive side of the ball. The Chiefs struggled offensively coming into the bye week so it was safe to assume they would address the issues and have it all figured out for the Raiders, right? Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. There are always some things they do well because Mahomes is a great quarterback but they struggled to get much done against a bad Raiders defense.
There was a rather large outside factor in the passing game with the gusting winds that were swirling around Arrowhead Stadium but I have no way of truly gauging how it affected each and every throw. So we’ll start with the foundation of any offense, which is the line. If you can field an above-average offensive line in the NFL, you can move the ball on any team, especially with the way this offense is constructed. The problem with this team’s foundation is the interior and more specifically the center. Austin Reiter is one of the worst centers in the NFL and it starts with his contact strength in the run game.
Far too often I see Reiter being stood up in the run game, and here we see it again with the added bonus of him being controlled by the tackle and not just getting driven back. The defensive tackle is able to move his body with the running back at will. Controlling the point of attack in any situation is how you dominate the man in front of you, and Reiter seldom dominates a tackle that’s in front of him or in his immediate gap. The tackle long-arms Reiter and watches where Williams is going and then disengages Reiter to make the tackle.
This is something I have stressed from early in the season, Reiter just doesn’t have the strength to get movement in the run game. He is driven into the backfield too often and that can force running backs to find a way around him, putting them behind the eight-ball before they get to the line of scrimmage. He is a liability in the run game and at this point in the season, I find it difficult to believe that Reid is going to make a change. This could end up being a huge issue that derails the Chiefs’ goals.
The interior of the offensive line is a liability in pass protection as well, they are very susceptible to stunting defensive lines and that just so happens to be something they struggled with in the 2018 season. I think the Raiders have some good young talent at EDGE but they are rookies and Mahomes didn’t trust his line to pick up stunts in this game.
The struggles are in communication and recognition of the stunts themselves. The interior of the line is too slow to see the stunts coming and that creates issues with trade-offs for the tackles. If the stunts aren’t traded off between the guards and the tackles then a defender is coming free to the quarterback or fighting through a weak block because one lineman was expecting something that never happened. You can see it in the first clip, LDT gets pushed back quickly and Hurst gets into the B gap quickly making the block for either himself or Schwartz difficult. On the left side, Wylie pushes Ferrell to the outside but Fisher has his hands full with the tackle and neither can recover to help the other. If Hurst didn’t get the sack Ferrell would have.
With an offense that wants to take deep shots down the field stunts create a problem for Mahomes and the offense. They typically take a little longer to develop but if the play design helps that then it works well for the defense against a Chiefs’ offensive line that really struggles to pick them up. The Patriots exposed that in the AFC Championship game and that just so happens to be who is next on the slate for the Chiefs.
The line is a big problem but at this stage in the season, I think Reid is going to stick with this starting five and hope that they develop some chemistry and continuity down the stretch. There is something developing because of the offensive line play that is a bit troubling to me and that’s Mahomes staring down Kelce and Hill. In this game especially, I saw Mahomes lock into one of those two far too often and I think it inhibited the effectiveness of the offense.
The first clip results in a first down on third down, so on the surface, it’s a good play and I’ve got no issues with the outcome. But let’s dig a little deeper. The Chiefs moved the pocket to help give Mahomes a bit more time to find his receiver. From the get-go, Mahomes is locked onto Hill, who gets open thanks to a pick route from Watkins – but keep your eyes on him rather than Hill. He’s wide open for a touchdown here and Mahomes had time to get him the ball.
The second clip, Mahomes is locked into Kelce on the out-route. The coverage should dictate that Mahomes look elsewhere, physical man-coverage that Kelce took a little too long to get off of (that ended up being a hold that extended the Chiefs drive). Mahomes keeps with him and ends up throwing it over his head because the pressure was closing in. Thompson was all by himself in a bunch of space on the other end of the field. I know he still needs to get 14 yards, but that’s a lot of space to work with and he was the only guy open.
I think Mahomes has lost enough trust in his offensive line to be able to go through his reads on a number of plays. Hill and Kelce had 17 targets combined in this game, all other receivers combined for ten targets. I don’t think that was a coincidence in this game and I’m hoping it’s something they can address in the week leading up to the Patriots game. Mahomes will need to not break from the pocket on plays that he isn’t being pressured as well.
One last issue that cropped up in this game, outside of drops (ugh), was some miscommunications. Mahomes said that Hill ran the wrong route on the touchdown run from the quarterback and there were a few other plays that looked like receivers were in the wrong place.
On the surface, this looks like a Mesh-Wheel concept; Watkins running the “wheel” route with Kelce and Hill running crossers underneath and Robinson running a deep post. But it looks as though Kelce carries his route upfield a little too much and he ends up in close proximity with Robinson, who would have been wide open if Kelce wasn’t as close. Mahomes locks onto Kelce and carries him across the formation and throws it to him without much separation and the defender breaks up the pass.
