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Chiefs’ Cameron Erving vs the Texans: Well ...

When the Chiefs traded for offensive lineman Cameron Erving earlier this season, there were, um, some questions. After all, Erving’s time with the Cleveland Browns (after being a hot commodity in the draft and a first round selection) has been treated like something as a cautionary tale for the potential to overdraft at offensive line, a supposedly safe position.

Erving, over the course of his last two years, has played poorly enough to be eviscerated via GIFs and memes, switched positions, and basically been a gigantic disappointment to Cleveland fans (who are quite used to that kind of thing but still weren’t happy about it). During this year’s preseason Erving’s poor play continued as he was kicked out to tackle.

So we were all quite befuddled when the Chiefs decided to trade for Erving for a fifth round pick. When I reviewed Erving’s film from the preseason, I became even more befuddled. I wrote here that Erving appeared to need rebuilding from the ground up, with serious issues in his technique (both upper and lower body) and recognition/awareness, as well as what appeared to be some very real strength concerns.

So you can imagine my sense of stunned fear when it was announced on Sunday night that Erving would be starting in the place of LDT, who had been playing RG at an All-Pro level prior to getting hurt against he Redskins last week (DANG IT). In fact, stunned fear doesn’t really do it justice. It was more like the sense of doom you get when you’ve still got two hours left before you reach your destination in the middle of the country and you realize your phone is on one percent battery and you forgot to bring your charger and your gas light just came on and that scarecrow you just passed looks a lot like the thing from Jeepers Creepers. So, you know, I wasn’t thrilled.

Well, we all know the Chiefs came out and won the game, because that’s what the 2017 Chiefs do. But what of Erving? A had a LOT of you ask me about him, which makes sense considering his talent level coming out of college. Did he show anything, or was he the same disaster he was with the Browns? How much improvement could someone show after less than two months? Well, let’s find out. Click here if you don’t know how I review offensive linemen. The rest of you, let’s look at some numbers and talk about some film.

All right, so ... numbers.

I’m never going to be happy with a 16 percent loss percentage. Additionally, a win percentage of 25.3 percent isn’t doing much for me either. Erving didn’t play well against the Texans by any stretch of the imagination.

The only thing I’d say to this is that this loss percentage is DRASTICALLY better than what I saw during his preseason film with the Browns. I actually stopped tracking wins and losses for that review because I was getting depressed. I’d estimate (based on memory, mind you), that he was losing something like a third of the time.

Compared to that level of play, losing on 16 percent of the snaps is quite competent. Of course, the goal is to be competent period, not competent compared to abysmal. But I find it fascinating that Erving, over the course of less than two months, went from looking like a player who didn’t belong on an NFL field to looking like an overmatched backup. There is a HUGE difference between the two. And unlike during the preseason, I was able to get a peek at what Chiefs GM Brett Veach and Andy Reid might be thinking with regards to Erving.

A big factor in Erving’s high loss percentage was having issues against stunts.

I’d say Erving missed on at least 3-4 stunts throughout the game. In fact, missing on stunts was one of the only ways he lost in pass protection all day (though there were a few others, which we’ll get to in a bit). Early on especially, Erving had a real problem realizing when he was getting led to the side by a defender and keeping his head up enough to recognize an incoming stunter... uh... stuntman... uh... guy stunting.

I’m happy to say that it appeared he cleaned this issue up as the game went along. The majority of the stunts Erving missed were early in the game. A little bit later he was doing better.

Here, we see Erving keep his head up and punch rather than lean into the defender, all the while keeping his legs moving. Because his head is up and he’s not leaning, he sees the stunt coming and picks it up well.

It should be noted that Erving was initially matched up against a linebacker here, not J.J. Watt. That’s obviously going to affect how a lineman approaches a snap, but it really shouldn’t with regards to keeping your head up, punching, and feet churning. I believe (though it’s impossible to say) that a big reason Erving did so much better on this snap was that he wasn’t worried about being overpowered, and so he didn’t resort to leaning/lunging and kept his head on a swivel.

