Can Offensive Line Save Kansas City's Season?
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.