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The Chiefs let Mitch Schwartz take care of business against the Broncos

When the Chiefs brought Mitchell Schwartz in from Cleveland, there was a great deal of celebration. The right tackle position, so long a weakness in both pass protection and run blocking, was finally being addressed with a player many considered the best in the league at his position.

The main reason for Schwartz’s presence, we all knew, was the fact that a RT in the AFC West is going to see Von Miller and Khalil Mack, two of the very best pass rushers in the NFL, twice every season. Once the year got going and Joey Bosa proved to be a solid player, that increased the level of importance of RT even more.

(On a side note, the AFC West is just a murderers’ row of pass rushers. Houston, Ford, Hali, Jones, Miller, Ware, Wolfe, Mack, Irivn, Bosa and Ingram? Sheesh)

As the year has gone on, though, I’ve heard more than a few fans on Twitter and elsewhere express disappointment with Schwartz for not being as dominant as they expected. This came as something of a surprise to me, as I was all right with how he was playing, especially considering he was fighting through an ankle sprain. Schwartz, who is known for his durability, didn’t miss a single snap while hobbled, but his lateral agility was clearly affected. This resulted in some struggles against Denver the first time around (as well as some other games) and, naturally, people started talking.

A lot of the criticism that’s been leveled against Schwartz, as far as I can tell, is based on a simple misunderstanding of the different ways teams use their offensive tackles. However, before we get into that I’d like to talk about what Schwartz (who seems to be healthy at this point) did against Von Miller and the Denver Broncos on Sunday. If you’ve never read a film review of offensive linemen here before, I re-watch each snap on all 22 (which has a wonderful Madden Camera view to watch the line) and chart wins, losses, and neutral snaps. For the purposes of what I’m doing today, I also tracked pressures and number of snaps Schwartz was given help in pass protection. Let’s look at the numbers than talk some tape.

Pass Block Wins: 20

Pass Block Losses: 2

Run Block Wins: 12

Run Block Losses: 3

Neutral Snaps: 35

Win Percentage: 45.7 percent

Loss Percentage: 7.1 percent

Sacks/Hits/Pressures: 1 QB hit allowed, no sacks or other pressures

Pass Protection Snaps with Help: 4

As always, it’s the loss percentage that’s most important for an offensive lineman. An OL can play neutral snaps all day and the offense will generally run well. However, even if an OL wins on 60 percent of his snaps (an absurdly high number), if he loses on 25 percent of them he’s going to do way more damage to the offense than he helps it. Generally speaking, an offensive lineman dominating his defender doesn’t necessarily lead to a successful play. However, a loss by an offensive lineman often leads to a failed play. That’s why one weak link on an offensive line can really screw with an offense’s chance at success.

Schwartz’s 7.1 percent loss percentage is really, really solid. When you factor in that he was lining up against a series of very tough pass rushers (often Miller, but other players as well, as Denver likes to rotate and move guys around), it becomes an absolutely exceptional grade. Andy Reid definitely helped with play calling and Alex Smith assisted by getting the ball out quickly, but it’s still a great, great day for a tackle against that defense.

Schwartz looks completely healthy, and it shows when he’s in pass protection.

Schwartz is wonderful at making pass protection look easy because he quickly slides to where he needs to be and often waits for the defender to make the first move before delivering a punch. His base is strong enough that he doesn’t get bull rushed much (which is a risk when you wait on the defender), and his body control is superb. Notice how above he punches without lunging? That’s a big deal against the type of pass rushers you see in Denver, who all have a great deal of speed and will use a lunging tackle’s momentum against him.

Schwartz is also savvy enough to know how to handle things even when a snap doesn’t start off perfectly for him.

Here, Schwartz doesn’t stay in front of the rusher completely, and because of that the rusher is able to dip his shoulder and start to lean around the edge. This isn’t a good place for a tackle to be because the rusher is starting to shorten his path to the quarterback. Additionally, the rusher is able to mostly duck under Schwartz’s initial punch without being slowed down.

