Winning On The Line … Monday Cup O’Chiefs

Since the game was invented there is one thing that has never changed about football. Fancy offenses come and go. So do the defenses that react to those offenses. Players and coaches change with great regularity.

The constant is the line of scrimmage. The team that wins the contest at the line of scrimmage invariably is the team that wins the game. Oh sure, every once in a while the moon and stars will align and some team that couldn’t handle things on the line of scrimmage wins a game; happens about once or twice a decade.

That makes it simple to explain why the Kansas City Chiefs have shocked the NFL and opened the season with a 3-0 record. They have been winning the games at the line of scrimmage. The defensive front seven has been able to control opponent offenses, especially in the running game where San Diego, Cleveland and San Francisco were unable to gain any sort of traction.

But the excellence on the line of scrimmage for the Chiefs in three games has come along the offensive line. This often maligned group has been good to outstanding in three games. The outstanding came in the last game, when they opened enough holes for the Chiefs to gain 207 yards rushing and did not allow QB Matt Cassel to be sacked.

That’s why Todd Haley gave the line the offensive game ball for the victory over San Francisco.  

“They are getting better, they are working hard at getting better and working together as the rest of our team is really working hard at working together,” Haley said. “Anytime you have that kind of production and physically get rolling like we were able to in that game, that is a good thing. They will obviously be at the core of that most of the time, the offensive line.”

Now, a good running game and pass protection can’t come just from the offensive line. Other parts of the offense have to contribute as well. But those guys up front are the base; without them, there isn’t much the other six guys on offense can get done.

Nobody knows that more than the other six guys.

“These guys are pretty good; they adjust really well and they get things done,” said veteran RB Thomas Jones. “Any back will tell you that their success is based on the guys blocking. It’s no different with this team. I guess the thing that’s really great is that they’ve come together so well in a short period of time.”

Cassel is especially appreciative of the improved performance – his body has fewer bruises.

“The offensive line is doing a great job and we’re mixing and matching with running the ball well and play-action passes,” Cassel said. “It really helps.”

It’s made all the difference in the world. Again, the offensive line is not the sole reason for the way the Chiefs have played. But compared to what got done last year in the first three games, it’s a stunning turnaround. Here are the numbers.

 

Season

Runs/

Yards

Net Passing

Yards

Sacks

Allowed

First

Downs

Runs/

Pass Plays

Points

Scored

 

Team

Record

 

2010

104/482

484

2

46

104/79

68

 

3-0

 

2009

84/301

492

8

47

84/90

48

 

0-3

 

That improvement has come despite the fact that the starting five for the last three games has three faces that were not part of the opening lineup last season: C Casey Wiegmann, RG Ryan Lilja and RT Barry Richardson. They have combined with veteran LG Brian Waters and LT Branden Albert to form a cohesive group under the direction of offensive line coach Bill Muir.

“Casey and Ryan have fit right in,” said Waters, the longest tenured member of the Chiefs. “That shouldn’t be a surprise, given they were both here before at one point. But they’ve done a great job of adding to the group and blending with the guys that were here.”

Last year’s group of Albert, Waters, C Rudy Niswanger, RGs Mike Goff/Andy Alleman/Wade Smith and RT Ryan O’Callaghan struggled through the first eight games of the season. Only when Jamaal Charles was inserted into the starting lineup and Larry Johnson was released did they come together and the offense became productive.

This year, the group came together quickly, especially given the fact that Richardson only became the starter in the third week of the pre-season, after O’Callaghan suffered a right groin injury that he’s yet to return from. In real roster danger a week before that start against Philadelphia, Richardson has taken advantage of the opportunity presented to him. He’s not been a weak link in the group.

But the real surprise in all of this has been Wiegmann. When he signed with the Chiefs in the off-season, after he was released by Denver, it appeared at first as one of those sign and retire as a member of the Chiefs deal. But it was anything but that. Wiegmann had no plans to leave the game. He was happy to be back in his football home and was willing to fight for the starting job with incumbent Rudy Niswanger.

Through training camp practices they split the time, but there was a slow, but noticeable drift towards Wiegmann working with the No. 1 offense. That’s how the season started and nothing has changed in the three games. He was at his best against San Francisco, when he faced NT Aubrayo Franklin who is considered one of the better nose tackles in the game. Wiegmann was again giving up 40 to 50 pounds

Franklin was barely a factor in the game. Wiegmann used his experience and his knowledge of leverage and his opponent’s tendencies to make a 325-pound man disappear. It was one of the most remarkable performances on the field that day, given the physical differences between the two men.

“He’s a good player,” Franklin muttered after the game in the visitors’ locker room at Arrowhead Stadium. “We didn’t play very well.”

Wiegmann’s approach and performance did get Todd Haley talking, and that’s no easy task. The head coach prefers not to throw bons mots to individual players. He’s always quick to use the old line from his mentor Bill Parcells about “not putting the guy in the Hall of Fame just yet.” It always goes down like this – “Coach, what about Tamba Hali’s performance today?” will be the question. “I thought our defense played a good game,” will be Haley’s answer. “Coach that Tony Moeaki is really fitting into the offense quite well isn’t he?” is another question. “I’ve been happy with all our rookies,” will be his comeback.

