Through the first three games of the season, the Kansas City Chiefs are below .500 for the first time since 2015 and are currently in last place in the AFC West.
How did the Chiefs start the season 1-2? There are many explanations: penalties, missed assignments, time management, etc. However, one of Kansas City’s pivotal shortcomings has been the offensive line play. The line isn’t a disaster, but it has been hindered by two factors: a lack of cohesion, especially among the young starters, and poor play-calling. There’s still time to address both of these issues, but that time is growing shorter, and the team needs to make the fixes soon to return to the championship-caliber standard they’ve established.
After spending money on the offensive line in the offseason following a dismal showing in the Super Bowl, the assumption was that Patrick Mahomes’ protection would be better and running lanes would open up.
That has not been the case. The Chiefs have given up four sacks against the three opponents they’ve played this season and have made way for 221 rushing yards so far. By comparison, last year’s O-line opened up rushing lanes for 301 rushing yards through three weeks and only allowed two sacks against the Houston Texans, Los Angeles Chargers, and Baltimore Ravens, combined.
Kansas City went young across the offensive line to help set the table for long-term stability. This offseason, they signed two of the best offensive lineman available to help protect Mahomes and open lanes for Clyde Edwards-Helaire, but they have yet to do so through three weeks. The culprit seems to be continuity, especially with the members of the offensive line not named Joe Thuney or Orlando Brown Jr. While the younger side of the line has played well in terms of sacks allowed, with just two so far between the three of them, they haven’t found the success the team hoped for at the start of the season.
The issue appears to be miscommunication in the run game and blocking assignments. There have been open running lanes and quality protection for Mahomes. The stats agree, according to ESPN, as the Chiefs are currently 10th in pass-blocking win rate (58%) and 14th in run-block win rate (71%).
Given those stats, they have a top-15 offensive line in all aspects of the game. So, what gives? The answer seems to be play-calling and a lack of continuity as an offensive line.
Kansas City’s O-line is a top-10 unit in the league, but they have shown a lack of cohesiveness in the last three weeks. The coaching staff should know their strengths and call plays to give this unit the best chance at success.
Poor play-calling has played a role in their lack of early success. According to NFL Savant, the Chiefs rushed 10 times over either tackle or along the edge of the line in Week 2 against the Ravens. Given the success Edwards-Helaire has when running between the tackles, forcing this O-line into outside runs doesn’t make sense. In Week 3 against the Chargers, they rushed 17 times over the left or right guard, and the result was over 100 rushing yards for CEH at almost six yards per carry. Had they been able to rush for over 100 yards against the Ravens, it would have kept the defense honest, and that game would have likely been a Chiefs win.
The front five has the tools to be the best offensive line in the league. It’s a matter of playing to their strengths and trusting that time together will only make them better.