Preseason is, at the same time, both meaningless and wildly important.
It's meaningless in that without true offensive and defensive scheming on either side it's impossible to get an accurate feel for whether a team is going to have a successful season. The most famous examples are the 16-0 Patriots losing all four of their preseason games and the 0-16 Lions winning all four of theirs.
Wins, while always more fun to watch than losses, mean nothing in the preseason.
Additionally, even individual performances must be taken with some skepticism. We've all seen the hype trains of Bobby Sippio and Nate Eachus gain steam after solid preseason performances against backups of backups. Now, this aspect isn't as meaningless as the scoreboard in preseason, but you have to account for quality of competition when a player tears it up.
Just about the only thing preseason is good for is getting film on a guy and seeing what he can do, then trying to project whether it can carry over into the season. For example, when Charcandrick West makes an exceptional cut without losing speed, that's not a "it's just because he's playing scrubs" issue. That's something that can carry over into the season (I may write about him later this week. Decisive, fast, and tough to tackle. Lots to like).
And with that in mind we turn to Eric Fisher, the oft-maligned left tackle for the Chiefs. Since being taken first overall Fisher has had his share of growing pains. Principle among his issues at tackle has been his strength, or lack thereof. All too often we saw Fisher getting bull rushed or knocked to the side when in pass protection. There were reports of injury issues that provided some excuse, but it was still frustrating to watch.
All reports of Fisher have been positive this offseason, with the rumor being he's put on some weight and is stronger. But what does the tape say? THIS is where preseason can be very important. It's a chance to see if a player has managed to work on weaknesses from the year before. And since Fisher was not only playing starters, but a very talented Cardinals defense, we had a wonderful (albeit small) sample of live action to observe him.
First, to the numbers. If you don't know, I track "wins" and "losses" for offensive linemen. A win is where the OL did his job and either kept the QB clean or sealed off his defender from a runner (or plowed a hole for the runner to go through, depending on his assignment). It has nothing to do with the success or failure of a play. Here, we only care about Eric Fisher's level of success on a play.
Additionally, you should note that Fisher was out one play (a shoe issue) and had another where the packaged play left him with literally no one to block. Here are the numbers where he had a chance to do something.
|Pass Block Wins||Pass Block Losses||Run Block Wins||Run Block Losses|
To be perfectly frank, I was thrilled with how Fisher played.
First and foremost, Fisher's power has either improved or NFL defenders have gotten weaker since last season. The latter seems unlikely, so I'm gonna go with Fisher's strength is better.
The one "loss" Fisher took all night was a play in which he got beat around the edge and held the guy as he dove after him. It was one of the those "you've been beat so it's time to hold and save the QB a hit" plays.
However, Fisher faced several bull rushes and handled them well. Even better, he showed a little bit of "freeze" to his game for a change. What's "freeze?" It's pretty simple. Remember when Willie Roaf played tackle for the Chiefs? And how (after hobbling around before the snap) the moment he got his hands on a pass rusher it was like he froze them in time? That's a freeze. When an offensive lineman is able to stand up a rusher and completely control him, holding him in place.
Fisher did that his very first pass protection snap of the game (a deep ball to Maclin that was really well covered by a rookie corner). But he had an even better example of a freeze (by the way, this is a term I've completely made up, not a real football term) on Smith's 16-yard scramble later in the first quarter.
Fisher put in some WORK on Smith's scramble. Crummy gif, but only b/c Fish held block 5 full seconds before pancake. pic.twitter.com/R901DhDfn9— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) August 16, 2015
"Waiter, I actually prefer my pancakes a little colder. Frozen, even."
Smith made a decent play with his legs, but it wouldn't have been possible had Fisher not absolutely manhandled his guy. I really hope the defender finds his dignity.
I came into this review prepared to nitpick, but Fisher just didn't give me much to complain about. He looks athletic as ever and is kick sliding well with defenders. He's aware of his assignments and several times threw a quick arm into the LG's defender to help out before engaging his own guy (we'll see that again in a second). For the first time since he's been a Chief I thought he looked like a first round pick.
Speaking of athleticism, Fisher had one play where he demonstrated how his flexible hips and athleticism, combined with his newfound power, allow him to make plays where other tackles can't.
Late in the first quarter the Cardinals came with a blitz and Fisher ended up in space against a secondary player. Let's walk through it.
To take a brief moment, I'd like to point out Fisher's right arm in that second screen shot. While he's clearly starting to move into a kick slide to block the blitzer and realizes the LG has picked up the inside defender, he extends his right arm and gives the defender a quick shove.
Like I said earlier, he did this several times. It's a little thing, but something different from what I've seen. Last year Fisher got caught watching McGlynn's assignment way too often (though in fairness I can hardly blame the guy for thinking McGlynn is going to get beat). Here, he's already moving to his own spot but still provides a little help for his fellow offensive lineman.
Sure, a quick shove from a player moving away isn't going to make THAT much of an impact, but you're crazy if you don't think it helps the LG as he sets up. Love this. Anyway, back to Fisher alone on an island against a much smaller and more athletic human.
Fisher, naturally, is kick sliding like his life depends on it to avoid getting beat around the edge by the defensive back. The defender, seeing this, makes a very savvy move and cuts (more like "jukes," really) inside. Fisher is caught off balance in the picture above and is attempting to plant his foot to recover while at least keeping one hand on the blitzing defender.
At this point, many tackles would be finished. The defender made a nice move and used his quickness to shake the lone tackle in space. Chalk it up as a loss and move on, yeah?
Fisher keeps calm and flips dem hips, maneuvering himself in a split second to the point that he's now "horizontal" with the defender and pushing him right of Smith.
The defender tries to brace himself and come back toward Smith, but his own momentum is against him and he's doomed. He loses his footing and Smith moves left without ever feeling serious heat.
The above two screen shots were taken essentially back to back. Fisher just has really fast hips and feet and is able to move around even a fast blitzer more quickly than the blitzer can handle. It's a wonderful recovery trait for a lineman to have, and here it prevented Smith from being pressured by a well-designed blitz.
Fisher's always had flexible hips and fast feet to get in good position. Now, however, he seems to have developed the strength and punch necessary to be effective against hand fighting and brute force.
A handful of snaps in a preseason game is about as small a sample size can get, but Fisher played about as well as a tackle can play in that sample size. Here's hoping it's a sign of things to come for him.