For three quarters it was a struggle, but when the fourth quarter rolled around the Chiefs remembered who they were.
Headed into week two many expected the Kansas City Chiefs to dispatch the Los Angeles Chargers with relative ease. As we all now know that was far from what happened.
The Chiefs found themselves in a dog fight all the way through. I will get into why it was close defensively, which a lot of it had to do with Justin Herbert making his rookie debut unexpectedly for the Chargers, in an article later this week, but for now, I will focus on the Chiefs offense and why they struggled early, and how they overcame a fierce Chargers pass rush on their way to an overtime victory.
The game started off similar to last week, with Clyde Edwards-Helaire gashing the LA with a zone run, and then displaying his moves at the end to get a few more yards.
The safety comes in and slows up a bit to breakdown, but this just makes it easier for Helaire to use a little juke to get past him, then spin his way into the open field. So far so good. Now time to discuss some of the bad.
Tyreek Hill struggled all game to catch the ball, which is surprisingly uncharacteristic of one of the most reliable players on the team. Despite what he would do later in the game to make an impact his early struggles to catch the ball on short and intermediate routes hurt the Chiefs but also gave momentum to the Chargers.
Hill was shaky for most of the season but Travis Kelce turned in a vintage day and was a bright spot for the Chiefs, turning in 90 yards off of nine catches, and as can be seen in the clip of Helaire’s run above had a solid day blocking as well. The underneath curl was there for Kelce almost all day and he found a way to feast off of it.
After a solid effort last week the Chiefs offensive line took a step back this week and allowed Mahomes to be knocked down seven times while also giving up a sack. The struggles also came from the place we would least expect to see it from, the tackles.
Eric Fisher is a good player but we have seen him struggle in the past against the Chargers, but what was shocking to see was that the usually elite Mitchell Schwartz played his worst game as a Chief on Sunday.
In his defense, Joey Bosa looks primed to have an All-Pro caliber season and is a phenomenal player, but across the Kingdom, we have become accustomed to better performance from Schwartz. Bosa was really working to get Schwartz’s hands down and try to either use his hands to stab and release or as can be seen above force Schwartz to turn his hips to him, giving him a shorter path to Mahomes.
There was a Darwin Thompson sighting due to an injury to Darrell Williams. This will be something to keep an eye on in the week coming up for the Chiefs and Thompson, but also if Andy Reid decides to use him and Helaire at the same time.
In the clip above we see Mahomes use his improve ability to make a play for the first time in the game. Later on, when it’s third down he would remember how much space the Chargers were willing to give him to run.
One of the Chiefs only trips to the red zone of the day and they capitalized with a beautifully drawn up play by Andy Reid. Robinson’s route draws away defenders from Kelce to head to the corner of the endzone and the defense has to respect the flat route that Helaire ran, leaving Kelce wide open.
Above we see Mahomes attack soft coverage on Kelce for another nice pickup but we also see that the Chargers pass rush was starting to get after Mahomes in the pocket. As the pass rush would heat up Mahomes would start to improvise more and deliver a dart on the run to Kelce who found an opening in the defense down the field.
Despite Mecole Hardman playing more overall reps he still didn’t get as many looks as he should have, especially in a game like this where Hill and Kelce were. Early in the fourth quarter, he made a nice catch on the medium crossing pattern, which really highlights just how much the Chiefs can make teams pay for playing deep safeties for Hill and playing a shallow zone for Kelce. I would look for more Hardman in the upcoming weeks.
To start the fourth quarter the Chiefs looked dead in the water down eight. It was then that Andy Reid decided he needed to give Mahomes and Hills some time to run wasp.
With the way the Chargers had been playing there was no way any kind of drop would be able to give Mahomes enough time to complete this pass, but with a rollout and good seal blocks, it gave both Hill and Mahomes enough time to operate.
In all honesty, before I saw how good Mahomes was at these roll out plays I used to hate them. I saw them as plays designed to get only a minimal gain, while also pigeonholing the quarterback into only a few targets. I couldn’t stand it when the Chiefs ran them with Mahomes in 2018 and early 2019, but last year as the season progressed and this year I now see why Reid has been so adamant about calling them.
For most QB’s it limits the options but for Mahomes it creates them. Below on the two-point conversion, he goes through a series of reads before delivering a dart into the hands of Hardman, who stayed ready knowing the throw could come at any moment.
Late in the game, the Chiefs needed the drive to go down and tie the game. The Chargers would drop into deeper zone coverage to prevent the deep ball, but as he had all day Patrick Mahomes found a way dissect the coverage and here he finds Hill who runs the middle curl route. Hill struggled early, but when his number was called he showed why he is one of the best.
The Chiefs would also finally get Helaire going in the passing game, something we have been waiting to see all season. It may have been better had a deep wheel seam route not been called back for holding, but what we did see was a steady dose of the Texas route out of the backfield in the fourth quarter and overtime. Watch for this to expand in the future.
Mahomes ability to run the ball once again saved the Chiefs, but this time his excellent recognition of not only where the pressure was coming from, but also how much cushion the Chargers were giving him lead to a fantastic 21-yard run. He had been waiting on this for a while and he kept it in his back pocket until the last possible moment. Fantastic awareness. This would lead to the game tieing field goal from Harrison Butker, and then the game-winning field goal in overtime.
The Chiefs must improve upfront headed into week three against the Baltimore Ravens, Mahomes taking shots is not what anyone wants to see. This week Andy Reid and offensive line coach Andy Heck will have to design protection for Mahomes who will be facing one of the leagues most rugged defensive units.
However, much like last season, it has less to do with the Ravens and more to do with the Chiefs. How much different is the outcome of the game this week if Tyreek Hill doesn’t drop as many passes, Mitchell Schwartz gives up fewer pressures, Mecole Hardman gets ten more snaps?
The what-if game is a bad one to play in football, but seeing the game on Sunday everyone knows how much more capable the Chiefs are than how they looked. To win next Monday night in Baltimore they will need to cut down on the mistakes, keep Mahomes up, and keep their foot on the pedal. My guess is they will be ready to go.