The Kansas City Chiefs answered their biggest question, and they might be even better for it | NFL News


It was a day to forget for Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs at Super Bowl LV

It was a day to forget for Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs at Super Bowl LV

If your surname is ‘Heck’, it might be the biggest season of your footballing career. Offensive tackle Charlie Heck is entering his rookie year with the Houston Texans as a fourth-round pick out of North Carolina; his father Andy Heck has been the man tasked with amalgamating a spruced up Kansas City Chiefs offensive line. 

What the Heck happened at Super Bowl LV? Just about everything Heck and the Chiefs had been desperate to avoid as they winced at the sight of a turf-toe-troubled Patrick Mahomes squirming and scampering in a bid to escape Todd Bowles’ feasting wolves.

Catchable passes were fumbled, Mahomes would have liked a few more throws back than usual, and for the first game since the former Super Bowl MVP took over as starter the Chiefs failed to score a touchdown. Anomalous pitfalls on offense – for which the Tampa Bay Buccaneers must also take deserved credit – largely stemmed from injury-hit pass protection hobbling in the absence of starting tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz.

General manager Brett Veach watched his half-a-billion-dollar quarterback almost conjure one of the great Alec Baldwin narration-worthy touchdown passes in NFL history as Mahomes scrambled to his right before unleashing a side-arm dagger while diving under contact in mid-air, only to see it glide through the hands and bounce off the facemask of Darrel Williams in the end zone.

The controlled chaos of Andy Reid’s Rubik’s Cube scheme was no more, so much so even the powers of Mahomes became fruitless.

Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes is adamant the Chiefs need to improve after their crushing Super Bowl defeat at the hands of Tom Brady's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes is adamant the Chiefs need to improve after their crushing Super Bowl defeat at the hands of Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes is adamant the Chiefs need to improve after their crushing Super Bowl defeat at the hands of Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“For us to go out there and not be able to get in the end zone at all, it’s something that will haunt me kind of for the rest of my career, but you learn and get better from it and make sure you’re ready to go,” Mahomes told NBC’s Peter King at training camp.

Mahomes was sacked three times, though it could have been at least five, and hit on 10 occasions. Fisher and Schwartz were both released weeks later, while center Austin Reiter and guard Kelechi Osemele, who spent most of 2020 on injured reserve, became free agents.

And so the big offseason question centered around how the Chiefs would respond to their rare trial of inferiority. A question Veach had the answer to, as he so often has in recent years.

They acquired Orlando Brown Jr. and his 35-inch ‘get off me’ arms in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens, meeting the 2018 third-round pick’s desire to play at left tackle. They drafted second-round center Creed Humphrey – who didn’t allow a sack over the last two years in college – out of Lincoln Riley’s exotic Oklahoma offense, claimed Tennessee guard Trey Smith in the sixth round and signed former New England Patriots left guard Joe Thuney to a five-year, $80m deal.

Kansas City Chiefs: 2020 Tale of the Tape

Offense Defense
Total 1st 16th
Passing 1st 14th
Rushing 16th 21st
Scoring 6th 11th

Three-time Pro Bowl guard Kyle Long, currently on the Physically Unable to Perform List, unretired himself to be a Chief, while veteran Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and 2020 third-round right tackle Lucas Niang are back after opting out.

Brown didn’t allow a single quarterback hit at left tackle in the Ravens’ final 11 games last season, Thuney has never missed a game since entering the league in 2016 and is the only starting offensive lineman over the age of 25.

And if you’re looking for depth, backups Andrew Wylie, Mike Remmers, Nick Allegretti and Austin Blythe have 227 games and 181 career starts between them.

The Chiefs went beyond merely patching up their wound.

Highlights of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV.

Highlights of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV.

Highlights of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV.

“We certainly got the brunt of it last year with injuries, and it was a priority, we wanted to get the offensive line better,” Veach told reporters. “We felt like once we started to acquire players at that position, we weren’t content. We wanted to build depth and just looking at our board, having potentially three rookies start day one with Creed (Humphrey), Trey (Smith) and Lucas (Niang) and then bringing in Joe (Thuney) and Orlando (Brown), we knew we would have some competition there to fill out the back end of the roster.

“I think the one cool thing is that our backups, when you talk about guys like (Mike) Remmers, (Nick) Allegretti, (Andrew) Wylie and (Austin) Blythe, all these guys have lined up and played in Super Bowls and AFC Championships, so there’s a lot of experience there and there’s a lot of snaps amongst them.”

Enter coach Heck, whose spring/summer project has been to orchestrate a Super Bowl-ready offensive line. Because if the line is good and the trenches are clean, who would bet against them still being around come February 13, 2022?

It helps to have a quarterback who lets rip with the speed and precision at which Mahomes does, as does the kind of play-design that has become mentally taxing for opposition defenses to read and nullify.

Orlando Brown was part of the Ravens' No. 1 ranked rushing offense last season

Orlando Brown was part of the Ravens’ No. 1 ranked rushing offense last season

From Brown’s violent hands-on approach to Smith’s body-dumping power, the Chiefs’ remodel also offers an avenue to expanding on the zone-blocking scheme primarily seen last season.

It won’t be smash-mouth football because it doesn’t need to be, but there will be more see-gap-hit-gap invitations for Clyde Edwards-Helaire as he seeks a breakout season in his sophomore year.

“‘How do you like running the ball?’,” Edwards-Helaire said, noting the kind of discussions he has had with his offensive lineman this summer.

