Early in the season the Chiefs offensive line seemed hopeless. Teams were blowing through and by the Chiefs boys up front with such regularity that Matt Cassel was developing a nervous twitch in his right eye. Rudy Niswanger spent more time in the backfield than Jackie Battle and Scott Pioli was scrambling around the waiver wire and trading block looking for help. After the Eagles game I turned to a fellow Chiefs fan and said, “If Cassel makes it though this season alive, he may very well be a decent QB, but I am afraid that isn’t going to happen.” OK, I was at a bar and may not have been as eloquent. What I probably said was, “These assholes are going to get Cassel killed. He’ll never make it through the season at this rate.”
Through the first 8 games of the season Cassel was sacked 30 times. He was shaping up to be the next David Carr, a promising prospect that had his career destroyed because he was constantly terrified for his life.
Then something happened. Suddenly, Cassel was getting more time in the pocket. He was spending less time on his back and more time scanning the field for receivers, not that there were any to throw to. In the last 8 games of the season, the Chiefs relinquished only 15 sacks. Fantastic numbers? No. Still, they cut their numbers in half.
How did the line do it? Was it a game-planning stroke of genius by Todd Haley? Did the line finally get a proper grasp on the scheme and start performing better? Was it just a matter of getting comfortable with the guy playing next to you?
We have to be careful here, as do the Chiefs coaches, when evaluating the second half performance of the offensive line. Believe me, I would be the first to jump for joy if the line suddenly “got it” and became a solid unit. The Chiefs have plenty of holes and if they could stand pat at offensive line, it would enable them to place their attention elsewhere. In the end, however, I think the offensive line was just as bad the last 8 games as they were the first 8 games. There is only one major change I can think of, that occurred right at the midseason mark.
Jamaal Charles is the sole reason for the lines 2nd half surge. During the first 8 games, with Larry “Smack My Bitch Up” Johnson in the backfield, there was no threat of him going outside. Opponents were putting 8, sometimes 9 men in the box. They were there to either stuff the run up the middle or blitz like crazy if Cassel dropped back to pass. There was no running game to respect so teams were not afraid of play action. The line could get no real push up the middle and even if they did manage to open up a hole, Larry wasn’t fast enough anymore to get through it in time.
When Jamaal came on the scene, everything changed. Charles made his line better, there is no doubt about it. Charles is so fast and shifty, that all he really needs is a crease and he can slip through. Time after time, in the Denver game, all he needed was a split second from his blocker to get through the gap into the second level.
I am not trying to take away from the effort of the offensive line in the second half of the season. The likely had to learn all new blocking assignments as the Chiefs added new running plays designed for Charles. They ran their buts off swinging outside to lead block on pitches. However, they still couldn’t get much push up the middle and their pass protection only improved because teams had to back off because they were frightened of Charles.
Yesterday, Brian Waters said he thinks the Chiefs line has simply settled into their roles.
“I think that we finally got comfortable in what we were trying to do,” Waters said. “Even though the offensive scheme was pretty much the same, the idea of what we’re trying to do from game to game has changed throughout the course of the year. I think we finally settled on this was who we are and we are going to continue to grow from it.”
Sorry Brian, but I just don’t agree. It is no coincidence that the teams blocking improved with the transition to Charles as the lead back. The Chiefs must upgrade up front. The lines second half performance was fool’s gold and Scott Pioli better not let that cloud his memory of how they performed in the first 8 games of the season.