When I hear Kansas City Chiefs fans talking about the team’s needs heading into the 2012 season, offensive line is always near the top of the list.
I’ve heard folks say that Ryan Lilja sucks. Not true.
I’ve heard folks say that Casey Wiegmann is old and washed up. He’s old but he’s not washed up.
I’ve heard folks say that the Chiefs should have kept Brian Waters. That’s debatable.
I’ve heard folks say that Barry Richardson needs to be sent to the glue factory. Ok, those folks are right.
But the “problems” along the KC offensive line are not as deep as some might have you believe.
Let’s start with a couple of obvious things.
Barry Richardson is terrible and needs to be cut.
Casey Wiegmann can’t play forever and will likely retire. It is time to move on from him.
Rodney Hudson is a total unknown.
The Chiefs are extremely shallow on depth along the offensive line.
That is the bad news.
The good news is that all of those things can be corrected.
The Chiefs can find a right tackle in a number of ways. If they managed to win seven games with Barry Richardson, imagine what they could do with someone halfway decent. The Chiefs had the perfect RT on their roster already in Jared Gaither but thanks to Todd Haley and Bill Muir, he got run out of town. Scott Pioli is also not free of blame here. He’s the personnel guy and he is the one who cut Gaither.
Still, the Chiefs can likely find some suitable help in free agency or in the draft. This is a priority for sure but it is a manageable situation.
That brings us to the rest of the line. These poor guys have been criticized like crazy this year. The fact of the matter is, the four guys on the line not named Barry Richardson were pretty good this season.
Let’s start with pass protection. Richardson was obviously the fly in the ointment here. There were plenty of times when the line had a nice pocket that collapsed on Richardson’s side, forcing the QB into a defender that say, Ryan Lilja was blocking.
Yet, in pass protection, all the KC lineman, save Richardson, graded well according to Pro Football Focus.
Branden Albert received a +9.0 pass blocking grade on the season. That was 8th best grade in the NFL for a tackle, left or right. Elite numbers? No. Better than average? You bet.
Barry Richardson received a -17.1. Let’s not talk about him.
Moving on to guard, one of the players taking most of the heat this year was Ryan Lilja. I found this curious all season long because Lilja was one of the team’s best lineman in 2010.
This season he received a +1.3 pass blocking grade which is firmly in the middle of the pack. Totally average. Out of 77 guards, Lilja was the 34th best pass blocker.
Lilja’s 16 pressures were on the high side, however, he gave up only three in the team’s last five games. Probably not coincidentally, Kyle Orton was the QB in three of those games.
Lilja is not “terrible” and he does not “need to be replaced.” He needs to play a little better for sure but he also needs some help from his QB and coaching staff. But more on that later.
Next up is Jon Asamoah. Drafted to replace an aging Brian Waters, a lot of fans got very upset when he, you know, replaced an aging Brian Waters. This was compounded when Waters had a Pro Bowl season out in New England.
Waters did have a year. According to PFF, he was the best pass blocking guard in the NFL last season with a grade of +17.1.
He was 5th, with a grade of +13.1.
Waters is a veteran player blocking for Tom Brady and Asamoah was seeing his first significant playing time in his second NFL season blocking for Matt Cassel, Tyler Palko and Kyle Orton.
Let’s not be naïve. With all due respect for Waters, let’s not pretend playing in front of one of the best QB’s in the history of the NFL didn’t have at least a little to do with his resurgence. If you think he would have had the same season in KC in 2011, you’re dreaming.
Now we move on to old man Wiegmann. The KC center graded as the 6th best pass blocking center in the NFL with a grade of +6.1. He was also one of only seven NFL centers not credited with giving up a sack.
In review, Branden Albert was a slightly above average pass protector, Jon Asomoah was a top five pass protector, Ryan Lilja was average and Casey Wieman was just outside the top five and didn’t relinquish a single sack. And Barry Richardson was terrible.
Where the line ran into problems this season, however, was when they tried to run block. Check out their rankings:
Wiegmann: -4.4 (26th out of 35)-Bad
Albert: -1.0 (32nd out of 76) –Average to slightly below
Asamoah: -12.3 (70th out of 77)-Bad
Lilja: -3.8 (40th out of 77)-Below average-bad
Richardson: -19.5 (76th out 76)-Worst in the NFL
Want to know something weird?
In 2010, Richardson’s run blocking grade was +2.5.
In 2010, Albert’s run blocking grade was +4.1.
In 2010, Lilja’s run blocking grade was +9.2. (5th best in the NFL)
In 2010, Brian Waters’ run blocking grade was -8.0.
Methinks Jamaal Charles may have had something to do with all this.
The fact that KC’s run blocking grades are poor this season is not a surprise at all. This is a zone blocking line. Zone blocking offensive lineman are supposed to be light and athletic. Their job is to get our in front of the runners to provide a crease. This style benefits runners like Jamaal Charles because he is not a big back. Thus the goal is to get him to the outside and get him there quickly, before the big defenders up front can react. Then it is off to the races.
In 2011, the Chiefs did not need a zone blocking line. They needed a power run blocking line. Jackie Battle is a back that would run best behind an offensive line like they have in Cleveland, not Kansas City. Thomas Jones is old and washed up.
This problem is why the Chiefs never fully committed to Battle as their feature back. They knew they would never be able to spring him on a consistent basis. Battle actually had a pretty remarkable season all things considered.
It should come as no shock that Dexter McCluster had the most success on a per-carry basis of all the KC running backs. McCluster is a Charles-style runner, albeit far less talented. He averaged 4.4 yards per carry while Battle averaged 4.0 and Jones averaged 3.1.
I would venture to guess that with better personnel, the KC offensive line would be just fine. The Chiefs will likely get a bigger back to complement Charles next year but he will be a guy that has enough speed hit get to the creases being provided by the offensive line. Thomas Jones no longer processed that speed in 2011, and the team suffered for it.
The offensive line certainly needs attention this offseason. There is little to no depth and a RT should be the top priority after QB.
Still, I believe Albert, Lilja and Asamoah are all going to be solid players for KC for the foreseeable future. Should Hudson work out as a center, then the Chiefs simply need a RT and depth.
The fact of the matter is, the QB and RB have a big impact on how an offensive line performs. Guys like Peyton Manning who get rid of the ball and rarely take sacks make their lines look good. Yet if somebody stinks along a line, regardless of who the QB is, you will notice. Richardson is a perfect example of that.
For those of you out there that think if the Chiefs had a brick wall instead of actual men blocking for their QB that Matt Cassel would be a perennial Pro Bowler are living in the dark. Matt Cassel is what he is and no amount of blocking is going to make him be able to throw an accurate pass.
We often joke about Barry Richardson being the worst tackle in football. He was close, but in the end, he finished second to last.
The worst tackle in football was a guy by the name of Marshall Newhouse. Newhouse started 14 games and played 924 snaps.
For the Green Bay Packers.
The KC line is fine (save Richardson). What they need in Kansas City, is a QB.
What do you think, Addicts? Should there be wholesale changes along the offensive line or has Chiefs Nation overreacted a bit in this area? Sound off.