I Would Die For Our Interior Offensive Line

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(First film review of the year! Sorry, I’ve been swamped lately, I’ll try to get to these a bit more. I hope everyone enjoys it.)

The intent of this offseason was very clear from the beginning; fix the interior offensive line. Offensive tackle was the issue during the Super Bowl last year, but we were also on our 3rd and 4th tackles for that game. For the rest of the season, however, the issue with the Chiefs was the interior offensive line. The group for the majority of the season featured Nick Allegretti, Austin Reiter, and Andrew Wylie. All have glaring weaknesses in their game, but they all share the quality of simply not being good.

After years of getting bullied in the interior, this staff had enough of it. They decided to be ultra-aggressive in fixing the unit. To start free agency, they paid Joe Thuney the highest salary ever handed out to a guard. They were aggressive in grabbing him from New England, trying to fortify a spot that’s been bad almost the entire Andy Reid era (LG). They added depth in Kyle Long, Austin Blythe while also getting LDT back from an opt-out. But this team wasn’t comfortable with the veterans they added. In the draft, they selected center Creed Humphrey and guard Trey Smith. Not only did this organization invest a lot into them with capital, but they also gave them the shot to play instantly. After Long got hurt early in OTAs, the Chiefs immediately inserted Trey Smith at right guard. Creed Humphrey was handed the starting job at the beginning of OTAs and got every single rep there. Kansas City built their entire offseason plan around fixing the interior offensive line, putting significant assets into the group.

Through the first three games, all three guys had passed their test with flying colors. Creed Humphrey showed his IQ and athleticism, Joe Thuney played with almost perfect technique, and Trey Smith flashed the physicality and stretch he had in college. But none of the fronts Kansas City faced the first three weeks challenged these guys significantly. They didn’t face bad defensive linemen, but nobody exceptional on the interior. So when the Eagles were on the schedule this week, I was fascinated to watch the interior guys vs. that front. Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargreave are two All-Pro level defensive tackles on the same roster. They were wrecking fronts to start the season. I wanted to see how these three guys would hold up vs. those two guys and see if the investment Kansas City made was worth it.

Well, after watching the tape, I can confidently say that everything they invested into the group was worth it. All three guys absolutely dominated this football game, particularly the guards. How? Let’s break down how these guys decimated the Eagles’ front.

Joe Thuney

I was very interested in watching on Sunday was the matchup of Joe Thuney vs. Javon Hargreave. Hargreave is one of the toughest players to block in the league. He’s a shorter defensive tackle but has superb explosiveness and power in his game. Hargreave plays like a bowling ball. He wins with excellent pad level and body control and has the strength to decimate the pocket for someone without elite size. Hargreave converts speed to power exceptionally well but also has the flexibility to win up the arc. Hargreave has been performing as well as any defensive tackle not named Aaron Donald this season.

So, I wanted to see how Thuney played him. Thuney’s excellent with his pad level and flexibility, but I was intrigued to see how he would hold up vs. all that strength and power. Thuney’s always been good against power, but he’s still undersized and short for a guard. I worried that Hargreave would be able to walk Thuney back into the pocket frequently.

Well, that couldn’t be further from the case. From the start of the game, Thuney quieted any concerns about his anchor vs. Hargreave. Hargreave is trying to collapse the pocket here with power. Thuney reads this and positions himself perfectly to anchor. He’s patient with his hands, being careful not to punch quickly. When you punch and extend quickly vs. Hargreave, he’s going to drop his pads and reset your hands to generate more power. At that point, you’re walking backward, no matter what you do. Once Thuney does punch, he keeps his arms bent in order to be able to reset them. After that, he drops his base, lowering his hips and shoulders to get low and absorb that power. He keeps that outside arm on Hargreave’s chest at all points, constantly resetting them to maintain his leverage.

This is textbook blocking vs. power. Some guys (like we’ll mention below) may be so naturally strong that they can absorb power into their chest, but Thuney’s not that guy. He’s a lighter guard than most traditional guards. Instead, he beats power with flawless technique and flexibility. He’s got great flexibility to drop his hips and shoulders to absorb power and perfect hand technique to keep resetting his leverage. Phenomenal rep.

