Mitchell Schwartz did not have it easy in 2015.
For starters, he was playing for the Cleveland Browns. That, by itself, brings with it a whole litany of issues that no good human being deserves (though I have a lot of respect for the fans. Not bandwagon folk), starting with a level of front office incompetence that seems to infect every single person who gets a job in Cleveland. Heck, even Bill Belichick couldn't win there. You know that's bad.
On a more practical note, Schwartz's job was made exponentially more difficult in 2015 due to situation and personnel. The Browns (you're not gonna believe this) were playing from behind quite a bit. This puts tackles in a tough position, as good pass rushers are able to just pin their ears back and go after the QB with abandon. Even worse, the Browns marched out a series of quarterbacks who had absolutely no idea how to help their offensive line. Seriously, it was frightening the number of times I saw QB's fail to call out a blitz or step out of the "spot" Schwartz was assigned to protect. It was bad.
But Schwartz doesn't need to worry about Cleveland problems anymore. Nope, he's left the Browns far behind and, in a move that surprised the vast majority of Chiefs fans, is coming to Kansas City.
Schwartz was widely held to be the one of the best RTs in football this last season. He was a PFF darling from what I understand, and plenty of analysts raved about his ability.
Of course, you know me, and you know where this is going. I don't trust people enough to take their word for it; I have to find out for myself. And to the film we went.
Since I figured you fine folk were as desperate for information as I was, I limited my review to four games in 2015: Week 1 against the Jets, Week 3 against the Raiders, Week 6 against the Broncos, and Week 13 against the Bengals.
Why those games? Well, I wanted to use tough matchups, for starters. The Jets have a ton of crazy blitzes and a solid front seven. The Raiders have Khalil Mack, who is the closest thing in the NFL to Justin Houston (he really is that good). The Broncos have Von Miller. And the Bengals have multiple talented rushers along with a good defensive coach. I also wanted to get games from the beginning of the year and the end of the year.
Basically, I wanted to try to avoid helping Schwartz's numbers by cherry-picking the games against the easiest opponents. I figured by gauging how he did against two of the best pass rushers in the NFL and a pair of tough defenses would make him look as mortal as he'd look all season. I figured this would be a good way to temper our expectations.
I was wrong.
If you've read my OL film reviews before, go ahead and skip to the pretty table of numbers and film analysis that follows (I hope that part is pretty too, but I can't be sure). If you haven't, here's the deal ... I watch each snap on all-22 (Madden view is great for OL review) and track the following: pass block wins, pass block losses, run block wins, run block losses, and neutral plays.
A win is where the lineman clearly stops the rusher or eliminates a run defender. A loss is when the lineman gets beat (kinda obvious, no?). A neutral play is where the lineman holds his own but doesn't do enough to win, or the play goes another direction so quickly he isn't asked to do much, OR if a lineman spends the snap as help double teaming defenders (not really winning individually if you've got help).
The most important number is loss percentage. On what percentage of plays are you getting beat? Generally, I've found the goal to be 10 percent. If you can keep your loss percentage under that number, you're a doing a solid job. A little over is acceptable, but once you start ranging too far over 10 percent it's time to worry. Win percentage is less important, but can separate a good performance from a great one.
Got it? Good. Let's look at the numbers really quick, then talk about Schwartz's tape.
|Game||PB Win||PB Loss||RB Win||RB Loss||Neutral||Win %||Loss %|
Just a couple of notes on those numbers. First of all, I'm a pretty tough grader. if a play is borderline between a win and a neutral, I tend to grade it as neutral. If it's borderline between a loss and a neutral, I tend to grade it as a loss. This is to combat homer-ism as I try and be objective about my team. My point is, these numbers are ... interesting.
A second point? Schwartz's game against Von Miller and the Broncos was, by far, the best game I have ever seen from an individual offensive lineman. It was unbelievable. And it wasn't that Schwartz was out there pancaking guys or anything like that. He just WOULD NOT let Miller (or anyone else) near the quarterback.
