Nearly a half-hour after the starters were replaced Sunday in the Chiefs’ 45-10 drubbing of Washington, right guard Geoff Schwartz was still smiling.
The fact that the Chiefs had just snapped a three-game losing streak certainly had something to do with this — as did the fact that he had just turned in another strong effort, his fourth in a row since being inserted into the starting lineup.
But in the cramped quarters of the visitor’s locker room at FedEx Field, Schwartz was not talking about the latter. No. All that really mattered was that, in icy conditions that practically begged for power football, he and his fellow linemen had risen to the occasion by consistently winning the battle up front and paving the way for running back Jamaal Charles’ season-best 151-yard performance.
“We knew that we were going to get called on, in these conditions, to run the ball,” Schwartz said. “And I think we did a pretty good job.”
In the middle of that effort, was Schwartz. According to Pro Football Focus, a site that grades every player in every game, the 6-foot-6, 340-pounder turned in a run-blocking grade of 2.1 (anything 1.1 or higher is considered to be good). He also had a season-best overall grade of 3.1 in the game, making him the only Chiefs lineman to grade out at 1.2 or higher in four consecutive games this year.
Throw in the fact that Schwartz, 27, has played only 386 snaps this season yet still boasts an offense-best overall grade of 13.1 — which tops even Charles’ season-long grade (12.5 in 789 snaps, mind you) — and it’s easy to understand why Chiefs coach Andy Reid elected to keep Schwartz in the starting lineup Sunday, though the man he originally replaced four games ago, fourth-year pro Jon Asamoah, wasn’t listed on the injury report before the game.
“He’s done a great job stepping in,” center Rodney Hudson said of Schwartz, a six-year pro.
It’s not as though the man Schwartz replaced was performing badly.
Prior to his shoulder injury, Asamoah was one of the Chiefs’ best linemen according to PFF, and his grade of 7.0 is still the third-highest among all Chiefs offensive linemen. Only Branden Albert (10.0 in 800 snaps) and Schwartz have been better.
However, the fact is that over the last four games — which began with a 27-17 loss to Denver, when Schwartz subbed in for Asamoah, who had hurt his shoulder — the Chiefs have certainly found a way to run the ball better.
Charles is averaging 120 yards per game over that span, after averaging only 80 in the first nine contests.
Schwartz, however, says that has everything to do with a team-wide emphasis on running the football.
“Last year, they were a great running team and the year before that (too), they’ve been great,” said Schwartz, who signed as a free agent before the season.
“But we kind of started slow this year and we kind of talked about needing to run the ball better. We took pride in that, and you can see the results.”
Schwartz, however, certainly doesn’t deny it when asked if he simply feels more comfortable at right guard.
He spent the first nine games as the backup at both guard positions, logging a start at right guard in the opener against Jacksonville and a start at left guard against New York.
But in retrospect, his grades in those games — 2.9 against Jacksonville and negative-2.2 against New York — somewhat reinforces the point that he performs better on the right side of the line, where he says he spent most of his time in his previous NFL stops in Minnesota and Carolina.
“I’m way more comfortable there,” Schwartz said.
“I can play left guard, but I’ve really had never done it until this year. In high school I played left tackle, but in college I played right tackle for three years and since I’ve been in the NFL, I’ve been on the right side. When it comes to the technique, I’m just used to it.”
That much showed during his time with Carolina in 2010, his best professional season to date. That year, he produced a season-long grade of 19.2 in 16 games at right tackle and right guard, a grade that would have put him in the top 15 at both positions league-wide that year.
But the next year, he suffered a hip injury in training camp that cost him the entire year, and while he returned to play 13 games with the Vikings in 2012 — when Adrian Peterson fell just short of eclipsing the NFL’s single-season rushing record — he logged only 160 snaps, though his grade was still a respectable 5.8.
So last offseason, Schwartz — who thinks he’s always been a pretty good pass blocker — set out to improve his run blocking and find a team that offered an opportunity for playing time. He found the latter with the Chiefs, and worked hard to prove the former.
“Being healthy this offseason, I was able to work on a lot of hip explosion, stuff like that,” Schwartz said. “And it’s paying off.”
Indeed. Reid has not made the proclamation that Schwartz’s move into the starting lineup at right guard will be a long-term thing, but when asked Sunday what it meant to him to get the nod the last several weeks, Schwartz broke out into that familiar grin again.
“Obviously, all I wanted was an opportunity when I got here, and that opportunity came due to injury,” Schwartz said.
“I took the opportunity and I’m just running with it.”