The Chiefs have arguably the most explosive passing attack in the NFL. In Thursday Night’s opener, however, they didn’t have one completion of 20 yards or more. It didn’t matter. Rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire paved the way to an easy win, finishing with 138 rushing yards and a touchdown on 25 carries.
It was an eye-opening performance that sent a message to the rest of the NFL: The Chiefs might be a better team than they were last year. Kansas City attacked with inside and outside zones all night, which isn’t exactly something different for them. The offensive line did a great job of creating space up front, but Edwards-Helaire took the running game to the next level by making defenders miss with regularity.
The presence of an effective running game allowed Andy Reid to neutralize the disguises that Texans Defensive Coordinator Anthony Weaver was trying to use early to confuse Patrick Mahomes. Nothing stops the effectiveness of coverage disguise quite like a steady running game.
Yet, it wasn’t just their rushing attack that allowed the Chiefs to handle what Weaver was throwing at them. The purpose of disguise is to paralyze the offense by complicating the quarterback’s decision-making process. So Reid called pass plays that simplified this process for Mahomes. After a 4th-and-1 conversion on their 2nd drive, Reid came right back with a tight end screen to Travis Kelce off of misdirection that split the defense down the middle.
Then, after an 18-yard run, Reid came back with an RPO. As you can see below, Mahomes was able to isolate his read on one defender, linebacker Zach Cunningham, who went with the run action and opened up a throwing lane.
The Chiefs would finish this drive with their first touchdown, and they wouldn’t look back.
While Houston was able to take away the explosive vertical plays from the Chiefs’ passing game, they weren’t able to neutralize Kansas City’s speed entirely. Andy Reid did a great job, as he always does, of allowing his receivers to take advantage of their speed by running routes across the field. A key element of these plays was the use of traffic to create separation.
On this 3rd-and-3 during their second scoring drive, Reid crammed the middle of the field with receivers, creating cushion between the intended target, Demarcus Robinson, and his defender.
Later in the game, on a goal-line situation, Reid again used traffic to allow Tyreek Hill to run away from his defender, cornerback Bradley Roby. Watch how Roby pulled up in the middle of the field, wary of potential picks coming from the receivers running at him.
Thursday Night’s game showed the versatility of the Chiefs Offense. You can’t just take away the big play and expect the offense to shut down as a result. Reid has the schemes to prevent that, and now he appears to have a running game.
The balance Kansas City showed against Houston (33 passes and 34 runs) means defenses will have a lot more to prepare for with this offense. It also means that Mahomes’ job will be made a little easier. Effective running games help keep offenses on schedule and in manageable down-and-distance situations. Case in point, the Chiefs faced 3rd-and-6 or less on 11 of 13 third downs on Thursday Night. They converted 7 of those 11 third downs, a huge reason why they were able to possess the ball for almost 35 minutes. Mahomes was 7-7 for 42 yards and 6 first downs in those situations (including 3 TD passes).
There’s a reason no team has won back-to-back Super Bowls since 2004. You have to be better than you were the previous season to be able to repeat. We have a long way to go, but the Chiefs already look like an improved team.
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