Chiefs 2013 Boils Down To One Word

Protection.

There. I’ve condensed the whole season to one word. One thought. One critical concept and if the Chiefs can not protect, their season is over before it starts.

Protection.

There’s some good news involved here: the Chiefs “should” be in the top third of the league in that department.

How does that figure? Consider the potential starters… and the depth… especially now that the Chiefs brass have recanted with, “We’re so sorry, Uncle Albert.”

Before we delve into the positive news about the Chiefs offensive line let’s take a look at other aspects of the Chiefs team units to determine if there is indeed anything to worry about more than the offensive line.

The first position that comes to mind is the middle linebacker position. Now, the Chiefs have brought in the underwhelming Akeem Jordan from Philadelphia. Next, the Chiefs drafted Alabama strong man Nico Johnson who I would label more as a project than a finished product. If there is another position on the team that needs to be worried about it’s the ILB right? I don’t think so.

A strength of the Chiefs’ defense should be its pass protection including pressuring the quarterback. Most will agree. For most teams the Chiefs meet, they should be able to play a pass-oriented offense and take the pass away on defense. Not that the Chiefs will be able to shut most teams’ passing attacks down, but teams should have less success passing against the Chiefs than they did in the past year, forcing them to go to their running game earlier because they won’t be playing from ahead like they did last year in the Chiefs’ turnover-plagued season.

I’m not saying I expect the Chiefs to “play from ahead” more than their opposition this season, but I do expect them to “be in the game” 90% of the time. Whereas, last year the Chiefs were out of almost every game by the beginning of the 4th quarter… and earlier in many cases.

What does all that have to do with the ILB? Keep reading.

If the Chiefs are “in” games and other teams are “under pressure”… which virtually never happened last year… then in those games they will be playing right into Andy Reid’s trap. Consider all the players Reid and Dorsey brought in this off season on the defensive side of the ball. All of them can tackle. Even the DBs can tackle, and not just tackle, but be primo hard hitters. When other teams run the ball this year the Chiefs are going to be fun to watch.

Danny DeVito, Dunta Robinson, Sean Smith, Sanders Commings, Nico Johnson, Husain Abdullah, and Marcus Dixon. All of them can hit hard and tackle tough.

One undrafted free agent the Chiefs added who can also hit is Otha Foster. If you missed the highlight hits of his game day performances you may want to check them out. The first thought I had when the Chiefs traded Javier Arenas was that they must have been very pleased with Foster. I sure enjoyed watching his highlights and you’ll not only notice he’s instinctual but an excellent hitter. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t make the roster or start by year’s end.

At nose tackle the Chiefs should also see some progress this season. Dontari Poe came on at the end of the year and Jerrell Powe had his moments last season. Both should be improved under Andy Reid, Bob Sutton and Tommy Brasher’s guidance. Plus, Anthony Toribio is back and you may recall Romeo Crennel calling him the best DL technician on the team last  year.

These players who are supporting the ILB, and play all around the ILB, will help stop the run up the gut as much as either Jordan or Johnson will. That’s why I’m not so concerned about the ILB as I am… the Chiefs OL from getting the QB’s helmet knocked off.

Also, playing into Andy Reid trap means… he’s designed his offense to get ahead and force the other team to play catch-up… which will essentially do what to the opposition? Force them out of their running game. Thus, the extra attention to the defensive back position this off season.

What does all that mean? A greater the need for improved…

Protection.

So, why will the protection succeed this year? It all begins with Mr. “LT” Branden Albert.

Earlier this off season Pro Football Focus, which measures player efficiency, stated about Albert,

Drafted out of Virginia with the 15th overall selection in the 2008 draft, not many people expected left tackle to be Albert’s position long-term with a move to the right, or inside to guard predicted. However, through four seasons at the position he has continued to grow, leading to a very consistent past two seasons where he has graded out at +14.7 and +13.8, respectively.

If you’re unfamiliar with PFF then you should know that these are excellent, excellent numbers.

This season will decidedly be a “pass-to-run” approach offensively with Alex Smith running the point. While Albert’s strength was not run-blocking, by keeping him on board to protect Mr. Smith’s backside the Chiefs should be able to run with even a higher percentage of yards per play than previously. Plus, with throws out of the backfield Jamaal Charles could end up with 2,000 total yards from scrimmage this season so run blocking takes on an altered definition.

Albert has become so good that even league leader Joe Thomas was only 1.2 points better when it comes to pass protection efficiency. If you’re into statistics then you understand the “margin of error” that the 1.2 difference represents may be nothing at all. Errors in interpreting a given play, errors in the amount of points being awarded a specific opposing player, and errors made in comparing unfavorable playing conditions can all change the bottom line stats and influence who comes out on top. The statistical margin of error could be used to argue that Branden Albert is the best tackle in the league… at least from a “pass protection” point of view.

Speaking of Joe Thomas, that’s who may be playing at “RT” for the Chiefs this season… or his doppelganger banger and twin brother from different mothers. When comparing prospects coming into the league, as the pundits often do, Thomas’ name is the one that came up more than any other when speaking of the Chiefs number one overall pick, Eric Fisher.

The aspect of Eric Fisher’s “off-the-field” game I am enjoying most this off season is his open, positive and willing attitude: “I’ll play wherever the Chiefs want me to play.” Wow, how refreshing is that?

