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Kansas City Chiefs offensive line vs. the Titans: A tale of two players

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Well that was different.

After a couple games against tough front sevens in which the Chiefs offense appeared to be revealing itself as a weakness in 2015, Alex Smith and company came out and just shredded an utterly overmatched Titans squad. After the first few series were over it was quite obvious that the Titans just didn't have the horses to hang with Jeremy Maclin, Travis Kelce, Jamaal Charles, and Alex Smith.

The game plan looked quite a bit more familiar to those of us who have been watching Andy Reid's offense the last couple of years. The man difference between Friday night and many nights last season was the level of execution. Jeremy Maclin is just BETTER than any wide receiver the Chiefs had last year, and it's not even close. The offensive line was just BETTER than it was against many opponents last year.

Of course, that latter statement isn't saying much. The offensive line was a problem last year for much of the season. As such, the majority of our attention has been on the line this offseason. And Friday, with Eric Fisher and Jeff Allen still nursing injuries, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif again got the start at right guard. Mitch Morse once again started at center and appears to have completely seized the starting role.

With so much riding on the offensive line we'll spend yet another week focusing on those two players. Of the two, Morse has by far the most important role. I share the opinion that when Allen and Fisher return the offensive line will be Fisher / Grubbs / Morse / Allen / Stephenson. That leaves LDT on the bench to spend another year learning how to play guard at the NFL level.

However, I can't QUITE shake the idea (fear? Yeah, it's a fear) that Andy Reid will put Allen back at right tackle, where he was playing before getting injured. Why do that when Donald Stephenson has been playing very quality football? I don't know. But it's definitely something I'm afraid will happen. And if it does, LDT seems likely to get the starting nod. So we'll continue to look at his snaps as well.

In case you haven't been down this road before, we grade offensive linemen snaps as wins, losses, or neutral. Everything is exactly what it sounds like. A neutral is generally where a play goes away from an offensive lineman quickly or he just isn't asked to do much. In other words, he doesn't do enough to get the benefit of a "win" but doesn't hurt the play at all and thus doesn't deserve a "loss." A win is a win. Beat the guy in front of you. A loss is ... I mean, you get it, right?

We'll look at the numbers then discuss the tape. Oh, and if you're wondering why I'm not examining Stephenson's tape or Fanaika's tape ... well, the simple truth is that my time is finite. And based on a quick review of both players, exactly what you already know is what's happening: Stephenson is playing quite well, Fanaika is not playing as well (granted, his second game at tackle). The eye test hasn't failed you! And so instead of spending an hour of my time to tell you what you know already, we focus on Morse and LDT.

Also, I've added a brand new stat this week called "loss percentage." That's ... well, you know, the percentage of plays a player lost. I'm not the most creative with names, I admit. But when you play offensive line, losses are more important than wins in that losses kill plays. "Neutral" snaps are generally an OK thing as an offensive lineman. But losses? They'll wrack the offense if you rack up too many.

All right, the numbers

Mitch Morse

Pass Block Wins Pass Block Losses Run Block Wins Run Block Losses Neutral Loss Percentage
11 0 5 2 14 6.25%

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif

Pass Block Wins Pass Block Losses Run Block Wins Run Block Losses Neutral Loss Percentage
11 4 6 2 9 18.75%

So what can we take away from that? Well, first and foremost, Morse didn't "lose" much against the Titans. While he had multiple snaps that weren't great, he almost never created an issue that affected the play.

When you play offensive line, and ESPECIALLY when you play center, a great deal of it is reacting and preventing. You have to react to what the defense throws at you and prevent it from messing with the functionality if a play call. If you do that, you've done your job regardless of whether you've pancaked someone or not. In other words, your FIRST job as an offensive lineman is "don't lose."

Morse does that. While we tend to expect a lot from rookie linemen, if you can do your job and keep it neutral the majority of the time, you're well ahead of the game. Morse does that and more, consistently winning in pass protection. We'll talk more about his specific traits in a moment (he does have some flaws we'll get to), but first we need to address the fly in the ointment: LDT's loss percentage.