“Having those conversations with the offensive line, and individually, just understanding certain guys might go full-speed, head-down at a guy and blow them out, or they might read leverage and then try to block a person. It’s all an understanding, 11 pieces on the field trying to work as one unit.”

“Those are my dogs. It’s about getting as close as I can to them. Everything becomes mutual at that point, everyone understands the things we’re trying to get done.”

Good Morning Football's Kay Adams, Peter Schrager, Mike Robinson and Kyle Brant all make their predictions on who they think will reach, and win, Super Bowl LVI this season.

Good Morning Football’s Kay Adams, Peter Schrager, Mike Robinson and Kyle Brant all make their predictions on who they think will reach, and win, Super Bowl LVI this season.

Good Morning Football’s Kay Adams, Peter Schrager, Mike Robinson and Kyle Brant all make their predictions on who they think will reach, and win, Super Bowl LVI this season.

The 2020 first-round pick was neither outstanding nor was he a disappointment in his rookie year. Granted, his production on the ground dried up at times, but there was little you could criticise him for in a scheme that operates through Mahomes’ money-making arm.

Attention to detail in revamping a versatile offensive line was mirrored by the reassignment of Greg Lewis to running backs coach, whose former role as wide receivers coach will add a new wrinkle to Edwards-Helaire’s threat as a pass catcher out of the backfield.

Attention to detail is what Veach and Reid are about.

The Chiefs used five-man protection on 92.3 percent of drop-backs during their Super Bowl defeat to the Bucs in February, marking the highest usage rate of five-man protection by any team since 2016, according to NextGen stats. Ultimately, they left their backup offensive tackles with zero help on the edge against the likes of Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul. The results were… not good.

Heavy five-man protection is where the league is heading, and might have already arrived at, but the lack of tight end assistance was another question that needed to be addressed.

Kansas City’s use of 12 personnel declined from 28 per cent in 2019 to 18 per cent in 2020, Nick Keizer seeing just 27.4 per cent of snaps as backup to Travis Kelce in comparison to Blake Bell’s 37.81 the year before.

Cue an offseason return of Bell for his second stint at Arrowhead after spending the 2020 season with the Dallas Cowboys, for whom he did not allow a single pressure in 43 pass-blocking snaps according to Pro Football Focus. The 30-year-old, a fourth-round pick for the San Francisco 49ers in 2015, notably gave up just four pressures including a sack in 90 pass-blocking snaps during his first spell with the Chiefs back in 2019.

Brett Gosper, the NFL's Head of Europe & UK says it's possible more games could be brought to London in the future if franchises decide to move more of the home fixtures.

Brett Gosper, the NFL’s Head of Europe & UK says it’s possible more games could be brought to London in the future if franchises decide to move more of the home fixtures.

Brett Gosper, the NFL’s Head of Europe & UK says it’s possible more games could be brought to London in the future if franchises decide to move more of the home fixtures.

Besides welcoming back Bell, the Chiefs drafted Noah Gray out of Duke in the fifth round and re-signed 2019 undrafted free agent Jody Fortson, before keeping all four tight ends, including Kelce, as part of their 53-man roster.

Reid used 13 personnel on 29 totals plays last season and 14 personnel on four plays; his ability to weaponise any and every player on his offense (ask retired fullback Anthony Sherman) may tempt him into pumping those numbers up in 2021.

He can disguise blockers, motion in extra blockers, set up the bubble screen for Edwards-Helaire or Tyreek Hill, he can float in Bell and newly-signed fullback Michael Burton to tee up size mismatches for the two or three other tight ends on the field, he can build on the Y-Iso packages that have a familiar component to Kelce’s success.

“I feel like the last few years we’ve been looking for third and fourth tight ends,” said Veach. “Then, to be able to get Blake (Bell) in the offseason and then draft Noah (Gray) and then have Jody (Fortson) have such a good camp, we’ve been on the other end in regard to knowing how hard it is to find third, fourth tight ends.”

The Mecole Hardman project

Mecole Hardman has withstood the test of patience since landing in the NFL, but now looks primed to take on an expanded role in the Kansas City Chiefs offense.

‘Gelling’ and ‘communication’ have been popular words in the Chiefs camp this offseason amid the construction of a fresh look at the line of scrimmage.

Brown wants to shutdown doubts over his long-term future at left tackle, Niang is effectively entering his rookie year after opting out of last season and Cleveland and Smith are actually entering their rookie years, aligned beside one another on the interior.

The glimpses in preseason were reassuring, but the first eye-opening test awaits in Week One when they meet a Myles Garrett-led Cleveland Browns pass rush strengthened by the addition of Jadeveon Clowney and Malik Jackson.

“One thing you take from how we got beat (in the Super Bowl) is everybody will know we can’t come in with this kind of lacklustre attitude like we’re going to win every single game,” said Mahomes. “So I think getting beat like that on a stage like that will have guys ready to go every single game knowing that every single week in this league anybody can get beat by anybody.”

A player like Mahomes doesn’t need his offensive line to be the very best in the league. He can still thrive behind ‘good’ and ‘available’. Anything more and it’s game over.

The Chiefs were posed a question as they left Raymond James Stadium in February. Their answer might well have left them better off than ever.

Watch the Kansas City Chiefs host the Cleveland Browns in Week One live on Sky Sports NFL from 9.25pm on Sunday.





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