Kansas City Chiefs' Biggest Preseason Disappointments so Far
The Kansas City Chiefs have to be disappointed by the continuing struggles of 2013 first overall pick Eric Fisher. The offensive tackle has not responded well since being moved back to his natural left side.
However, Fisher isn't the only Chiefs player who has made the wrong impression this preseason. Cornerback Ron Parker has failed to grasp a legitimate chance to crack the starting lineup.
Meanwhile, it can't have been particularly encouraging to see quarterback Alex Smith endure such a rough outing in the recent preseason loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
Here are the Chiefs' biggest disappointments of the preseason.
Eric Fisher, OT
Fisher's struggles have been an ongoing narrative this preseason. He is supposed to be this team's premier pass protector, but nightmare outings against both the Cincinnati Bengals and Carolina Panthers haven't helped his case.
The latter game was a particularly rough night for Fisher. NFL.com writer Kevin Patra took inventory of his struggles against the Panthers:
Fisher was pushed around by Greg Hardy, who blew by the lineman on one occasion to make a big tackle for loss. He was also beaten by role player Wes Horton for a big hit on Alex Smith. Those struggles were part of the reason Smith was constantly under siege. A holding penalty against the second-year player didn't help matters.
Fisher's woes have been the central focus of an offensive line that has been a disaster during the league's exhibition season. Fox Sports Kansas City reporter Sean Keeler has detailed how the unit has floundered:
Through three preseason contests, The Andy Gang has allowed 14 sacks -- five of them against the Vikings in a 30-12 cringeworthy loss, all while rushing at a clip of just 3.8 yards per carry. With arguably the team's best tackle in Donald Stephenson out for the first four games of the regular season because of a PED-related suspension, coach Andy Reid was forced to mix-and-match under fire, moving left guard Jeff Allen over to Stephenson's old spot at right tackle and inserting Jeff Linkenbach -- who would later rotate with Ricky Henry -- at left guard.
Fisher's return to his natural position of left tackle was supposed to spark a revival, not only for the player, but for the O-line as a whole.
It's certainly not working out that way so far. As a result, the Chiefs line rotation has become a revolving door for veteran retreads such as Jeff Linkenbach, J'Marcus Webb, Ryan Harris and, most recently, Mike McGlynn, per NFL.com writer Marc Sessler.
Head coach Andy Reid would've expected Fisher to prove his worth heading into his second pro season. The coach has been trying to explain away Fisher's follies by citing the effects of offseason shoulder surgery, per Terez A. Paylor of The Kansas City Star.
However, surgery or no surgery, this team needs a genuinely effective blindside protector. So far, the player Reid and general manager John Dorsey invested a No. 1 overall pick to select isn't delivering.
Alex Smith, QB
The myriad of problems up front have directly contributed to Alex Smith's poor preseason performances. Despite completing 31 passes during three preseason games, Smith has failed to throw a touchdown pass. Being swarmed on for six sacks certainly hasn't aided his efforts to move the ball.
The pressure and its results speak to Smith's general inability to make plays under duress. That's an issue detailed by Fox Sports Kansas City reporter Sean Keeler, who cites numbers from Pro Football Focus:
Since 2011, when the Kansas City Chiefs' quarterback turned the corner for the better in his NFL career, Smith's completion percentages while 'pressured,' according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), are as follows: 41.7 ('11); 51.2 ('12); 47.8 ('13). From his overall completion percentages of 61.3, 70.2 and 60.6, that's an average drop of a whopping 17.3 percentage points, while rushed, per season.
No quarterback is as effective while forced to throw on the run, and No. 11 is no exception. In fact, he's kind of the rule. Of the 37 NFL signal-callers, per year, who appeared in at least 25 percent of their team's snaps from 2011 through 2013, Smith ranked 18th in terms of completion percentage while 'pressured.'
As Keeler correctly pointed out, very few passers operate at their best under pressure. That's the whole point of wanting competent protection up front.
But while breakdowns are inevitable, just like pressure, a team can withstand a few incomplete throws or even take a few sacks. What a team like the Chiefs can't cope with is multiple turnovers.
That's why the pair of interceptions Smith tossed in a 30-12 loss the Minnesota Vikings rates as such a concern. ESPN.com Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher detailed just why Smith's mistakes are so costly:
Smith threw two interceptions Saturday night, both coming with the Chiefs inside the Minnesota 20. Both were bad interceptions, the kind generally thrown by a rookie still feeling his way around the NFL game and not a veteran like Smith, who has built his career around protecting the ball.
If Smith is going to commit turnovers like that when the regular season begins, the Chiefs are sunk. Smith doesn’t make enough big plays to overcome that.
Teicher's point is well-taken. This is not a team built to just roll with the punches when it comes to turnovers.
There is no natural big-play wide receiver to answer with a game-breaking catch on the next drive. The defense, while strong, is essentially a feast-or-famine unit, reliant on its own big plays.
The Kansas City D is at its best when it has favorable field position to take risks with blitz concepts, pressure-heavy fronts and undermanned but aggressive coverage schemes.
In this dynamic, Smith's primary function is to protect the football. That's true of any quarterback, but when a team has Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning under center, who can lead scoring drives in three plays, a few turnovers are often considered the cost of doing business.