Look, I like LDT. I think he's got potential. I think he has all the tools needed to develop into a guy who can help the offense win games. And in my opinion he was much better against the Titans than he was against the Seahawks (to be fair, the level of competition kinda fell off a cliff and into a 2000-foot-deep gorge, then through a crack in the earth to the bottom of a coal mine. But still). But losing on nearly 20 percent of your snaps just isn't going to cut it.

Offensive linemen losses destroy pockets. And while LDT managed to kinda / sorta re-anchor at the last second on that play, it was too late. The pocket was gone. LDT brings some good things to the table, but until he's able to avoid being beaten multiple times a game (particularly in pass protection, as his run blocking is pretty solid) he's going to be a liability to the offense.

It wasn't all bad, though. LDT continued to demonstrate some good upper body strength and a decent punch. In particular, when he gets his hand placement correct he showed the ability to freeze rushers a couple of times (a term I invented to refer to when an offensive lineman gets his hands on a pass rusher and the guy can't move. You know, going full Willie Roaf). He's also very aggressive and shows some nastiness, which the Chiefs need more of on the line.

LDT's issues are those of a guy who needs more time to learn. He gets caught lunging and bites on fakes, which leaves him playing catch-up with his feet. The problem is (if I'm seeing it correctly) LDT doesn't have particularly "fast" feet for a guard, so he can't compensate when he's beaten. And while his upper body strength seems solid, I'm not sure about dem legs. Maybe a nice Kansas City BBQ diet is in order?

Again, these are correctable issues. And it's not like LDT didn't have some very good snaps. I just don't think this is the year for him to take over at right guard. But speaking of those good snaps (see, the flawless segue into talking about Morse?)...

Now that's a nice snap for LDT, making up for Fanaika getting beat by a spin. He recognizes what's going on and is a big reason Smith has a clean pocket.

It's ALSO a nice snap for Morse, even though his role is less active. He's got his head on a swivel (to steal a quote from someone on Twitter, I'd hat tip you if it weren't currently 3:10 in the morning and I weren't desperate to hurry up and get this done) and sees where the help is needed. He slides over and seamlessly replaces LDT against the interior rusher.

Remember when Jeff Allen was quoted talking about an offensive line needing to work as a unit, and how much more important that is than having a few studs on the line? This is that reality in action. Players understanding their role, being aware of what's happening around them, and doing their job.

And really, that last sentence describes a lot of how Mitch Morse plays the game (remember what I said about a flawless segue? Told you). He keeps his head up, helps where he's needed, and stays between his defender and the guy with the ball. He rarely has overpowering snaps like you'll see with LDT (though his strength seems solid for the most part outside the occasional bull rush), but he also rarely has outright poor snaps.

I'd say Morse's strength is pass blocking (as you can see, he avoided a single "loss" by my standards against the Titans). He also shows some ability with reach blocks and getting out into space on running plays. This is where I think he's going to be very solid for the Chiefs down the road (I still expect a fairly rocky road early on considering his rookie status); he can really move once he's in space.

While Grubbs and Charles are the stars of that Vine, Morse shows some real wheels on that play (though he was only able to get a token block on a secondary player). That's consistent with what he's showed on screens and pulls throughout preseason. He's a guy who can get to the second level in a hurry. That should be huge with the offense Reid is running through Jamaal Charles.

So overall verdict? As crazy as it sounds, I'm definitely feeling like the loss of Hudson isn't going to cripple the Chiefs line this season like some of us thought. Barring some regression by Morse when the "real" snaps start, he's going to play at a competent level from the starting gate. That's huge for an offensive line that has to be better than it was last season. And for LDT? Give him time and I think he'll make some noise. But for now, get well soon Jeff Allen. You and Donald Stephenson have a right side that needs locking down.

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