The offensive line hasn’t faced many exotic looks through the first four games. In fact, when asked about the need to change protections at the line of scrimmage to account for extra rushers, Jason Kelce‘s mind traveled all the way back to one specific play against San Diego, when the Chargers brought a free safety on the weakside. There obviously weren’t a lot of examples in his mental Rolodex to choose from.
“With the type of offense we have, it’s very tough to be able to blitz and blitz effectively, because if you’re getting guys out of position, if you’re too many to one side, then all of a sudden you’re leaving things open,” Kelce said.
So the looks have been vanilla. Communication has rarely been an issue. The line has consistently been in the right calls, according to the center. Everyone understands their assignments.
So why the issues in pass protection?
"It's really just come down to the technique and what you use to block the man effectively. Sometimes an offensive lineman, especially in this offense, you can get caught up overthinking things," said Kelce. "In this offense, with how fast it is, you really have to simplify everything. You have to do what you've been taught to do on a daily basis, stop trying to think outside the box. Stop chasing ghosts, so to speak. I think that's a little bit of the the problem -- especially with the rookie."
The rookie, Lane Johnson, is currently rated 70th out of 72 tackles in pass protection, according to Pro Football Focus, yielding 13 quarterback hurries, four sacks and a pair of quarterback hits. He has also committed four penalties on the season.
Part of the problem for the No. 4 overall pick is that he is allowing the negative plays to linger. He explained that the transition to the NFL is not just about adapting to the leap in talent, but also about getting accustomed to losing battles.
"In college you're never getting beat so it's quite a bit of change," said Johnson. "It's how you go onto the next play and see how resilient you are."
"I've talked to Lane quite a bit," said Todd Herremans, who has become a mentor to Johnson. "I just try to give him my mindset: you're going to have a lot more snaps this year, so he can't hang on any one snap in the past. They are going to start to compound if you're thinking about the ones in the past."
Chip Kelly has made it clear that he needs to see improvement from the offensive front. A group that was billed as one of the NFL's best has had too many breakdowns across the board. Part of it is adapting to a new scheme and new techniques. Part of it is because two of the key pieces -- Jason Peters and Herremans -- aren't quite at full form. And part of it is related to the struggles of the 6-6, 310-pound rookie. Given his relative inexperience, it was expected that Johnson would have his rough patches.
The belief within the organization is that things will start smoothing out for him soon.
"I think Lane is a tremendous, tremendous athlete. When he gets into the groove he’s pretty damn special," said offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland. "In this game everybody is trying to deceive you, and he just has to stay true to what he knows and how he’s doing it, and I think he will be just fine."
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