Times sacked becoming an issue for Chiefs’ pass protection

Sep 21, 2014; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Dolphins defensive tackle Randy Starks (94) and linebacker Jelani Jenkins (53) sack Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) in the end zone for a safety at Miami Sun Life Stadium. Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 21, 2014; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Dolphins defensive tackle Randy Starks (94) and linebacker Jelani Jenkins (53) sack Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) in the end zone for a safety at Miami Sun Life Stadium. Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Chiefs offensive line blew open holes for a ground attack that gained 174 yards rushing on 41 carries during Sunday’s 34-15 win against the Miami Dolphins.

Second-year running back Knile Davis paced the Chiefs with 132 yards rushing and a touchdown on 32 attempts, and Cyrus Gray chipped in with a rushing touchdown.

“Normally if your running backs are doing well you’re going to compliment your offensive line,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said during his Sunday postgame media session. “The offensive line I thought did a nice job as it went on.”

But for the good from the offensive line occurring at Sun Life Stadium, an issue grows below the surface.

The Dolphins sacked Alex Smith five times, including a safety, boosting the amount of times Smith has been sacked on the young season to 11.

“Some of that,” Reid explained Monday, “especially early, that was my responsibility. We were in long-yardage situations, you’re talking about these third-and-forevers and I’m asking the guy to take seven-step drops and throw the ball.”

Still, the Chiefs may want to fix the protection issues sooner than later when considering Smith is on pace for 58.6 times sacked on the season.

To put that total in perspective, 58.6 sacks would rank in the single-season Top 10 since times sacked became an official statistic in 1969, according to ProFootballReference.com.

The protection problems festered in the preseason when Smith was sacked six times in limited action through three exhibition games behind the first-team offensive line.

With the exception of center Rodney Hudson, the Chiefs tweaked the offensive line during the offseason.

The major shift occurred on Aug. 22 when the league handed down a four-game suspension on Donald Stephenson for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing substances.

Starting left guard Jeff Allen moved to right tackle in place of Stephenson, but Allen landed on injured reserve on Sept. 12 after undergoing elbow surgery.

Seventh-year pro Ryan Harris, who started the past two games at right tackle, is the Chiefs third right tackle since training camp. Stephenson is eligible to return to the active roster on Sept. 30.

Starting left tackle Eric Fisher, however, appears to be settling in after moving from right tackle during the offseason. Fisher, the No. 1 pick overall of the 2013 NFL Draft, threw the key block after pulling to the right side to seal the edge on running back Knile Davis’ 21-yard touchdown run against the Dolphins.

“He’s a good football player and he’s young,” Reid said of Fisher. “He’ll just keep getting better and he did a nice job yesterday (Sunday).”

Of course, the tackle positions aren’t the only areas experiencing modification.

The Chiefs turned to rookie right guard Zach Fulton, the team’s sixth-round pick, during training camp and he became the first Chiefs rookie sixth-round pick to open the season as a starter since cornerback Steve Taylor in 1976.

The Chiefs signed current starting left guard Mike McGlynn on Aug. 27, a day before the preseason finale, and he has started every regular-season game. McGlynn played for Reid in Philadelphia, so the acclimation shouldn’t be difficult.

Meanwhile, Week 4’s opponent, the New England Patriots, recorded seven sacks through three games.

The Patriots didn’t register a sack in Week 3, but notched six in Week 2 against the Minnesota Vikings and former Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick has a reputation of exploiting an opponent’s deficiency, so it’s reasonable to expect the Patriots to test the Chiefs’ pass protection.

Smith’s athleticism and ability to run the football allows him to escape some trouble. And Smith currently has 95 yards rushing on 13 attempts to rank second among quarterbacks behind 49ers quarterback Colin Kaerpernick’s 129 yards rushing.

But the Chiefs offense line can’t continue at this current pace of allowing its starting quarterback to hit the turf.

For his part, Reid is aware of the protection issues and hopes to effectively address them.

“I’ve got to be a bit smarter with the play calling in a couple situations,” Reid said. “And in other ones we need to make sure we block the right guys and do the right things.”