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Protecting Patrick Mahomes against Rams may be offensive line’s biggest challenge yet

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Until the Cardinals game, the line had played pretty well this season. But the biggest challenge so far will probably come on Monday.

Denver Broncos v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Sometime in the last few days — I’m sorry I can’t remember who said it, or in which comment thread it was — an Arrowhead Pride user said that after the Kansas City Chiefs had spent so many years under head coach Andy Reid trying to build a solid offensive line, it was ironic that so many of them would be injured during Patrick Mahomes’ first season as a starter.

That’s certainly true. Going into the 2018 season, the Chiefs offensive line was more stable than it has been during almost time during Reid’s tenure — and with Mahomes taking over the reins, it seemed that it couldn’t have happened at a better time.

But now — with original starting right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (and his initial replacement Jordan Devey) on injured reserve, and center Mitch Morse still in concussion protocol — the Chiefs have once again been fielding a makeshift offensive line.

The good news is that up until Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals — when they gave up five sacks — the cobbled-together offensive line has played pretty well. Center Austin Reiter and right guard Andrew Wylie have both played above expectations, as offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy noted on Friday.

“I am pleased with what they have done,” he said. “I am pleased with what they have accomplished. But I also too want to give credit to Coach [Andy] Heck. Coach Heck does an outstanding job with both of those guys. I wish you could see how he rotates his guys. Maybe moving forward you will notice that once you come out to training camp and everything. He does a great job of getting those guys mentally and physically prepared. because we know that in the NFL, it is unfortunate, but injuries do happen and so the next player has to be ready.”

Bieniemy credited not only the Cardinals pass rush, but also the resilience of his own players in Sunday’s game.

“I sit up here and I say this every week, the Cardinals had a pretty damn good defense,” Bieniemy said. “They did some things and got after us a little bit. But one thing we did: I was proud of our guys. We hung together. There was no panic. We made the most of every opportunity. Now, just like I [say] each and every week, those guys get paid as well.”

This was in line with what left tackle Eric Fisher — who had his worst game of the season against the Cardinals, giving up two sacks opposite Chandler Jones — had to say after the game on Sunday.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

“I got beat a couple of times against a good pass-rusher,” Fisher said. “You’ve got to let those plays go. You have to figure out how he is beating you and what you have to do to change that. We just calmly communicate that on the sideline and just keep doing what we are doing.”

“You just keep playing,” said right tackle Mitchell Schwartz on Thursday. “Wins in the NFL are hard to come by. There’s not too much that separates the best teams from the worst teams. That’s something that’s a little bit lost in some of the pregame analysis about who’s supposed to win: every team can beat every team any week. So that’s something we don’t take for granted.”

And it’s clear that Chiefs coaches recognize that the Rams defensive front will be a big challenge for the Chiefs offensive line on Monday night.

“Going into this week, we know that hey, they’ve got some pass rushers,” said Bienemy. “The kid Aaron Donald... Ndamukong Suh... Michael Brockers — I could name this entire defense. This defense is probably one of the top defenses in the NFL. But when it is all said and done with, we have to go out and perform at a high level. If we want to come out victorious, everybody has to be accountable. We have to play hard, we have to play fast — and when I am called upon to make a play, I am responsible for making that play.”

Schwartz had pretty much the same list of names on his mind.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Rams Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

“Everybody knows Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh, but Michael Brockers is really good in there, too,” he said. “I think he’s probably an underrated player nationally for the stuff he does and how good he is. And Dante Fowler, and some other guys. They’re good pass rushers and good run defenders as well. Everything for them starts with that front group.”

“They’ve got a healthy load in there of good football players,” said head coach Andy Reid on Monday. “They are well-coached. Listen, we are going to go back through like we do each week and stick with the process here. We will just be moving a day later than what we normally are for a Sunday game, but we will jump back in — making sure we get ourselves right. study them and make sure we have that part down.”

The man the Chiefs offensive line has to protect — quarterback Patrick Mahomes — admitted on Thursday that after being sacked five times on Sunday, he was sore this week. But he said that’s always true.

“You’re always sore,” Mahomes said. “You’re always going to feel the game a little bit, but [you have to] do a good job of being preventative with your body: ice tub, cold tub and hot tub. Doing things like that just to make sure you can get back as quick as possible.”

In fact, Mahomes has been listed on this week’s injury report after the sacks he took on Sunday. But he’s been a full participant in each practice, and on Saturday, Reid said Mahomes hasn’t been hampered at all with what has been described as a foot injury. Mahomes knows that the Rams defense will present another challenge to his protectors, but also recognizes there are things he can do to help them.

“We’re facing another good D-line. I feel like we’ve faced a ton of good D-lines this year, and I feel like our offensive line has played well the entire season. I have to work on getting the ball out of my hands, too. There [were] a lot of check-downs that I could have hit that could have gotten first downs, [but] I kind of got a little greedy and tried to go for the big shot on a couple too many plays.”