Chiefs Offensive Line Does it All
NFL Wild Card - The Kansas City Chiefs turned the ball over twice early and fell down 7-0 to the Pittsburgh Steelers in their wild-card matchup. It looked for a second like there might be a huge upset. However, the Chiefs offense exploded from there and scored 21 points in the second quarter and then 14 early in the third quarter, eventually ending with a 42-21 blowout victory.
There was a lot to like if you were a Kansas City fan. One thing that jumped out to me was the screen game from Kansas City. When the Chiefs offense was struggling early in the season, I remember a lot of analysts were pointing to the screen game not being what it had been in recent years. Kansas City, and really all Andy Reid-coached teams, have always been one of the better screen teams in the league. During the Chiefs early-season lull, a lot of people questioned if the new rules about offensive linemen being able to cut-block down the field or something else was hurting Kansas City in this area. Well, on Sunday, there didn't seem to be much hindering that part of Kansas City's offense.
This was early in the game and a really nice design from Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy. Fake the outside zone, fake the end around, and then throw the screen. It's just a lot of stuff for a defense to look at before they can see what is actually happening. As great as the design is though, the center is even better.
Look at Creed Humphrey (52) at center here. This is so good. He combos from a head-up nose to a walked-up box safety which is pretty great as it is. But on top of that, look at him flip his hips on contact to seal the safety inside! This is a great, great block.
Both guards are good as well. Right guard Trey Smith (65) takes over the nose tackle from Humphrey and hooks him and puts him on the ground. Left guard Joe Thuney (62) survives some friendly fire from his running back, stays on his feet, and gets a block on the corner (which is close to a hold, but it wasn't called so I'll applaud it). It's difficult to take a hit from behind that you weren't expecting and still get out and block a defensive back. This was a pretty football play.
This is another well-designed screen off of something resembling play-action. The running back tracking one way and reversing course seemed to really throw off Pittsburgh's defense. That obviously helps, but the Chiefs interior linemen do a great job of getting out in the screen and blocking guys downfield. Thuney is blocking someone 25 yards down the field, for heaven's sake. Great effort, great execution. Reports of the Chiefs screen game being in trouble this year certainly appear premature.
The win wasn't just about what Kansas City did, though. It was also about what the Chiefs prevented Pittsburgh, and more importantly T.J. Watt, from doing. Obviously Watt made some huge plays—the tip for the interception and the fumble recovery—but the Chiefs prevented him from wrecking their game plan with constant pressure.
A big part of that game plan was helping out on Watt whenever they could. Here, neither the right tackle (Andrew Wylie, 77) or tight end (Noah Gray, 83) is particularly effective at blocking Watt, but just by being there and forcing Watt to deal with them both, they give Patrick Mahomes enough time to throw. Sometimes just putting blocking dummies in the way as obstacles can be enough.
That's not to say that the Chiefs linemen were just blocking dummies. They weren't perfect in pass protection—I thought Orlando Brown in particular struggled more than he has most of the second half of the season—but they did some good things for sure.
This is a tremendous job by the right side of the line to pick up this twist. Wylie does a good job of feeling and then seeing the twist quickly and throttling down to take the defensive tackle (Henry Mondeaux, 99) but Smith at right guard is probably even better. For a moment it looks like he's going to turn his hips and chase the defensive tackle outside, but at the last second he stops himself to come back inside and pick up Watt (90) on the twist. This is a tough play and a tough game to pass off man-to-man, but the Chiefs handled it wonderfully.
The Chiefs didn't try to run the ball very much, but when they did they had some success. Their lead back Jerick McKinnon ran for 61 yards on just 12 attempts (and added another 81 yards receiving thanks to the screen game we spoke about). It wasn't a huge game, but it was effective.
Kansas City is running what looks to be inside zone, but they're locking the backside tackle on the defensive end (Alex Highsmith, 56) and inserting the hipped tight end onto the backside linebacker (Robert Spillane, 41). Thuney is textbook here on the 2I-aligned defensive tackle (Cameron Heyward, 97). He covers him up completely and washes him down the line of scrimmage. I love how he shoots his hands here. Look at him cock his elbows back (some offensive line coaches call it reaching for your six-shooters like an Old West cowboy) and drive his hands through the breastplate of the defender. Thuney really played a great game.
It's not just Thuney, either. Humphrey does a great job on the Mike linebacker (Devin Bush, 55). Orlando Brown holds his block on the backside defensive end (Highsmith, 56) forever as the running back slowly picks his way all the way back across the line for the big cutback. This was the Chiefs' biggest run, but they had a couple of well-blocked plays like this.
That would normally do it for this week, but obviously there is one more play to break down.
All I'm asking is, has Tyreek Hill or Travis Kelce ever created that much separation against a potential Defensive Player of the Year on the 1-yard line? Maybe the Chiefs are giving the wrong guys targets. Now, this might be offensive pass interference, but I'm not one to argue with success, and Nick Allegretti (73) is the most efficient red zone threat in the NFL this postseason. The crazy thing is that the Steelers might be lucky that he was already in the end zone. Look at him dip his shoulder, turn on a dime, and get up field after the catch. There was going to be some serious YAC on this play if the big fella had needed to run any further.