An erratic but improving offensive line played a big part in Denver's championship win.
20 Jul 2012
by Ben Muth
After breaking down the Chiefs' Week 16 game against the Raiders, I am willing to say that Eric Winston was the best signing of the offseason. Kansas City’s front five played decently, but it was in spite of last year’s right tackle, Barry Richardson. Not only is Winston a significant upgrade on Richardson, he fits what the Chiefs want to do perfectly.
Winston’s ability to block defensive ends on outside zone concepts is exactly what the Chiefs need. Kansas City ran a lot of concepts where the tackle or tackle and tight end would reach the defensive end while the playside guard would pull around and lead.
Winston has shown great ability to not only sustain these types of blocks, but actually get vertical movement on them. Most tackles can only get lateral movement on those blocks, as they are very difficult for tackles on outside zones. That will provide a much easier path for the pulling guard to get around and lead on. If Jamaal Charles is healthy this year, I could see him having a bigger year than he had in 2010.
As far as players that I actually watched this week, Jon Asamoah was the guy that stood out the most to me. He was rock solid in pass protection all day -- I’m struggling to recall an instance where he got beat. He also did a nice job blocking guys in space. It didn’t matter if it was locking onto linebackers coming off combo blocks or defensive backs when he was pulling outside. He took good angles and stuck on to his assignments.
At center, the Chiefs featured Casey Wiegmann. I really don’t have a ton to say about the 38-year-old veteran. He had a couple of nice moments, the most memorable of which was a really nice reach block against a shaded nose tackle on a Wham play. He also had a nice kick out block on a screen to Dexter McCluster that went for 43 yards and led to the tying score late in the fourth quarter. Other than that though, he didn’t stand out. He didn’t get much movement in the running game. He got knocked back a bit in the passing game, but he didn’t really get beat cleanly and usually hung on to keep from allowing real pressure.
At left guard the Chiefs had Ryan Lilja. The veteran had a bit of an inconsistent day. He looked great pulling and blocking in space. Lilja kicked out on defensive ends a couple of times and also made some nice blocks on screen plays. He looked really good in combination block on zone running plays. However, he struggled in pass protection. He seemed to have a hard time handling bull rushes early in the game, and ended up too close to Kyle Orton for Orton's comfort.
Lilja seemed to adjust as the game went along, but the adjustment opened up another set of problems. He started leaning on guys with all his weight to stop the bull rush. The problem was that this left him off-balance, and when defenders would knock his hands down, he would fall down. He looked better in the second half, but gave up more pressure than you would like to see. It should be interesting to see if he can hold off this year's second-round pick, Jeff Allen, in the preseason.
Finally, we get to left tackle Branden Albert. The former first-rounder is the player on this line I had the hardest time evaluating. He does do a lot of things well. He plays with good strength, he moves his feet well against wide rushers, and he does a nice job of handling defensive ends by himself on outside zone plays.
Sadly, there sure are a lot of negatives for a guy with his pedigree that has played a lot of football. The first thing that stood out was his habit of letting his feet die after contact on drive blocks. He would fire out well, but after that he would get stuck in the ground and not generate any movement. It resulted in a lot of stalemates. Also, his pass set leaves something to be desired. Once he gets engaged with a defender or starts mirroring a wide rusher, he looks fine. The set to get there, though, is all over the place. He brings his feet too close together because he swings his right foot too much on every step.
Don't get me wrong, Albert was effective for the most part. His ugly mechanics would be a huge negative if he wasn’t successful, but at some point you have to throw your hands up, forget about process and just look at the results. The only time Albert gave up pressure on passing plays is when he was passing off twists with Lilja.
Before we end, I want to give an example of the battle within the game between offensive linemen and defenders. There was a play in the second quarter where Casey Wiegmann pulled and led up on Rolando McClain. McClain lowered his head and knocked Wiegmann on his ass. The Alabama product then proceeded to talk a lot of trash to the veteran center. Of course, the fact that McClain didn’t make the tackle because he was too busy with Wiegmann is beside the defender's point -- he knocked a bigger guy down and wanted to make sure he knew about it.
A couple of plays later, the Chiefs call a screen pass and once again Wiegmann is pulling around for McClain. Once again, McClain is coming with a full head of steam and his head down. This time, Wiegmann stops just short and brings both hands down in a clubbing motion onto McClain’s shoulder pads. The linebacker gets a face full of dirt.
Both plays were pretty inconsequential in the grand scheme of things: the run went for five yards and the screen went for seven. But they were a nice example of a veteran player making an adjustment from one play to the next, and as a nice bonus, it made a defender look like an ass. That’s really the goal of any offensive linemen.
That does it for this week. I'd love some suggestions on who you'd like to see me breakdown as we head closer to the season. The only team I have on my schedule right now is the Dolphins, to coincide with their Hard Knocks debut. Other than that my schedule is clear, so I’d love some suggestions. I would also like to do a Q&A sometime this offseason, so feel free to leave questions in the comments, email them to wordofmuth-at-gmail.com, or ask me on Twitter.
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