The Kansas City Chiefs have fallen back on hard times in 2011 after posting a 10-6 record under Todd Haley’s second year as head coach. In the NFL, hard times means that the fans and the media scour the team looking for players that are not doing their jobs, not performing up to expectations, or playing out of position. It is the nature of the business in the NFL.
Ryan Lilja is a player that IS doing his job. A player that appears to come to work every day and puts forth effort on the field. He is certainly a good influence on any younger players and provides leadership that is needed on the Kansas City offensive line. But is Ryan Lilja performing up to expectations? Is left guard the position he should be playing?
Ryan Lilja was a undrafted free agent from Kansas State that was signed by Kansas City in 2004. After the Chiefs waived Ryan in 2004, Indianapolis picked him up and he played for the Colts from 2004-2009. During that time he played left guard and was instrumental in the success of Peyton Manning (by keeping him off his back). In 2010, the Chiefs were in desperate need of offensive lineman and were lucky to have a chance to pick up Ryan after he had been waived by Indianapolis.
In Kansas City, Lilja stepped into the right guard position and joined Brian Waters and newly acquired Casey Wiegmann to bolster a depleted offensive line. And the Chiefs had been instantly upgraded. But had the Chiefs built a stop gap unit because of their desperate need for offensive line help?…Or did they build an offensive line with a vision for the future?
The rub in those pick ups in 2010, was that both Ryan Lilja and Casey Wiegmann were both waived by their teams. Not necessarily a concern on the surface, especially if you need offensive line help. But the concern, from a critical eye, might recognize that both Lilja and Wiegmann were released, not because they are necessarily bad players, but because their teams wanted a stouter version at their position. You see, both of Kansas City’s lineman acquisitions were athletic types who possessed less power blocking skills. They both could, and would, get handled by defensive tackles from time to time and end up giving up penetration into the backfield.
Those teams didn’t want one athletic lineman with a lower power potential and now the Chiefs have two.
Looking back to the 2010 season, it can be seen that the Chiefs had problems running the ball against physical, stout defensive units in part, because the offensive run game was not built to handle such defensive teams. And for a team that claims to hang their hat on the run game…not being able to run the ball is a death sentence.
This year, Ryan Lilja has graded out in the run game: 68%, 80%, 82%, 82%. Those scores mean that Lilja is just hovering above the line in the run game. The line being 80%+. His power scores, meaning the number of times he dominates a defender in relation to the number of times the defender dominates him, is constantly in the negative: -2, -1, -2, -1. Just looking at those combinations of scores…one would not be impressed.
In 2010, Ryan Lilja was a good pull blocker. Charlie Weis appeared to know just how to use Ryan. Frequently, you would see Lilja pulling, getting to the second level…always on the move. On the move because Ryan Lilja is an athletic lineman and being matched up, head to head, with a defensive tackle without an angle, is not always a good thing.
But when a team has one lineman that is better at the 2nd level, then they usually need two other interior lineman to handle the stout defensive tackles as the athletic lineman vacates his area.
And the Chiefs have two.
Casey Wiegmann is also an athletic lineman that excels at the 2nd level. Wiegmann’s 2nd level scores are frequently over +4 or better. He is an offensive center that lacks power and does well in space. A perfect puzzle piece for a line with two stout guards. But the Chiefs only have one.
The concern, in 2011, with Ryan Lija might be his pass blocking. If an offensive lineman is going to hover around the “ok” line in run blocking and have some areas that need help…then other parts of his game, the pass blocking, needs to be high. But it hasn’t been all that high. Not bad…but not real high.
After 4 games, Rayn Lilja has already recorded two -3 power scores games. That means he is getting handled more often than he is handling his defender. For a great run blocker those scores are pretty good, but for a lineman that doesn’t have high run blocking scores and already has a player just like him on his team…it might not be good enough.
Without the services of Jamaal Charles this year, the offensive line is going to have to pick up the slack. Ryan Lilja appears to be a guy that is willing…but is he capable of opening holes for backs that need it a little bit wider to run through?
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