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Patchwork front wall key to Chiefs victory

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KANSAS CITY — None of the five men who started on the Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive line in the opener against Houston on Sunday was on the field last year when coach Andy Reid’s team began the season against Tennessee.

That was the patched-together nature of a group that played a big part in Kansas City’s 27-20 victory over the Texans. This bunch limited Houston to only two sacks by defensive end J.J. Watt, while quarterback Alex Smith threw three touchdown passes.

“I thought our guys for the most part did a good job,” Reid said of his blocking group. “We’ve got to keep getting better.”

Looking left to right, here is where the pieces in this year’s patchwork wall were when the Chiefs opened on September 13, 2014:

–Starting left tackle Donald Stephenson was sidelined as part of a four-game NFL suspension for a failed drug test under the performance enhancing drugs rules.

–Left guard Ben Grubbs was getting ready for the second game of the New Orleans Saints season where he was a starter.

–Center Mitch Morse was starting that day, but at left tackle against the University of Central Florida in his senior season at the University of Missouri.

–Right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif was preparing to watch the Chiefs second game of the season from the sidelines, one of 16 games in which he was declared a game-day inactive player.

–Right tackle Jah Reid was on a long weekend after his Baltimore Ravens beat Pittsburgh in a Thursday night game.

Now, a year later, those five came together for a strong enough performance to help the Chiefs beat the Texans.

“It was a tall task,” Smith said of his offensive line. “This was going to be a tough challenge. Five different guys than we had last year. It’s asking a lot and those guys stepped up. They deserve a lot of credit.”

Morse and Duvernay-Tardif made their first NFL starts. Reid joined the team for practice on Wednesday, after being released by the Ravens in the cutdown to 53 players. He got the start when Eric Fisher’s full participation was scrubbed due to continuing problems with his sprained ankle, although there was post-game dramatics on the topic. More on that later.

“For being here for such a short period of time, I mean you’ve got to take your hat off to him for getting in there and playing the way he did,” coach Andy Reid said of tackle Reid, who is no relation.

In four seasons with Baltimore, the 6-7, 327-pound product of Central Florida started only seven games, and those were at left guard back in the 2012 season.

What happens when Fisher is healthy enough to play full-time? And, what about another former starter Jeff Allen who should return soon from a preseason knee sprain?

Reid will cross those bridges when he comes to them. With a short week to prepare for a Thursday night game against Denver there doesn’t appear time for any changes; what he needs is the starting line to play better against the Broncos then they did against the Texans.

“That’s the challenge now because every game you play now teams have tape on you; they’re going to study it,” Reid said. Can you take your game up another level? That will be very important as we go through the season.”

Meanwhile, there is some question whether Fisher asked out of Sunday’s game against Houston or did Reid decide his right tackle was not recovered yet from a high left ankle sprain and was unable to face the Texans?

Fisher said it was a coaching decision. So did Reid, but the twitter-verse was rife with rumors that Fisher did not want to play, especially on the poor surface at NRG Stadium in Houston.

Jah Reid, with the team for less than a week, was forced into the starting spot.

On Twitter, former Chiefs defensive lineman Shaun Smith posted ” … when you have chumps like Eric Fisher pulling this crap cause he scared of jj (watt) we lose.”

Smith has not been around the team in several years, so how he reached that conclusion remains unknown. The Kansas City Star reported that “multiple sources say the Chiefs were upset with Fisher’s decision (to not start.)”

Fisher said he did not start because of a coach’s decision.

“I was definitely going to try,” Fisher said. “It was completely their decision, and I kind of go do what they say. … They just said the medicals weren’t ready yet and that I was a backup, emergency player. It was completely their decision.”

Reid confirmed that story.

“I looked at the (practice) tape on Thursday and it wasn’t right, he was trying to push through it, but he was having a hard time getting his hips through and rolling over,” Andy Reid said.

“So I said ‘Hey listen we can’t put him in a position like that.’ He thought he could push through it but it didn’t work that way … so we went with Jah.”

Fisher — the tackle — did eventually get on the field, filling in on fourth-quarter play at left tackle when starter Donald Stephenson went out because of a finger injury.

REPORT CARD VS. TEXANS

PASSING OFFENSE: A — The Chiefs needed quarterback Alex Smith to have a productive day against a Houston defense that is stronger in the front seven than they are in the back four. Smith obliged, throwing three touchdown passes in the first half, including a pair to tight end Travis Kelce. The biggest victory was the play of the Kansas City offensive line that featured five starters that did not start last year’s season opener. They allowed just two sacks, both by Texans defensive end J.J. Watt. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and running back Jamaal Charles were big contributors as well to the winning effort.

RUSHING OFFENSE: D — As good a performance as the Chiefs saw from their passing offense was as bad as the running game production against the Houston. Charles was limited to a per-carry average of only 3.6 yards. Overall the Chiefs couldn’t crack the 100-yard mark; they had 97 yards on 32 running plays. Smith was active running the ball, with nine carries for 15 yards. At least half of those runs by the quarterback were planned and not escaping from pass-rush pressure.

PASS DEFENSE: C — The Texans went through two quarterbacks and coughed up the football twice in the passing game. Still, Houston threw for 334 yards and two touchdowns, both to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Veteran wide receiver Nate Washington finished with 105 yards on six catches. Hopkins had nine balls for 98 yards. The Chiefs did have a five-sack afternoon that raised their overall grade.

RUSH DEFENSE: B — Houston was without No. 1 back Arian Foster because of to injury, so they were in a tough spot to begin the game. Alfred Blue, Chris Polk and Jonathan Grimes all got the chance to run, and all broke off runs of 11 yards or more. The Texans just couldn’t sustain anything on the ground, due largely to being down 14-0 in the first quarter. K.C. was very happy to have inside linebacker Derrick Johnson back after a season away because of a ruptured Achilles. Johnson led the defense with eight total tackles, one sack and two tackles for minus yards.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A — It was a superb performance in the kicking game for the Chiefs. Field position was decided by kicker Cairo Santos and punter Dustin Colquitt. Punt returner De’Anthony Thomas contributed with an average of 16.2 yards on five punt returns. The Texans meanwhile got nothing in the return game, seeing 13 punts and kickoffs and picking up a total of 14 return yards.

COACHING: A — Andy Reid and his staff had the Chiefs well prepared to face the Texans. The offensive game plan was focused on short passes, with the quarterback getting rid of the ball quickly to minimize the impact of J.J. Watt. Defensively, coordinator Bob Sutton kept the pressure on Houston’s quarterbacks without exposing the secondary to untenable coverage situations.


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