The most explosive offense in the NFL has called Kansas City home for a while now, as no team has scored more touchdowns (196) or tallied more yards (21,783) than the Chiefs over the last four seasons.
The primary driver behind those numbers has been the big passing play – exemplified by the Chiefs' league-most 45 touchdowns on passing plays of 25+ yards since 2018 – but as defenses continue to evolve, it's largely been the short game that's fueled the Chiefs' offensive success in 2021.
"I think we learned a little bit about it at the end of last year. We had to throw the ball short, drive the length of the field and trust that guys like [wide receiver] Tyreek [Hill] would make plays once they caught the ball," said quarterback Patrick Mahomes. "With this offensive line and how well they can run-block – plus with [tailback] Clyde [Edwards-Helaire] running the football – it'll just be another step in the right direction for us to be the best offense that we can possibly be."
That altered defensive approach has certainly been on display lately, as the Los Angeles Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles deployed conservative defenses that protected against the big play and blitzed a total of 12 times combined. Both teams were determined to not get beat over the top, but the Chiefs' response should concern those that attempt a similar strategy.
In fact, over the last two weeks, the Chiefs have tallied the most first downs in the NFL and nine more than second place. They've found the end zone nine times in that span, and while Kansas City ultimately fell to the Chargers, it wasn't because they couldn't move the football. The Chiefs uncharacteristically committed four turnovers against Los Angeles – three of which occurred in Chargers' territory – but when they've hung onto the football, good things have happened. It was just one week later, after all, that Kansas City finished six of their seven possessions with touchdowns against Philadelphia.
The Chiefs are still averaging 6.5 yards-per-play over the last two weeks, too, and perhaps the key component to that offensive success against these conservative defenses has been the running game. Kansas City has racked up 386 rushing yards over the last two weeks – the third-most in the NFL – behind the Chiefs' new look offensive line that continues to improve every week.
"It's been a combination of scheme, all of us being on the same page and executing our fundamentals at a high level. Sunday was just a taste of what we could do," said left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. "We still weren't spot on with some things, but we were able to make some good things happen in the running game. Hopefully, we can continue to build on that."
The interior of the offensive line, in particular, has been outstanding. Among players to take the field for at least 80 percent of snaps, Pro Football Focus currently ranks Creed Humphrey as the No. 2 center in the league while guards Joe Thuney (No. 6) and Trey Smith (No. 7) each rank in the top 10 at their position. Additionally, despite facing some of the top pass-rushers in the league to open the season, Brown and fellow tackle Lucas Niang have combined to yield only two sacks.
The group has consistently gotten better every week as they continue to work together for the first time, and it's impressed Mahomes.
"I think we're getting better and better every week. We'll continue to get better as the season goes on, but I think they're taking steps in the right direction," Mahomes said. "They're not making the same mistakes, and I'm finding the right pockets to step up into."
Third down has also been an area in which Kansas City has thrived, allowing the Chiefs to maintain drives against conservative defensive schemes. They're converting 64.1 percent of third down chances, which is the highest rate through Week 4 for any team in the NFL since 1991. Furthermore, when facing third down and needing no more than six yards, Kansas City has converted 21-of-22 chances.
It's all helped the Chiefs move the football seemingly at will, just in a completely different way, and it should open the deep passing game back up as defenses have to respect what Kansas City can do underneath.
"It's definitely different than what I would have done in the past, but you have to do it. You have to take the stuff underneath and drive the ball down the field," Mahomes said. "But I never want to lose that edge of attacking, so hopefully, as we continue to show that we can do that and that we can run the football, it'll open up the deep passing game."