clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Chiefs starting offensive line is off to a great start in the preseason

New, comments

Trying to review one offensive lineman is a time-consuming process. Generally speaking, you have to re-watch most snaps a couple of times to get a feel for how things went down. And that’s when you have all-22 (Madden camera, most importantly) available. Broadcast view? It takes some time.

Reviewing an entire offensive line? Sheesh. I don’t know if I’ll try that again. But I did this time, just because I love all of you that much.

The offensive line is an underrated storyline for 2017. Four of the five starters last year are currently returning, with Parker Ehinger’s return potentially making that five of five. The Chiefs are also seeing the return of four guys who played from above average to very well down the stretch last season (same starting four), with all arrows pointing up for a mostly young group.

In short, there are very good reasons to believe the offensive line could be a real strength this season (especially the continuity, which is a rare thing in the NFL). So I figured we might as well take a look at the whole group in their first action of the season. While Alex Smith only played one drive, the starting OL stayed in for the entire first quarter. And they definitely made their presence felt.

That’s fun to watch. And just in case you were wondering if it happened more than once...

Seriously, it was ridiculous some of the pockets that Tyler Bray in particular had to work with throughout the first quarter. There were multiple snaps where he had so much time to stand and survey the field that I was bothered that he didn’t have a seat and play a hand of solitaire.

Let’s take a look at the numbers (remember, we’re tracking wins, losses, and neutral snaps both as pass blockers and as run blockers, as well as pressures / hits / sacks). After that, we’ll talk about each individual lineman and how he appeared. Just so you know, with one exception there’s going to be a bit of a theme throughout, that theme being they played really well.

Numbers

So the first thing that stands out to me about these numbers is that in over a dozen pass protection snaps over the course of an entire quarter, only one pressure/hit/sack was recorded by me (Bryan Witzmann losing right at the snap to some guy the 49er announcers wouldn’t shut up about). That’s quite impressive.

Just as impressive to me was the relatively low number of losses throughout, especially by the returning linemen. Both Schwartz and LDT had a snap where they got caught off balance (both looked a tad like they tripped over the lineman’s foot next to them, but I can’t be sure), which resulted in their losses (by the way, neither gave up a pressure on those losses and neither loss was a particularly bad one). Besides that, the returning starters were close to perfect, with multiple plays where the quarterback was able to stand comfortably without even having to reset.

In run blocking, well we really didn’t get to see much as they only ran the ball a few times. I’ve heard a number of people express concern about that, but personally I saw a lot to be happy with in regards to the offensive line as run blockers.

As I say in the tweet, I can’t remember a time I’ve awarded a win for every single blocker on a run play before. It’s usually (on successful runs) a couple of wins and a bunch of neutrals, or occasionally a loss on the other side of the line that didn’t affect the runner. Not this time, though.

Watch from left to right. Eric Fisher seals his guy off well. Witzmann recovers quickly after an initial stalemate and pushes his defender backwards. Mitch Morse performs a quick combo block to help LDT then nails the linebacker. LDT (with the help of Morse’s combo block) just POWERS his guy out of the way (probably the best block of the bunch in my eye). And Mitch Schwartz gets to the second level quickly and makes sure the linebacker can’t mess things up. Gorgeous across the board, and touchdown.

With regards to concerns about not having success running the ball, this is a great opportunity to look at a run that went for no gain and discuss how thin the line is between success and failure running the ball in the NFL. It’ll also give some context for me saying the OL overall looked good run blocking, despite the lack of success in the few tries they had. (Plus, Geoff Schwartz awarded this block by Mitch the Disrespectful Block of the Week Award)

So watching this you can see that the overall blocking was actually pretty solid. One of two things happened here that made this play go for zero yards:

  1. Witzmann didn’t properly seal his edge, which prevented Morse (the lead pulling blocker) and Spencer Ware from getting to the edge. Had they done so, Morse blocks the secondary player who eventually makes the tackle (and to be fair, he made a nice play there) and this could be a solid gain. Either this was the issue, OR...
  2. Demetrius Harris made a mistake on his assignment. Rather than heading left in front of Fisher (where he could’ve blocked the guy who made the tackle), he looks to seal off pursuit from the other side. Which isn’t really a bad thing, but he ends up blocking the same guy as LDT (which COULD be because LDT missed the first guy, but that looked a lot more intentional than like a miss to my eye).

