If the Kansas City Chiefs want to avoid an early-season losing streak, their run game needs to get going in a hurry.
A good weekend of football concluded with a marquee matchup between Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson on Sunday night. The budding rivalry between the two AFC powerhouses did not disappoint. After Travis Kelce and the Kansas City defense gave the Chiefs an early lead, the Baltimore Ravens scored 12 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to complete the comeback and steal a win. Jackson got his first career victory against Mahomes and the Chiefs. Despite a three-touchdown performance from Mahomes, Week 2 in K.C. will be remembered for a costly fumble by Clyde Edwards-Helaire in Baltimore territory with less than 90 seconds to go.
Any turnover by the offense after the two-minute warning is going to hurt, but putting the ball on the ground when the team is in field goal range is even more of a gut-punch. Despite a glaring mistake in a clutch moment, putting the onus all on a single play is unfair to any player. Edwards-Helaire isn’t to be blamed for one fumble, but the performance of the rushing unit as a whole can certainly be blamed for how the Chiefs end up losing big games.
After throwing two interceptions to Tyrann Mathieu, including one that was returned for a touchdown, Lamar Jackson and the Ravens settled down and did what they do best: run.
Running the football gives a team distinct control over the clock, and the Ravens demonstrated how effective a dominant rushing attack can be at bleeding away the game. Having this generation’s Michael Vick helps. In the fourth quarter alone, Baltimore had the ball on offense for nearly six more minutes than the Chiefs (10:09 to 4:11).
Kansas City was held to a time of possession of just 24:01 for the entire game last Sunday. According to ESPN Stats & Information, in the Mahomes era the Chiefs are 2-6 in games where they possess the ball for less than 25 minutes. They are 37-3 in games where the offense possesses the ball for 25 minutes or more.
The days of Larry Johnson and Jamaal Charles marching the Red Sea down the field are a distant memory. Now Mahomes is not only the face of the franchise, he is undoubtedly one of the stars of the league. Gaining yards, generating big plays, and scoring points was not the issue for this team last week. The lack of a bell-cow back, or even a competent group effort, held the Chiefs to just 62 total rushing yards, and the K.C. defense was forced to chase around Lamar Jackson for more than half of regulation.
The Chiefs are assuredly a better team throwing the ball. They led the league in passing last season, and few football teams in the modern-day NFL are giving one running back 25-30 carries a game anymore. The weekly game plan for Kansas City will almost always lean towards an aerial assault. Still, the lack of a run game makes the offense much too easy to anticipate for opposing defenses, and short offensive drives exhaust your defenders.
While Kansas City did not draft Clyde Edwards-Helaire to be a superstar, they were using their 2020 first-round draft pick with the hopes of adding the same tailback who dominated at LSU for three years. Over 2,100 yards and 23 touchdowns remind us that he is more than capable of being a game-changer.
Meanwhile, Tyreek Hill was held to 14 receiving yards on just three catches, but he also added 15 yards on the ground. Hill’s ability to burst up the field can (and should) be utilized as a change of pace coming out of the backfield more, through jet-sweeps and motion plays, and Darrel Williams has shown flashes of solid running ability these last few years as well.
Kansas City’s proficiency in the passing game will never be a point of concern as long as Mahomes, Kelce, and Hill all breathe air in the state of Missouri. The defense should be in good shape as long as Chris Jones and Tyrann Mathieu are on the field, and Andy Reid will consistently have this team in a position to win football games heading into the final frames.
Sunday was the Chiefs’ first loss in September since Week 2 of the 2016 season. If they want to avoid getting their second September loss in the last five years, Kansas City needs to rediscover the running game.