Another week, another stout defensive front confronting the Chiefs, who will open Sunday’s game at Houston without an offensive-line regular. Again.
Guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif didn’t practice this week and won’t play, coach Andy Reid said Friday. The Chiefs already are down center Mitch Morse, who’s out with a foot injury.
Duvernay-Tardif went down with a knee injury on the Chiefs’ second snap on Monday against Washington. The injury has been described as a sprain by the team, but it will keep Duvernay-Tardif out for at least this week and the Chiefs will field a makeshift line once again. Jordan Devey went the rest of the way at right guard Monday; Zach Fulton has filled in for Morse.
Oh, and tackle Eric Fisher is battling a back injury.
Despite surrendering four sacks against Washington and 16 for the season — only two teams have allowed more — the Chiefs bring the league’s lone perfect record (4-0) into the weekend, and have survived against some of the NFL’s top defensive fronts.
“It’s not been the easiest slate, to say the least,” right tackle Mitchell Schwartz said.
The Eagles brought Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham; the Chargers attacked with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram; and most recently, the Chiefs had to contend with Washington, which had dominated the Raiders the previous weekend.
Now the Chiefs are starting at the Texans’ J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus and company. Houston ranks fifth in total defense, surrendering 291 yards per game.
The hits just keep on coming.
“From a tackle’s perspective, it seems like every week we’re seeing teams that three if not four guys who can rush the edge effectively,” Schwartz said. “The starter goes as long as he can and they seem to have a fresh guy just as capable of coming in.”
Schwartz also sees a shift in defensive philosophy that changes the makeup of defensive fronts — more athletic ends and outside linebackers — to further challenge pass protectors.
“I think it’s kind of where the league is transitioning: the pass game, spread offense is becoming a little more en vogue,” Schwartz said “The ball is getting out quicker and defenses are focusing on getting guys who are a little more athletic and can get to the quarterback faster.”
But the Chiefs are finding ways to succeed, and even thrive. Their 405 yards per game is second in the NFL and their 6.78 yards per play is first. Running back Kareem Hunt leads the NFL in rushing at 502 yards and Alex Smith owns the league’s top passer rating.
The possible good news this weekend is the return of guard Parker Ehinger, who hasn’t played since suffering a torn ACL last October. He has been practicing and is no longer listed on the injury report.
“For the last month I’ve been busting butt trying to get back out there,” Ehinger said. “These last 11 months have been tough, been through the ups and downs of rehab, trying to get my mind right and ready to go.”
Ehinger, a fourth-round selection from Cincinnati in 2016, started last year’s opener and made three other starts before suffering the season-ending injury. The versatile Fulton finished the season at Ehinger’s position, and Bryan Witzmann has been the starter at left guard this season. Ehinger has played only on the left side.
Head coach Andy Reid wouldn’t commit to Ehinger’s returning to action on Sunday.
“He’s one of the guys who rotated in there (at practice),” Reid said. “We’ll see how it all works out.”