clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Explaining the Kansas City Chiefs switch of Eric Fisher and Donald Stephenson

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

So I'm sitting at my house on a wonderful Labor Day weekend, just enjoying a little time with the wife and kids. I (foolishly) close down both Twitter and Arrowhead Pride for an hour or so ... and all hell breaks loose.

My phone finally alerted me that multiple people I follow had tweeted the same thing (a feature of Twitter I really like), so I casually glanced at my phone expecting some random roster article. Instead, I read that Donald Stephenson has been moved to starting LT, with Eric Fisher going to RT.

I ... whoa. That'll teach me to walk away from Arrowhead Pride.

Full disclosure; NO ONE was harder on Donald Stephenson than I have been. He had a really, really poor outing against the Denver Broncos in limited action at RT (in his defense, he was chucked in as the game closed out, playing cold against Von Miller is, um, a rough thing to try and do). In addition to that Andy Reid's seeming insistence at playing literally ANYONE but Stephenson at RT (when it seemed to make so much sense to plug him in there) made me wonder if he was having some issue we weren't hearing about.

That said, since Fisher went down with an injury in the preseason, Stephenson has played very, very well at LT. I don't live and die by PFF's grades, but their deep numbers are pretty solid. And Stephenson has only given up three hurries in his time at LT since taking over. No sacks, no hits. That jibes with the eye test most of us have used in watching him play. He's done really well.

On the other hand, Fisher played very well at LT as well in the small sample size we saw against a tough defense in the Arizona Cardinals. Obviously you can only take so much from a small group of snaps, but when I reviewed his film from that game he looked very solid, and with improved strength from last season (his primary issue as a tackle).

There's been some noise this offseason about the fact that Stephenson has always looked better at LT than RT. And frankly, he does. He's not a power player and has that wonderful kick slide. LT fits his skill set. And when you watch him play, he just LOOKS better at LT than RT. There were a few who predicted a move to the left side for Stephenson due to this fact, a prediction that was largely shouted down by the majority (this writer included). It just seemed ridiculous that Reid would move Fisher to RT after all this time, especially if he's playing well at LT.

The most obvious answer here is the one Reid has been screaming at us for two years: he really DOES want to get the "best five" on the field.

Well, it's not the first time I've been wrong.

The question is why, exactly, is this move coming now? What's Reid's reasoning? Well, without climbing inside Reid's head I can't say for sure (and even if I could, I wouldn't. I feel like his head is a scary place full of vicious sandwiches). What we can do is look at the available evidence and try to piece together the most likely reason.

Here's what I know (and by "know," I mean, "my opinions." But I like saying I know better, because it makes me sound smart and stuff), conveniently placed into a numbered list of facts. If you're looking for some insight into what Reid said about the move (which I'm using in part to figure this all out), click here to see his own quotes.

1) Eric Fisher is playing well at LT

2) Donald Stephenson is playing well at LT

3) Donald Stephenson has not traditionally played well at RT

4) Andy Reid is not (seemingly) confident with Stephenson at RT (hence Ryan Harris getting a shot above him last year)

5) The right side of the Chiefs line, if Stephenson can't play well at RT, is ridiculously concerning

6) Reid believes Fisher can play well at both LT and RT

7) Reid thinks Stephenson is better at LT than RT (and I don't believe he sees it all that close. His quotes on Stephenson at RT were about as critical as I've seen him be on a player during a press conference)

8) Reid has always, always, always preached getting the five best guys on the line, regardless of where they play.

All right, we've got our "facts" (at least the best facts we've got). So why the move?

As best I can figure it ... it goes something like this:

Let's pretend each offensive line position is a number between 1-10, with the number representing their level of play in Reid's eyes. For example, let's say Grubbs is an 8 out of 10 because he's a very good player, while LDT is a 3 because he's really inconsistent at this point.

So what does the line look like with Fisher / Grubbs / Morse / LDT / Stephenson? Well, using the "facts" I have above, we can be reasonably sure Reid rates Stephenson pretty low at RT and Fisher high at LT. So that line maybe looks like...

7 (Fisher) + 8 (Grubbs) + 5 (Morse) + 3 (LDT) + 3 (Stephenson) = 26

Now let's say Reid says to himself, "Man, Stephenson is a lot better at LT than RT, and Fisher is just as good at both. That right side of the line is going to get someone killed." Then his mind starts to wander, and it ends up looking at this equation...

7 (Stephenson) + 8 (Grubbs) + 5 (Morse) + 3 (LDT) + 7 (Fisher) = 30

I mean, we all know that math is evil, but this reasoning (whether I necessarily agree with it or not. It's hard to argue with how well Stephenson has played at LT) seems pretty solid. If you can upgrade your RT position while not suffering a loss at your LT position ... don't you do it?

The only two reasons to move Fisher to RT and Stephenson to LT are as follows: either Fisher is bad and needed to be demoted, or Reid believes his quotes and thinks Stephenson is significantly better at LT than RT, while Fisher can play both well.

I'll say this for Reid: it's a really gutsy move on his part.

I can't buy into the first theory for two reasons. First, if Reid were going to demote Fisher for poor play it would have happened last year, when he was struggling. Stephenson was healthy and ready to jump in at LT any time, and Reid never made that move. It makes no sense that Reid would suddenly feel the need to move Fisher after a solid camp and a very good outing against the Cardinals. That's kinda backward, no?

The most obvious answer here is the one Reid has been screaming at us for two years; he really DOES want to get the "best five" on the field, and having Stephenson at LT and Fisher at RT is the best way to accomplish that. His quotes about Fisher helping LDT and Grubbs helping Stephenson were pretty telling,

"Well, (Fisher) and Grubbs are the seasoned veterans there and so I think it works out," Reid said. "The way it's set up here, I think it works out perfect, I feel very comfortable with that. I think Grubbs is tremendous for Donald and I think Fisher is tremendous for Larry. So I think that's a good match right there."

I'll say this for Reid; it's a really gutsy move on his part. And if it works out the way my pretend math anticipated it could, the Chiefs will be much better for it.

In the meantime, Fisher is going to take some serious, serious heat. Which Reid clearly anticipated from his attempted verbal smack down of a very fair Terez Paylor question about the move and what it means for Fisher.

But if it works, and the Chiefs sport a solid offensive line... none of that should matter. Because with a solid offensive line, an offensive "core" of Jamaal Charles, Jeremy Maclin, and Travis Kelce could do some things.

Somehow, this move made me even more excited for game one. I hope it works out. Any time I see a coach willing to take a risk like this I root for it to succeed. Here's hoping math isn't evil for once.

Thanksgiving deal: Save 20% on APP!

Use promo code GOCHIEFS20 to save 20% on your first year of Arrowhead Pride Premier. Sign up today for exclusive game analysis, subscriber-only videos, and much more on the Chiefs journey to back-to-back.