This is the final offensive position of my ‘2018 Season in Review’ series before I move onto the defense next week. I believe that every good NFL team needs a sturdy and reliable offensive line. I also feel like it’s one of the most underrated positional groups in the sport (as well as being one of the hardest to analyse). But hey-ho, let’s give it a shot: it’s time to show the guys, who have protecting Mahomes all season-long, some love.
So what exactly is my process for analysing how good an offensive line is? Well, for obvious reasons, I look at how much pressure the quarterback was put under that season, how effective the run game was, as well as how healthy the line was as a whole. This way you can get a good feel for how they perform against the pass rush and run defence and also how many changes we had to make throughout the year.
Mahomes was sacked a total of 34 times in the regular season and postseason combined; which equates to around 1.9 per game. This placed us 15th in the league in sacks allowed on the year. However, being around average isn’t the worst thing in the world, considering Watson was sacked almost double what Mahomes was (65 in total / 3.8 per game). So, in terms of passing, the offensive line did an around average job of making sure Mahomes had enough time to release the ball. However, Mahomes was hit a total of 107 times which ranked 9th in the league. Despite not getting the sack, being able to put that much pressure on can still cause problems for the offence as it gives the QB less time to pick out an accurate pass.
Having said that, it appears that the offensive line’s production was enough. With a talent like Mahomes, it is clear that all you need is for the line in front of him to to a average job in order to get results (so for that reason I believe they were successful). As amazing as number 15 was last season, I don’t think he would have been able to put up the same numbers if the pass protection was as bad as Houston’s.
As far as the run game was concerned, the Chiefs were average in this category too. Rushing for 1,855 yards on the year put us 16th in the league. However we were also tied 8th in rushing 1st downs with 108. Proving how the run protection of our offensive line could be trusted to keep drives alive a lot of the time. On top of this, the Chiefs also managed to come 5th on yards/attempt with 4.8; the ones above Kansas City include the 2 Super Bowl contenders, Carolina and divisional rivals Denver
Although, that’s not to say that the Chiefs were all sunshine and rainbows with run protection this year. The line allowed a total of 34 negative rushing plays across the year (13 from the left, 9 from the centre and 12 from the right). This helps to highlight where the strengths and weaknesses are a little better on our line. It’s clear that the run game was more consistent up the middle than it was on either of the two sides last year.
However for the more impressive plays, the opposite appeared to be the case. With rushing snaps that went for 10+ yards the left side had 16, the right side had 28 but the centre only managed to put up 10. This goes to show that, despite the middle being the more reliable place for a running back to make a positive play, sometimes it was worth the risk to pick up a big gain by bouncing it to the outside. It also helps having such versatile players, like Tyreek Hill, on your team who can be used to generate huge amounts of speed from getting space around the edge of the line.
As you can see the the 5 guys up front had a decent season, but just how consistent were the players in that line? Well the Chiefs offensive line ranked 16th in number of games started by the offensive line members combined with 295. It’s starting to become clear that the Chiefs have one of the most average lines in the league in every aspect of the game: not amazing but also not terrible. I don’t really have a problem with that though, considering how the offence performed all season long. Imagine if we had an above average line with the rest of the team maintaining their performance as well, it just wouldn’t be fair for the other 31 teams.
The team were also affected by a handful of injuries across the season. The most noticeable was probably the loss of our starting right guard M.D. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. The Canadian born lineman spent weeks 6-17, as well as both of the post-season games, on the injury reserve list, due to an injury on his shin. Our starting center Mitch Morse was also out with a concussion between weeks 7-11 and starting left guard Cam Erving sat in week 15 because of a knee injury.
Before the Duvernay-Tardif injury, the Chiefs’ opponents only sacked Mahomes 6 times in 5 games (1.2 sacks/game). However, after his absence, the numbers increased to 28 in the remaining 13 games of the season and 2 playoff games; which equated to 2.15 sacks/game. The worst performance of the season in terms of sacks came in week 10 when both Duvernay-Tardif and Morse were out. Mahomes got dropped 5 times in the matchup against the Cardinals; however the absences didn’t affect the run game too much as we still managed 5.1 yards/attempt (above our average for the season) and had one rushing touchdown too.
So it’s clear that the loss of, arguably, our best offensive linemen did impact our performance as a team. Although this only makes the prospect of next season that bit more exciting because, if the offence performed this well with some considerable injuries, imagine what they’ll be like with a healthy front 5 leading the way.
The starters that were healthy all season were rewarded for their successes. Our left tackle Eric Fisher picked up a pro-bowl selection and the tackle on the other side of the line, Mitchell Schwartz, was awarded with a first-team all-pro selection.
Performance of the Season
Enough of the negatives, let’s take a look at which game was the most impressive by the offensive line as a whole. The decision was a toss-up between 2 in my opinion. The Seattle game in week 16 was an incredible rushing performance with 8.1 yards/attempt and only 1 sack given up. The other was in week 13 at Oakland where we rushed for 5.8 yards/attempt but didn’t give up a single sack all game.
However, after deliberation, I decided to go for the latter, simply because it seemed like we were more dominant in the trenches. The line managed to help the running backs get an above average on yards/attempt and also added a rushing touchdown. On top of this, Mahomes was given all the time in the world to do what he does best he wasn’t sacked all game and had an impressive stat line too (throwing for 295 yards, 4 touchdowns and not a single interception). It was a confident and well-executed game by the entire line and therefore was worthy of being the offensive line’s ‘performance of the season’.
The offensive line’s future isn’t set yet. 27-year-old Mitch Morse is an unrestricted free agent this season. The right guard M.D. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif is on contract until the 2023 season but his injury is a something that needs to be overcome. Cam Erving, the guard on the other side of the line, is contracted on the Chiefs for another 2 seasons and has been healthy and performing well enough to not worry about so much.
As for the 2 tackles, they’re both healthy and both of them are also under contract for the next few years at least (Schwartz until 2021 and Fisher until 2022). As well as this, they’ve both come off of a couple of really impressive years, the accolades I mentioned earlier show this.
The only real concerns I have are with the center and right guard positions. I think we should re-sign Morse as his health and talent isn’t the most common thing to find in the NFL. As for Duvernay-Tardif, he’s a great player, when he’s healthy, so I don’t think we should abandon the idea of him completely. However I also don’t think it would be the worse idea in the world to pick up a cheap free-agent or draft a young guard in the later rounds of this year’s draft. This would simply be to get more depth at the position which will, in turn, allow Duvernay-Tardif to take the proper time off to recover from his injury without feeling rushed to come back.
Regardless of what happens, I don’t think that the offensive line position is something to worry about too much. We have a strong, and fairly young, group of starters that have been performing well. As long as we can increase the depth we should be able to go into 2019 confident that we can improve on this year’s good performance.
So that’s it for the offence, next week I’ll be moving onto the defense, starting with the d-line. I hope you’ve been enjoying the series so far, go Chiefs!