Keys to Kansas City's Improvement
NFL Week 13 - The Kansas City Chiefs beat the Denver Broncos 22-9 last Sunday to win their fifth straight game and keep sole possession of the AFC West lead. It was a good performance from the surging Kansas City defense, but another underwhelming one from the offense. The Chiefs, and Patrick Mahomes in particular, looked out of sync all day. That's not to put it all on Mahomes, who was not getting a lot of help from his wide receivers. I'm struggling to think of an NFL game I have seen with more drops. But we're not here to talk about all that, we're here to talk about pass protection.
If there was one thing the Chiefs offense did well last Sunday, it was protecting Patrick Mahomes. It wasn't perfect, but it was pretty dang close, and all five offensive linemen (and the running backs) deserve credit. For a unit that has struggled at times in the passing game this year, it was good to see them put together a clean game.
The Broncos didn't blitz much, so the most difficult thing Kansas City had to deal with was line games from Denver. Here is a little interior twist that the Chiefs handled with no problem. I love both guards here. Really pretty stuff from Joe Thuney (62) at left guard and Trey Smith (65) at right guard. Both are initially setting to wide 3-techniques, and both have to redirect back inside. Look at their feet and in particular their bases. Notice how their feet never get too far apart from each other; both feet stay within the frame of their shoulders the entire play. When they redirect back inside it's almost like they're gliding across the grass.
I also want to point out Orlando Brown (57) at left tackle here. Brown is someone who has struggled this season, particularly in space in pass protection, but this is the kind of stuff he's capable of when he's in a good rhythm pass blocking. He's 6-foot-8 with 35-inch arms and he's throwing his hands with purpose here. He lands both hands on the defender's frame and jolts him. When the defender tries to counter back inside, he's so off-balance from the punch that he falls over. If Brown can keep engaging defenders near the line of scrimmage he'll continue to have success.
Again, look at Brown here. He's kicking to a wide rusher, and rather than kicking deep and waiting for the defender, he's closing the distance as soon as possible. For a guy who has been struggling with space all season, eliminating that space and taking the fight to the pass-rusher seems like a big, key adjustment. I'm not sure if this block was so dominant that he needs to stand over it and admire his work, but he did play a very nice game.
Before we move on I do want to highlight Thuney again. I watched him last year in New England and loved his game, and while he hasn't been as good this season, he's still a hell of a player. This is such a good rep of pass pro. Kicks out the wide to the 3-tech, lands his hands, redirects on the spin back inside, and finishes with both hands on the defender's chest with his arms locked out. His feet get a tad wide at one point, but this is such good one-on-one pass blocking. Domination.
Like I said earlier, it wasn't perfect from Kansas City, but this play and the next are about as bad as it got, which is a really good day of pass blocking. Smith at right guard is the one who gives up the pressure here, and I'm really using the word "pressure" here loosely. Considering the defensive tackle slants inside, then spins back outside, and Smith stays engaged the whole time, this is still pretty good. He gives up a little too much ground, but when you're one-on-one with a defender who can rush just about any gap he wants, this isn't bad at all.
And again, you can really see the change in Brown's approach on this play too. Kick wide, close the distance, and get your hands on the edge rusher as soon as possible. This seems like it could be a sustainable improvement from Brown moving forward.
Finally we have just about the only play all game where the pass rush really affected Mahomes. And even here, I don't think right tackle Andrew Wylie is terrible. Wylie's carrying his hands too low so when the defender (Stephen Weatherly, 91) bullrushes him, Wylie gets beat to the punch. The defender gets his hands on Wylie's chest before Wylie can get into the defender's chest. When that happens, Wylie needs to find a way to either trap the defender's arm down or forklift it up and off his chest. Wylie tries to anchor down but has no leverage and gets walked back into Mahomes.
Still, when this is the worst pass protection play you can pull from a game, it was a good day at the office. If Kansas City can keep this level of pass blocking up, along with their defense the last month, they'll be a tough out in January and beyond.