Reasons to love and hate KC Chiefs ground game emphasis

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - SEPTEMBER 10: Patrick Mahomes #15 hands off to Clyde Edwards-Helaire #25 of the Kansas City Chiefs during the first half against the Houston Texans at Arrowhead Stadium on September 10, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - SEPTEMBER 10: Patrick Mahomes #15 hands off to Clyde Edwards-Helaire #25 of the Kansas City Chiefs during the first half against the Houston Texans at Arrowhead Stadium on September 10, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

The Kansas City Chiefs have an increased focus on running the ball this season, and here’s why that’s both a bad and a good thing.

Usually when you talk about champions in sports, they have one or two things that they do exceptionally well—so exceptional in fact, that they can hardly be stopped by their competitors. It is usually why they become champions.

The Kansas City Chiefs passed the ball better than virtually any team in the league the last two seasons. If they needed to make a play, regardless of down and distance, they were able to make it far more often than not. It was on the back of this strength that the team broke the 50-year championship curse and delivered the Lombardi Trophy back to Kansas City.

Interestingly enough, after taking a running back in the first round of the latest NFL Draft, the team has flipped their script and focused more on the run to start the season. This culminated in the Chiefs win over the Bills on Monday as the Chiefs rushed the ball 46 times, the most for an Andy Reid team in the entirety of his coaching career.

The Chiefs are rushing the ball more through six games than any Andy Reid team ever—other than his 2002 Philadelphia Eagles squad. They’re rushing the ball on 44 percent of offensive plays compared to 38 percent in 2019 and 39 percent in 2020. They’re adding former All Pro running back Le’Veon Bell, which should at least support this new direction if not strengthen it.

A play rushing the ball takes away a play passing the ball. A game here or a game there with this strategy is tolerable, but a trend in that direction is still questionable. For a team that has painstakingly built a passing juggernaut, and with the analytics backing the efficiency of such an attack, any diversion from a strategy centered around passing seems ill-advised.

All of this said, there’s both a reason to dislike the seeming emphasis on the run through six games and also a reason to like it. The reason the emphasis on running the ball is concerning is the rhythm of the passing game.

Anyone who has watched the Chiefs even as far back as 2017, when Alex Smith had his best season as a professional, knows that the Chiefs offense excels when it’s in rhythm. You could argue any team benefits from that, but the Chiefs offense is next to unstoppable when it is in rhythm.

The problem with focusing on the run is partly because it slows down the game and partly because it takes focus off the passing game. Monday night’s contest seemed like one of those games where the Chiefs let the offense come to them instead of being aggressive. There’s a plethora of times that killed them in the Alex Smith era, and a time or two that it’s done so in the Patrick Mahomes era.

The Chiefs’ success in last year’s playoffs, coming back from double-digit deficits in three straight games, was because of their aggressiveness in the passing game. They seemed to struggle early, but once they achieved a rhythm, they were unstoppable. The transition away from the passing game takes the proverbial “foot off the pedal” and could lead to some dicey situations in close games.

Fortunately, there’s another reason that makes the emphasis on the run game not only likeable but genius. This whole time I’ve religiously pushed the idea that emphasis on the run game is bad and emphasis on the pass game is good because the Chiefs are a passing team. Yet, everyone knows that.

They know it so well, in fact, it’s unlikely that when playing the Chiefs that defensive coordinators spend any substantial time preparing for the Chiefs rushing attack. This is logical, considering the Chiefs will likely pass the ball the majority of the time. The notion is also strengthened by the fact that the Chiefs were a poor rushing team last season. While they ended the season at 4.1 yards per rush, they rushed under 4 yards a carry in 50 percent of their games.

This season, they’re rushing the ball at a very respectable, if not exceptional 4.7 yards per carry. While the addition of Bell doesn’t mean the team will be getting his 2017 production, is there any doubt the running game will be more effective when the team needs to use it?

Here’s the rub, the Chiefs offense seemed to crack the code against the Buffalo Bills on Monday. A defense whose strength was against the run, who had held three out of five opponents under 100 yards rushing, allowed the Chiefs to grind them up to the tune of 245 yards on 5.3 yards a carry.

The Chiefs, a team with a Super Bowl caliber passing attack of which defensive coordinators have burned the candle at both ends the past two seasons trying to master, might now be a dominant run team.

No longer can defensive coordinators spend the majority of their time on the passing attack. They must plan, and build their game day rosters in order to stop the Chiefs rushing attack. This can only pay dividends when the Chiefs decide to flex their championship muscles in the passing game.

Next. Around the AFC West: Week 6. dark