In the aftermath of the Chiefs’ convincing 34-7 victory over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, Eric Fisher sat in front of his locker, weary but upbeat.
Fisher, the Chiefs’ second-year left tackle, had just spent the entire game going toe-to-toe with the Rams’ resident half-man, half-cyborg pass rusher Robert Quinn, and while the result wasn’t exactly ideal — he gave up a sack and was whistled for illegal use of hands and a false start — he was still a part of a rushing attack that rolled up 143 yards and a passing attack that helped quarterback Alex Smith set a franchise record for single-game completion percentage.
So considering all of that, plus the fact the Chiefs also won the game to improve to 4-3, Fisher will gladly take it.
“It’s a huge win for us,” said Fisher, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. “This is the first time we’ve had a winning record this year, so it feels real good. These wins, one by one, change the rest of the season.”
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That does not mean Fisher was fully satisfied with his play. Quinn, who is listed at 6 feet 4 and 264 pounds, is one of the league’s premier pass rushers, a man who racked up 19 sacks last season, and he certainly had his moments against Fisher, Smith’s 6-foot-7, 315-pound blind-side protector from Central Michigan.
“I had the one sack and a couple penalties, and that’s not something anybody wants to have,” Fisher said. “You’ve just got to learn from those mistakes. There’s a reason for everything. So you just move on and learn from it.”
Fisher then repeated an oft-spoken athlete mantra about the importance of taking it one play at a time, but given the way he spoke about Quinn, it was hard not to think he meant it.
“What a talented guy,” Fisher said. “His quickness caught me off guard for a couple plays out there. You just make adjustments as the game goes on.”
Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Fisher held his own against Quinn, who finished with five tackles and two sacks, and has been steadily been getting better this season. According to Pro Football Focus, Fisher ranks 40th out of 58 qualifying tackles in total pressures allowed in pass protection with 22.
“You can see him growing every week and improving fundamentally,” Reid said. “Not as much in the run game because he does a pretty good job right there. It’s in the pass game that normally your young tackles have to learn the techniques, and sometimes the pitches, that those defensive guys are throwing at you.”
During the preseason, Reid noted that Fisher is a little slow to shoot his left arm out in pass protection, presumably because of offseason shoulder surgery. On Monday, Reid said Fisher is still working on that, though he attributed it to a college habit.
“Well, the way that he was taught in college, you see a lot of college kids do that,” Reid said. “They bring their hands up from their hips and bring them up. And in the NFL that’s tough to do. You don’t have the time right there to get that done. These defensive linemen are on you in a heartbeat. So you’ve got get your hands up and you’ve got to retrain yourself to deliver from a little higher position, so he’s learned to do that and done a good job with that.”
Fisher has had some solid moments as a run blocker this season too, though he’s occasionally whiffed on a few cut blocks, which likely contributes to his poor Pro Football Focus run grade of negative-7.1.
“Yeah, we encourage our guys especially on the back side of blocks to cut and get the guys down on the ground,” offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said. “We do it in the screen game with the big O-lineman out on the perimeter … sometimes you get big offensive linemen down and around the legs of second level-linebacker or safety-level position players. It keeps their hands down and makes them have to tick their feet just a little bit, even though if you don’t get him on the ground, it does make them have to go either over the top or underneath.
“It’s something that we do encourage.”
Reid also signed off on Fisher’s tendency to use the cut block on smaller defenders.
“(You do it on) the fast ones, when you’ve got to get long and get out there so they don’t run across your face,” Reid said. “You’ve got to throw and try to get (them down) — some of those guys are pretty fast.
“In particular, when you have those backside cutoffs and you’ve got an outside zone play going in the opposite direction, you’ve just got to get out there and you’ve got to use all 6’7 of you to do it.”
So yes, it appears the Chiefs will continue to be patient with Fisher, who struggled as a rookie last year at right tackle.
“You just keep going through and keep learning and working hard,” Reid said. “He’s easy to coach; he’s got good tools to work with. He shows up every day and works his tail off at practice. He’s not afraid. You watch the great players and they’re not afraid to work on the things that they’re not good at. So he spends a lot of time working his techniques and fundamentals there.”
The hope is that at some point, he’ll be able to consistently stand toe-to-toe against the league’s best and neutralize them. The season is still young, with the Chiefs only seven games in, but already he’s seen the likes of Denver’s DaMarcus Ware, Miami’s Olivier Vernon, New England’s Chandler Jones, San Diego’s Dwight Freeney and, of course, St. Louis’ Quinn.
“It’s kind of crazy,” Fisher said. “Every team’s got a pass rusher, and they’re usually on my side … it doesn’t stop, either.”
He’s got that right. By the time Sunday’s game was over, Fisher still lamented the fact he gave up a sack to Quinn. But he’s long learned not to let things linger, especially when the Chiefs find a way to get a precious victory, anyway.
“(The win) doesn’t make it right,” Fisher said with a laugh. “But it makes you feel a little better.”