Full disclosure: I'm sick as a dog and it's already 11:30 at night. This is going to be shorter than normal.
That said, was there any way I WASN'T going to write an article tonight? Of course not. Not after seeing the way the Chiefs were able to handle the Texans (no, I don't think the game was as close as the score. Yes, they scared me JUST a little near the end). I wasn't going to be able to sleep regardless, so I figured I would knock my first re-watch out of the way immediately.
And where else to begin but with Mitch Morse. The Chiefs rookie center played well this preseason, but was seeing his first real NFL action. And lucky him, he got to go against one of the better front seven's in the country in the Texans, featuring a mammoth-sized NT and a thing called Watt.
A great deal of the season is going to depend on how the offensive line holds up, and Morse is a big part of that. And so I tracked every snap of Morse to see how he did in his baptism by fire. In doing so, I used my regular offensive line grading style. Quick recap of what I track
1) Pass Block Wins- If you kept your guy at bay, picked up a blitz / stunt, or came to the rescue of a fellow OL getting beat, that's a Pass Block Win.
2) Pass Block Loss- Basically the opposite of a win. Get beat individually or miss an assignment? Loss.
3) Run Block Win- If you don't understand what an offensive lineman winning in run blocking looks like, you're probably on the wrong website.
4) Run Block Loss- See Number 3
5) Neutral Plays- When the lineman doesn't really BEAT anyone, but doesn't get beat himself. Could be a quick throw, or a relatively uneventful double team, or a play immediately going the other direction (leaving the lineman with no one to block).
6) Loss Percentage- The percentage of total plays in run or pass blocking the lineman "lost." Obviously, the lower the number the better the game. Everyone has a different "percentage" that's acceptable to them. Me, if someone is getting a loss more than 10% of the time I'm concerned.
7) Pressures/Hits/Sacks Allowed
I did not track wins and losses on screen plays, so those plays are out of the snap count for right now. We'll talk about those in a little bit. Here's what Morse's "numbers" looked like
(Side note; my snap count numbers will be a tad off, as I counted a couple of plays where a penalty nullified the play but both teams played it out. It's still a relevant snap for the sake of analysis even if it didn't count)
|Pass Block Wins||Pass Block Losses||Run Block Wins||Run Block Losses||Neutral||Loss Percentage||Sacks/Hits/Pressures|
While in some cases numbers lie, here they tell the story well. Morse played even better than I'd thought he had on my first viewing. Considering the issues the Chiefs had running the ball I figured Morse was struggling there, but he actually did quite well (the failures were most often from people trying to block J.J. Watt, which I'm certain does not surprise you).
Morse's loss percentage is at a place I'm comfortable with, and he had many snaps where he directly contributed to the success of the play. He gave up one pressure I could attribute to him directly, a missed assignment on a delayed blitz. Beyond that his pass protection made me smile all game.
Morse seems like an extremely intelligent player. He's always keeping his head up and helping out the rest of the line, and he rarely goes long without finding a defender to engage. And very importantly for a line that struggled with stunts and delayed blitzes, he was nearly flawless in that area of the game.
Keeps his head up and doesn't get over-engaged elsewhere, so sees stunt coming. Doing the job, Morse. pic.twitter.com/YZB8A20coj— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) September 14, 2015
Morse picked up multiple stunts and delayed blitzes without any trouble. It's fantastic to see.
Additionally, Morse demonstrated more than adequate strength to hold up at the point of attack. He's not overpowering the way some (generally larger) centers are, but he went toe-to-toe with Wilfork (who weighs 325 pounds the same way I weighed 180 pounds when I graduated college but am now 215. The man is at least 375) on more than one occasion and didn't get overpowered once.
Remember that one GIF Texans fans were so eager to show us when they were explaining how Wilfork would dominate Morse? Didn't happen one time. Wilfork bull rushed him at least twice and both times Morse was able to set his anchor and hold his ground (well, he was being moved back, but VERY slowly. A sack would've taken roughly two minutes or so, and I can't think of a single play call that requires that much time in the pocket).
Morse's punch is nothing to write home about, but he was able to jar linebackers and linemen a few times. Mostly, though, his blocking consists of being in the right place; between the defender and the ball. He's more a technician than a brute, and thus perfect for what we need from our center.
Morse's greatest asset, though (outside of his seemingly high football IQ) is his ability to get out in space. He was the guy going down field on multiple runs and screens and did marvelously. I mean, try to watch this and not get amped up.
I found the ghost of Casey Wiegmann, guys. 3rd "win" on a screen so far. pic.twitter.com/yQPrd6txNv— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) September 14, 2015
Morse is really, really athletic. He moves well in space and shows the agility to lock onto linebackers and even secondary players. He's also got a good sense of when to try and get his hands on someone and when to just chop their legs out from underneath them. He's going to do REALLY well in Reid's offense if Sunday was any indication.
The screen game is going to be something the Chiefs use all year to make aggressive pass rushes pay for over-pursuing Alex Smith. It's one way Andy Reid protects his quarterbacks. Morse was built to play in this system, where he's not often ask to be a mauler but might have to run in space a dozen times a game.
As much fun as the athleticism is to watch, though, my favorite aspect of Morse is his head for the game. I mentioned this earlier, but Morse has a knack for being at the right place at the right time. Smith was running from J.J. Watt all day (that's unavoidable), but the rest of the Texans weren't able to generate much in the way of pressure. That was in large part due to the work Morse was doing (as well as Donald Stephenson, who we'll talk about very soon in a column, I'm sure).
Being a center in the NFL isn't often about being the strongest guy on the field. It's about knowing where to go and what to do. And when centers do their job (along with the offensive line), you get screen shots like this one.
This is the first touchdown throw to Kelce (what a fun sentence that is to say!). As you can see, Smith is getting ready to wind up and Kelce is about to make his break inside.
For starters, let's admire the fact that Smith has already made the decision to let it fly despite Kelce not being technically "open" yet. He clearly trusts Kelce to win that matchup, and he should. But we'll talk about Smith another day.
For today, look at all that room. Smith could sit down and play a hand of solitaire before deciding who to throw to. This isn't the Titans front four. This is a very, very tough Texans group. Smith has tons of space to survey the field and step into his throw. The result? A touchdown.
And that wasn't the only Kelce touchdown Morse recorded an assist on. This one is beautiful.
You probably didn't notice Morse make a nice play on the 2nd Kelce TD. Left alone, sprints to help Harris vs. Watt. pic.twitter.com/JIFRuS9wIr— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) September 14, 2015
That's how you help out your teammate. Yes, Smith had about as easy a throw as you can possibly get to Kelce down the field, but it doesn't happen if he's got Watt screaming in his face.
This play demonstrates really well the game Morse had. Nothing dominant, and nothing that's going to earn him a Pro Bowl nod or the adulation of national pundits. But he does exactly what needs to be done for the play to succeed. Which is what he did the vast majority of his snaps against the Texans.
Baptism by fire, and Morse came through unscathed. With another tough test in Denver, I hope it's a preview of what's to come for the youngster.