Chiefs’ offensive line paving way to success

The Sports Xchange

September 30, 2014 at 8:33 pm.

Kansas City's offensive line has been opening up holes all year for the Chiefs running backs. ( Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Over 200 rushing yards and only two sacks of the quarterback are evidence that the Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive line is starting to come together. That was visible in the Monday night victory over New England.

Starting offensive linemen Eric Fisher, Mike McGlynn, Rodney Hudson, Zach Fulton and Ryan Harris have now started three games together and that continuity is beginning to show. They were able to control the Patriots’ defensive line, especially big tackle Vince Wilfork and defensive end Chandler Jones.

It’s the consistency that allowed coach Andy Reid to increase the volume of his weekly game plan with Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis in the backfield, and tight end Travis Kelce becoming a bigger factor in the Chiefs passing game.

“Not that we don’t have plenty of room to improve, but I thought they came out and played good, tough, hard-nosed football which is a good starting point,” Reid said of his offensive line. “We’ve got to keep working our fundamentals; we’ve got to get better there. They’ll do that. That’s the way they’re wired. I thought they played good football all around (against New England.)”

The only one among the current five starters who was in the same position last year is Hudson, at center. Fulton is a rookie sixth-round draft choice from Tennessee. Fisher is a second-year tackle who moved from the right to the left side. McGlynn was signed in the last week of the preseason after being released by Washington. Harris was signed as a street free agent after he did not return to the Houston Texans.

The key to the Chiefs’ two game winning streak and their road to returning to the .500 mark on the season is the balanced offensive attack Reid put together in victories over Miami and New England. In those games, Kansas City ran 137 plays and, of them, 73 snaps (53 percent) were running plays called in the huddle. Including passes thrown, sacks and scrambles, the passing game has 64 snaps

While the Chiefs may have trouble consistently protecting quarterback Alex Smith, the pressure is diminished when they can come off the snap and move defenders off the line of scrimmage. They did that to the tune of 207 yards against New England.

This Sunday, they must do it again against one of the NFL’s tougher defenses against the run in the San Francisco 49ers. Without balance on offense, the Chiefs will struggle to score points and maintain possession.

“Any time you are running the ball like that you dictate a little bit of what they’re doing,” said Smith. “Many times there was one-on-one coverage outside because we were running the ball so well, forcing them to bring an extra hat down to the box. That’s going to create one-on-one matchups for Jamaal, Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery, Travis Kelce and all those guys.

“It’s tough in this league to be one dimensional.”

NOTES: WR Donnie Avery suffered an adductor strain Monday night and coach Andy Reid said Tuesday that they are in a wait-and-see mode on the player’s availability. … RB Jamaal Charles came out of the game with a sore ankle, but Reid did not expect that to keep him off the practice field. … S Eric Berry continues to rehab the sprained ankle that kept him out of the last two games. … RB Joe McKnight will go to the injured-reserve list at some point Wednesday after suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon in practice last Thursday. … OT Donald Stephenson will rejoin the team this week after serving his four-game NFL suspension for violating league rules on performance enhancing drugs. . . .

–PASSING OFFENSE: B — Alex Smith turned in one of his best performances in his short time with the Chiefs, racking up a 144.4 passer rating, with the key stats being three touchdown passes and no interceptions. His completion percentage of 77 percent and average of 9.5 yards per attempt were among the highest of his career. The pass protection was actually good, not great, holding the Patriots pass rush to two sacks in 28 passing plays. That’s the only item that kept them from an A grade.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: A — With Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis splitting the carries, the Chiefs ran for 207 yards at 5.4 yards per attempt. The ability of the offense to keep balance in the game plan is huge for the Chiefs as they try to deal with a less than special offensive line situation. In back-to-back victories, they’ve had 137 offensive plays with 53 percent of those (73) being runs called in the huddle.

–PASS DEFENSE: A — The opposing quarterback was one of the iconic passers in NFL history and the Chiefs were able to confuse and manipulate their defensive package to keep New England quarterback Tom Brady uncomfortable and often without targets that were open. Brady turned the ball over three times, on two interceptions and then a fumble with a sack that the Chiefs recovered.

–RUSH DEFENSE: A — Offensive balance was something the Patriots wanted to carry into the Monday night game because they are lacking in talented targets and the offensive line has been in a state of flux with two new starters stepping in against the Chiefs. But running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen were bottled up as the Patriots top backs had 13 carries for 54 yards. New England did not have a first-down rushing until the fourth quarter and ended up with only two on the evening.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: C — The Chiefs did not produce much in the way of big plays in the kicking game, but they also did not allow any either. Rookie Cairo Santos made both of his field goal attempts, and that qualified as his best performance of the season. Santos was also strong on kickoffs with five touchbacks in his seven kicks.

–COACHING: A — Andy Reid and his offensive staff continues to add pages to their playbook as more and more skill position players are contributing to the effort, especially second-year tight end Travis Kelce and running back Knile Davis. Defensively, coordinator Bob Sutton put together an aggressive plan against Brady, hitting with multiple coverages and a few blitz packages as well.