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Protection issues hurt KC in the tight win over Atlanta

The Chiefs offensive line and Patrick Mahomes were not on the same page on Sunday, and it lead to miscues that made the game closer than it should have been.

A final score of 17-14 was not what anyone had in mind for the Kansas City Chiefs headed into week 16 against the Atlanta Falcons, but it is what it is. An ugly game was also not expected to be had by the Chiefs star quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

Unfortunately, the game did not go according to plan for Mahomes who finished with a QBR of just 68.2, threw two touchdowns, one interception, for 278 yards, and a completion percentage of less than 55%. Not his best game by a long shot, but the Chiefs’ offensive struggles cannot be pinned solely on him.

The Chiefs offensive line did not give up a sack, which to some would be an indication of a solid day. This was not the case, and for a second straight week lead to Mahomes taking unnecessary hits, as well as making him uncomfortable in the pocket. The miscues were both physical, as well a mental problem for the Chiefs offensive line, in which the interior unit particularly struggled against a strong Atlanta pass rush.

Now headed into the game the 4-10 Falcons would not be on anyone’s radar, but according to ESPN’s Team Pass Rush win rate metric, the Falcons were tied for third in the league, averaging pressure on 50% of snaps. This with the Chiefs makeshift offensive line was a recipe for trouble.

The trust a quarterback has in his offensive line is one of the more underrated aspects of the game, and from last week against the Saints to this week it does not seem Mahomes has built much trust in his current unit upfront. This can affect every aspect of the game, but even on plays when the OL is able to protect the play, that lack of trust can lead to happy feet in the pocket and forces a bad decision from Mahomes above.

The interior offensive line particularly struggled to pick up the twists and stunts that Atlanta kept throwing at them. Another thing that Atlanta was doing to mess with Mahomes reads was they dropped their ends more than a few times into pass coverage, forcing a slower reaction from Mahomes, while also stealing the eyes of the OL and allowing for more penetration to get there for the pressure.

The play above was in my opinion the worst execution all game by the offensive line. The Chiefs were forced to keep Travis Kelce, and Darrell Williams in on the protection, leaving just three possible targets for Mahomes down the field. Even with the seven-man protection, the middle pressure on a delayed stunt is more than enough for Atlanta to get a free shot on Mahomes.

Despite the troubles all game Mahomes came to play on his final drive of the game, and the line was able to hold off the pass rush just long enough for him to deliver the game-winning strike to Demarcus Robinson.

Headed into the playoffs, and seeing the offensive line and quarterback on such different pages is somewhat concerning, but the Chiefs having the first overall seed is comforting to know they will be well prepared for whoever it is that they will see in just over two weeks time. This problem has been persistent for the Chiefs for a while now, and the line must be addressed in the offseason in order to ensure the health of Mahomes.

Getting knocked around week in and week out is starting to have an effect on Mahomes, with his mental timing of plays, but also his confidence in his offensive line to get their jobs done and keep him upright. This is where we are starting to see issues with some of his bad throws, and turnovers the last few weeks.

It is encouraging to see him play well in the two-minute situation which, we saw at the end of the first half of football. To help the Chiefs’ offensive line out, the Chiefs would be best off trying to run some tempo plays or some no-huddle quick hitters to slow down the rush and keep defenses from subbing off the field into different packages. It will be interesting to see how Andy Reid addresses the issues, and what corrections he makes to solve those issues moving into the playoff run.

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