The Chiefs offensive line and their positional coach Andy Heck deserve far more credit than they’re receiving.
The dissolution began before the season did.
When Laurent Duvernay-Tardif announced that he would opt out for the upcoming NFL season, becoming the first player to do so under the provision created by the league, the Kansas City Chiefs were forced to make the first of what would become several moves along the offensive front.
Even after 13 wins in 14 games, they’re still not done making adjustments.
Once Duvernay-Tardif opted out, the Chiefs acted quickly to sign veteran Kelechi Osemele as a new starter. He played on the opposite side, but the move gave the Chiefs a dependable mauler along their starting five and kept the unit solid up front. Then Lucas Niang opted out, the Chiefs only draftee along a line that’s needed an infusion of youth and potential for the last couple years. Suddenly, their hopes to draft and develop someone was lost. In Week 1 that wasn’t an issue, but all parties involved were aware of the rigors of a full NFL season. Niang would be needed, and now he was not available.
From there it only got worse. Within a few weeks, Osemele somehow tore tendons in both knees on a non-contact play. Crazy. Just a couple weeks later, the team’s ironman and most important player on the offensive line was forced to leave a game with back pain. This wouldn’t just be a short-lived issue. It wouldn’t just linger for a game or two. The Chiefs haven’t seen Schwartz since then, and even recently, Andy Reid said he’s uncertain whether or not he will be available for the postseason.
Mike Remmers was signed this offseason to serve as the unit’s sixth man, so to speak, in a role vacated by Cam Erving. Remmers stepped up and did a nice job in the wake of Osemele’s injury, and then filled in for Schwartz as well on the outside when he was lost. Yet in recent weeks, Remmers has been out, forcing the Chiefs to make further changes. Since then Eric Fisher, the team’s Pro Bowl left tackle, has endured back pain and clearly played through it on Sunday in a win over the Saints.
Think back to the initial line and what was envisioned. Now realize that Nick Allegretti has started a half season at left guard. Rookie free agent Yasir Durant has been forced into meaningful reps. Austin Reiter and Daniel Kilgore have been traded out for the other and then swapped back in. Stefen Wisniewski has been re-signed and re-installed. Bryan Witzmann is waiting in the wings. Even Danny Isidora got a couple snaps along the way.
Think about the bigger picture here for a second. The Chiefs are the defending Super Bowl champs who came into this season with the league’s best offense. The front line of that offense has suffered through more opt outs, injuries, and general shifts than any season in recent memory and still the train keeps moving along. The Chiefs have lost their single best player, steady performers, a promising rookie, and solid role players. All the while, Andy Heck, the positional coach responsible for making sure his guys are ready, just keeps getting the unit through another win.
Look, no one should overlook the presence of future Hall of Famers on this offense. Patrick Mahomes could win his second MVP in three seasons this year. Tyreek Hill is the best wideout to ever wear a Chiefs uniform, and Travis Kelce is the best tight end in the NFL by a considerable margin. Sammy Watkins, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Le’Veon Bell. I get it. And of course, there’s a Hall of Fame head coach known for his creative genius in Andy Reid.
Each of those names deserve to be mentioned here, because they are largely responsible for the success of such a historic offense. NFL history will tell the story of what we’re witnessing week after week as Chiefs fans and that should not be lost on any of us. But I don’t think it is. I think we’re all quite cognizant that we’re very, very fortunate to be living through such a golden era of this franchise and that it looks like this span of time is going to extend indefinitely into the future.
What is lost in the present moment is the tremendous amount of work being done up front to keep the chains moving in the midst of what could sink other teams. The Chiefs aren’t alone in boasting about the tremendous skill position players available to them. The Chiefs aren’t the only one with a brilliant play caller as a head coach. The Chiefs aren’t even the only team with an elite quarterback—although they certainly have the best one overall.
Other teams have all these things, to one degree or another, and yet still lose a handful of games. The Chiefs lone loss came in a shocking turn to a Raiders team that deserves credit for playing extremely well against a division rival. However that same game also included plenty of self-inflicted wounds that the team could just not overcome on a miserable afternoon of football—and they put up 32 points.
The Chiefs withstand the very best from opposing defenses week after week. Just think of the Raiders’ game to realize the size of the target on the Chiefs’ back(s). It’s a bragging point to knock off the defending champs. Everyone wants to topple Kansas City. Jon Gruden took a victory lap because it does feel that good to beat the Chiefs. And to K.C.’s credit, no one else would even know what that feels like. This means that defensive coordinators realize the Chiefs aren’t operating up front with the talent they would like, so it’s going to be a focal point to create disruption. And still it’s not working–at least not enough where it counts in the standings.
Reiter was a waiver claim turned two-year starter for a Super Bowl winning team. Allegretti is a seventh round pick who keeps earning starts. Remmers, Wisniewski, Wylie, and Kilgore were all journeyman signings. Durant was undrafted. Coach Heck has taken anything and everything he’s been given and turned it into a line ready to play the next week. They mauled the Bills. They stood up to the Saints. They’ve gone into the home stadiums of eight other teams and walked away with victories each and every time.
If not for the work put in up front by Heck and his players, it’s unlikely that the Chiefs would be in the pole position that they are for the AFC’s top seed. There’s no doubt they would have won the division and it’s also possible they could be in the running for it. But the offensive line deserves credit for somehow staying afloat despite taking misses that would have sunk every other ship.