The Kansas City Chiefs offensive line is somewhat struggling in 2019

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 15: Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs throws a pass during the second half against the Oakland Raiders at RingCentral Coliseum on September 15, 2019 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 15: Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs throws a pass during the second half against the Oakland Raiders at RingCentral Coliseum on September 15, 2019 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images) /

The Kansas City Chiefs offensive line struggled again in Week 2 against the Oakland Raiders. How concerned should fans be going forward?

Following the Week 1 game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Jacksonville Jaguars, fans have a bigger appreciation for offensive line production. Watching quarterback Patrick Mahomes go intp the medical tent brought a realization that their young star was not invincible. While the extended plays and Mahomes’ patience often pay off, it also brings more possibility of an injury.

There are multiple changes this season along the interior with right guard Laurant Duvernay-Tardif (LDT) returning from a broken fibula in 2018. LDT is also learning how to play alongside a new center with Austin Reiter taking over at in the middle, replacing Mitch Morse who signed a massive deal with the Buffalo Bills. Note: both of the previous starting centers for the Chiefs have moved on to become the highest-paid center in the league, the other being Rodney Hudson leaving for the Raiders.

The offensive line started off the season facing one of the top defensive fronts in Week 1 against the Jaguars who were on a mission to set the tone early and often in being aggressive after Mahomes. While the announcers would lead you to believe Mahomes had been hit an ungodly amount during that game, he wasn’t being hit much getting the ball out quickly following the sprained ankle.

Overall, the game against the Jaguars looked very similar to just about every Week 1 game as starters are spending less time on the field during the preseason every year. Add the fact that offensive line units have to get reps to build continuity along the line to work together and it makes for some ugly mistakes. Some of that carried over into Week 2 against the Oakland Raiders.

The unit continued to look good for the most part in the passing game, but there were many familiar struggles from recent seasons that made fans wonder how well this unit will actually be. As the New England Patriots exploited often in the AFC Championship game last season, defenses find a great deal of success when loading up the line of scrimmage (LOS), as they send blitz packages and stunts to confuse the offensive line. It seems that continues to be a major flaw in the unit so far this season as the Raiders and Jaguars both took advantage.

Left tackle Eric Fisher was questionable with a groin injury in Week 2, but he suited up to start the game in Oakland. Unfortunately, that lasted only a few snaps before backup Cam Erving was forced to step into his spot. It was a major concern after watching Erving play that role during the preseason and look like he had never played offensive line before. It really goes to show you how lucky the Chiefs have gotten as they have gone into the last few seasons with just Fisher and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz without any comfortable swing tackle option.

Surprisingly enough, Erving actually played well in pass protection against the Raiders. There were a few plays given up along the interior, but for the most part, the offensive line played well against a young Raiders defensive line. Surprisingly enough for most fans, LDT probably had the roughest time in pass protection as he looked slower and lost at times—especially when the Raiders loaded up the LOS.

As you can see, the two linebackers come up to the line of scrimmage showing blitz against a five man front. As the ball is snapped, both linebackers drop into coverage which leaves just four rushers. While Erving recognizes the linebacker dropping into coverage and adjusts to the outside rusher, LDT continues to watch Raiders linebacker Vontez Burfict and looks like he falls asleep getting blown over. This allows a quick sack on Mahomes. Reiter was unsure of who to help given the two defensive tackles lined up in 2 and 2i, so he extended both arms out, but was unable to correct LDT’s blown assignment.

It’s concerning that after an offseason filled with talk about new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and his blitz packages and stunt usage, it looks a new invention when deployed most of the time against this line. Suffice it to say, we were all hoping for at least some improvement in this area, but it could be something that improves as the line builds chemistry and communication with one another.

This brings up another issue along the line: a lack of communication. All too often, we saw the group look like they were executing different play calls than the guy next to them. Most of this came in the running game, which was embarrassing to say the least. No matter what head coach Andy Reid dialed up, the offensive line could not produce holes for the team’s running backs or even a clean handoff without being hit immediately for much of the afternoon.

