There is nothing wrong with adding Matt Kalil to a football team. He has a wealth of starting NFL experience, and the Texans don’t have much of that.
Where adding Kalil goes wrong is in the expectations of Matt Kalil. Kalil is not the franchise left tackle the Vikings drafted him to be. Every season after his first season in the NFL has been a tremendous disappointment. You don’t need me to tell you that Kalil isn’t a star left tackle at this point. You can use the fact that he was released and the years of slagging he’s taken on the internet as context clues. The Panthers were mocked off planet football analytics for giving him $31 million guaranteed in 2016. Another of Dave Gettleman’s cringe moves.
The question is if he can be a useful starter. The factual record we have looks like this: Kalil has played one full season in the last three years. He blew a top-20 amount of blocks among left tackles in 2017, his full year, per Sports Info Solutions. He was terrible in 2015 as well. I don’t think there’s any way you can spin putting Kalil at left tackle as a good thing in 2019. Kalil’s at a stage of his career where a good offensive line coach or a change to guard is something to talk about. Perhaps he’s even just someone who is on the bench as a swing tackle. But, on a pure utilitarian standpoint, is he one of the best 96 tackles in the NFL today? Probably! So I won’t dig in on this move too hard.
Minnesota drafted Kalil third overall, and so he can “ride the ride” as far as baseline physical attributes. 306 pounds, ran a 4.99 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. Plenty tall. This is becoming a Houston Texans lineman starter kit. Every lineman they’ve drafted under O’Brien, be it Xavier Su’a-Filo, Nick Martin, or Julian Davenport, is physically gifted. Kalil’s issues are all about technique. When he has good reps, he looks great. When he technically messes up something, he looks bad. I want to dig up something that Brandon Thorn, a writer who focuses on linemen, posted on Kalil a bit ago:
You can see that Kalil’s punch is impressive — we’re talking about rocking back one of the best pass rushers in the NFL in Cam Jordan. But the technique is poor, and Kalil loses later in the down. This happens a lot from the video I’ve watched.
Here’s one from Week 2 of 2017 — The Bills and Jerry Hughes in particular pillaged Kalil in this game. Kalil shuffles back and tries to punch Hughes out of the play:
Hughes has gotten so far past Kalil that he winds up with only Hughes’ back shoulder as part of the punch. At this point, throwing the punch has put Kalil off-base, and Hughes easily bends the corner to finish the sack. Here’s a second sack Hughes got off Kalil:
Kalil tries to speed up his punch and get it out very early in this play, but his arms are way overextended. Hughes spins him, the sack is easy — this sack actually put Cam Newton out of the game. One thing that comes up over and over again in Kalil’s lowlights is losing the initial punch, either by losing the hand game or overextending himself.
The other thing that becomes clear to me about Kalil is that his lateral speed in 2017 was shot. To be fair to Kalil, he has dealt with a ton of injuries in his NFL career. But his get-off gait is very awkward, almost like he’s pushing himself off the turf instead of sliding. It takes him some extra time to regain his footing off of these push-offs. Let me show you a rep he had last year versus a rep in his rookie season:
Notice how smooth the slide of Carolina’s right tackle is compared to its left tackle. Compare Kalil against himself when he was younger and less banged up. I’m not sure if injuries changed this or what — I’m not a doctor and I’m not a head coach — but Kalil’s initial off-the-snap set was ugly in 2017. It forced him into awkward positions. A lot of his allowed pressures and sacks were like Hughes’ second sack — he overcompensated so deep outside that the spin lanes were open.
Given how Houston’s young offensive linemen have developed under Bill O’Brien and Mike Devlin, I wouldn’t bank on a major improvement from Kalil moving over here. The Texans don’t have Dante Scarnecchia.
As I said, I get it. Kalil is not what you want to see starting on opening day. He simply hasn’t put the tape together that would suggest he’s good at this stage in his career. But the signing on its face — veteran backup, has some good attributes — is not a bad thing. The fact that Kalil might be starting in Week 1 is the indictment, not the player himself.