1st half of CLE/DEN, Von could not figure Schwartz out. Footwork, solid base, just directs him wide. Over and over. pic.twitter.com/XlOCu4HqVO— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) March 10, 2016
This play probably doesn't look impressive to a lot of you. But watch Schwartz's feet, then watch Miller again. He starts off looking great ... then ends up yards away from the quarterback.
This happened snap after snap after snap after snap with Schwartz. He doesn't LOOK like he's dominating in pass protection. He just, you know, won't get out of the way.
Schwartz is a big man, listed at 6'5 and 320 pounds. However, he doesn't use his bulk to overpower people in pass protection. Instead, he uses EXCEPTIONAL (and I do not all caps that word lightly, friends) footwork to keep his wide, wide frame between the rusher and the quarterback. Speed rushers virtually never find success against Schwartz absent some kind of freak slip.
Schwartz's footwork is a good window into how he has become the best RT in the league. The man is a technician. His kick slide is downright fresh (to quote an all-but-forgotten comment section meme). His base, stance, pad level, and hand-fighting are all generally textbook. He is almost never caught leaning or lunging, regardless of whether he's on the line or out in space run blocking.
Additionally, Schwartz is extremely patient as a pass blocker. He allows the rusher to come to him then uses his footwork and technique to fend off whatever the defender had in mind. His play looks sort of effortless when you compare him to a lot of offensive lineman. You know the expression work smarter, not harder? That's what Schwartz looks like he's doing each and every snap.
Schwartz's technical skill isn't limited to his physical actions, either. I watched four full games, several of which were against exceptional defensive coordinators who love to use interesting blitzes and stunts. I can't recall a single time I felt like Schwartz had blown an assignment (not that even I know the assignment to begin with). I don't really recall him even hesitating. He knows exactly what his job is every snap and exactly where he is supposed to be.
This might seem like a little thing, but it's more rare than you think. Defenses are getting paid to fool offensive linemen, and they often succeed. For a guy to always be on the ball mentally and never get tricked through four games, that requires an extremely intelligent player who has done his homework.
As a run blocker, I wouldn't call Schwartz a mauler by any means despite his size. He seems to have decent functional strength and a solid (if rarely used) punch, but he usually run blocks the same way he pass blocks; getting to the right place at the right time and staying in the way. Because of this, I very rarely saw Schwartz lay guys out like you'll see happen with Jah Reid. However, I also very rarely saw Schwartz lose his footing the way more aggressive linemen do on nearly every snap, which is one reason his loss numbers as a run blocker are so low.
The Browns clearly knew what they had in Schwartz as a pass blocker. They rarely provided him help of any sort. You didn't even see TEs or RBs giving quick chip blocks as they went on their routes. They completely trusted Schwartz to handle his assignments one-on-one the vast majority of the time. And he virtually always came through.
The only pass rusher who gave him trouble was Khalil Mack (the only guy to register a sack vs. Schwartz in those four games). Mack's combination of speed and strength (along with a borderline breathtaking spin move) is just ridiculous to watch. That said, even Mack wasn't able to beat Schwartz all that often, and when the Browns had a chance at a comeback drive in the fourth quarter, Schwartz didn't allow Mack to get by him once in roughly 8-10 snaps. When it counted, he shut the star rusher down. Just like he did Von Miller throughout that entire matchup.
Now look, Schwartz isn't perfect. At times, I saw him get bull rushed by more powerful defenders who took advantage of his you come to me approach to get momentum. I also can't say for sure how good a blocker he is at the second level, because I didn't see much of that in the games I watched.
But I can tell you that against the toughest competition the NFL had to offer, Schwartz played at a higher level than many offensive linemen I see. He's a fantastic technician who rarely loses and makes a habit of shutting down opposing pass rushers all by himself. Here's hoping he makes Von Miller run in circles for 120 minutes this next year.