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Chiefs’ offensive line struggles provide even more context to Syracuse’s 2019-20 seasons

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Proof that even the best quarterback can’t play well while running for his life.

NFL: Super Bowl LV-Kansas City Chiefs vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into the Super Bowl on Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs were considered to be at lest on par with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — and were actually favored by a field goal. The Bucs were one of the best pressure defenses in the league, though against a quarterback of Patrick Mahomes’s elusiveness, that could spell a recipe for disaster.

Unfortunately for the Chiefs, All-Pro left tackle Eric Fisher ruptured his Achilles tendon in the fourth quarter against the Buffalo Bills last week. That was the icing on the cake for the Chiefs, whose injuries up front put them right in contention with the Orange for most banged-up line in football. To sum things up:

  • Right Tackle - Mitchell Schwartz - Back
  • Right Guard - Laurent Duvernay-Tardif - Opted out to work COVID relief in Montreal
  • Left Guard - Kelechi Osemele - Knee
  • Left Tackle - Eric Fisher - Achilles

The Fisher injury in the AFC Championship Game against the Bills forced the team to move their current right tackle Mike Remmers to left tackle, shifted guard Andrew Wylie to right tackle to fill his spot, backfilled with Stefen Wisniewski at right guard. Nick Allegretti has been starting at left guard since Osemele went down. The only starter from the beginning of the season there was Austin Reiter, the center.

This all left Mahomes running for his life. Normally his legs are an additional bonus to an already solid gameplan. Last night they were the only gameplan, as both tackles were turnstiles against the blitz heavy and talent laden Tampa Bay defense. Mahomes was constantly under pressure, with the Bucs attacking the backup at the left tackle spot, similar to what they did last week against the Packers and backup LT Billy Turner.

Here’s something that should be too familiar for Orange fans. Watch as Tampa Bay gets pressure with four pass rushers against extra blockers. If Mahomes can’t simply get the ball to Tyreek Hill or Travis Kelce when he has three receivers against seven defenders, how do you expect college QBs to do it? Creating that tempo and adding the ability to check down keeps a defense honest as well, and doesn’t allow them to dial up coverage like you see here.

Things can be two things.

If you’ve listened to Andy and myself talk about the Syracuse Orange on the Livecast, or listened to the Total Soccer Show, you’ve heard this mantra too many times to count. With the last few iterations of the Orange, we’re in a situation where the offensive line can be two things:

  1. The offensive line has been handed a raw deal through injury and could be better than it’s shown.
  2. The offensive line is sub-par, and the staff needs to recruit/develop more talent.

Both of these things are true, and tie into the mess that we saw last night on the biggest stage in football. On the first point, since the success of the 2018 squad, the Orange have seen at least eight changes to starters along the offensive line. In 2019, there was the loss of Sam Heckel at the start of camp, which led to the shift of Airon Servais back inside, the play of Ryan Alexander, his leaving of the team and the emergence of Matthew Bergeron. In 2020 it was the Chris Bleich transfer drama, the Dakota Davis injury, the multitude of depth issues and injuries that led to Chris Elmore and Darius Tisdale starting and the Airon Servais reported injury that he played through.

Starting Syracuse Offensive Line

Year LT LG C RG RT Record
Year LT LG C RG RT Record
2021 (P) Matthew Bergeron Dakota Davis Carlos Vettorello Chris Bleich Airon Servais ?
2020d Matthew Bergeron Dakota Davis Carlos Vettorello Darius Tisdale Airon Servais 0-1
2020c Matthew Bergeron Chris Elmore Carlos Vettorello Darius Tisdale Airon Servais 0-6
2020b Airon Servais Chris Elmore Carlos Vettorello Darius Tisdale Matthew Bergeron 1-3
2020a Airon Servais Chris Bleich Carlos Vettorello Dakota Davis Matthew Bergeron 0-0
2019d Airon Servais Evan Adams Carlos Vettorello Dakota Davis Matthew Bergeron 2-1
2019c Carlos Vettorello Evan Adams Airon Servais Dakota Davis Matthew Bergeron 0-2
2019b Carlos Vettorello Evan Adams Airon Servais Dakota Davis Ryan Alexander 2-4
2019a Airon Servais Evan Adams Sam Heckel Dakota Davis Carlos Vettorello 1-0
2018 Cody Conway Aaron Roberts Airon Servais Evan Adams Koda Martin 10-3
2017 Cody Conway Sam Heckel Airon Servais Evan Adams Jamar McGloster 4-8
2016 Cody Conway Aaron Roberts Jason Emerich Omari Palmer Jamar McGloster 4-8
2015 Ivan Foy Nick Robinson Rob Trudo Seamus Shanley Omari Palmer 4-8
2014 Sean Hickey Omari Palmer John Miller Rob Trudo Ivan Foy 3-9
2013 Sean Hickey Rob Trudo Macky McPherson Nick Robinson Ivan Foy 7-6
2012 Justin Pugh Zach Chibane Macky McPherson Ivan Foy Lou Alexander 8-5
2011 Justin Pugh Zach Chibane Macky McPherson Andrew Tiller Michael Hay 5-7
Starting Offensive Line 2011-2020 S. Haller

You could see last night that the best young quarterback in the game looked mortal behind a line that was subpar and not experienced with each other. The last Eric Fisher injury, which forced players out of position really was the straw that was one too many for the ability of Mahomes to outshine the volume and tenacity of defenders coming at him. The Orange have Tommy DeVito, who, while quite athletic and capable, is not Patrick Mahomes. Even incoming transfer Garrett Shrader is not remotely of that caliber. What the Orange need to hope for is an uptick in incoming talent, which we’re seeing with the current recruiting class, as well as an ability to remain consistently in optimal positions and keep folks healthy for both on-field work and for depth.

The third thing that needs to be addressed is scheme. While personnel is important, blocking schemes can be just as imperative. In a four-wide set, which the Orange ran for a remarkable amount last year, part a function of playing from behind, part a function of the system, there should be opportunities for quick reads, checkdowns and running back leaks. Until later in the year, you didn’t see many of these utilized. As shown above, if a team isn’t bringing pressure because they don’t need to, they can sit in coverage and take away your primary reads.

This is exacerbated against a quarterback like DeVito who looks down his first read a bit more than would be advised in a normal situation. While Mahomes can make up for it with a field-length throw from horizontal to the ground that probably could have been caught, most if not all other quarterbacks aren’t making that play.

All things considered, what we saw from the Chiefs up front last night gives some context to what the Orange faithful have endured these last two years. While Syracuse hasn’t had a great offensive line these last two years, there may be reasons why. With some scheme changes, an incoming new line coach, and maybe a little bit more luck keeping a consistent unit healthy, the Orange have experience where it counts to hopefully make an impact moving forward.