Photo courtesy the Kansas City Star
From the FanPosts -Joel
Thanks to a helpful link I found posted on AP, I'm now a little better educated on the zone blocking scheme now used by the Chiefs offensive line. And I'm here to say that I believe this is the much of why the Chiefs are 1-6 at this point.
Don't misunderstand. I'm not suggesting that it was a mistake to install this scheme. But the fact that it was put in this season sure might explain a lot.
First, consider the play of Branden Albert. In 2008, he was generally regarded as having played pretty well for a rookie. In 2009, most are saying his play has slipped. What's more likely? That Albert wasn't a quality player in the first place, or that he's being coached to play in a way that is completely unlike all his previous experience? For that matter, the same could be said of Brian Waters and Rudy Niswanger.
Second, consider the pass protection - which we'll all agree has been terrible this season. Last season, the Chiefs gave up 37 sacks. But as the season progressed - that is, as the offensive line began to gel - they improved. Just 16 of the sacks came in the second half of the season; only six occurred in the last four games. And four of those happened in a single game.
Yet through seven games this season, the Chiefs have given up 26 sacks - and three of the starters on the OL are guys who played those same positions last year. What's more likely? That all of these guys have fallen off, or they're struggling with a new way to play the game?
(And before someone points out that it's because Tyler Thigpen escaped a lot of sacks with his feet, allow me to remind you that in 2008, Thigpen had 62 rushes for 362 yards. Through seven games, Cassel has 27 for 126.)
Third, consider Larry Johnson. Now that he's infuriated everybody with this latest drama, it's become fashionable to say that he's washed up - and who knows? Maybe he is. He's getting pretty long in the tooth for an NFL running back, after all.
But as I understand it, in an offense using a zone blocking scheme, the RB's lane isn't set in stone. Instead, at the moment the ball is snapped, the RB is supposed to watch how the defense reacts, and take the ball through whichever crease develops. He needs to have vision and patience - and the ability to make quick cuts.
Go ahead. Raise your hand if you consider this to have been Larry Johnson's strong suit during his career. Priest Holmes? Sure. But Larry Johnson? I don't think so.
Basically, Larry Johnson has always been a Mack truck. Give him the rock, and tell him to hit the hole that will open up to the left of the guy wearing #54. To put it another way… he's always played a lot more like Forrest Gump than Barry Sanders. And that's no slam against Larry Johnson. Forrest scored a lot of TDs for the Crimson Tide, after all. :-)
Finally, consider what Todd Haley has been saying about what he sees in practice. He says that he's starting to see players do "what they're being coached to do." This strongly suggests that players are being coached to play in a way completely different than what they've done before.
So… it's no wonder that the play of the Chiefs offensive line - not to mention Larry Johnson - has been terrible this season. Why shouldn't it be? They're being coached that the instinctive way to do their jobs - that is, to block the guy in front of you, or run to the hole planned for the play - is wrong. If I were an offensive lineman (or a running back) it would take me a little while to adjust to this, too. And the whole point of any zone scheme - whether it is on offense or defense - is that everybody has to do their job, or the whole thing collapses. So on a given play, if just one guy reverts to the way he's been playing for his entire football career, the whole thing can go up in smoke.
I'm not bringing this up to suggest that Todd Haley has made the wrong choice to install a zone blocking scheme. Denver - under Mike Shanahan - used this phiosophy to crank out one 1,000 yard rusher after another. You can't argue with success… but it's not reasonable to expect a football team to get it completely right in the course of seven games, and make it work.
So I mention this to remind everyone that there is a reason to be patient with the Chiefs offense - and maybe even Larry Johnson. In a season where other players have found themselves in Haley's doghouse - and perhaps even off the team - for a blown play in a game or a heated remark in practice, Haley has doggedly kept Johnson on the field. I can only surmise that Haley believes he knows something about Larry Johnson that we don't.
Perhaps in practice, Johnson and the offensive line show him that they're getting the picture. But in games, where the pace is faster, the hits are harder, the pressure is greater - and the opposing defense isn't the Chiefs scout team - it's not happening.
I'm not 100% sold on Todd Haley. I like a lot of what he's done. Other things leave me scratching my head. In general, I prefer football coaches who can mold a winner out of the available talent - that is, to use a philosophy that fits the players on hand, rather than find players who will fit the coach's way of doing things. We all saw last season that the former approach can turn things around very quickly; Edwards and Gailey made Tyler Thigpen and the offensive line competitive in just a couple of weeks. But Haley - like Vermeil and Shottenheimer before him - is clearly the latter kind of coach. This doesn't mean he's wrong for the Chiefs. But it does means it's probably going to take some time for his philosophy to result in wins for his team.