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Is there a weak spot on Chiefs offensive line? Reviewing Parker Ehinger vs. Rams

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I like to start off columns on a positive note. Let me tell you first of all... Parker Ehinger did not, to the best of my knowledge, vomit, get injured or injure any teammates Saturday night against the Rams.

I don’t have a whole lot else to say.

Look, the Los Angeles Rams (still feels weird to say) have one of the best defensive lines in the league. Starting with Aaron Donald, those guys are a nightmare to deal with. For a rookie making his second NFL start, that’s a tall mountain to climb. I get that.

That said... Parker really, really struggled Saturday. I asked the Twitterverse who they would like to see reviewed immediately, and Ehinger was chosen. In large part, I believe this was because his struggles were painfully obvious live.

If you haven’t read how I review offensive line before, click here to find out. For the rest of you, let’s take a look at how Ehinger’s second start went (with the usual preseason caveat that this is based on broadcast view, not the “Madden camera” view, which is vastly superior to grade offensive linemen). This is not for the faint of heart, guys.

Pass Blocking Wins: 12

Pass Blocking Losses: 4

Run Blocking Wins: 5

Run Blocking Losses: 3

Neutral: 17

Loss Percentage: 17.1 percent

Win Percentage: 41.5 percent

To come clean I was exaggerating a bit when I said there’s NOTHING good to say about Ehinger other than a lack of vomiting. He has some aspects to his game that, in my opinion, show why the coaching staff likes him.

That said, those numbers are rough. As I’ve talked about in the past, loss percentages are the moneymaker for offensive linemen. Their job is to keep defenders from ruining plays. You can do that with a “neutral” snap. It’s much, much more valuable to have a low loss percentage than a high win percentage. And me, I get nervous when my offensive linemen rise above 10% in their loss percentage.

For the second week in a row, Ehinger was far above the loss percentage I can get comfortable with. And unlike last week, the losses were of the catastrophic variety.

Quick losses by individual linemen destroy plays. That’s why it’s so important to keep that number down. As a lineman, you want to give the rest of the offense a chance to succeed. When you get beaten this quickly and cleanly, the chance of a play working out well drop to virtually nothing. And in the NFL, when you’ve got approximately 60-70 plays a game to make something happen, EVERY play matters.

The biggest problem I see with Ehinger (and the issue from which all his other issues stem in my opinion) is a lack of strength. From what I can tell, Ehinger just doesn’t have enough weight / strength at this point to hold his ground at this point against aggressive rushers. That leads to leaning and lunging in an attempt to compensate, which leads to defensive linemen swatting your hands away and leaving you stumbling.

Ehinger’s strength issue was obvious on multiple snaps Saturday.

When you can’t hold off a defensive lineman despite getting help from multiple sources, it’s a problem. Ehinger showed this same problem in college, and an issue like this is only going to get worse against bigger, stronger, faster defenders at the NFL level.

Now, Ehinger does have snaps where he holds up defenders despite his lack of strength. He does this by having good overall footwork and hand placement. As I’ve said before, Ehinger looks like a solid technician overall, especially for a rookie. I believe this is why Reid and company like him. He generally does things the right way, and this helps him a great deal. If he had, say, LDT’s technique from last season, he would be losing on about 50 percent of his snaps. But he’s able to get things done (when he, you know, DOES get it done) by using leverage and footwork.

But at the end of the day, he is very, very clearly the weak spot on the line (I haven’t reviewed LDT yet, but he seemed to do all right MOST of the time against the Rams). Mitch Morse was forced to help him time after time on passing downs.

You want to have flexibility with what you do with your center in pass protection, not automatically have him help the same guard every single down. As of right now, Morse can’t really turn elsewhere because he can’t trust Ehinger to hold up.

When I reviewed Ehinger’s film, I thought he’d be OK in pass protection (due to his technical soundness) and a liability as a run blocker (due to his lack of strength). So far, it’s been somewhat the opposite for the most part. While Ehinger hasn’t lit the world on fire run blocking, he’s shown the ability to get into space quickly and lock onto defenders. There’s some competency to his game there I didn’t expect to show early. Meanwhile, he’s been a liability as a pass blocker.

The raw material with Ehinger is absolutely there. He understands how to play the game far and away better than a lot of rookie linemen. For example:

Ehinger consistently does well (I mean, in the limited snaps we’ve seen) with stunts, blitzes, and other “advanced” offensive line concepts that usually confound rookies (and even veterans). This, along with his athleticism and advanced technique, show the traits that make him appealing to Reid. My guess is they view him as a player with a high ceiling because of those traits. All he needs to do is add some strength and he’ll be a player (again, this is my guess into their thinking).

Here’s my problem with this imaginary line of thought: while we wait for Ehinger to get stronger, he’s out there on the field causing multiple pass plays to blow up before they can get started. He’s out there forcing Morse and Alex Smith into tough spots rather than allowing them to focus on their jobs.

With the rest of the offensive line holding up well against a tough defensive front (though again, I haven’t reviewed the rest yet. Purely eyeball test for the remainder of the OL at this point), the Chiefs seem to be at a place where one weak spot along the wall could mean a systemic issue that causes problems throughout the season.

I think Ehinger has a future with the Chiefs. I really do. But that future, unless something changes drastically over the next few weeks, shouldn’t be now. The Chiefs have a guy in Jah Reid who played decently at guard last season. They have another guy in Zach Fulton who, while below average overall, wasn’t a complete disaster and provided strength at the point of attack.

I understand player development as much as the next guy, but when you’ve got two (seemingly) superior options sitting on the bench and an offense that appears to have the potential to be very, very good (for as negative as this article is, they hung 17 points on a tough Rams defense in 4 drives. That’s impressive), you need to do everything you can to keep that offense’s ceiling from being lowered.

As always when I write something critical about a player, I hope I eat these words by midseason. But If I were Andy Reid, I would sit Ehinger in favor of one of the vets (my preference, of course, being Jah Reid). He’s definitely got potential, but right now he’s the weak link on offense.