In their perfect world, the Chiefs might like to give rookie offensive lineman Jeff Allen his first NFL start somewhere other than in the din of the Superdome in New Orleans.
But at 0-2, the Chiefs’ world is far from perfect. Allen, a second-round draft pick from Illinois, may be in the starting lineup Sunday against the Saints at left guard in place of the injured Ryan Lilja.
“Against this particular team it’s probably not the best because of the varying pressures that they bring,” said coach Romeo Crennel, never a fan of throwing young players into the lineup. “But he’s a smart young man … and we’ll have him prepared the best we can.”
Lilja, who has a sore back, could play in New Orleans. He was listed by the Chiefs on their final injury report of the week as questionable, meaning he has a 50-50 chance to play against the Saints.
Whether it’s Allen or Lilja at left guard for the Chiefs, they’re looking for better offensive line play than they received last week in Buffalo. Quarterback Matt Cassel was sacked five times and the Chiefs had five running plays for zero or negative yardage as they were frequently beaten up front by the Bills.
“They were coming off the ball well,” right tackle Eric Winston said. “They were playing their gaps well. I thought we had to go out there and put out their fire. We never quite did that.
“The same kind of applies to New Orleans. We’re going in to another tough place to play. We’ve got to try to get ahead early in the game. We’ve got to try to move the ball on the first drive and get some points and play from ahead and kind of dictate the pace rather than have the pace dictated to us.”
The Chiefs have had to play on their opponents’ terms throughout most of their first two games. Against Atlanta and Buffalo, they fell behind early.
That hasn’t helped the offensive line, which has had to protect Matt Cassel on 83 pass attempts, or far more than the Chiefs would prefer.
“We were inconsistent and it wasn’t one particular guy that you can put your finger on,” Crennel said. “One play, one guy breaks down, another play, a guy will break down, so that created negative plays for us. It’s hard to overcome negative plays sometimes.”
The emphasis for the Chiefs in New Orleans will be on getting a lead, something they haven’t had all season.
“To run the ball, you have to be in front,” Winston said. “You’ve got to be good early in the game. You’ve got to give (offensive coordinator Brian) Daboll a reason to run it more and more. That means you have to have some positive runs (early). You’ve got to break some runs off.
“Then all of a sudden you’re playing from the front and you can call more runs.”
The Chiefs wound up with nice rushing stats in Buffalo, where they ran for 150 yards on 24 attempts. But most of that came in the second half, after the Bills had a big lead.
So another emphasis this week for the Chiefs will be on eliminating the negative plays.
“We’ll be sitting at second and six and we’ll be good and all of a sudden it’s third and 11,” Winston said. “Or it’s second and 12. That’s something we’ve definitely got to eliminate with our run game and the way we can hit receivers. I don’t care what offense you are, if you keep sticking yourself with second and 12 or third and 12, you’re not going to convert a lot of them.
“For us, it’s making sure we’re on the right guys, not letting any (defenders) run through, not letting any linebackers through. For the backs, it’s sometimes realizing a good run is getting one yard, a good run is getting back to the line of scrimmage. If it’s second and six and you get to third and six, that’s still makeable. It’s a mentality of knowing that sometimes the home run is not going to be there.”
If Allen has to play, he shouldn’t be in awe of the situation or surroundings. He was a four-year starter at tackle for Illinois before being drafted by the Chiefs and switched to guard
“I’ve never played in New Orleans before but I heard it gets pretty loud there,” Allen said. “I’ve been preparing, I’ve been learning. Ryan’s a good guy to learn from. He’s been giving me pointers, helping me out. So I’ll be ready if I have to play.”