Let’s talk about the offensive line during the opening weekend against the Cleveland Browns. Let’s also overreact to their performance for the sake of argument, shall we? Last week, I wrote a piece suggesting Chief concerns for Kansas City for the first quarter of the season.
First on the list was the offensive line and their ability to come together as a cohesive unit, protect Patrick Mahomes, solidify a run game and help give the offense an identity as a dual-threat offense. Now, let us overanalyze their performance during Sunday’s game.
If we look at the overall performance of the revamped offensive line, they clearly outperformed the group that last took the field way back in February, but they were far from flawless. We can start with the man they call Zeus, Orlando Brown Jr.
The Chiefs gave up a hefty sum for Brown, to the tune of a 2021 first-round pick (No. 31 overall), a third-rounder (94), a fourth-round pick (136), and a 2022 fifth-round, all of which was sent to the Baltimore Ravens. My first overreaction will be his performance vs his price. On Sunday, Brown surrendered a sack, a QB hit, and five hurries to a formidable Cleveland defensive front. He was also honored with the lowest PFF grade at his position. All this from the man who swore to protect PM 15.
On the first play of the game against Cleveland, Brown pushed his block right into the lane of CEH resulting in a 2-yard loss, not a great start. Brown was frequently beaten by speed off the edge causing Mahomes to move off his spot. Late in the game, it appeared as though PM 15 was trying to help his left tackle by moving right and up into the pocket, not the action of a confident QB. Late in the game, Brown lacked explosiveness as seen in the 4th quarter.
With 5:18 left in the game, the Chiefs defense got a huge stop, and a couple of first downs would have ended the game. On 1st and 10, the Chiefs ran CEH off the left guard, and Brown’s block is at the 2nd level. When he reaches LB Anthony Walker, he stops as he engages. Walker doesn’t move and CEH falls at the back of Brown’s feet. Not the effort that insights great confidence.
Brown himself on Wednesday said to reporters, “Flat out, I have to play better, I’m here to dominate no matter who I’m going against or whatever the circumstance is. I have to play better, and I will.” This Sunday the O-line will not see as strong of a D-line from the Baltimore Ravens, his former club. So, we should expect a stronger performance, right? Let’s hope so.
Let’s overreact to the right side now. Lucas Niang, in his first game as a pro after his 2020 opt out had similar stats to his left-side counterpart. Niang was also credited with a sack allowed and five QB hurries. He had a hand in getting PM 15 sandwiched between Garrett and Clowney late in the 4th quarter, although Garrett was credited with the sack.
An equally special moment provided by Niang came with 1:29 left in the 3rd quarter with the Chiefs driving down by 5 points. On 2nd and 6 from the Browns 16-yard line, Niang gave up a sack to Joe Jackson, resulting in a 4-yard loss. On the next play, 3rd and 10, Niang is called for a false start. This series of miscues by Niang forced the Chiefs to kick a field goal instead of potentially going up by two with a touchdown.
Niang had a tough draw for his first regular-season NFL game, but creating a situation that cost the team points in a tight game is unacceptable. Again, this week’s game will not feature the marque pass rushers that Cleveland boosts, we should expect better. Again, let’s hope so.
The interior line provided better protection, but still, we saw too many run plays with nothing but a pile in the middle. Point to Cleveland. That is the goal of a run-stuffing interior defensive lineman: Create piles, not holes. The goal of the interior linemen is to move those piles and create running lanes, and there were more piles than holes on Sunday.
I noted in my Chief concern article how this offense would be nearly unstoppable with a formidable run game. Being forced to pick between putting an extra man in the box for the run and suffer the wrath of Mahomes or be run all over behind a dominant offensive line would give any defensive coordinator fits. The interior line presently made up of the line offices of Thuney, Humphrey and Smith need to set the tone for the run game. In week 1, they did not.
Kansas City had only 73 yards on the ground, not exactly a stat line that invokes fear in opposing defenses. Until this line can establish themselves as being able to open up lanes in the run game, this offense will continue to see the tactics the Browns employed on Sunday. Teams will keep two safeties back to contain the pass game to shorter underneath throws, with little fear of being needed in run support.
The Chiefs cannot afford to become a one-dimensional team completely reliant on the arm of Mahomes. To once again repeat as AFC Champs, K.C. needs to find a balance on offense or face being subjected to defenses keying on stopping the pass and getting after Mahomes. Between falling behind early against the Browns and a lack of interior running lanes, the Chiefs had little chance to establish a rushing attack.
All of the focus for a balanced offensive attack starts in the trenches and with this completely overhauled offensive line. This week we need to see all the investment and draft capital was worth it. The Chiefs’ offense will square off against an injury-riddled Baltimore defense, and anything but a dominating performance by the O-line will be a disappointment.