But asking about Wiegmann is a different story.

“You know I don’t like to talk about individuals,” Haley assured the media horde. “But I am telling you that this is a special human being. He is something and I am so happy that he is a part of our team. I had some past experience with him in New York. It was brief but for whatever reason you form a little bond with guys that you can’t explain. All we did was B.S. a bit. I was a young coach trying to figure out what the heck to do. He was a young player trying to figure out what the heck to do and next thing you know he was in a cab leaving Hofstra (released by the Jets.)

“But for whatever reason when our paths crossed, he is one of those guys that would see you out, look for you and then you started looking for him and that is the way relationships are built even though it is a minute, 30-second talk every couple years.

“There is something inside his person that sets him apart. I can’t tell you exactly what that is but I can tell you that I like this guy and I know his teammates like him and he likes playing football and he likes winning. I am happy for Casey.”

Wiegmann qualifies physically for what Haley is looking for with his blockers. He wants the type of linemen he watched as a kid growing up around the Pittsburgh Steelers. That would be linemen who can move, that can run and are quick on their feet. Size, in height and weight, don’t matter so much. Guards who can run the sweep effectively, or are quick enough to run an inside trap play, are desirable. Centers that can snap and then move are important. In his football mind’s eye, Haley sees guys like Hall of Fame C Mike Webster (6-1, 250 pounds), G Sam Davis (6-1, 255 pounds) and G Gerry Mullins (6-3, 244 pounds) – all Super Bowl starters for the Steelers.

Obviously, Haley wants guys a few pounds heavier than that group, but he doesn’t have to have 300 pounders, which has become the trend. Last week San Francisco’s interior offensive line trio went 6-5 and 331, 6-4 and 330 and 6-5, 323.

That’s why Lilja has fit right into what the Chiefs are doing. Physically, he’s 6-2, 290 pounds and would not qualify with some teams’ picture of the perfect guard. But he’s quick on his feet and can move. Waters is in the best shape of his life, or certainly his life as an offensive lineman. He’s listed at 320 pounds, but is probably a few lbs. under that. And, he’s shown the ability to get to the second level and block the linebackers, while also pulling and trapping.

Three games does not make a season and there are potential obstacles this group may have to overcome. Wiegmann is 37 years old and in his 15th season. He’s not missed a snap since … well since he came back from missing the season opener in 2001 when he had surgery on his appendix. Waters is 33 and seldom comes out of the game. The older they get, there is an increased chance of injury. Eventually, the odds catch up to everyone in the game of football.

And there is the question of what will happen when the doctors and trainers declare O’Callaghan able to play again? Will he return to the starting lineup? Or will Haley stick with what has gotten so much done, with Richardson playing the spot?

“I have been very clear on my policy which is the guy on that given Sunday who gives us the best chance to win the game will be playing,” said Haley. “Our method of moving forward or the way we have been operating and will continue to operate is that it will be anyone who has pads on, I will expect big contributions from one way or another.”

As long as the offensive line continues to operate as they have, the Chiefs will continue to be a productive offense.

NFL PERSONNEL FILE FOR SATURDAY/SUNDAY, OCTOBER 2-3

  • BILLS – released LB Kawika Mitchell with an injury settlement.
  • CHARGERS – signed LB/FB Kion Wilson; released CB Dante Hughes.
  • REDSKINS – signed WR/KR Brandon Banks off their practice squad; released RB Keiland Williams.
  • SAINTS – released CB Leigh Torrence.
  • SEAHAWKS – placed LB Leroy Hill on the injured-reserve list (Achilles) ending his season; re-signed DT Craig Terrill.
  • STEELERS – placed QB Dennis Dixon on the injured-reserve list (left knee), ending his season; signed DE Steve McLendon off their practice squad.
  • TEXANS – signed LB Isaiah Greenhouse off their practice squad.

3 Responses to “Winning On The Line … Monday Cup O’Chiefs”

  • October 4, 2010  - lyle says:

    It appears to me that there has been a huge change in play calling with movement from the interior linemen.(pull, traps) Is that because of a change in play calling? due to the personel? Or is it a change in execution of the same plays? In any case, keep it up. I must admit that I didn’t think Casey could win the starting job back, but he is proving to be an ageless wonder. Hope he can keep drinking from the fountain of youth.


  • October 4, 2010  - Brad says:

    Good article Bob. But the key test of our o-line will be when we get behind in a game. Will we be able to protect the quarterback in that contingency? Will we still have the confidence to keep dialing up the running game? The same holds true for the d-line – will it be able to stop the opponent from running out the clock when we need it to (as Baltimore’s D did yesterday against the Steelers). So much of football is situational – and the coaching staff can’t always control the situations.


  • October 4, 2010  - Edward says:

    Love the fact our o-line has improved. We still need to draft some replacements in next year’s draft another guard, center, and back up tackle. That way we don’t get caught with our pants down like we did in 07 and 08. When guys start retiring and we don’t have any young guys steppinng in to replace these guys.




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