So, the Chiefs were handed their first loss, not only on the season but, in the last thirteen games – by none other than the Las Vegas Raiders. The offense had an exceptional first half, racking up 24 points and moving the ball well, even while dealing with some penalties. The second half was an entirely different team, with the game tied the Chiefs couldn’t execute properly, were finding issues in pass protection, both the fault of the offensive line and Patrick Mahomes, and they just couldn’t find a rhythm. The offense became stagnant, not for the first time this season, and the Raiders were just as much to blame as the Chiefs’ offense was.
Last week, I talked about how Bill Belichick has helped this offense with the game plan he brought to the table. Mahomes and the offense themselves, for the most part, haven’t seen a lot of this defense in live-game action. With the Raiders making more of a switch to the Patriots style in the second half, rushing four or less and putting everyone in coverage, the same holes in typical zones the team has seen weren’t there. We saw a great example of this between Mahomes and Kelce halfway through the third quarter.
The Chiefs are running out of a 3×1 formation, with Kelce in a reduced split to the bottom of the screen. He’s running a ten-yard “in” route. Mecole Hardman, also in a reduced split to the opposite side, is running a deep “over” route. Watch the defender on Hardman pass him off to the coverage deeper down the field and sit down where Kelce would usually roam, had the defender stayed with Hardman. Mahomes didn’t process the pass off and threw to a spot on the field where Kelce would normally be had he not sat down in the zone as he read it. The throw should have been made to Hardman, if Mahomes had seen the trade-off because he was open downfield after the safety came down too aggressively. Kelce had to dive to prevent what would have been an interception, and the Chiefs had to punt on the 4th down.
It takes time to process newer coverages and the only way a team can understand and learn to adapt is by repetition. The Raiders took advantage of what the Patriots did and forced Mahomes to play against some coverages he wasn’t completely comfortable with yet. They also were showing press sometimes at the line of scrimmage and would back off into their zones, which can throw off some of the QB’s reads. I think this is more of what the Chiefs will see going forward which, again, is a good thing. They will become more comfortable with it, Mahomes and the receivers will start to have more chemistry knowing when to break and when to sit, and they will adapt. It’s all a learning process, many are quick to blame the scheme, but there are reps needed to get everything down is all this offense needs to start to play better against this type of coverage. Here’s a look at the Chiefs offense’s success even with some of the “miscues” and “slow starts” we’ve seen to this point.
Now, with that little item out of the way, we can move on to some good and not so good things that happened offensively in this game. I’ve seen a lot of, “Mahomes had a bad game” tweets on social media. While his completion percentage was very uncharacteristic, he wasn’t as bad as it seems. The issues from the offense largely stemmed from pressure. Mahomes and the offensive line had an interesting day, to say the least. Mahomes was leaving clean pockets before he needed to and the offensive line was giving up some pressure against the Raiders.
There were far too many times Mahomes was leaving clean pockets on Sunday, and sometimes it led to a pressure or a sack. This is a clean pocket, the right side is giving a bit of ground but none of them clear the offensive line. Mahomes feels it and takes off, his eyes come down and he’s looking to run. Exactly what the Raiders wanted him to do. The defensive ends of the Raiders were looking for Mahomes to escape and when he made the move to run, they pounced on it. They continually jumped back inside and around the tackles because they had the knowledge of where Mahomes was going and the tackles didn’t. If Mahomes just steps up while keeping his eyes downfield, it slows this process down, allowing Fisher to move better with the defensive end and allows the receivers more time to get open. Instead, this goes down as a sack, and the Chiefs have another third and long.
In the following clip, I have noticed that both Wylie and Reiter can be set up by some quicker defensive tackles, with a fake upfield and then come around to the larger A gap and get to Mahomes quickly, forcing him to check it down to Edwards-Helaire, who gets a four-yard gain. This happened a few times to Wylie and Reiter, and Remmers was beaten a few times as well. The pressure coming from the edges wasn’t as obvious all the time, it was more about them flashing pressure and Mahomes looking to get out of the pocket and make a play.
I din’t believe the offensive line played as poorly as my fan-self did on Sunday. So I took a day, re-evaluated, and came to the conclusion that both Mahomes and the offensive line were pretty much equally at fault. Ever since the Chargers game, I have charted every drop back from Mahomes in yards, and in the last three games, he’s averaged nine yards, nine and a half yards, and nine and a half yards again on Sunday. He’s not doing the tackles any favors with their blocking angles. For those of you that don’t know, when defensive ends are pass-rushing, typically there is a spot on the field they set for themselves to get to so that they can get pressure on the quarterback. The further back Mahomes drops, the straighter that line from pass rusher’s start to that spot on the field gets. This makes it easier for them to get pressure off the edge. Mahomes needs to be a little more conscious of that going forward.
