The Kansas City Chiefs season has not gone according to plan. On the offensive side of the ball, the two most scrutinized players have been quarterback Patrick Mahomes and left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. Both are trying to adjust to new circumstances, and the pressure is on.
For what seems like the first time in a long time the Chiefs didn’t score a touchdown in a regular-season game. The Tennessee Titans blew out the Chiefs 27-3, one of the worst games of the Reid era, and a total collapse. There was a lot of blame to go around, but much of the offensive struggles are being pinned to Patrick Mahomes and Orlando Brown Jr.
One of the most prevalent issues with the offense has been pass protection, or at least that’s what it appears to be. The Chiefs have allowed 14 sacks this season, putting them in the middle of the pack. Now the normal take would be that the Chiefs offensive line play needs to be better it needs to be noted that Mahomes has been poor all season with his pocket awareness, and discipline. This has been combined with the fact that the Chiefs’ offensive tackles have struggled at times. Both issues have compounded into a larger problem, and the fix is not all that clear, but it can be helped immensely by two players fixing their games.
The clips above display two completely different problems that both contribute to the struggles the Chiefs have faced this season. Patrick Mahomes struggling with the fundamentals of being a pocket passer, and Orlando Brown Jr. struggling with the fundamentals of traditional pass protection.
Mahomes entered the league on fire, ascending to the top quicker than anyone ever, becoming the face of the sport long before his predecessors ever imagined, having success in his first years that doesn’t even seem real. An MVP, a Super Bowl, and enough highlights to fill a career in only five seasons, his mark is already been made in the history books.
Brown entered the league with a chip on his shoulder and a ton of expectations to live up to the large expectations he had around him his whole life. He went from an All-American at Oklahoma, to a Pro-Bowler, helping the Baltimore Ravens create one of the most dynamic run assaults in the NFL.
Both the sons of professional athletes, both raised knowing it was in their DNA to win at the highest level, both having early success in their young careers, and both currently at the lowest point of their careers.
Mahomes had seemed invincible up to this point, but now he has shown flaws in his once golden crown. He is still spectacular, but at times he has seemed human. His issues with drifting in the pocket have been prevalent, getting happy feet, and general bad decisions making were masked by the magic and winning. Now that the team is struggling these issues are at the forefront, and so is the criticism.
He appears to be pressing to make a play, to do something spectacular every play because that is what he knows the expectations are for him. He’s trying to live up to the expectations and the standard of being the best in the game, the largest contract in the history of the NFL, and that the standard for his team is Super Bowl or bust with him behind the center.
The Chiefs trade a first-round pick for Brown, and as the smart high football IQ individual he is, he knows that means they are going to be relying on him long-term. A pro-bowler at right tackle, Brown requested a trade from a playoff team so he could play the left side elsewhere. This will ultimately help him to a larger contract, but more importantly, it will help his pursuit of going down as one of the game’s great players.
Playing as an elite left tackle to an elite QB is the best way for offensive linemen to grow their legacy, and to Brown, it means more. He talked in his intro press conference in KC that the reason for wanting to play left tackle full time was to fulfill the potential that his father saw him as well as the standard he set for himself.
To be a big-time left tackle in the NFL, it all comes down to pass protection, where Brown has shown struggles adjusting to the Chiefs’ high pass rate offense. He is struggling with technique, body placement, and set speed. He shows flashes of dominance in every aspect of his play, but right now it is not at a consistent enough level.
So what do each of these players have to do to fix their current issues? The simple answer is to hone the fundamentals of their respected positions. They both have a natural talent and athletic ability to play at a high level, we have seen this from their past play. They must use this, as well as their coaching to fix the little problems that have become larger issues.
For Mahomes, he has to start accepting the fact that he can’t throw it deep every play. It’s who he is, but he can’t always be a gunslinger, sometimes he has to be a quarterback. He must get comfortable working up in the pocket, and not always look to scramble, or fade. He is the very best there has ever been at doing the spectacular, but what the Chiefs need right now is the basic.
There is nothing remarkable about a quarterback stepping up in the pocket and hitting an open curl route, or a check down to the running back. Decision-making has to be better, he seems to be throwing the ball to throw the ball at times, he needs to throw the ball with more purpose, or accept throwing it away or taking a sack. The great QB’s to play the game always do the little things well, it’s time for Mahomes to follow in that direction.
Brown is only 25 years old and has immense potential despite this being his fourth year in the NFL. He is a dominant run blocker, using brute force and size to maul his opponents off the ball. He has shown flashes of greatness in pass protection, but there is a reason left tackle is the hardest position to play. Winning plays is great, and it is recognized by the offensive line community, but one bad loss or a few in a row will be the center of public dismay and outcry.
It never matters how well an offensive linemen plays, the only ones that are remembered are the bad ones. If he continues to give up sacks at the rate he is, there is likely not a long-term contract waiting in Kansas City for him, which would make the trade an all-time flop.
It could also be the trade that netted the Chiefs their long-term left tackle. For the first time in his career, Brown is being asked to take vertical pass sets at a high frequency, and given the profile of the man he is protecting the pressure is amplified. He may not be able to solve all the problems this season, but he needs to commit to remaining vertical in his pass sets even if he thinks the defender is going to blow by him with speed. He is in the position most of the time to win, but when he feels pressure starting to get to the edge he will turn his hips giving the edge an easier path to the QB. He must remain vertical.
It is funny because most tackles lose when they are either bullied or the defender counter back inside. Brown may be the best in the NFL at stopping inside counter moves. He creates a wall, washing them down with all his might. Players have stopped doing it all together, despite it being a go-to move for many pass rushers. The majority of Brown’s problems will be solved in the offseason, where he will have more time to work his fundamentals, but for now, he needs to trust the technique.
A left tackle can be elevated to a household name by the play of his quarterback. A quarterback is only as good as his left tackle. Mahomes and Brown have questions to answer as the season progresses, and for both of them to turn around the Chiefs season it will be a full effort. They are talented players without question, however, now is the time to rely on fundamentals and technique instead of talent.