It's been said by some who frequent AP that the Kansas City offensive line is no longer a concern; others have said the OL is broken; still others have said that it’s broke. But they’re bad at grammar so who needs ‘em?
You know what I say? I say all those people are wrong!
Those in the "it's fixed" camp make a strong case. After about week 8, the number of sacks being allowed per game began to taper off, rushing yards per game sky-rocketed, and the number of penalties linemen were taking began to plateau.
Factor in the off-season additions of Ryan Lilja, a very good lineman in his prime, and Casey Wiegmann, a pretty good system lineman who passed his prime about the time Henry Ford was revolutionizing the auto industry, but who will probably beat out Rudy Niswanger anyway, and one will have a hard time convincing even a casual observer that the Kansas City OL isn't at least better.
However, "better" is as far as I'll go for several reasons.
The first reason is the number twenty five. It's nearly impossible to overestimate the impact Jamaal Charles had on the Chiefs offense last year. Though it can't be denied that Larry Johnson was a skilled runner when he was motivated, the fact is he was almost never motivated, especially in 2009. And when he wasn't motivated he resembled a grade-schooler with a soiled diaper; for Pete's sake the man sucked on a binky. The mere fact that Charles was willing to run around, as opposed to through, the flab-caked coccyx of whichever red-clad behemoth happened to be lumbering before him was enough to add a yard or two to the Chief's rushing average.
Suffice it to say I firmly believe the term "addition through subtraction" has never been more aptly applied than it was when little-l-little-j skulked off to Cincy, good riddance and a pox on his hizz-ouse.
Secondly, the mid-point of last season was when most of us expected to see an improved understanding of the offense from every player on the team merely as a product of time spent in the system.
Thirdly, the mid-point of last season was also about the time the right side of the line stopped resembling a crack-fueled game of full-contact musical chairs. It wouldn't be a stretch to believe that an increased consistency of personnel would lead to better performance from the unit as a whole.
Fourthly was the actual stylistic difference between little-l-little-j and Charles. Even when he was running with authority, the best defensive strategy to use against an offense centered on Johnson was fairly simple: drop a safety (or two) into the box and get as many bodies on the runner as possible. While this is still probably the best defense to use against any dominant runner, Charles' speed presents an interesting dilemma for opposing coordinators: if the "8th man" misses, Charles will very likely score.
As such, even the most aggressive defenses were forced to treat their safeties as safeties, reducing pressure on the line and allowing more time for the passing offense to operate.
Lastly, and least concretely I suppose, I'd guess that Johnson's absence was probably a motivating force for the line. Nobody likes blocking for a child and with him gone, I'm sure it was just that much easier to push a little extra when needed.
My basic point is that, while I believe the linemen played better at the end of season, the improved offensive production had less to do with a sudden and marked improvement in the individual performance of each lineman than it did with a series of events that, added together were more than the sum of the parts.
And, though the factors I've listed above will certainly carry over to this year, I think it'd be dangerous to declare victory up front and rest on our laurels. The reason is simple: the only way any offense can ever be dominant is if its offensive line leads the way.
- With that in mind, I submit the following:
- Branden Albert was terrible. We've all heard the stats. Whether or not he rebounds--and I believe he can--is irrelevant.
- Brian Waters had arguably his worst season as a pro. He committed 8 penalties, the second worst total of his career, and he looked every bit his age. There could be a billion reasons for this: his unhappiness with the staff, a lack of comfort with the players around him, his desire to cover for their mistakes by doing too much, or his advancing age. I wouldn't be surprised if his poor play were a product of all these factors but, if he doesn't have a better year, the left side of the line is in trouble.
- Wiegmann is older than the stuff dirt is made from and Niswanger was just bad.
Which is why I think it's a good idea for the Chiefs to go ahead and spend their top 5 pick on a left tackle.
Let's say Albert really is a failure at tackle. And let's say Waters really is done. And let's say Wiegmann dies of arthritis, constipation, and too much Matlock ‘round about week 3. Are we doomed?
Not if we draft a tackle.
A top 5 guy should expect to start immediately. This leaves Albert to shift to the position he played so well in college. And Niswanger will be much less of a liability with solid players to his left and right.
And if the Chiefs do draft one of the two big names at tackle, they're set for the next five years at least. Add a young center in a later round and you may not have to address the OL again until Lilja begins to fade.
Unless, of course, I'm wrong.
Which happened once in the mid-eighties I think.