Smith is more than a mere game manager. But he is still essentially running an offense defined by what it doesn't do wrong rather than how often it dominates a game.
Fortunately, Smith is generally very efficient. That's evidenced by the mere seven interceptions he was guilty of last season.
But of course, any time he struggles this season, attention will turn to his uncertain contract situation as a possible root cause. Smith and the Chiefs still remain at an impasse over an appropriate new deal, per Bleacher Report NFL insider Jason Cole.
It's not unreasonable to suggest that players do struggle during contract years. Not everybody seizes the moment to audition for new teams. However, a faltering Smith is not something the Chiefs can afford in 2014.
The formula is a simple one for Reid and the Chiefs. They must fix their offensive line; then the team will have a more productive quarterback.
Ron Parker, CB
Ron Parker entered this preseason with a chance to win a starting job at cornerback. But he could leave it struggling to make the roster.
That's how bad Parker has been during exhibition games. He drew a rough assignment covering A.J. Green in the opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Ben Nielsen of ArrowheadAddict.com described where Parker went wrong:
Ron Parker struggled mightily as the starting cornerback on Thursday night, getting burned for a big play while attempting to cover A.J. Green and committing two illegal hands to the face penalties.
Although Nielsen went on to make a creditable argument, explaining how Parker's woes could be offset by both new faces at safety and a lack of game-planning, Parker's struggles have since continued.
He again gave up big plays against the Panthers. This second dire showing prompted ESPN.com Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher to start an early call for alternatives:
The Chiefs need to use Sean Smith and Marcus Cooper as their starting cornerbacks and make Ron Parker a reserve. Parker picked up a 32-yard pass interference penalty that set up Carolina's first touchdown. Smith and Cooper started the game, but Parker rotated in the lineup with the first team. Parker had a lousy game last week -- that time as the starter.
Some struggles ought to be expected from a player who has started only one game in three seasons. The problem is the Chiefs have been hoping Parker would see a lot more action in his fourth year.
The decision to waive Brandon Flowers, along with the struggles Marcus Cooper experienced last season and problems with Sean Smith, has increased the need for a quality cover man to emerge.
Sadly, Parker simply doesn't look as though he's ready for such a prominent role. In fact, all he's done is make it easier to understand exactly why he's made just the one career start.
Parker's woes are bad news for a secondary that has undergone a far from convincing facelift this season. Playing in an AFC West where Manning and Philip Rivers get to attack your defense twice a season demands a defensive backfield that can hold up.
If Parker can't step forward, then coordinator Bob Sutton will have to get really creative and daring to try and mask deficiencies in coverage.
Aaron Murray, QB
When the Chiefs surprisingly used a fifth-round pick on Aaron Murray, the move immediately generated some buzz. Given Smith's contract situation, Murray represented an exciting development project at a position lacking credible options behind the starter.
However, even though he's been working under Reid and coordinator Doug Pederson, who know how to craft a scheme to make a quarterback's life easier, Murray has been far from impressive.
The former Georgia star endured a miserable rookie camp, per ESPN.com writer Adam Teicher. Things haven't really gotten better since.
After the preseason opener against the Bengals, Terez A. Paylor of The Kansas City Star referred to Murray as "pretty clearly the fourth-string quarterback." It's fair to say the Chiefs could justify having expected a little more than fourth-tier designation for their rookie passer at this stage.
Murray is obviously still learning the ropes and isn't being given much game time to put the theory into practice. However, those decisions are based on what coaches see in practice.
It's clear Murray hasn't been doing anything close enough to get Chase Daniel and Tyler Bray worried. This could be a project Reid leaves unfinished or simply ditches altogether.
Jeff Linkenbach, OL
It's not just the edges of the O-line that should have Reid, Pederson and Smith worried. The interior strength is going to be diminished by some unforeseen reshuffling.
The problem exists because of the four-game suspension incurred by starting right tackle Donald Stephenson, per NFL.com NFL Media insider Ian Rapoport. That has prompted Reid to use Jeff Allen at right tackle while he rotates Ricky Henry and Jeff Linkenbach at left guard, according to ESPN.com Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher.
It's the scrap between Henry and Linkenbach that should have fans concerned. This is essentially a lose-lose situation no matter which player claims the job.
As the veteran, Linkenbach should look more stable than he has managed so far. Unfortunately, the ex-Indianapolis Colts rotational lineman has always lacked power at the point of attack.
That's going to be a major problem if he's lining up next to Fisher, another blocker who has been muscled too often this preseason. But the Chiefs might still prefer Linkenbach's experience inside instead of Henry, who has appeared in only two games since 2011 and was out of football last season.
While Linkenbach is able to point to 33 careers starts in comparison, it's hugely disappointing there's even a competition.
The Chiefs have to be getting very concerned about the state of play along the offensive front. There are too many question marks on both sides. Worse still, Smith will suffer right when he should be flourishing in a scheme that can bring out the best in him.
The same holds true in the secondary. Flowers' release may have been inevitable when considering his inflated salary and diminishing performance. However, his exit has still created a void at an already suspect position.
Solving these issues will be Reid and his coaching staff's biggest challenge this season.