Offensive line problems highlight the needs in the NFC North ... except in Chicago, which is kind of unsettling to think about.
18 Oct 2012
by Ben Muth
The Kansas City Chiefs played poorly against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. (Analysis!) They averaged a miniscule 2.7 yards per rush and a pitiful 4.7 yards per pass attempt. Looking at those numbers, it’s not surprising that the Chiefs failed to score an offensive touchdown for a second straight game. What might be surprising is that Kansas City’s offensive line actually played pretty well.
First, consider that Kansas City didn’t give up any sacks. Not only that, but Tampa Bay only had three quarterback hits. Two of those hits were not the fault of the offensive line: one where Tony Moeaki was beat by Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, and another where the Bucs brought more guys than the Chiefs could block. That’s a really impressive pass-protection performance no matter who you play. The running game wasn’t as good, but I think the credit for that should go to good game planning by Tampa Bay that forced some runs into impossible looks.
The biggest thing Tampa Bay did on defense was sneak extra men into the box late. They would come out in two high looks (both safeties 8-to-12 yards off the line of scrimmage) and creep a safety down as the cadence progressed. Because the in-box safety was arriving so late, he was usually unaccounted for, or accounted for by someone who had no chance of blocking of him. Let’s go to the tape.
The Chiefs came out in a single-back formation with two tight ends to the left. Just off screen to the left is Dexter McCluster (he’ll be important later). The Bucs are in a three-man front with two high safeties.
The play is a basic man blocking scheme. The Chiefs are double-teaming both defensive linemen to the play side and have good angles on the linebackers. But as the cadence progresses, you can see strong safety Mark Barron move down to about six yards off the line of scrimmage, right where the play is designed to go.
Dexter McCluster (still offscreen) is responsible for Barron, but he’s too wide to block Barron right now. At this point, Brady Quinn has two options: he can change the play, or he can motion McCluster into the line so he has a chance to block Barron.
Tony Romo actually did a ton of pre-snap motioning against the Ravens on Sunday. It seemed like he was bringing Dez Bryant, Kevin Ogletree, or Miles Austin into the line to block a safety every play. He did it so often that color man Brian Billick kept complaining about how long it was taking the Cowboys to get plays off. Well, if a team is giving you looks you can’t block, it’s the quarterback's job to do something about it instead of running negative plays. If that means you’re snapping it with two seconds on the play clock, so be it. Quinn never seemed to adjust to the defense’s pre-snap movements; he took more of a hands-off approach.
We see McCluster in the picture for the first time. You see he actually runs into Moeaki’s block. That’s because he’s coming as flat as possible to try to give himself a shot at cutting Barron off. The play would have been great if Barron wasn’t there; the Chiefs have the whole front seven blocked.
But Barron is there. And now he’s lifted Jamaal Charles off the ground and is about to drive him into the turf two yards behind the line of scrimmage with a perfect form tackle. Also highlighted is McCluster, with some body language that says "Oh sh*t!" It wasn’t McCluster’s fault really -- not a lot of guys could have gotten to Barron -- but you never want to see your man hit a teammate that hard.
It wasn’t just safeties that were confusing the Chiefs with late movement, Tampa Bay used their linebackers as well. Take this play, where the Chiefs are lined up in 11-personnel with the tight end aligned to the left. They have a run called, but because of the formation, they know they can only block six box defenders.
The Chiefs want to run single-back power to the left. The Bucs have seven guys in the box, which should kill the play. I’m guessing that Quinn considered Lavonte David (No. 54) far enough from the play to be a non-factor. (Teams that want to run, like the Chiefs, play a little looser with what counts as in or out of the box.) So they stick with the play. Notice that David is well outside of right tackle Eric Winston’s shoulder when the cadence begins.
By the time the Chiefs snap the ball, David has moved even with Winston’s shoulder. Not only that, but he’s got momentum going towards the play and is unaccounted for.
I’m not sure if center Ryan Lilja is to blame, or if it’s Quinn’s fault again. Lilja could make a squeeze call to Winston; that means he would come down and either reach the three-technique or cut him, allowing Lilja to go straight to David.
But it’s asking a lot for Lilja to see a linebacker that starts three yards outside the right tackle and creeps in late, especially when David times his stunt so perfectly. You’d like to see the quarterback change the play when he sees that seventh guy coming into the box, because he has a much better view.
Of course, that didn’t happen. The result of the play was David coming in unblocked for another two-yard loss on Charles.
Quinn was put in a tough situation. He hasn’t played in two years and is in his first season with the Chiefs. All he’s had a chance to see is basic preseason defenses and scout team guys run blitzes from a card. (A coach holds up a card with how the offense will lineup, and it tells the scout defense where to lineup and what they are supposed to do.) Those aren’t situations where you see a lot of pre-snap movement. As a result, Quinn was unprepared to make adjustments on the fly.
Enough about what Tampa’s defense did well, let’s talk about what Kansas City’s offensive line did well. A big reason Quinn had so much time to throw was that Kansas City was able to pass off twists in protection.
The twist Tampa Bay seemed to run the most was a TED stunt. It’s called a TED because the tackle goes first and end follows. The best way to block any twist is to slide protect into it, but you can’t go full slide all the time, so you have to be able to block them in man as well.
The key to man-blocking any twist is altering the course of the penetrator. In the TED stunt, the tackle penetrates and the end loops, so the defensive tackle is the key player. Here, left guard Jeff Allen gets a strong punch on the defensive tackle. He knocks the defensive tackle from his intended landmark (the left tackle's hip) to the left tackle's inside shoulder. That allows Brandon Albert a chance to step in and engage the defensive tackle within the framework of his body, as opposed to having to reach for the defender. It puts Albert in a much stronger position
Also, notice how Allen is balanced as he’s punching. A lot of guards have a tendency to chase defensive tackles rushing wide, but Allen stays with himself and only uses his hands to redirect the tackle. He isn’t too far over his feet.
As the defensive end comes around, Allen is able to pick him up without any problem. He even gets unnecessary help from (center) Lilja since the Bucs showed blitz and Quinn checked to a seven-man protection.
You may notice that Albert is in pretty bad body position here. Luckily that doesn’t matter because:
A) Quinn is already throwing the ball
B) He’s Brandon Albert. He’s always in weird positions, but almost always recovers from them.
If we kept the film rolling. you would see Albert recover almost immediately from this. Because that is what he does.
I wish I could add more about the things the Chiefs did well, but it was kind of a boringly-efficient performance. No one was dominant, but they all blocked their assignments and didn’t get shoved around. Albert and Winston (asides from one bogus hold) both looked good in the running the game, but other than that it was just yeoman’s work up front. Nothing exciting, but there are a handful of contenders (Bears, Packers, Seahawks, Cardinals) that would kill for this kind of performance from their offensive linemen.
So, in the immortal words of Brady Quinn, "Now I’m done."
12 comments, Last at 19 Oct 2012, 9:13am by Karl Cuba