In any event, no one will be asking, “Where is Mr. Fisher?” this year. He’ll be a standout each weekend, for all the RT reasons. See what I did there?

That leaves the middle of the Chiefs offensive line. The mezzo. The mid-section. The in-betwixt. That’s the real concern isn’t it? In fact, of all the places on the Chiefs roster, it has the most unknowns and uncertainties.

At ILB… we can guess it’s either going to be rookie Nico Johnson or the veteran Akeem Jordan and likely will include both as the year progresses.

At G-C-G… the Chiefs haven’t had anyone play at a Pro Bowl level since Brian Waters and I’m not suggesting they bring him back. Jon Asamoah finished his third year at RG. Asamoah was paired with Eric Winston to help the Chiefs run right at 4.8 yards per carry as opposed to 4.3 when they ran to the left side. Ryan Lilja started at Guard last year and when Hudson went down he moved over to fill in at Center. Rookie Jeff Allen had some nice moments as Lilja’s replacement at Guard but, was mostly a failure.

In an attempt to assess a rookie of the year at each position for 2012, PFF says of Allen,

Guards: Amini Silatolu, CAR (LG) (-16.7) and Kevin Zeitler, CIN (RG) (+13.0)-  The right guard position was easily filled by Zeitler, who ranked as our 12th-best guard on his way to surrendering only 15 pressures all season. Finding a left guard was a much more arduous process, and Silatolu makes the team by default over Jeff Allen (KC) and Mike Brewster (JAX). Silatolu ranked 77th of the 81 qualifying guards, but ranking a couple of notches above Allen and Brewster gets him the spot on the team.

Allen ranking below a sub-par player like Silatolu who scored -16.7 is not what the Chiefs are looking for in 2013.

So, what are the Chiefs possibilities “up-the-middle?”

In March the Chiefs signed Free Agent Guard Geoff “may the” Schwartz “be with you.” And he should be a big difference-maker in the makeup of the Chiefs’ interior offensive line this season.

Schwartz stands 6-6 and weighs 340 pounds. He’s been described as a “mountain man” and although he’s not played as a starter for a whole season at a time yet, his potential is clearly yet untapped. In 2010, PFF called Schwartz a “Secret Superstar.” In a separate article PFF ran on him in March of this year they said Schwartz had “fallen into a black hole in Minnesota that he wanted out of.” After languishing as a backup for two other franchises Mr. Schwartz appears to have found his prime opportunity in Kansas City.

Of course the best news of all was PFFs evaluation of this undervalued Guard/Tackle:

Schwartz allowed just four pressures on 84 pass blocks and also posted high marks as a run blocker.

With Schwartz holding down what will likely be the left guard position and Jon Asamoah progressing at right guard… the Chiefs’ hopes this year rest upon the third year shoulders of untested and unproven Center Rodney Hudson.

Although the Chiefs have toyed with bringing Ryan Lilja back for one last hoorah, unless that happens, the middle of the middle is all up to Mr. Hudson.

The Chiefs’ 55th pick, a second rounder, in 2011, Rodney Hudson comes with expectations. More fan expectations than his. I remember saying to myself as I watched him perform drills at the 2011 NFL Combine, “Hudson has some of the quickest feet I’ve ever seen on a lineman.” When he suffered a broken bone in his foot last September, I thought, there goes his feet.

Not only is the biggest question mark the Center position, but it is also the position with the least depth anywhere on the field for the Chiefs. I imagine that’s why the Chiefs selected 6-3, 304 lb Eric Kush in the 6th round of this year’s draft but that’s no soothing consolation in case Hudson goes down again. Could one of the other linemen slide over and play Center like last year? Sure but, then that will weaken what looks to be a very solid offensive line going forward.

6-4, 309 lb Tommy Draheim is another Center on the roster but is viewed as a camp player having already spent time on the roster of the Packers, Seahawks, Patriots and Jaguars in 2012.

Second year tackle Donald Stephenson is believed to be a solid tackle by Andy Reid and filled in admirably in 2012 for Branden Albert. With Allen able to back up the Guard positions (although that’s not a preferable option), the main depth question on the offensive line comes back to the Center position.

The main concern with Rodney Hudson, just as it was with Ryan Lilja and Rudy Niswanger, who preceded him, is protection. Can Hudson’s 6-3, 299 lb frame handle the girth and mass of nose tackles lining up in this league across from the Center now?

Fullbacks and runningbacks can help to chip and handle on-coming rushers from the outside or even linebackers coming up the middle but, there is nothing that can help a Center who is overpowered by an opposing NT. And… there is nothing that was quite as bothersome to Chiefs QBs in 2012 as the middle of the OL collapsing… and we all know how that turned out.

Protection.

Playing Andy Reid’s pass-first brand of football is going to require better protection. It’s definitely going to be better in 2012 but… it’s a mystery in the middle of the middle where protection is “the” question.

However, I’m predicting and projecting the Chiefs offensive line to finish the season as a top ten unit. If you want to read about someone else who supports the idea that the Chiefs offensive line will be very good in 2013, you can read an article called “2013 Offensive Line Rankings” in RotoWorld written by Evan Silva. He says the Chiefs will be #11 overall.

What do you say Addicts? Are you excited about the Chiefs offensive line?

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