Fixing KC's Run Game

It finally happened. With about 11 minutes left in the second quarter on Sunday, Larry Johnson busted off a big run from the I-formation. He fumbled at the end of his spectacular 34-yard burst, but that's irrelevant.

It happened for two reasons – one, great blocking. Brian Waters destroyed defensive tackle John Thornton. John Welbourn controlled defensive tackle Domata Peko and drove him out of Johnson's path. Casey Wiegmann got to the second level and stuffed middle linebacker Anthony Schlegel. Kris Wilson put outside linebacker Landon Johnson on his butt. Dwayne Bowe and Damion McIntosh combined to clean up the weakside.

The second reason – well, the second reason was Larry Johnson. His individual effort beat cornerback Deltha O'Neal at the line of scrimmage, as Johnson was too fast through the hole for O'Neal to handle. Once LJ got into the secondary, he froze safety Dexter Jackson with a move and it was off to the races.

The Chiefs need more of this.

For weeks now, Johnson has been absolutely stuffed when he runs from the I-formation. One tight end, two tight ends, it doesn't matter – the I-formation has been killing KC's run game.

I believe that offensive coordinator Mike Solari is progressing as a play caller this season, but there's something critically wrong with the running game right now, and if you ask me, it all stems from one of pro football's oldest and most oft-used formations. It's quickly going out of style in Kansas City.

Johnson is averaging just 2.9 yards per carry from the I-formation. When the Chiefs switch to lone setback formations, that average jumps by more than a half yard. There's no one long run skewing the data in either case, as Johnson has 34 and 37-yard runs from each formation variety.

But it's not just the I-formation. Even the lone setback is struggling – specifically, when the Chiefs insert Jason Dunn. Yes, it sound strange, but when one of KC's best run blockers comes into the game, the offense struggles to run the football. This is evident in Johnson's 2.8 yards-per-carry average from two-tight-end formations.

Heck, the Chiefs can't even run the football with three tight ends on the field. Other than Johnson's 37-yard gallop in the closing minutes, he's gained just seven yards on six carries from formations with three tight ends (the Chiefs have used Will Svitek frequently in this role).

Three tight ends. Two tight ends. The I-formation.

Unless six games of statistical data is an aberration, it would appear the Chiefs simply aren't suited to run the football from power formations this year. They're far more effective when the offense is spread out. Just look at Johnson's average from formations with three wide receivers – 3.8 yards per carry. That's not great, but it'd be progress for KC's offense at the moment.

And that 3.8 average isn't skewed by any long runs. The Chiefs' longest run with three wide receivers on the field is just 10 yards. That means consistent gains, not a yard here, a yard there, and then a 30-yard burst.

The sooner the Chiefs wake up and smell the coffee, the better. Right now, they almost seem reluctant to run from spread formations. Almost 76 percent of Johnson's carries this year have come with two or fewer wide receivers on the field. And Kansas City won't even bother with running from four-wide formations – just two carries this year.

A year ago, Johnson absolutely dominated from spread sets. In 125 carries from spread formations (three or four wide receivers), he averaged better than five yards per carry. And we'll point it out once more – this was consistent yardage. Johnson's longest run in those 125 carries was 26 yards.

Here's a stat that really stands out – Johnson's rushing average on first down this season is a mere 2.7 yards per carry (4.3 on all other downs combined). That's absolutely pitiful, but it wouldn't surprise me if the Chiefs are running mostly from tighter formations on early downs. Is this stuff really that hard to figure out?

There doesn't appear to be a problem with play selection – Damon Huard has 63 pass attempts on first down, Johnson has 65 rushes. That's outstanding balance.

Nope, I think formations lie at the heart of the problem. And KC's last game provides plenty of evidence. Out of 18 first down runs, the Chiefs lined up in the I-formation or with two or more tight ends 16 times. Only twice did they come out in a true spread formation – and in one of those, Kris Wilson was split out as a "wide receiver."

Johnson isn't the only player that might benefit should the Chiefs spread the offense out more. Quarterback Damon Huard is absolutely destroying defenses when he drops back to pass out of the I-formation (72 percent completions, 7.5 yards per attempt, three touchdowns and no interceptions), but his work with three wide receivers is just as impressive – 74 percent completions and 7.92 yards per attempt.

He's been sacked more often in three-wide formations, but you can't let a little thing like fear hold your offense back. And if the Chiefs start running more out of three-wide, those sacks will dry up, too, especially if they mix in a few draw plays.

A year ago, Johnson was averaging just 3.7 yards per carry after six weeks. He still wound up rushing for 1,789 by season's end. This year, it's 3.4 yards per carry after six weeks. So yes, there's hope for the running game, but something has to change.

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