It’s About the O-Line … Friday Cup O’Chiefs

They are without a doubt the MVP group of the Chiefs as the 2010 schedule rolls towards mid-season.

Individually, the Chiefs offensive line does not garner a lot of attention or accolades. But this is very truly an offensive line that in sum is better than its parts. This year’s group has taken a position that was of concern for those inside and outside the Chiefs organization and turned it into a strength for the ’10 team.

The numbers tell the story:

– The Chiefs lead the league in rushing yards with an average of 176.5 yards per game. That’s 17.3 yards more per game than the team in second place, the New York Jets (159.2 yards per game.) The league average is 112.5 yards per game.

– They have allowed the fewest quarterback sacks than any team in the league, giving up five in six games. That’s an average of one sack for every 31.6 passing plays, a ratio that’s topped only by Indianapolis with six sacks allowed in 260 passing plays.

– In a season where close to half the league has already changed their starting quarterbacks due to performance or injury, they’ve kept QB Matt Cassel upright, improving in his performance and relatively healthy.

And ever so quietly, one of those blockers is starting to garner attention individually around the league. After six games, only one of those five sacks has been slapped on LT Branden Albert (left). Consider that last year in 14 games, he allowed nine sacks and the improvement even this early in the season is quite apparent.

But it’s stunning when compared to the rest of the left tackles in the NFL. Here are the best pass protections on the blind side of most quarterbacks at this point of the season:

  1. 0 sacks allowed – Dallas LT Doug Free.
  2. 1 sack allowed – Chiefs LT Branden Albert, Miami LT Jake Long, Indianapolis LT Charlie Johnson and Buffalo LT Demetrius Bell.  

New York Giants LT Dave Diehl has given up 6.5 sacks already this season. Down in Atlanta, LT Sam Baker has allowed six sacks. New England LT Matt Light has given up five sacks. Last year’s All-Pro tackles were Denver’s Ryan Clady (3.5 sacks allowed) and Cleveland’s Joe Thomas (3 sacks given up.)

What makes the story of this year’s offensive line group so interesting comes from two angles to their story. First, they have been very effective despite the fact there are three new faces in the starting lineup in C Casey Wiegmann, RG Ryan Lilja and RT Barry Richardson. Not only three different faces, but one moving from LG to RG in Lilja and the RT Richardson had little game experience over his previous two seasons in the league and about halfway through training camp seemed on his way out the door to the waiver wire.

The second angle is this: notwithstanding Albert’s pedigree as a first-round draft choice, this group is the classic example of how in the NFL it does not matter where you start. It only matters where you finish.

Let’s start with this group’s ability to blend together so quickly in what often is the toughest segment of the roster to gain harmony. It helped tremendously that the two new additions to the roster in Wiegmann and Lilja were not strangers. Wiegmann spent 2001 through 2007 with the Chiefs as the team’s starting center before spending two seasons in Denver. Lilja entered the league with the Chiefs as an undrafted college free agent out of Kansas State. He was waived on the final cut down date of the ’04 pre-season in hopes of signing him to the practice squad. But Indianapolis claimed him and Lilja spent the next six seasons with the Colts.

“They both know the history and they both know how we’ve been taught to do things,” said Waters. “That’s not a tough transition for them to make. They’ve been there before; they are pros and they adapt very quickly.”

So Wiegmann and Waters had played many snaps together. Waters and Albert played the previous two seasons next to each other. That provides a good explanation of why the left side of the line has been so effective. But Wiegmann and Lilja did not have the same background, and Lilja and Richardson had never played together.

That’s where offensive line coach Bill Muir comes in and makes his presence known. A veteran of 33 years coaching in the NFL, he is considered one of the game’s best teachers and tacticians. The respect the linemen hold for him is without question.

“He’s just so good at seeing things and getting his points across,” Lilja said. “I’ve been so lucky in my career. I had a great line coach with the Colts (Howard Mudd) and now I’ve got a great coach here with Bill Muir.”

When he was filling out his coaching staff, Todd Haley was determined to get Muir to handle the offensive line. They had worked together with the New York Jets, when Haley did the grunt work of filling out defensive breakdowns of opponents each week.

“There has to be some continuity and complementary play on the offensive line for you to ever be successful, running and passing,” Haley said. “Bill has continued to work and push these guys and in my opinion, I think he’s a great football coach and you can see that in the time spent with all these guys. Now yes, we’ve brought in some new guys that he’s now assimilated into the group and done a great job of that.”

Richardson’s growth has been extraordinary in this first chance to play for the 2008 sixth-round draft choice. He’s allowed one sack and has picked up just two penalties – those numbers are very good for an inexperienced player.

The other aspect of this group is the fact that it’s not built on five high draft choices. In fact, only two of the five starters were even drafted coming out of college. Albert was the 15th choice of the first round in ’08 and Richardson was the 170th choice in the same draft year in the sixth round.

But the interior trio of Waters-Wiegmann-Lilja weren’t considered good enough coming out of North Texas-Iowa-Kansas State. Yet, they have combined to play 438 NFL games with 390 starts, five Pro Bowl appearances and two starts in the Super Bowl.

