John Madden and Al Davis combined in Oakland to create one of pro football’s most intriguing dynasties. The Silver and Black Raiders allowed Madden to become the first head coach in National Football League history to win 100 games in his first ten seasons. The two agreed on a lot of issues, but had one spirited and good natured disagreement that they would debate at the slightest suggestion at one position on the field being the most important.
Davis contended that cornerbacks were critical to a teams’ success, and how a mistake back there could lead to a quick score for an opponent. Davis, was in fact, probably thinking about defending his own style of offense which emphasized stretching a defense.
Madden argued that the offensive line was the most important unit to have intact on a championship team. He enjoyed explaining how the offensive line set the tempo for the whole game. A good offensive line would open holes for runners and protect quarterbacks attempting to pass. Madden would contend that if your offensive line isn’t doing their job, defenses spend too long on the field and offenses are unable to operate no matter how many skill position players you have.
While visions of a defensive backfield being exploited for long gainers and touchdowns lends credence to the Davis side of this debate, I have always agreed with Madden on this issue. I too think the offensive line working as a unit is the key to a successful team. While with the Raiders, of course, Davis, Madden and everyone involved with the team had the opportunity of watching one of the best offensive lines in history first contribute to the Raiders 20 years of dominant football.
In the years I was with the Raiders in the 1970’s, our offensive line featured three future Hall of Fame inductees; Jim Otto, Gene Upshaw and Art Shell. The defensive backfield was also talent ridden with the likes of Willie Brown, George Atkinson and Jack Tatum.
While the position most important discussed by Madden and Davis always focussed on the offensive line and defensive backfield, both men agreed on something basic; a team needs a championship quarterback behind center.
Which brings us to the sports books favorites to win Super Bowl LVI, the Kansas City Chiefs. Few will argue they have the quarterback that is the top signal caller in the game today, with all due respect to Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, that is Patrick Mahomes. In his three seasons as the starter in Kansas City he has guided the Chiefs to three Division titles and a pair of Super Bowl appearances.
It is because of Mahomes the Chiefs are favored to win back the Super Bowl title they lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season. But, on the Madden scale of importance, the Chiefs do not rate as Super Bowl winners.
Their offensive line has gone through more changes than a girl between the ages of 10 and 16. The priority of the Chiefs building a strong offensive line was illustrated when they spent the first pick in the 2013 draft to tab Michigan offensive lineman Eric Fisher. He was there to man the considered most important spot on the front line, left guard. The left guard is critical to serve an offense by both productive and preventive measures.
Open holes for runners and protect your quarterback’s blind side.
Fisher did it as well as anyone at his position into the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship Game. Less than a month after his 30th birthday, Fisher was anchoring a Chiefs offensive line that was the defending Super Bowl Champions and favored to repeat.
There were a lot of reasons the Chiefs lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last February, but one of them can be traced to the ACL injury against the Buffalo Bills sustained by Fisher that ultimately ended his career in Kansas City.
Released by the Chiefs and picked up by the Indianapolis Colts, Fisher signed a one-year contract to play for Head Coach Frank Reich. This is quality on quality for the chances of Fisher succeeding in Indianapolis, perhaps even reviving the career of Carson Wentz along the way.
But, where does this leave the Chiefs?
Offensive line play is a ballet. Five men working in coordination to accomplish their objective, with an opponent looking to exploit any weakness. A vulnerability in protecting a quarterback is a major liability. We need look no further than last year’s Super Bowl. The stat sheet shows Mahomes was sacked three times in that game, but his production was blunted many times more by constant pressure.
In Super Bowl LV, Mahomes didn’t get the Chiefs in the endzone for the first time in his career. It was also the first time he had led an offense without Fisher. The one-time first pick in the draft is still recovering from his knee injury and is currently on the Colts injured reserve list.
Fisher is not the only member of the Chiefs offensive line that opened last season and played at a championship level that will not be on the field this Sunday when the Chiefs open against the Cleveland Browns. Kansas City is fielding five players at guard, tackle and center, who were not in these positions a year ago.
John Madden would not want to coach this team.
When the playoffs arrive, teams that have survived the year with the same five men up front setting the tone for their offenses are commonly in the mix for the Super Bowl. Those that have trouble up front, are most often already preparing for next season when the best teams are lining up for playoff competition.
Teams that benefit from the precision gained after years of playing alongside each other is paramount to success. No such choreography is available for Kansas City Head Coach Andy Reid this season. The moving parts offensive line for Kansas City this year is a major obstacle, it throws shade on them manifesting a third straight Super Bowl. The team I see poised to end the Chiefs quest for a third straight Super Bowl appearance is the only team that has strung together a longer Super Bowl appearance run, the Buffalo Bills.
Buffalo sent four straight teams to the Super Bowl between 1990 and 1993, and lost all four games to the New York Giants, Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys twice. While the Chiefs bid for a third straight AFC title is blunted, we see the opening filled with Bills. This will offer Buffalo fans a chance for Super Bowl redemption next February at SoFi Stadium.
Qoxhi Picks AFC Champion: Buffalo Bills (+500)