I am, as perhaps many are also, of the opinion that the game is won in the trenches. The continual battle between getting to the quarterback and protecting the quarterback is what often defines the success or failure of a team. This article is an excellent analysis of how Alex Smith’s play depends upon the competency of the offensive line, and is a main reason why the offensive line in 2015 will heavily influence the chances of making the postseason.
Kansas City has one of the best pass rushes in the league with Tamba Hali, Justin Houston and a highly underrated line anchored by Dontari Poe. The defense has the potential to be elite in this coming season with the additions through the draft. It is not the defensive trench that is troublesome for the Chiefs. The successes of 2015 will be defined by the performance of the offensive line, in creating holes for Jamaal Charles, and protecting quarterback Smith.
Last year, the offensive issues of the Chiefs (do I really need to mention that dreadful stat again?) were mainly dependent on Alex Smith consistently running for his life. The Chiefs allowed 49 sacks last year, which was good for seventh-worst in the league. Smith also ended the season with a lacerated spleen, keeping him out of the Week 17 clash against the Chargers, and generally struggled to hold on the football for more than 2 seconds without someone bearing down on him.
Further evidence that the Chiefs’ offensive line was horrifically bad last season is found in the Pro Football Focus ratings. These are not always the most accurate, but they do offer a good idea of the performance level of a player. All the offensive linemen bar Rodney Hudson had a negative grading, including Mike McGlynn who was rated the worst guard in the league. It became truly depressing to watch pass rushers simply waltz into the backfield time and time again.
So, this leads me to question how will the offensive line fare in 2015?
Firstly, Mike McGlynn is no longer on the roster. This immediately improves the interior protection for Smith. The replacement, one Ben Grubbs for the value of a 5th round draft pick, is a 2 time pro bowler, and although getting on in years at 31, is a significant improvement on McGlynn. The impact of Grubbs, however, will be felt more in the adjacent positions.
Sep 19, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs offensive tackle Eric Fisher (72) during the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. The Chiefs defeated the Eagles 26-16. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
At left tackle, 1st overall pick Eric Fisher has struggled. He looked to improve towards the end of the season, and with his first full offseason, there is reason for thinking he will play at a significantly higher level than last season. The biggest reason to be hopeful for improvement in Fisher’s game, however, is Grubbs. Not having to play alongside McGlynn, Fisher will be able to focus on his own job with help from an experienced veteran.
At center, Hudson left for the Raiders. The battle for the starting spot is between rookie Mitch Morse and third year Eric Kush. Kush will most likely start come week 1, but he will be a downgrade on the solid production of Hudson. Grubbs’ experience will be most advantageous here as Hudson was the leader on the offensive line last year. Grubbs will be required to help Kush identify defensive schemes and blitzes, but expect a lack of cohesion, especially early on in the season, across the line.
The right side of the line will most likely consist Zach Fulton at right guard and Donald Stephenson at right tackle. While both have shown potential, they are not solid, consistent offensive linemen yet. Stephenson was unable to break back into a poor starting line up after his four-game suspension last season, and Fulton is a sixth-round pick who was thrown in the deep end.
While both will improve in contrast to last season, they are not pro bowl caliber offensive linemen, they are average offensive linemen at best. In fact, other than Ben Grubbs, all the offensive linemen of the Chiefs, including Jeff Allen, free agent pick up Paul Fanaika and Derek Sherrod, are average at best, and this is worrying.
Smith plays well behind a line that plays well. And love him or hate him, for Kansas City to make the postseason and challenge Denver for the AFC West crown, Andy Reid must get Smith playing well. Will the Chiefs have an offensive line that allows Smith to play well? It is perhaps too soon to say, but although it will be improved upon from last year, it is still a major worry for the successes of this team.
Let me know if you agree or disagree in the comments, and as always… GO CHIEFS!!