Despite Long Odds, Chiefs Find Ways to Thrive When Badly Losing the Ground Game

September 15, 2019; Oakland, CA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs running back Damien Williams (26) is defended by Oakland Raiders safety Lamarcus Joyner (29) during the third quarter at Oakland Coliseum.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Despite the modern reputation of the NFL as a passing league, when teams lose the rushing battle by a lopsided margin, it normally still doesn't end well. Yet Kansas City head coach Andy Reid seems to have found a way to defy the odds, just as the Chiefs did in their 28-10 win on the road in Oakland.

“You can take away somethings,” Reid said in explaining how his team can win games when dominated in the run game. “It's hard to take away everything in a game.”

The Raiders rushed for 129 yards on Sunday, while the Chiefs struggled for just 31 yards on 22 attempts. With a rushing deficit of 98 yards, teams lose that game nearly 90 percent of the time. With a rushing margin deficit of 100 yards or more in a game since 2013, NFL teams are 41-286.

Last season the Chiefs went 3-1 in such games, earning wins over San Francisco, Denver and Baltimore, the team they face this Sunday. They overcame a 100-yard rushing deficit to the Ravens by picking up 221 more yards through the air than Baltimore. Their only loss came in the postseason to New England, when the Patriots out gained the Chiefs 176 to 41.

Yet during Reid's time in Kansas City, the Chiefs own a 6-5 record in that scenario. That's the second-best record in the league during that time. Seattle owns a 4-2 record with only the Patriots cracking the .500 mark at 5-5.

It doesn't seem such a big surprise that it's Reid, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and Patriot head coach Bill Belichick top this particular leaderboard.

“I think you have to recognize it,” Reid said when the rushing game isn't working on one or both sides of the ball. “Your coaches need to recognize it and then make the adjustments accordingly.”

The Chiefs face a team this week in the Ravens that isn't afraid to stack the box and take away the run. They rank No. 1 in the league through the first two weeks allowing a meager 20.5 yards rushing per game.

“But if a defense is doing that, it's hard for them to do everything,” Reid said. “We don't care. We figure if you're going to do that, then we're going to do this. We don't fight that. We're not going to bang our heads up against the wall on that. The trick is trying to find what's going to work at that time, whether it's run, pass, whatever it is.”

One might conclude the evolution of the passing game makes it easier to win these types of games, but the numbers don't bear that out. During Reid's time in Philadelphia, teams won games in this situation 10.3 percent of the time. Last year, teams won just 12.3 percent of these games.

Reid's 6-17 record in these games with the Eagles wasn't as glossy as his record with the Chiefs, but it still ranks as the second-best record during that timeframe. Only the Patriots had a better win percentage with a 5-11 mark.

What the best coaches seem to have in common is the ability to identify when a plan isn't working, Reid explained.

“Then you have to have confidence in that if you need to use your short-intermediate game to kind of replace the run game that you can do that if they're packing the box on you,” Reid said.

Against the Raiders, Patrick Mahomes completed 10-of-10 on passes behind the line of scrimmage for 44 yards. He also completed 10-of-12 passes for 81 yards within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. That part of the passing game effectively replaced the run game for the Chiefs.

While Mahomes certainly possess rare deep-ball talent, Reid argues his short-intermediate game is just as polished.

“He trusts his guys, he trusts his receivers, he trusts the O-line, which is always good,” Reid said. “Then he's got a good feel and a good touch, good feel for the touch throws and the ones that he needs to put a little more mustard on.”

While the Chiefs capitalized on the long ball for four touchdowns agains the Raiders, it was the ability to supplement the run with a short-passing game that allowed the Chiefs to control the clock for more than 32 minutes. It's that adaptability, Reid explains, that is the key on days when one part of the offense isn't clicking.

“This offense normally allows not to have to force something in there that maybe a team is working to take out and away from you,” Reid said. “It's just a matter of recognizing it.”