Hargreave is trying to hit a nasty combination here. He’s trying to work that speed-to-power game, which he’s decimated the NFL with through the first part of the season. First, he’s trying to cross-chop Thuney in order to get Thuney’s hips to open. Once Thuney opens his hips, he’s going to convert that speed into power and attack Thuney’s inside hip. Because his hips are open and facing the sideline, he’s not able to drop his anchor vs. power. He would be out of alignment to absorb that strength.

So, what’s Thuney’s plan? First, Thuney takes an aggressive set to stop that chop. He punches Hargreave’s outside shoulder, taking away that short corner for Hargreave to attack. But the beauty of this play comes when Hargreave drops his shoulder. Hargreave’s trying to hit the hump move vs. Thuney here, but he gives away his plan when he drops his shoulder. So, Thuney instantly adjusts. He drops his outside arm into Hargreave’s inside shoulder, taking away any extension in his game. Once he gets leverage on that inside shoulder, Hargreave can’t gain any power. Thuney then drops his base to anchor, and Hargreave is cut off completely.

The lightning-fast adjustments from Thuney are so impressive to watch. I’ve made this comparison on Twitter, but it’s likely watching Mitchell Schwartz on the interior. Schwartz was so good with his base and technique and how quickly he processed pass rushers. He knew how to counteract everything thrown at him because he was an insanely intelligent football player. Thuney carries those same traits. He won’t blow you away athletically or physically, but the value that comes with him is that he can eliminate elite pass rushers with perfect technique. This rep is an excellent example of that.

This time, Thuney’s facing rookie Milton Williams. Williams is an explosive pass rusher with a lightning first-step, and he’s able to convert that into power with a bullrush or hump move. Williams was trying to hit that hump move all week, and Thuney recognizes that quickly. Once he sees Williams dip the shoulder to try and generate power, he bends his elbows back then. When you have your arms locked, it limits your ability to anchor because your hips are locked. So, Thuney gains leverage by bending his elbows and letting Williams into his chest. Then, he widens his base to anchor and stunts all power completely.

Joe Thuney played as perfect of a football game as a player could play. He was flawless on Sunday, eliminating arguably the 2nd-best interior defensive tackle in the league in Hargreave. Thuney may not be a dominant physical specimen, but that’s not what gets him paid. Thuney earns his paycheck with flawless technique from a guard. Rarely do you see Thuney’s positioning or body in poor alignment, and he’s a marksman with his hands. He’s constantly resetting his leverage, which makes it so hard to rush against him. There was skepticism about paying a guard as much as we paid Thuney, but this performance proved why you pay guards like him. The Eagles could not rush off his side. That’s valuable—what a performance by the All-Pro.

Creed Humphrey

I don’t have a ton of Creed Humphrey clips from this game, but he was phenomenal as well. I wanted to highlight how well he and Trey Smith work together on double teams. This season, Kansas City has primarily run outside the zone on their side, and it’s easy to see why. These guys have already developed great chemistry. They understand their blocking assignments well and how to react to angles. In these two clips, both Creed and Trey show textbook technique on how to block a 2i in outside zone. I won’t break down these clips because the tweet does that well, but it’s awesome to see these two rookies have a superb feel with each other already. They look like veterans as first-year starters. I’ll write about Creed at some point this season, but he’s already amazing. I think he’s easily a top 10 center in the NFL already, if not higher. Great pick by Veach.

Trey Smith

Joe Thuney almost played a perfect football game on Sunday. Trey Smith was probably better.

I could write 10,000 words about Trey Smith’s performance Sunday. I had a smile on my face the entire time watching him. He was facing one of the best defensive tackles of all time in Fletcher Cox, who still decimates almost everyone he faces. It would be perfectly natural for Trey to have some struggles vs. Cox, but he dominated his matchup Sunday.

Trey set the tone very early on in this game. This rep shows the tremendous physical traits Trey has. First, he flashes quick hands with a mean outside strike to Cox’s head. This takes away Cox’s first move and explosive get-off. Cox’s only option now is to try and crush the pocket with his strength, but Trey matches it perfectly. Trey’s going to track Cox’s inside hip (his go-to technique in pass protection) and showcases ridiculous grip strength and strain. Cox cannot crush the pocket at all once Trey locks his hands. He’s got ridiculous lower body strength to strain (or “lift) Cox’s power and the grip strength to redirect his power. There may be 1-2 guys who have the strength in the NFL to do that vs. Cox, and Trey’s one of those guys. Rare physical strength.