“All three of those guys are really of the same temperament,” said Haley. “They are warriors. They love the game and they love the challenges. They set a great example not only for the young offensive linemen, but for any young player who wants to know what’s important.”

It’s an unusual combination of two draft choices and three non-drafted players. There’s only one other team in the league that has that kind of combination on its offensive line and that’s the Cincinnati Bengals. The other 30 teams have at least three draft choices and 15 teams have draft choices at all five positions. Here’s how those teams break down:

Total

Teams

Draft Choice

OL Starters

 Teams

15

5

Baltimore, Carolina, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit, Green Bay, Houston, Jacksonville, Miami, New Orleans, Oakland, San Francisco, Seattle*, Tennessee.

11

4

Arizona, Buffalo, Denver, Indianapolis, Minnesota, N.Y. Jets, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, San Diego**, Washington.

4

3

Atlanta, New England, N.Y. Giants, Tampa Bay.

2

2

Chiefs, Cincinnati.

*-Currently injured rookie Russell Okung is counted as the Seahawks LT. **-Soon to be active holdout Marcus McNeill is counted as the Chargers LT.

All the information and statistics combine to build a portrait of a group that is more talented than many believe, even those in the league. They work well together, receive excellent coaching and they are used on the field in a manner that is successful for them and the offense.

“When a Barry Richardson is playing as many snaps as he has and Branden Albert, you see that development, and you see Brian Waters take his game up to another level in addition to Ryan and Casey coming in and being able to be a part of this … that’s a testament to those guys,” Haley said. “We are making progress there and I think it’s clear and it’s exciting and we have to build on that this week.”

NFL PERSONNEL FILE FOR THURSDAY, OCTOBER 28

  • AFC – named Raiders RB Darren McFadden offensive player of the week, Browns LB David Bowens the defensive player of the week and Steelers returner Emmanuel Sanders as special teams player of the week.
  • NFC – named Falcons WR Roddy White offensive player of the week, Redskins CB DeAngelo Hall the defensive player of the week and Seahawks kicker Olindo Mare special teams player of the week.
  • CHARGERS – Sunday’s game against the Titans at Qualcomm Stadium did not sell out and will be blacked out in southern California.
  • FALCONS – placed TE Robbie Agnone on the injured-reserve list (foot) ending his season.
  • GIANTS – signed DB Will Blackmon, last with Packers; placed DE Mathias Kiwanuka on the injured-reserve list (neck) ending his season.
  • LIONS – Sunday’s game against the Redskins at Ford Field did not sell out and will be blacked out in the Detroit area; placed LB Zach Follett on the injured-reserve list (back/neck) ending his season.
  • RAIDERS – Sunday’s game against the Seahawks at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum did not sell out and will be blacked out in northern California.

8 Responses to “It’s About the O-Line … Friday Cup O’Chiefs”

  • October 29, 2010  - TDKC says:

    Bob,

    Haley was a little shaky last year. He seemed out of control at times. But this year he is reaping the benefits of TEAM play with the help of some great coaches and assistants. This is evident with the obvious improvement along the O line. What is your opinion of Haley? Is he a good coach? Can he be great?


  • October 29, 2010  - Fan Since 93 says:

    Bob, thanks for posting this story. I was going to ask the question, which individual (Wiegman, Lilja, or Bill Muir) has had the biggest impact to our improved offensive line play?

    Also, was it Richardson that when drafted out of Clemson was said to have all of the physical tools, but lacked the maturity? Perhaps he just needed the time and opportunity (more than just a pre season game here and there) to develop.

    Thoughts?


  • October 29, 2010  - el cid says:

    Raiders/Chargers are blackouted (and the NFL wants a team in LA?). Wow, the most televised professional sport in the world and two game not on tv. How do you stay in the lead on tv and not have all your games on tv? Sometime seems the really rich owners outthink themselves. Hope this attitude does not run over into the next CBA.


  • October 29, 2010  - el cid says:

    Fan, Waters said on radio that Lilja had a big time impact. As for Richardson, I give Haley credit. He somehow got Moeaki to “ignor” the minor booboos that plagued him his entire career and play at the level everyone said he had but was alway hurt.


  • October 29, 2010  - Don says:

    Nice read Bob! They have quietly been getting the job done. I think when the year is over many will look at our O line and see how goo they were!


  • October 29, 2010  - Don says:

    “good” they were.


  • October 29, 2010  - gorillafan says:

    Maybe they are starting to get recognized. I heard Golic on Mike and Mike this morning on the radio praising the Cheifs o line and just how good of a job Bill Muir was going.

    Man I really like to hear when we are being talked about again….we have been missing that for a long time!!

    and with what el cid said was correct. LA didnt work in the past and it prob wouldnt again. Its all bout winning, you win and they come.

    Just look at kc, look back and see how many consecutive games we had sold out and how hard it was to get tickets. We started to suck and people stayed at home, even with what was considered a great fan base, we still couldnt keep the stands full. Were starting to win again and people are comming back.
    So IMO, it doesnt matter if you move your team, if you suck, you wont sell tickets, if you win, you could fill a stadium in the middle of the Mojava Desert


  • October 29, 2010  - Rick says:

    .
    Well, The Herminator would run the angels out of heaven itself. ;)




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