Watching this game unfold just felt off on the offensive end and had it not been for four drive extending penalties on third down from the Raiders, who knows what the score of the game would have been. But luckily for the Chiefs they got four second chances at drives and scored 24 points with those chances.
I know the mood of this piece has been somber but there were some concepts the Chiefs used very well in this game to get chunks of yardage as well, thanks to some great throws from Mahomes.
The “Sail Concept” proved to be an effective tool against the Raiders and for those of you that don’t know what that is, here are some of the basic examples of that concept drawn out.
The Chiefs modified an aspect of this on the first clip with Robinson running a deep post route instead of a “go” route. Watkins runs a “zig” route and Hill runs a ten-yard “speed” route to the boundary. Due to the man coverage, the defender on Hill is forced to correct his position to the left and commit to the deep route. Hill cuts out to the sideline and gets wide open thanks to the coverage.
The second clip is just a bit of coverage manipulation from the Chiefs, knowing the inside linebacker has the flat protection and the other has a shallow zone to the seam. Kelce runs a speed route to the outside and Mahomes fires a strike in between the three defenders to Kelce for a nice gain.
Mahomes made some impressive throws in this game but was clearly impacted on deep throws because of the wind. They knew the wind was going to impact the game and didn’t do a whole lot different, the gameplan seemed pretty vanilla and the Chiefs ran the same plays often in this game. By design? I’m not sure, but there was one thing they got to try out for the first this season in a sustained role, albeit due to an injury, and he didn’t disappoint.
Darwin Thompson has been a player many fans have wanted to see more of since the preseason and on Sunday they got their wish, assuming they were local and didn’t have the game turned to a “more competitive game”. I said I would wait until the All-22 to look into his snaps and I came away quite impressed. This is a small sample size and against the Raiders, so take it with a grain of salt.
The first thing that jumped out to me was his patience, something we haven’t seen a whole lot of this year from the Chiefs running backs. He can use his size to his advantage and get lost behind a much bigger offensive line which gives him time to let holes unfold. In the first clip, #50 for the Raiders completely loses Thompson and turns around during the play, then we see Thompson find the hole and get through it. At the end of the run is a sight for sore eyes as well, he lowers his shoulders and immediately puts two hands on the ball. He’s not about to fumble.
The second one was one of my favorites to re-watch because he toys with the pursuing linebacker making him think he’s going to take this to the edge. Instead, he puts his foot in the ground and accelerates upfield passing both edge protectors in the process.
He’s a different breed of running back than the Chiefs have typically used to this point, but I think he’s the type they need. This offensive line doesn’t open holes immediately with great push upfront, but as the blocks unfold there are creases he can find and with his skill, so he could be very useful going forward.
The ability to cut back during a play is required as a running back, and that can be aided by a back’s ability to perform this jump cut. Thompson begins going to his left, sees a hole open up to his right and jumps into it. No, he doesn’t get a huge gain but in the grand scheme, this trait can pay off when you force a linebacker to commit and then jump back into a different gap for a big gain.
This run is just entirely too much fun to watch and he puts together a bunch of different skills on tape in it. He gets to the edge and then shows a bit of that contact balance we all have been fawning over, the ability to fight through arm tackles without slowing down is a trait you need to be successful in the NFL. Then he gets into some space and hurdles the incoming safety. He gets pushed in the air and has the balance to still land on his feet before falling out of bounds. He’s got some special traits.
Thompson impressed me on this drive in the fourth quarter, but I would like to see him in a more featured role before I completely make up my mind about him. I have some questions about if he can hold up to an NFL workload at his size that only time will tell. But I love his skillset and think they fit perfectly in this system, once he can pass block more consistently.
Coming out of a bye, I expected more from the offense and a little more from Mahomes, who is now close to 50% completion percentage in two straight games. That’s not ideal going into a game against the Patriots, who have one of the best defenses in the NFL. I know the offense has the potential for greatness but for them to reach that level the offensive line has to step up and allow Mahomes to get to that next progression and Mahomes has to be willing to open up his reads a little more and not break from the pocket if he doesn’t have to.
These two things, in my opinion, will correct the vast majority of the issues facing this offense. Mahomes is great but he still needs a great performance from the men in front of him on Sundays to get the ball to his weapons. In an offense predicated on timing routes, it’s important that Mahomes gets the time he needs to see the proper route open up when it’s supposed to. If he is forced from the pocket that destroys all of those angles and creates a broken play.
With the Patriots on Sunday, I expect Mahomes to have his best game of the season because the Chiefs will need it. Who do you think steps up the most for one of the biggest games of the season?