Fletcher Cox has beaten almost every guard in the NFL with his patented hump move. I talked about it above with Thuney, but Fletch executes the hump move better than nearly anyone. He wanted to test it out on the rookie early and see how he would hold up vs. power. For Trey, this was easy. Trey loves to set with two hands and harness his ridiculous physical strengths into a pass rusher. He trusts his grip strength and strain to hold up vs. power, which he did all Sunday. Cox gains almost no ground vs. Trey at all. Trey’s strength entirely stonewalls him.

It’s not amazing technique like Thuney, but having ridiculous physical traits is a serious advantage. Nobody can get through Trey’s chest and collapse the pocket because nobody has the grip strength and size Trey presents. He’s impressive as an athlete as well (see below), but that brute strength and force make him devastating in pass protection. Again, there are maybe a handful of guards who can match Fletch’s strength. Trey Smith is one of those guys. What a ridiculous talent.

Again, it’s power vs. power. Cox is the most powerful defensive tackle I’ve ever seen, but he couldn’t get any push vs. Trey. There maybe was one rep where Cox collapsed the pocket a bit, but besides that, Cox was eliminated from this game. If you’re trying to rush Trey Smith with a bullrush or power, you might as well give up on the rep. You’re not getting anywhere with it.

Trey Smith has all-time explosiveness at guard, which allows him to make blocks that most 330 lbs guards can’t make. Here, Trey has to reach a zero-technique and seal him off from making a play on the backside. I don’t know how many guards can make that block, but Trey does it effortlessly. He fires off the ball and quickly jumps to get his hips around. It’s a blur watching him cross-face this guard. I don’t have much more analysis to say except, “Wow.”

I love the juxtaposition between Trey Smith and Joe Thuney. Thuney’s game is built around flawless leverage and IQ, while Trey’s game is built around all-time physical traits and strength. They complement each other so well. To talk about Trey, I’ve never seen a guard with the physical traits Trey has. I never saw Will Shields and Brian Waters play football, but Trey Smith is of their caliber with strength and size. Strength is a hard thing to measure within the NFL, but I don’t think there’s anyone in the league as strong as Trey Smith inside. He’s got all-time grip and upper body strength. We’re so blessed to have him in Kansas City.

Conclusion

Kansas City invested heavily in the combination of Creed Humphrey, Trey Smith, and Joe Thuney. With great investment comes great expectations. This group had to be one of the best units in the NFL, and it would have to happen fast. This week was a great challenge vs. two of the best DTs this league has to offer, and they passed it with flying colors. This group absolutely obliterated Hargreave and Cox. They almost made them irrelevant in a football game. If this group struggled vs. these guys, it would make sense. But besides one lousy rep on a miscommunicated slide protection, they had a perfect performance. They were blowing both guys off the ball in the run game and allowed almost zero pressure on these guys. This IOL unit may be the league already, and we have them locked up for four years. Masterful job by the front office to get these guys (and you guys know me; I’m not quick to praise Brett Veach. But excellent job, Brett. You earned this).

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Snafu
10/09/2021 8:19 pm

Wow, it’s quiet tonight!

hoosierchief
10/09/2021 8:06 pm

I’ll join the list of guys saying good job. you manage to see things that a lot of us don’t. Appreciate it.

zulu trader
zulu trader
10/09/2021 6:09 pm

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pompano
10/09/2021 5:37 pm

Welp water damage, power cut off, see ya …soon?

MasterChief
MasterChief
10/09/2021 4:44 pm

EXCELLENT! AG has been needing more of this! Thanks Nate!!!

rip58
rip58
10/09/2021 3:33 pm

Great fricking article, great break downs great video, great information.. we got lucky with the interior O-line , three home run hits right there..
Who’s ready for football ?? Chiefs!!!!!!!
Thanks Nate, looking forward to the next one..

upamtn
Reply to  rip58
10/09/2021 3:39 pm

I’ve always said, like many others, that “it all starts on the line” … every single play, the success or failure of that play depends on what the line does (or doesn’t do) … Ho Li Kow do we have a good IOL right now, most likely the best in the league in terms of G-C-G

and THIS is why the Chiefs can (and should) run the ball more … keep the so-called Defense off the field, chew up some clock, etc etc

upamtn
10/09/2021 3:23 pm

I dunno, Nate … DYING seems a bit counterproductive

that said: great write-up & assessment, as usual

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