Can Offensive Line Save Kansas City's Season?

Kansas City Chiefs OL Trey Smith
Kansas City Chiefs OL Trey Smith
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

The Kansas City Chiefs lost to the Buffalo Bills in prime time last Sunday night 38-20. It was one of those national TV losses that has led to a week's worth of "What's wrong with the Chiefs?" takes. Without going down that road for the entire team, I will say that I thought the answer for the Chiefs' offensive line was "nothing."

It wasn't a dominating performance by any means, but it was a solid effort against a good defense. The Chiefs moved the ball well but couldn't capitalize with touchdowns for whatever reason. The offensive line played much better here in Week 5 than the unit I saw in Week 1 and that has to be encouraging for Kansas City fans.

The one weak spot—and "weak" is a strong term—was right tackle Lucas Niang. He wasn't terrible or even bad, he just wasn't very good. Again, it's not like he gave up a ton of sacks or even pressures, but he gave up just enough pressure to make Patrick Mahomes' life uncomfortable.

His performance doesn't affect this play at all, but it still illustrates where Niang (67) struggled. He had a hard time keeping Jerry Hughes from getting pressure around the edge. He wasn't getting beat clean very often, but he wasn't pushing Hughes quite deep enough past the quarterback.

The big thing was that he struggled with landing his hands consistently. Hughes did a nice job of keeping his shoulder pads just out of Niang's reach, then bending low around the edge. I didn't think Niang looked that awful technique-wise, he was just in a slightly losing battle with a good player.

Also, not really related to anything we're talking about, but I do love what Joe Thuney at left guard (62) and Orlando Brown at left tackle (57) are doing on this twist. Thuney does a great job of shoving the defensive tackle onto Brown and readjusting back inside to pick up the defensive end. That's such a powerful punch from Thuney.

Here, Niang getting beat actually affects the play. Once again, Niang isn't terrible. I like his pass set, he has good demeanor and posture. But he missed with his hands and gets beat around the corner.

What's important to remember is that I'm really nitpicking if this is what I'm pulling as examples of bad pass protection. There are a lot of teams that would love for their worst offensive lineman to play like Niang did against the Bills. His worst play of the game wasn't even entirely his fault, I don't believe.

This felt like the play that ended the game. Down 31-13 late in the third, the Chiefs had a first down inside the 10, but turned the ball over. Once they failed to score on this drive, the game really felt finished. This looks like an RPO based on what the rest of the offensive line is doing. I don't know how the Chiefs coach this play, but I do know that if you're going to throw this kind of route, your offensive tackle can't just shove the defensive end (Greg Rousseau, 50) and hope for the best. He can cut-block him, or he can drive-block him, but one-step-and-shove isn't going to be a recipe for success. Niang has to do something to try to keep the end's hands engaged.

Sometimes I feel like coaches are so busy teaching guys to just block the run on these RPOs that they don't coach what routes might be attached to them. Depending on what you're running behind it, you can't just have the backside tackle block it like a typical inside zone. If the Chiefs are running a slant behind it, that's one thing, but on the bubble screen it leads to disaster.

Like I said at the opening, as rough of a night as it was for Chiefs fans I do think there were some encouraging things up front for Kansas City. The pass-blocking on the whole was good. They also did some nice things in the running game before they fell too far behind. The Bills are a tough group to block but the Chiefs held their own, and they ran some cool stuff to help out.

This is first and foremost a great play design. It's a sprint draw concept that does a tremendous job of splitting the defense. I'd love to know if they would run this if the nose tackle and the 3-technique were flipped here or if they would have killed the play if they didn't get this exact look, because this is the perfect front to run this play against. It's so good that the Chiefs offensive line doesn't have to make any real difficult blocks.

Really what I took away from this game more than anything is that the Chiefs offense is fine. Mahomes was off all game and they still moved the ball. That's without any big plays. The defense is a different matter, but this offense is still as good as any in the league.


4 comments, Last at 17 Oct 2021, 3:37am

1 Pollyanna.

I watched that game.

Mahomes not playing well absolutely is a concern and that has been a trend since the beginning of the season. Those TO-worthy plays are adding up and he's now missing the "easy" throws he always made in past years.

Yes, we know their O-line isn't settled yet.  That's also a problem, especially against elite defenses.

At no time did I ever think the Chiefs would win that game.  The Bills were that much better.

2 Mahomes is 3rd in DYAR, 2nd…

In reply to by DIVISION

Mahomes is 3rd in DYAR, 2nd in DVOA. He's absolutely fine. It's reassuring (for Chiefs fans) to read Ben saying the line is fine also. 

I'm surprised more people haven't mentioned that their receiver corps took a downgrade when Watkins left and wasn't replaced. The receivers after Hill and Kelce aren't very good (the backs don't look very good either). Perhaps this means they have lost the ultra-ultra-efficiency to overcome their bad defense against other elite teams. And it could certainly spell trouble if either of Hill/Kelce goes down. 

3 People have mentioned that.

Several people posted this online after the loss in the SB.

The Chiefs have no depth on offense and a lack of talent overall on defense.

They never should have let Watkins go when they didn't have sure-fire quality options behind him.  Teams this year are going heavy on the 2 high safety look and basically taking Hill out of the game.  Kelce hasn't been enough to get them through and their third and fourth receivers aren't good.  They also don't have great RB options now.

I agree with DVOA most of the time, but I also watch the games.  Mahomes is playing worse this year than he has in the last couple.  It's plain to see.  They're turning the ball over on offense and Mahomes is part of that. 

Their defense sinks them this year.  I don't understand why they didn't address this through the draft or FA.  They have no pass rush, their LB corps is horrible and they can't cover people.  Even Honey Bader has slipped.  

4 It's hard to fix everything

for an NFL GM. Reid prioritized o-line to protect his $400m investment who appears like he still hasn't recovered fully from his toe injury last year.

I'm not shocked they couldn't fill all the holes on defense and at WR.

I'd like to see Mecole Hardman on some jet/orbit motion and have some fun with that. Mix in similar plays with Hill and confuse the defense a bit more.