Wander into any NFL locker room, and you’ll likely find that the offensive linemen are often the most intelligent, introspective and honest players on the team.
Given the complex nature of NFL offenses, the ample brainpower they possess shouldn’t be a shock. And given their importance to any offense, neither should their candor and tendency to place the blame on themselves when things go wrong.
As such, in the aftermath of the Chiefs’ 28-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday at AT&T Stadium, it was hardly surprising when Chiefs center Mitch Morse made it clear that the offensive linemen are putting it on themselves to shake the team from its recent offensive funk going forward.
“The coaches are putting us in excellent position throughout the week –– we’re not going to point fingers,” said Morse, a third-year pro who prefers to look within for solutions. “You’ve got to be a man about it. There will be some tough days as far as looking at it and taking the onus on yourself as far as what went wrong. That’s what men do, that’s part of the gig.”
There are some stats to back up Morse’s assertion that the line needs to be better. Since the first five games, when the Chiefs started 5-0 and averaged 156 rushing yards per game by clearing large swaths of ground for stud rookie Kareem Hunt, they have struggled to run the ball consistently, averaging only 67 yards in their last four contests and losing three of those games.
Injuries have played a major role in that, however. Morse just returned to the starting lineup last week against Denver following a Week 2 foot injury, while right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif just returned to the starting lineup Sunday. Their injuries required Hunt to get accustomed to new blockers in front of him, which can throw off the timing of the zone running plays they like so much.
“I’m used to how guys get off their blocks, and how I can pick up on their speed and how they really move and what angles they like to take,” Hunt said, speaking generally about his comfort level behind the starting group.
That said, the Chiefs’ issues without Morse and Duvernay-Tardif were understandable, if not ideal. But Morse was in no mood for excuses, citing the fact the Chiefs had their entire group out there against the Cowboys and they still didn’t block particularly well, as they scrapped out 68 rushing yards against the league’s 15th-best run defense entering the contest, one yielding an average of 106 yards per game.
“Yesterday we didn’t run near as well as we should’ve,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “They were doing some things to try to stop that, but even with that you should still be effective. You can’t go backwards running the football.”
Reid added that he has to dial up better plays, but he also said the execution has to be better, too.
“We’ve got to go out and we’ve got to function,” Reid said. “We’ve got to win those individual battles out there and we’re not getting that part done.”
The pass blocking could stand to improve, too. While the Chiefs only surrendered one sack and three quarterback hits, Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith seemed to be swarmed by Cowboys all day. That threw off the timing of some passing concepts they could have hit for big gains, had Smith only had more time to throw..
“It’s not one part of the game, offensive-line wise –– we need to put Smitty in a position where he feels comfortable out there,” Morse said. “It’s embarrassing as an offensive line … we don’t want to be looked at like this.
“We felt comfortable in the first month of the season. We’ll do what we’ve got to do, but it’s been tough right now.”
The only way he can see the Chiefs getting back on track is by getting some hard coaching and getting back to the basics. He’s sure that will come next week, following the well-timed bye.
“Guys can mentally take a step back,” Morse said. “Just mentally and physically getting our rest, taking care of ourselves and seeing some family and getting away for a while, it will be good.”
The rest should especially be good for Duvernay-Tardif, who Reid said was still working his way back to peak form during Sunday’s contest.
“It’s good to get Larry back in the mix,” Reid said. “I think he’ll be the first one to tell you he was a little rusty early, but he worked through that.”
Duvernay-Tardif will spend the bye week rehabbing and resting and working on his cardio, since the Chiefs haven’t practiced as much as they typically do because of their wonky schedule, and Duvernay-Tardif wants to make sure he’s fresh at the end of games.
“It’s not close to what I was hoping in terms of performance, either individual or team,” Duvernay-Tardif said, when asked to evaluate his performance Sunday. “But to get back out there is a good feeling. That’s why you practice, that’s why you rehab, that’s why you make all those sacrifices, to have a chance to be out there.
“Now that I’m out there, I just have to make sure I’m doing the most with it.”
With the Chiefs not set to play again until Nov. 19, when they face the New York Giants on the road, the same can be said for the rest of the linemen, who will have an opportunity to reset after the bye and reestablish themselves as one of the league’s best units.
“It’s on us,” Morse said, “and we’ll take care of it.”