Johnson, O-line On ‘Chasing Ghosts’

0V3J9665The 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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  • Chris

    I wonder if any of this is related to the amount of time Vick is holding the ball/receivers not getting open? I have to believe it has some sort of effect on the line. Not saying that the line has played well anyway, it’s pretty easy to see that they’re severely under performing. It just seems like sort of a combination of things.

    • poetx99

      kelly mentioned multiple occasions of pressure when the QB gets to the top of his drop, i.e., almost immediately, so that would be a ‘no’.

      in the all-22 sheil showed one instance of a free rusher when the defense only sent 4 and dropped 7, so it’s gonna be really difficult to find a place to go with the ball in that circumstance.

      combination of press coverage and inability of receivers to get off the line, cleanly, however, WILL mess up your quick passing game.

      • Chris

        I don’t necessarily believe that the answer is a resounding “no”, I don’t want to dig through everything but I believe one of the previous articles mentioned Vick’s average time holding the ball before the throw was higher than average, but someone will have to confirm/deny that stat. Considering this offense (we think) is predicated on getting the ball out quickly and securely and allowing the playmakers to work in space, I would think that holding the ball would go against some of that scheme and put more pressure on the o-line.

        Like you mentioned, a free rusher is an obvious mistake and that’s completely on the O-line, but it’s not like that happened on every snap/ Also agree with Richards escape-ability point, Vick will take sacks but i’m sure a traditionally pocket passer would have had a few more sacks last week.

        • Once again you’re hearing what you want to hear ’cause it doesn’t jibe with what you want to believe.

          Kelly has said on more than one occasion the line has to play better – he’s getting hit at the top of his drop.

          Shiel has shown on multiple occasions that he is getting hit at the top of his drop.

          There are plays when he’s holding on to the ball too long – yes BUT there are plays when he’s getting clobbered ’cause of protection breakdowns or he’s scrambling ’cause of protection breakdowns.

          There’s been more of the latter than the former recently.

    • Richard Colton

      fair point, Vick is holding the ball too long. I doubt you’ll get anyone to disagree with that. But you also have to credit Vick’s escape-ability with preventing a few sacks when the protection broke down.

      • theycallmerob

        Not that I disagree with that; however, if I had to rank the blame:

        WR/TE > OL > Vick.

        I merely see his play as the lesser of the evils. Vick has done some good things in this offense. But even with the Maclin and Benn injuries, the pass catchers were supposed to be our biggest strength.
        Remember all summer? Match-ups would always play to our advantage, receivers would run free like the ponies at Assateague, and Vick would break LB’s ankles with his eyes. Oh, and the whole OL would block like this:

    • DLRJ

      I forget where, but I saw an article somewhere that argued that Vick drops back further than he is supposed to when he starts getting antsy. The longer drops mean that it’s easier for the DE/OLB to go outside the OT. The article included a couple photos of Vick too far back–with measurements comparing his normal 7-step and his antsy 7-step–and a rusher getting there quickly. I don’t know how valid the point is, but it was an intriguing angle.

  • GiveMeABreak

    There is a reason LJ was 2nd team in his own conference. Howie drank the combine kool-aid on this kid and took him too high. Fortunately for LJ, our schedule really drops off and he may not see that many more quality defenses and should have time to acclimate. He may never dominate in the way you would hope a 4th pick would but let’s hope we don’t have to sit him down. Fans have to remember it’s not his fault Howie picked him too high.

    • SMH_IDK

      Yeah who would you have picked? And I’m sure teams were begging to trade up.

      • GiveMeABreak

        Jarvis Jones. A tackling machine from the sec. Best defensive player in sec, 1st team all American and conference.

    • Kiko Alonso

      Barkevious Mingo. And then myself in the second round.

  • B-West

    I’m nit-picking, I know, but I wish Kelce would be more vague in his answers. He drops names a lot. That’s the kind of thing that guys will get sick of, especially if the losing continues.

    • Soybot

      I’m with BlindChow on this one. I like Kelce’s answers. It’s not like Lane doesn’t know his issues. I’m sure he is hearing it from Stoutland and Kelly quite often in the film room.

  • BlindChow

    One thing that impresses me about Kelce are the quality of his quotes. Everyone else on the team, DJax, Vick, even Chip Kelly, they speak only in meaningless platitudes.

    Kelce’s the only guy whose quotations I bother reading anymore.

    • JofreyRice

      I have to say I find his candor a bit weird. You can’t get many NFL players to wax philosophically about how their teammates are underperforming. I guess guys like Herremans and Johnson don’t mind?I mean, its not like Kelce has been flawless.

      • theycallmerob

        They’ve all made it clear how close they are off-the field as well. I guess they must be ok with it, considering.
        As a whole, we do seem to have one of the smarter/analytical/comedic/personable lines in the entire league. Not a lot of ego in the trenches.

  • theycallmerob

    “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.”

    Excellent analysis. I honestly loved Castillo as an OL coach, but I think Stoutland can be even better.

    If I were Stoutland, I’d be asking Trent Cole to line up against LJ in practice every day. Trent was one of the better pass-rushing ends the last 5 years, and could get the rook accustomed to some ol’ school tricks. I find it incredibly encouraging to see that most of LJ’s mistakes are mental, rather than physical. I don’t see why he can’t grow into a great LT.

  • Phils Goodman

    I think Johnson’s downward spiral started with that procedure penalty that cost them a TD vs San Diego.

  • mrparabolic

    Huh. I never thought about that. I always assumed that a receiver wouldn’t care whether the quarterback was right- or left-handed. I guess when you’re used to having the football spin one way your entire life, having it spin the other way can throw off your game a little bit. Interesting.