Don't Blame the O-Line

Excuses have been mounting for Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel ever since he joined the team in February 2009. A common pretext for Cassel's struggles was the poor play of the offensive line, but with the additions of a couple free agents, and the development of a couple young studs, his excuses are running out.

In 2003, the Chiefs had one of the best offensive lines in football, if not the best in history, featuring future Hall of Famers Willie Roaf and Will Shields. Over the next couple of seasons, however, the years began to wear on the aging group, and with a lack of a contingency plan from then-GM "King" Carl Peterson, the once dominant line quickly became a laughing stock of the NFL.

Opening the 2009 season, the Chiefs offensive line again struggled to maintain any consistency with the new quarterback from New England. Although finishing the season with a great rushing attack, the Chiefs ended the year with 45 sacks and 85 QB hits. With stats like these, it is no wonder Cassel was visibly uncomfortable in the pocket, keeping Chiefs nation silent in the forum of QB controversy.

But with just two games in the books, the 2010 Chiefs appear to have found a combination of lineman that could again be one of the best in football.

Heading into his third season as the Chiefs' starting left tackle, Brandon Albert has silenced all questions about his ability to cover the QB's blindside. You have not heard Albert's name at all early this season, and that is a very positive sign that he is playing up to his first round draft status. Cassel has only been sacked two times in the first two contests of 2010, which is tied for second least in the NFL.

Considering the 45 times that Cassel ended up on his back side last year, Albert will be due more than a couple of steak dinners on Cassel's tab if the big man from Virginia can continue to play at this level.

But Albert is not the only reason for the improved protection. The Chiefs interior is built of veteran leadership and savvy. With left guard Brian Waters, center Casey Wiegmann, and right guard Ryan Lilja, the Chiefs boast the most offensive line experience in the AFC; up ten spots from ‘09. Although there is a fine line between a veteran led line and an old one, both Waters and Lilja still have a lot left in the tank. And although Wiegmann is in the midst of his 15th season as a pro, the Chiefs have Rudy Niswanger and Jon Asamoah as an insurance plan.

The Chiefs have three plays of 10 yards or more when running on the right side of the line, the total of both the left and center combined. Every time the Chiefs offense has been in a third or fourth down with short yardage to go, Charlie Weis and Todd Haley have elected to run to the right side of the line. This speaks volumes to the coaching staff's faith in third year tackle Barry Richardson.

Although being awarded the starting spot via an injury to Ryan O'Callahan, it is not likely Richardson will lose the job when O'Callahan returns from his injury. Despite being one of the largest men on the roster (6'6", 319lbs), Richardson is also one of the most soft spoken. Interviewing Richardson is much like conducting an interview with a person that speaks fluid Sumerian. But when talking to him at training camp about his role in the organization, Richardson said with a giant grin, "I'm just working on technique and trying to get better".

Getting better is the key phrase when looking at the offensive line of 2010. Cassel has only been touched five times through two games, which is tied for second in all the NFL. The Chiefs' rushing attack is fifth in the NFL and third in the AFC. When you consider that the Chiefs best offensive weapon, Jamaal Charles, is only receiving a third of the carries as Thomas Jones, these stats should continue to improve.

It's easy to blame the offensive line for Cassel's jumpy and indecisive play in the opening contests, and they do shoulder a share of the responsibility for their play in ‘09. But this is a new offensive line that is playing with an attitude and aggression we have not seen around Kansas City for some years now. And although you can make a lot of excuses for Cassel's erratic play, his offensive line is no longer one of them.

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