In the aftermath of the Chiefs’ 29-13 win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, Chiefs center Zach Fulton took a moment to ponder a question on how he and his teammates had just fared against one of the league’s best –– and most intimidating –– defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh.
“That dude’s strong,” Fulton said with a hearty laugh. “That’s a strong man right there.”
Fulton had a few showdowns against Suh, who didn’t record a stat in the loss for Miami. But most of the Suh duty fell on right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who let Suh know what kind of day it would be early when he kept driving him to the ground –– through the whistle –– on one play early in the first quarter. Suh responded by flipping over and taking a few shots at him after the play.
The two had a few more moments throughout the contest, including one time where Duvernay-Tardif had his arm on Suh after a play and Suh chopped at it –– hard.
But the point was, the Chiefs’ offensive line was largely game to the challenge of matching the intensity and physicality of Miami’s Suh-led defensive line, a positive sign for a unit that struggled to do just that as little as a month ago.
“I mean, that’s all across the board (in this league) as far as the D-line is concerned,” Fulton said of Suh’s intensity and chippiness. “A lot of people play like that. So anytime you go into a game, you’ve just got to match that intensity or be even greater with it. It’s always going to be a battle, no matter what.”
And while Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith passed for 304 yards and a touchdown and was only sacked once, running back Kareem Hunt churned out 91 yards on 29 carries, which was good enough to win but not quite to the level of production they wanted.
“They’ve got a physical front,” Chiefs left guard Bryan Witzmann said. “We definitely had a lot of things in the run game to work on, but we had good pass protection on Alex, and that was a huge key.”
“We did alright,” Fulton added. “We could have done better.”
After the game, Smith praised his linemen for raising their games the last three weeks, all of which were Chiefs’ wins. That cannot be ignored, either; given the way the unit struggled to move anyone during the stretch in which they went 1-6 during the middle of the season, it’s hard not to correlate the team’s resent success with the line’s improved play.
“I think it all starts with them, run and pass,” Smith said. “Protection, blocking. I think there’s definitely then not a want to, not even a physicality thing, I think just an attention to detail. All those guys really turning it up a bit and finding their focus and communicating really well these last few weeks. Dialed in on the game plan on all of our adjustments that we might get coming up to the line. Being able to block all the different fronts, there’s so much that goes into the run game.
“I think the attention to detail just been turned up that much showed.”
Several linemen echoed those thoughts, noting that the attention to detail has made the difference.
“Before, there were just little things that were holding us back,” Witzmann said. “I think we’ve worked through those things and finally put them all together.”
“We just went back to what we were doing,” left tackle Eric Fisher said. “We just found that unity again on the line, went out there and battled. I think coach’s big thing was just, when times get tough, go back to work.”
Their increased aggression, they said, has been byproduct of that. Now they just need to keep it going, especially with the playoffs looming in only a few weeks.
“I’ll say this –– we just went back to using our fundamentals and technique,” Fulton said. “And once you get that down, then you can incorporate the aggression. Play fast, play more physical.”