Here is a good example of what I mean by executing different play calls. It’s obvious that Duvernay-Tardif and Reiter are not on the same page as Reiter lunges toward the outside shoulder of the nose tackle (NT) which eliminates LDT’s ability to combo block the defender and instead runs into Reiter. What could have been a nice hole up the middle given Wylie’s ability to wall off the other side of the A gap, Reiter allows the NT to have complete control of the gap.

This was a common issue with Reiter that I noticed throughout the game in Week 2—lunging at the NT to get to the outside shoulder when the defender came off the line of scrimmage going inside which made for immediate penetration almost every time. Another major issue was his ability to sustain blocks to allow runners to get through the gaps and on to the second level, as defenders were able to shed his block rather easily far too often.

Another example of his struggles and how he affected LDT was on this outside zone run play where he false steps off the snap putting him behind where he needs to be while LDT is running straight into him instead of the defender. Instead of using his left foot to come back and plant, launching himself to the left, he shuffle steps which allows the NT to get ahead of him and he’s unable to gain control after LDT climbs to the second level. This allows the NT to force the running back into the lane he wants.

While running primarily zone blocking schemes in the run game, it seemed that on both inside and outside zones, the line struggled by not only taking on the right assignments and sustaining blocks, but they also struggled to climb to the second level of the defense. Numerous occasions of interior linemen coming off combo blocks to climb were late or too early after not finishing their first responsibility. This was especially true for Reiter and LDT as they continued to be out of sync on their assignments, unaware of where the LBs were when it was time to climb.

Here is an example of Reiter being completely oblivious to Tahir Whitehead crashing down on the A gap as he immediately goes to help Wylie on a combo block he cannot reach. This should have been a pre-snap read given the alignment of the defensive front, but Whitehead blows right past Reiter, who is late to pick him up, and down goes the ball carrier. Not to mention the fact that Erving looks completely lost trying to find someone to block.

It might also be something to consider as the Chiefs have been blessed the last few years when Mitch Morse was healthy given his freakish athletic abilities at the center position to get out into space to make blocks quickly. Wylie is more of the mauling type like LDT and Reiter doesn’t seem to have the athleticism from what I’ve seen so far to get out and grab onto linebackers. Poor angles and lack of vision while executing their combo blocks made it very difficult for him to execute these even adequately.

It will be interesting to see how this offensive line improves in the coming weeks as they look to face off against some tough defensive fronts. While Baltimore is not what it used to be in the trenches, they still are a talented group that could give issues to this offensive line in the run game. Detroit will also be a very tall task given that defensive tackles A’Shawn Robinson and Damon Harrison are manning the interior.

Both Damien Williams and LeSean McCoy suffered injuries during the Oakland game and that will be something to keep an eye on in Week 3 as the Chiefs host Baltimore in their home opener. While the run game might be a small compliment to an offense as explosive and talented as Kansas City’s, averaging 1.4 yards per carry is not going to cut it. Many of these mistakes that I have talked about are things that will just take time as the line gels.

The positive note is that the line has done primarily well the first two weeks of the season in pass protection despite commentators remarks leading fans to believe it was way worse than it actually was. In fact, according to Football Outsiders, the Chiefs offensive line is ranked 5th in adjusted sack rate, only giving up two on the season. Hopefully, we will see some improvements to the line when it comes to blitz packages and stunts or this could be another repeat of last season, which gave the offense a tough time in many games.

The run blocking, however, has to see some major improvements in order for the backs to have any type of success this season. Kansas City is ranked 30th in the league in run blocking according to Football Outsiders. McCoy showed out that he is still a good, shifty running back, but more performances like we saw against the Raiders will make that end in failure.

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Fans shouldn’t write off the offensive line just yet. The season is only two games old and the team has a lot of moving pieces along the interior, so we will have to wait and see how the line progresses following a few more games. It’s definitely something to keep an eye on.