Where's the Beef?

From last Friday night to Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs offensive line lost their way. After their demoralizing performance against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday, this team has far too many questions still unanswered midway through the 2005 season.

With virtually no pass rushing specialists along the defensive line, the San Diego Chargers brought their linebackers to the house. Led by first year sensation Shawne Merriman and Stephen Cooper they combined for 2.5 sacks beating the Chiefs tackle. Willie Roaf for the first time in a Kansas City Chiefs uniform was beaten by the under-sized Merriman all afternoon. Merriman showed why he was the top linebacker selected in the 2005 NFL Draft. He showed a fiery nasty and relentless attitude that clearly set the tone for the Chargers defense.

Merriman along with his two sacks caused a key fumble with the Chiefs driving late in the third quarter. On that play he beat right tackle Jordan Black and tight end Jason Dunn who actually held him coming around the end. Merriman sacked quarterback Trent Green and knocked the ball out of his hands. That was one of the key plays in the game.

All day long the Chargers harassed Green who was unable to move the ball in the first half despite decent field position.

But the instability at right tackle is starting to show its ugly head. Jordan Black and Chris Bober were routinely beaten when the Chiefs passed the ball. What's even worse is that both tackles were lining up against linebackers in most passing situations and that has to be a concern for Head Coach Dick Vermeil. In the second half, the protection was a little better but it crumbled time after time in the red zone.

In the second half the Chiefs scored a pair of touchdowns and two field goals but they misfired on two other occasions coming away with no points. In both instances the offensive line could not form a safe pocket for Green to throw the ball. That has been something that has plagued this entire offensive line all season. Far too many times, Green has been forced to get rid of the ball or eat it and on the road that's a recipe for disaster.

With Kevin Sampson still not ready to play football that leaves the responsibility to Black and Bober who clearly struggled yesterday against the Chargers. The Chiefs might want to consider moving John Welbourn back to tackle. He's played some right tackle this season but he needs to be made a permanent fixture on this offensive line.

But far more concerning was the play of All-World left tackle Willie Roaf. They way Merriman manhandled the Chiefs premier offensive lineman, has to make you wonder if he's fully recovered from that strained hamstring. Roaf was backpedaling far too often and for the first time that I can remember; he looked ordinary. That's a bad sign for this offense.

It was so bad in fact, that the Chiefs starting running the ball to the right side when it became clear the Charger were keying on the left side. The Chiefs only managed 90 yards rushing on 21 carries. Running Back Priest Holmes left the game in the third quarter with a head contusion and Larry Johnson struggled to get into the flow of the game because the Chiefs were forced to pass so often.

This entire season the offensive line, a mainstay in years past, has looked far more average than stellar. Yes some of the lineman like Roaf and Shields are long in the tooth but they're not over the hill. Still neither has played up to their reputations. Each has battled injuries and when they struggle that puts a lot of pressure on the rest of their offensive line mates.

Brian Waters has not played anywhere near as well as he did a year ago when he made his first Pro-Bowl. The only steady performer has been starting center Casey Wiegmann. The Chiefs until the last couple of games were forced to keep tight end Tony Gonzalez at the line of scrimmage to block. They could not afford to do that on Sunday because he was needed in the offense.

Jason Dunn did his best to pitch in and try to absorb some of the Chargers pass rush but Merriman proved far too strong for even the games premier blocking tight end.

Kansas City knew they could pass the ball against the Chargers depleted secondary. They knew that eventually they could move the ball at will. Both were correct but their inability to get into any flow offensively in the first half thwarted their chances to win on Sunday. To their credit, the Chargers knew they had to make a difference with their front seven. They executed a flawless game plan defensively and the Chiefs took far too long to make adjustments waiting until the third quarter. The offense was not very creative Sunday and only through the guts and heart of Trent Green were the Chiefs in this game in the second half.

The Chiefs will have a week to sort out the mess on the offensive line because they'll face a suddenly red hot Raiders team next weekend at Arrowhead that has also been riddled by injuries in their secondary. However, they've shown some moxy and the ability to get to the quarterback the last two weeks. That's why they won consecutive games against Buffalo at home and Tennessee on the road. They're offense has fed off their defensive efforts and made the most of their scoring chances. Something the Chiefs offense failed to do on Sunday when the defense did their job stopping the Chargers offense early in the game and in the second half.

Granted their not the Chargers defensively but they're showing some heart. That above anything else is something that the offensive line needs to match if they're going to give their running backs lanes to run and their quarterback time to throw the ball. If it's not corrected this week, the Chiefs suddenly promising start could mirror the record of the 2004 squad that underachieved for most of the season.

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