Speaking of power, Erving has every right to be concerned about losing that way.

Erving is an interesting case study regarding power. He’s a big guy, and he’s got a pretty powerful punch when he uses it and what APPEARS to be a strong upper body... but he seems to lack strength/bulk in his lower body. As a result, he gets moved by defenders one-on-one as though he were about 20 pounds lighter than he actually is. He has to be careful any time he’s matched up against a more powerful defender or he risks getting shoved aside ala Chris Jones against, well, lots of people (any time you can make ordinary defenders look like Chris Jones, that’s bad).

I very much believe that a lot of Erving’s issues with recognition (he doesn’t do as good a job keeping busy when he doesn’t have a guy in front of him as I’d like) stem from his fear of getting overpowered. This also results in his biggest flaw outside of recognition: leaning and lunging.

As I indicated in the tweet, this snap is scary familiar to me. LDT used to lose like this constantly. He cleaned it up a great deal last year and didn’t have any issues whatsoever in 2017, as he worked on punching from a solid base and staying upright rather than trying to lean into defenders. Like Erving, LDT’s issues seemed to stem from a fear of getting overpowered. Unlike Erving, LDT didn’t have a strength issue, he had a technique issue in that his base would often be poor and result in him getting walked backward. He’d lean to compensate and BOOM, he was on the ground.

Erving’s base is better than LDT’s was back in 2015, but he’s got that same fear of getting walked backwards. And so he leans/lunges to gain power, which only works so many times in the NFL before a defender sends you sprawling.

I’m concerned that Erving’s issue isn’t as fixable as LDT’s as it seems to come more from a basic strength issue rather than technique. However, it’s worth noting that he wasn’t nearly as bad in this area against Houston as he was when I watched his tape with the Browns. So that’s something to keep an eye on.

Erving really looks like a rookie out there. Just completely raw. Of course, considering he’s a third year player that’s a bit odd. However, he did demonstrate a few traits against the Texans that have me understanding a bit more why Veach/Reid took a chance on him.

For starters, Erving is a really, really good athlete and fits very well into what they want their guards to do as run blockers.

That is such a fun block to watch, and it wasn’t the last time that game Erving showed up to mess with 21’s day.

Erving’s got the speed to get where he needs to go quickly in space, and he was often able to at least redirect defenders once he got there due to his length and athleticism. He’s got to work a bit on locking onto defenders (he had a few whiffs in space, though not more than what you see from many other OL. Blocking smaller, faster players in space is HARD), but overall you could absolutely see the raw material to be a helper in the run game when asked to fulfill a specific role.

Really, Erving was a Kareem Hunt slip away from us all singing his praises on this play, which just goes to show how narrow the margin is between a big play and a stuff.

While Erving doesn’t pancake 21 like he did the in the two previous GIFs, he gets in space quickly and forces the defender so far wide of the play that he’d have no chance had Kareem not slipped when he cut back (because of COURSE Kareem saw that hole and was about to go for it. He’s Kareem Hunt, guys). Unfortunate, really.

In pass protection, although Erving has the aforementioned issues with stunts and lunging/leaning, his length and upper body strength allowed him to succeed a fair amount of the time when he didn’t make those two specific errors. The Chiefs didn’t give him a ton of one-on-one responsibility, but when he had it he often executed it well. Again, there are some specific weaknesses to exploit for defenders, but you can see the raw material there for a good run blocker, with pretty quick feet and long/strong arms.

Do I feel great about Erving starting? No. Do I feel good about Erving starting? No. He’s still a liability. However, he was much, much, much better than what I saw as a Brown this preseason. Which is enough to make me withhold judgment on the overall wisdom of the trade when we’re thinking about next year and the future.

For now, though, get well soon LDT. Even with current MVP frontrunner Alex Smith throwing the ball and current MVP runner up Kareem Hunt running the ball, the Chiefs could use the help.

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