The Kansas City Chiefs may not have a top ten QB in Matt Cassel but if their offensive line lives up to its potential in 2012, that could change.
Everyone knows how important the offensive line is. There are only a handful of special QBs that are so good they can survive and even thrive behind a poor offensive line. Guys like Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger can use their size and athleticism to extend plays. They remain cool under fire and deliver the ball with accuracy. You also have guys like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning who are so sharp and so good at dissecting defenses that they can diagnose what the defense is doing before the ball is snapped, thus enabling themselves to make not only quick decisions but the right decisions before the pressure arrives.
Matt Cassel is an underrated athlete but he is know Aaron Rodgers or Big Ben when it comes to extending plays. He also is no Manning or Brady (at least that we’ve seen) when it comes to coming to the line and clowning the defense.
What Cassel is, however, is an extremely effective passer when given the time to work. In New England in 2008 and KC in 2010, Cassel was often excellent. He threw back to back 400 yard games for the Patriots and his game against the Tennessee Titans the day after Christmas in 2010 was perhaps his best as a Chief. Cassel carved up the Titans early. He threw for 314 yards and three touchdowns in a game the Chiefs put on ice by halftime. KC had 24 points before the Titans even sniffed the scoreboard. Cassel turned in 9.2 yards per pass and a QB rating of 128.8.
This is the Cassel the Chiefs want to see in 2012. When it became apparent that the Chiefs weren’t likely to be able to bring in legitimate competition for Cassel in 2012, Chiefs GM Scott Pioli set off to solidify an already solid offensive line.
Let’s take a look at what the big men up front did for the Chiefs last season using Pro Football Focus and see if we can’t project their performance in 2012.
Despite suspect QB play for a quarter of the season (to this day I can’t believe Tyler Palko started FOUR games for the Chiefs), mediocre running backs and one glaring weakness amongst their own, the KC offensive line was actually halfway decent in 2011.
Let’s start with that glaring weakness, also known as Barry “The Bill Fighter” Richardson.
Richardson’s horrendous ineptitude put a significant amount of pressure on the entire KC offense. The fact that he played as many snaps as any other offensive line while Jared Gaither wasted away on the bench goes a long way toward demonstrating the foolhardy choices being made by Todd Haley and offensive coordinator/offensive line coach/father time, Bill Muir.
Richardson was responsible for nine penalties, eight sacks, six QB hits and 36 QB hurries. His pass blocking grade was a -39.1 and his run blocking mark was -19.5. The only “good game” Richardson had all season long, meaning the only contest where he got a better than average grade was in the Week 15 victory over the Green Bay Packers, with a +2.0. He had five perfectly average games and 10 awful games. His worst coming in Week 8 against the Chargers where he turned in a -9.9 grade in a game that actually took a miracle for the Chiefs to win.
Despite all that, the Chiefs ranked 5th in the NFL in Pass Blocking Efficiency (PBE) according to PFF, tying the New Orleans Saints. Right behind the Chiefs, were the Houston Texans…the team that featured RT Eric Winston, better known as Barry Richardson’s replacement.
The Pro Football Focus “Pass Blocking Efficiency” rating measures pressure allowed on a per-snap basis with weighting toward sacks allowed.
Ok, so we all know Richardson sucks. But what about everyone else?
Branden Albert ranked 5th among tackles last season in PBE. He allowed only 24 total pressures on the season. Richardson allowed 50 so he came in 48th in the NFL. Eric Winston came in 18th. He allowed 28 total pressures. A significant improvement.*
While doing this, I noticed that the guy who finished dead last in PBE for tackles that played at least 50% of their team’s passing downs was Guy Whimper of the Jaguars. Seriously. Guy Whimper.
On to the guards.
Jon Asamoah, in his first season starting in the NFL, ranked seventh in the NFL in PBE with 12 total pressures allowed. Brian Waters ranked 5th and also allowed 12 total pressures. This would seem to indicate that the Chiefs did the right thing allowing Waters to leave so Asamoah could start. Big Jon is only going to get better and he could be an elite guard as soon as this year.
Ryan Lilja struggled last season. He was 38th in PBE and allowed 21 total pressures.
Now, Rodney Hudson. His case is interesting.
Hudson only played 72 passing snaps at guard last season. As such, he played fewer than 25% of KC’s passing snaps. Thus his numbers aren’t really comparable to the other guys. Still, I decided to see where he wanked among all guards in PBE that played at least one snap for their team.
He ranked first. He has a PBE rating of 100%. That’s right, he gave up not a single pressure, sack, hit or hurry.
Now to be fair, 11 other guys had a PBE of 100% as well but the reason I mention it is because Hudson played significantly more snaps than those other guys. Rodney played 72 snaps. While that is a small sample size, the next closed guy was Brandon Fusco. He only played 15. Another guy played 10. Another six. Then three. Then two. The rest played only one snap.
Anyone can go out and play one snap and get a perfect PBE. But 72? That is actually kind of impressive. Small sample size or not, Hudson didn’t budge and that is a very good sign.
As for center, Casey Wiegmann came in 4th in the NFL in PBE, allowing only 9 total pressures. Not bad for an old guy.
The Kc line did struggle a bit in their run blocking. Branden Albert was a -1.0 overall on the season, good for #32 in the NFL among tackles. Richardson was dead last at #72. The good news is that Winston was ranked #4 in the NFL. Look for the Chiefs to run to the right side this season.
At guard, Lilja was #41 in the NFL with a -3.9 grade and Asamoah really struggled at -12.3 for #71. Hudson played 133 running downs and graded -3.3.
At center, Casey Wiegmann ranked #43 in the NFL with a -4.3.
Clearly the Chiefs need to improve their run blocking but we’d be insane not to mention the running backs these guys were blocking for. The Chiefs feature a smaller, athletic line designed for a zone blocking scheme. When Jamaal Charles went down, they found themselves blocking for Thomas Jones, Jackie Battle and Dexter McCluster.
Jones, who we all know was washed up, sucked up 158 carries. But McCluster (114 carries) and Battle (152 carries) actually had a fair amount of success running behind the KC line. The return of Jamaal Charles and the addition of Peyton Hillis, who is like a high-end version of Battle, should help improve KC’s running success greatly. On top of all that, the Chiefs’ new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has had success in the running game in both Cleveland and Miami.
The Chiefs have some solid players along their line and they very well may have a couple of rising stars in Hudson and Asamoah. Winston is one of the best in the NFL at what he does and Albert continues to improve.
Should the backs stat healthy and considering the multitude of receiving options KC will have at both WR and TE, Matt Cassel could very well find himself with plenty of time in the pocket.
And that could spell playoffs for the Kansas City Chiefs.