Since the season ended, there has been a significant amount of analysis, discussion and/or disagreement arising from both Arrowhead Addict staff and our (insert gratuitous complimentary adjective here) readers about how well or poorly each member of the Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive line is playing. The discussions and comments typically include whether such and such player x is a bum, whether player y should be moved from position a to position b, and so forth. Make no mistake, these are important considerations to understand and debate right now. For without such diversions, how else can we personally make it through the offseason and perhaps more importantly, formulate our own individual aspirations about what round(s) of the draft we should commit to improving our line, or which particular player we’d like to see drafted / brought in through free agency. I mean right?
For this week’s edition of Double Take, we get to see whether Football Outsider’s DVOA analytical assessment of our offensive line offers us anything tangible towards those ends, just beyond the jump.
The first two of the following charts characterize the 2010 Chiefs offensive line success relative to the rest of the league and as a sort of progress yardstick, also compares the 2010 offensive line to that which we had in 2009. In the first chart, “Power” refers to success in short yardage situations on either 3rd down, 4th down or goal line situations, “Stuffed” means just what it suggests with a low ranking being better, “2nd Level” refers to rushing success between 5 and 10 yards, and “Open Field” involves runs of more than 10 yards. In the second & third charts, Left End and Right End refer to rushes outside the tackles, Left Tackle and Right Tackle refer to runs that go between the respective tackle and guards, while Middle/Guard refers means anything that goes between the two guards without respect to which side of the Center they fall. Lastly, the third chart indicates where along the line the Chiefs preferred to run the ball and how those preferences compare to NFL averages as computed through the 2010 regular season.
What we see from all this is first and foremost, our line improved dramatically in 2010. This is not to say our offensive line is without certain weaknesses (including its ability to protect the quarterback), rather, the weaknesses that afflict it are nowhere near as numerous, nor bad, as they were in 2009. All of which is good and, generally speaking, tangible measures of progress!
The greatest strength of our current line seems to be that we can authoritatively run the ball outside the tackles. Both eyeball evidence and logic suggest this is the result of the Chiefs moving more towards a ZBS (Zone Blocking Scheme) approach. The weakest part of our line, in terms of rushing, appears to lie primarily between Center and Right Tackle as strongly evidenced by both ranking and preference. If we are to make offseason improvements to our OL, the right side is probably the place to start. I would caution however that before we jump to the conclusion that Richardson is the biggest problem, I think it is important to note that 1) Richardson improved the RT position in 2010 and 2) our below average short yardage ranking suggests that the real problem may be with either our Center or Right Guard. Put another way, using a ZBS is fine as long as it also capable of you getting you the tough yards and keeping your QB upright in passing situations.
As a final note, the thing I find most paradoxical in these numbers is that even though we were very successful when running the ball between the Left Tackle and Left Guard, we apparently did not take much advantage of our superiority there as evidenced by our below average preference for that slot. That to me suggests the possibility of a coaching and/or play calling oversight, albeit minor given the overall success and improvement of our line and by implication, our running game.
My main thought on all this is that, rather than follow the popular sentiment which argues for an upgrade at Right Tackle, a position where we seem to be making progress, we should instead look to add depth to our interior positions, with particular emphases on both size and versatility, i.e., a fairly big guy who can play either Center or Guard. Both Weigmann and Lilja, while effective in certain aspects of a ZBS, I think are just a little too light to effectively open holes for the power running game. Moreover, in Waters and Weigmann’s case, we would be foolish to not think long term about their impending retirements – which are increasinly likely to happen any time now.
That’s this week’s Double Take. What are your takes Addicts?