Early in this game the Chiefs were having success with read-options, pitches, and reverses, getting their playmakers to the edge and allowing them room to operate. Without early pressure up the middle Edwards-Helaire had better success getting chunk yardage. Robinson did enough on his block to throw the edge off-course, and that allowed Edwards-Helaire to get up to speed. After that, he’s able to slow down, process, and be patient, letting blocks unfold. He does a great job waiting for Remmers and Robinson to get in front of him to help clear the way for this eight-yard gain.
He is a special talent at running back, but far too often he’s dealing with early defenders in the backfield and having to fight just to get back to the line of scrimmage. I don’t believe he’s getting nearly enough pass plays drawn up for him either, many times he is open on a flat route with room to run, but the play isn’t coming his way. We saw a few check down attempts that came up short because they were the last resort on the play. He’s an asset in the passing game and I wouldn’t anticipate Reid brings out all the plays drawn up for him this early, but I think he should be getting more “true” looks in the passing game. This is what he’s dealing with when running inside far too often, just watch the extension the tackle gets on Reiter.
It was frustrating watching the Chiefs continue to run inside in the second half, and I think Reid realized this after the game, but this game wasn’t all frustrations. The Raiders blitzed a grand total of three times, and I’m about to show you why.
In the first clip, the Raiders line up with an overload to Mahomes’ left on third down. No worries as he calls out the blitz, shifts protection, and moves out to his right. Kelce runs a great whip route against man coverage and Mahomes goes to him to get a first down, then some. In the second clip, Mahomes comes to the line and sees the blitz coming from his left again. He calls it out, shifts protection a bit then has Edwards-Helaire pick up the blitzer. He does a great job in giving Mahomes time to find Watkins working across the field against man coverage for a big gain and another first down.
The Patriots didn’t want anything to do with blitzing Mahomes after the Ravens game, and it’s because he is lethal, showing once again that the only way to slow him down is to play coverage, even then it’s only a matter of time before he gets comfortable with these mixed man and zone coverages.
This end-around touchdown to Hill is one of the reasons this offense is difficult to plan for. Pause this clip at the thirteen-second to fourteen-second mark and count all the movers behind the line of scrimmage. There’s Kizer, Hardman, Hill, and Edwards-Helair all doing something different, and any of them could realistically end up with the football. Now, look to the defense, if you draw a line at an angle up from where Schwartz is blocking, you’ll why this touchdown happened. The movement makes it difficult to follow the ball and the shift from the offensive line and play fake to Edwards-Helaire, forces the defense to respect that. All Kizer needs to do is slow up the defensive end and get out to block the only other defender in the area. Kelce and Kizer open a beautiful hole for Hill – and he’s in for the score. Brilliantly designed play, and executed to about as close to perfection as you can get.
This offense is naturally going to be easier to scheme for its players because of all the talent, but every week we have a play of Mahomes doing Mahomes things, and Sunday was no different. Sometimes you just get Mahomes’d, and even though the Chiefs wouldn’t get another shot with the ball to possibly tie this game, Mahomes made sure they’d be within striking difference if they did.
I want to shout out Darrel Williams on this play first, because he wasn’t even really a passing option on this play, but after he executes a perfect chop block on the defensive end and realizes Mahomes needs an option, he goes and looks for an empty area to sit in. I’m not a huge fan of called rollouts, it takes away a whole half of the field and condenses things, making it easier on the defense, most of the time. Mahomes always has these little manipulative things he does with his feet when faced with pressure in this situation. He slows up and makes the linebacker square up and attack as he’s shifting his weight to the left, but instead, he comes back around to the right and throws the linebacker off balance, getting a little separation with a stiff-arm. He locates Williams, and it’s a wrap. You just got Mahomes’d.
I think the title of this article should be pretty telling how I feel right now, the Chiefs are 4-1 and looking at new defensive coverages this season. There is going to be a period of feeling out that has to happen, they just so happen to be compounding that with average offensive line pass protection and Mahomes’ pocket issues. It’s week five and the Chiefs had bad losses last season as well. The good news is that you can bet the team and the staff hated losing to the Raiders in that fashion. It could help put a chip on their shoulder going forward in the season. Don’t get me wrong, though. They need to address some of these issues and fix the protection problems.
One of the bigger challenges going forward is who will step up in Watkins’ place? The receivers had a problem getting open without him on the field, and it’s something I’ve talked about since 2018. Someone has to get open in these situations because the defensive shift can be almost fully on Hill and Kelce without players getting open on their own. I think Pringle is the most natural “X” receiver and has shown the ability to get open with his route running, so here’s a fun clip from Sunday from him.
This will be an opportunity for Hardman to step up and earn targets that aren’t created from the scheme. Robinson is what he is, and maybe the Chiefs call up a Fortson, Kemp, or Deiter? All I know is that the Chiefs need these younger guys to step up and get open to take the burden off Hill and Kelce to get open when the attention is all on them. With the Bills coming up on Monday night, the wide receiver matchups are going to be one of the biggest offensive areas I’m looking at. What matchup will you be watching?