I have no idea which of those things was the issue here, but it demonstrates well how small the margin for error is in NFL and how one loss (whether it was Witzmann or Harris) can blow up an entire play that’s otherwise pretty well executed.

One final note regarding the run game ... it’s worth noting that another run for no gain came because the Chiefs left the left edge player completely unblocked (seemingly by scheme design) and he crashed down the line well. So there was no failure there, simply the opponent doing what he’s supposed to against a play call that I personally hate (I’m never a fan of free rushers / defenders at the NFL level. They’re too good). In short, what I saw in the run game was pretty solid from the offensive line. We’ll see what it looks like against the Bengals.

Let’s do a quick bit on each player’s film now, before we get to 2,000 words about a quarter in a preseason game (which may still happen). Left to right...

LT Eric Fisher

Fisher continued his strong play down the stretch last season by not giving up a single loss, either as a pass protector or a run blocker (he came close in one pass pro snap, but was able to re-anchor against a bull rush and earn a neutral). He also continued to demonstrate his athleticism, as well as his understanding of how to keep an eye out for stunts along the line.

It might seem small, things like this, but it really demonstrates how far Fisher has come over the last few years. He was pretty good last season, hopefully he takes yet another step forward in a career that has consisted of many such steps.

LG Bryan Witzmann

Witzmann was a bit the fly in the ointment on Friday. Now make no mistake, he demonstrated some valuable traits. He’s definitely pretty athletic, he does a good job looking for work and he’s aggressive.

That said, he had a loss percentage of 15.8 percent, which is well above my magic number of 10 percent (which isn’t really magic at all, but is definitely where I draw the line for a guy I’m comfortable with starting along the OL). For frame of reference, Parker Ehinger’s loss percentage last season was 11.1 percent, and he didn’t once have a game as high as Witzmann’s. So that’s a tad concerning, especially on a night the OL by and large dominated an inferior San Francisco defense.

I’m not sure about Witzmann’s overall strength, and I don’t believe he’s as good as Ehinger (despite being in the league longer) at diagnosing delayed blitzes and stunts. His handfighting was lacking a few snaps as well, including the one hit given up by the line all evening.

That said, Witzmann was athletic and had multiple good snaps as well. I’m more than willing to see what happens moving forward, considering this was his first time out there with the Chiefs. That said, I’m hoping to see Ehinger healthy sooner rather than later.

C Mitch Morse

We all know that I love Mitch Morse, so I won’t belabor this. Just know that he didn’t have a loss, or anything even close to one. Also, and this is really worth watching as the season progresses, Morse looked a bit bigger and stronger out there. His sole weak spot (and I wouldn’t even call it a weakness, just the one area he’s even average) has been overall strength these last few years. If he even improved on that a bit, watch out.

RG LDT

Outside of one play where he lost his balance during a bull rush, LDT played very well as both a pass protector and a run blocker. His absolute worst snap was a play where he notched a neutral (Tyler Bray’s pick, during which I blame Bray much more than the line for the pressure applied by the defense).

LDT played quite well last year, a vast improvement over the year prior. If he takes yet another step forward this season we could be talking about him as a top-tier guard.

Mitch Schwartz

Schwartz is healthy, and that’s not good for edge rushers on his side.

Schwartz played much of the first half of last season on a bum ankle, which had some Chiefs fans questioning if he’d been oversold. He was exceptional down the stretch last season, which should have allayed some fears. Against the Niners, he was virtually unbeatable around the edge, his only loss coming on a play that was borderline and had zero effect on the quarterback.

I could watch that snap all day, as Schwartz uses the edge rusher’s own attempt at handfighting to work him to the ground. Beautiful.

We’ll see where the line goes from here, but this was a good first step. Now they face a tougher task in a talented Bengals defensive front. Should be fun to watch.