Schwartz doesn’t panic in a bad spot, but instead resets and delivers another punch as he moves laterally shadowing the rusher. That second shove sends the rusher stumbling, and Schwartz pursues him to the top of his arc to ensure that he gets nowhere close to Alex Smith as the throw is made (and what a throw it was. We’ll talk more about that in Smith’s review, but throws like that are why you need to watch film to gauge a performance. On a stats sheet that’s just an incomplete pass).

All game long, regardless of who he was matched up against, Schwartz kept Alex Smith completely clean. Again, the Chiefs got the ball out fairly quickly most of the time, but keeping the QB completely free of any pressure for 2-3 seconds isn’t as easy as you think. Especially when you’re on an island against one of the best three pass rushers in the NFL.

Schwartz demonstrates all the same traits we’ve talked about on this snap. He doesn’t bite on Miller’s subtle fakes, instead waiting for him commit to an inside or outside rush. He then delivers a punch from an upright base without lunging, which is important because Miller is able to fend it off in part. He then keeps his feet and slides with Miller all the way around the pass rush arc, creating a situation where Smith feels zero pressure from Miller and delivers a strike to Harris.

While we’re talking about Schwartz’s pass protection, let’s discuss the way in which the Chiefs use him for a moment. As stated earlier, I charted four passing snaps where Schwartz was given help by a TE (three snaps) or another tackle (one snap). Beyond that, Schwartz was left on an island throughout the game, with LDT generally staying inside with Morse to fight off interior pressure.

If you don’t follow Geoff Schwartz on Twitter (and you really should, he’s got wonderful insight), he’s talked about this particular aspect of OL play a lot lately. Different teams handle their tackles differently. Some have their guards stay outside to protect the tackle from interior rushers. Some constantly have tight ends staying back in pass protection, or chipping as they go out on routes. Some send running backs to chip, or keep them back entirely to help protect the edge. Often, teams employ a wide variety of these tactics (like the Titans). There are some offensive tackles who will go the entire game with only a handful of snaps without any help.

The Chiefs are not one of those teams. Eric Fisher and Schwartz are left alone in their blocking assignments very frequently, with no help from RBs, TEs, or the Gs. This makes their job exponentially more difficult than other tackles’ jobs (though it’s helped in part by how quickly Smith gets rid of the ball). Schwartz is left alone even more often than Fisher by my eye. He may well be left alone more than any tackle in the NFL who isn’t named Thomas, Smith or Williams.

I say all this to give people perspective with regards to Schwartz and pressures/hits/sacks allowed. A player who is on his own who gives up three pressures in a game does a great deal more to help the offense overall than a player who gets help all game and only gives up one. If you can leave your tackle alone, that allows you to direct the guards inside to look for work and creates a domino effect across the offensive line. It also allows RB’s and TE’s to get on their routes quicker and forces the defense to account for more receivers, and more quickly. It’s a big deal that Schwartz does what he does for the Chiefs, even while he was hurt and playing at less than his normal standard. Considering the situation he was placed in, I think he acquitted himself very well while hurt and is now back to playing at an extremely high level.

Oh, and before I forget, Schwartz did more than his share as a run blocker against the Broncos as well.

Schwartz had multiple blocks like the one above throughout the game, finishing strong when asked to move down the line. Schwartz also displayed solid strength at the point of attack when the Chiefs were trying to just march the ball forward late in the game. His run blocking was a major reason the Chiefs were able to bleed the clock out in the fourth quarter with Charcandrick West.

Overall, this game may have been Schwartz’s finest as a Chief, and he’s healthy at precisely the right time for this offense. I look forward to seeing match up against Bosa, an entirely different type of animal than Miller. I expect the Chiefs to trust him to do it mostly on his own, and I’d be surprised if he didn’t handle it just as ably as he’s handled it recently.

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