Monday, March 31, 2008

In the Trenches: 2007 week one

Games Charted
Denver Broncos (15) at Buffalo Bills (14)
New England Patriots (38) at New York Jets (14)
New York Giants (35) at Dallas Cowboys (45)
Miami Dolphins (13) at Washington Redskins (16)
Baltimore Ravens (20) at Cincinnati Bengals (27)

Top Linemen (by position)

Left Tackle
First, a reminder that these ratings are based on NFL Replay and therefore they do not include the entire game as there are a handful of plays not shown. That said, Flozell Adams's 9.74 would be the highest single-game rating so far for a player with at least 20 plays. Patriots guard Stephen Neal posted a perfect 10 in the Super Bowl, but he was only in on 19 plays before leaving injured. The high rating seems fitting when you remember that it was Osi Umenyiora's"pair of zeros against the Cowboys" that was the impetus for Dr. Z taking a closer look at Adams's 2007 season and placing him on his All-Pro team.
  I have to mention Washington's Chris Samuels (9.2 BR). He was one of the most impressive linemen I saw and certainly the most enjoyable to watch. His 8.42 PBR is largely due to facing Miami's Jason Taylor, while his 9.68 RBR was the best of any lineman with more than twelve plays. He was a monster, an eraser on wheels.
  Baltimore's Jonathan Ogden (9.41) was playing great until he left the game injured. And Adam Terry (9.09) played well in his absence.
  Buffalo's Jason Peters (9.2) looked a little like a young Chris Samuels. Not as consistently good, but possessing that kind of power and mobility.
  And one of the pleasant surprises of week one: D'Brickashaw Ferguson (9.0). When Ferguson failed, he failed spectacularly so everyone could notice. But he played consistently well, and his run blocking was better than expected.
  Denver's Matt Lepsis (7.96) was the only left tackle to score below 8, though the Giants' David Diehl (8.04) came close.

Left Guard
Rich Seubert benefits from getting a good deal of double-team help from Shaun O'Hara. He also probably benefitted just a bit by this being the first game I charted before making a handful of tweaks to the rating system (it's not reverse-adjustable: I'd have to go back and re-chart the whole game). Both the Giants and Cowboys offensive lines played extremely well, with the exceptions of Diehl, who struggled with DeMarcus Ware, and Marc Columbo (8.46), who struggled some with Michael Strahan and Justin Tuck. Like all of the week's top linemen, Seubert posted a perfect Pass Blocker Rating (PBR), and the Giants ended up with 40 charted passing plays—nine more than any other team charted—boosting his overall rating.
  The lowest rated left guard was Stacy Andrews (8.1). He did great in pass protection (9.57) but looked plain awful in run blocking (6.32). No player was more frustrating to watch the Andrews, who sometimes looked at a loss out there. In case you're wondering about bias: this is a guy whose ability I was bullish on as a potential free agent. Could his poor performance be attributed to the Ravens' league-best rush defense? I wanted to think so.

Tom Nalen looked like the perennial All-Pro he is. He really stood out for his smarts and relentlessness. Centers are frequently involved with double teams and so they definitely score higher than the other positions. Six of the ten starting centers rated higher than a 9, and the lowest rating was an otherwise respectable 8.6 posted by Baltimore's Mike Flynn. Nalen was one of three centers to post a perfect 10 in pass blocking (Buffalo's Melvin Fowler and New England's Dan Koppen were the others), but his 9.2 was fourth best in run blocking behind Dallas's Andre Gurode (9.44), Fowler (9.38), and Cincinnati's Eric Ghiaciuc (9.33).
  No center looked worse than Cincinnati reserve Alex Stepanovich (who was for a short time the top choice at center on my 2008 All Free Agent team). The entire Bengals line looked out of sync when he was in the game. After a few series, an injured Ghiaciuc returned and played well. (Don't worry: Stepanovich will play better in week two against the Browns.)

Right Guard
I wasn't sure whether to break the guard positions into left and right, or if I should just list the top two regardless of which side they play on. Didn't matter this week because Leonard Davis posted the second best score among guards, finishing just ahead of Baltimore's Jason Brown and Miami's Chris Liwienski (both at 9.4). Davis was one of five guards to post a perfect PBR, and his 8.89 RBR was fourth behind the Jets' Brandon Moore (10, but on only twelve run plays, while his PBR of 7.86 was the lowest of any guard), New England's Stephen Neal (8.97), and Liwienski (8.95).
  Liwienski (a left guard actually) was by far the least impressive lineman with a BR over 9. I doubt there'll be another week where he'll be showing up near the top at his position (then again, how many Dolphins games is NFL Replay likely to show?).
  On the other hand, in the two games of his I've charted, Stephen Neal has looked like the best mauler in the league. He doesn't have the mobility of heralded teammate Logan Mankins, but he's been more consistent in carrying out his assignments.
  The Giants' Chris Snee (9.11) was the third best right guard, while Washington's Randy Thomas (8.2) was surprisingly ineffective in the run game (7.1).
  The worst right guard was another one of my 2008 All Free Agent guys, Miami's Rex Hadnot (7.2). The fine reporters who cover the Dolphins liked to write about Hadnot's pulling ability. But if the Washington game was any indication, as often as not when Hadnot pulls he hits first the air and then the ground.

Right Tackle
Rookie Stephon Heyer stepped in when Jon Jansen went out with an injury. Jansen was on pace for a great game (9.3 on 15 plays) and Heyer came in and played up to Jansen's level. The
one thing to consider is that the Dolphin defense might have had something to do with Heyer's high score: Jason Taylor was primarily on the other side going against Washington's best lineman Chris Samuels.
  Just as he did in the Super Bowl, Kareem McKenzie (9.29) had a quietly great game, as did New England's Nick Kaczur (9.2).
  Only two right tackles had a BR of lower than 8. Cincinnati's Willie Anderson (7.0), who was limited to ten plays due injuries, and the Jets' Anthony Clement (7.5), whose pass blocking was fine (8.93) but whose running blocking was the worst yet seen: he was the only linemen with RBR under 5 (4.17).

One More Thing
Although five abbreviated games is too small of a sample size to make sweeping judgments, it looks like my Blocker Rating will correspond quite a bit to conventional wisdom. That's good. I'm not sure what I would make of ratings that contradicted all of what's supposed to be (though I certainly expect that one or two consensus opinions would be proved wrong). Pro Bowl-caliber players show up all over the top of the week 1 Blocker Ratings: Adams (whose false starts aren't counted), Nalen, Davis, Gurode, Ogden, Brown, Jansen, Neal, Samuels, Snee (that's half of the top 20 right there). But there's one guy who I've charted in both Super Bowl 42 and now in 2007 week 1 who's just not living up to his billing: Logan Mankins. I don't want to make a definitive statement at this time—I've only charted two of his games—but he certainly hasn't looked like the NFL's best guard. He does look amazing at times. He has actually "wowed" me with a couple of his pull blocks. But I haven't seen the consistency: not on the most important stage, in the Super Bowl against the Giants, and not in the opening game against the Jets, who fielded the league's worst defensive front last season.

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