Wednesday, April 02, 2008

In the Trenches: 2007 week two

Games Reviewed
Cincinnati Bengals (51) at Cleveland Browns (45)
Minnesota Vikings (17) at Detroit Lions (20)
Oakland Raiders (20) at Denver Broncos (23)
Indianapolis Colts (22) at Tennessee Titans (20)
Seattle Seahawks (20) at Arizona Cardinals (23)

Top Linemen (by position)

Left Tackle
In this high-scoring shootout with the Bengals, Joe Thomas played like the rookie of the year candidate that he was. I'm looking forward to watching the Browns again to see if he keeps up this level of play. The only other left tackle with a BR over 9 was Seattle's Walter Jones (9.18). Unlike Thomas, who was tenacious and typically giving his all right up to the whistle, Jones often seemed to be getting by on talent and experience alone, doing just enough to get his job done.
  Arizona's Mike Gandy (8.93) stood out, playing exceptionally well for much of his game against the Seahawks before faltering a bit on the final few drives.
  Detroit's Jeff Backus (8.43) became the third left tackle to post a Run Blocker Rating (RBR) over 9 (9.38 RBR), following Chris Samuels (9.68 RBR) and Flozell Adams (9.44 RBR) who did so in week one. Unfortunately there was relatively little opportunity for him to run block in Mike Martz's pass-happy offense, and his overall BR was heavily affected by his shaky pass blocking.
  Indianapolis rookie Tony Ugoh (6.73) struggled in all phases of the game against the mighty Titans defense. He was the only left tackle this week to score below 8 and the first in the ten games reviewed so far to score below a 7 (last week's low BR for the position was Denver's Matt Lepsis's 7.96).

Left Guard
The second overall pick of the 2004 draft, Robert Gallery was supposed to be Oakland's starting left tackle for a decade. Instead, he has been considered a bust as he has been moved all over the line by his various coaches. Getting a chance to settle in at left guard, Gallery looked comfortable against the Broncos, consistently blocking well.
  Arizona's Reggie Wells (8.93) stood out with some really great blocks. If he always plays the way he did in this Seattle game, then I'd say he's one of the most underrated linemen in the NFL. We'll see what happens.
  Detroit's Edwin Mulitalo (8.86) was surprisingly stout in pass protection (9.63 PBR) but pretty bad in the running game (6.25 RBR).
  The most well-known left guards—Indianapolis's Ryan Lilja (8.78), Cleveland's Eric Steinbach (8.54), and Minnesota's Steve Hutchinson (8.54)—all had pretty average games, though each stood out at times with a number of key blocks.
  For the second week in a row, Cincinnati's Stacy Andrews (7.14) was the lowest rated left guard. In fact, he played worse against the Browns than he had against the Ravens. His 4.67 RBR was the second-worst I've recorded so far, ahead of only Jets right tackle Anthony Clement (4.17 against the Patriots in week 1).

Cleveland's Hank Fraley was clearly the best center in the games reviewed this week; however, his 9.27 BR would have been just fifth last week. Center is still a high-scoring position, but whereas last week's lowest rated center (minimum ten plays) was 8.6, this week saw four centers score below that. And last week's top center, Tom Nalen, was just above that with a 8.67.
  Two centers had a BR below 8. Arizona rookie Lyle Sendlein (7.86), who got off to a rough start but played better as the game wore on. And Detroit's Dominic Raiola (7.86): another Lion lineman who struggled terribly with run blocking (5 RBR) against the Vikings.

Right Guard
The recently retired Benji Olson of the Titans was second among guards this week with a 9.27 BR. His 9.58 RBR was the best of any lineman.
  Detroit's Damien Woody's (9) looked like he knew it was a contract year all along, while Seattle's Chris Gray (8.98) and Oakland's Cooper Carlisle (8.94) also had good weeks.
  Minnesota's Artis Hicks (7.5) was the only right guard to rate below an 8.

Right Tackle
Last week, six of ten right tackles scored 9 or higher. This week brought none. David Stewart's quietly efficient 8.91BR led the way, while Cleveland's Kevin Shaffer (8.54) was the only other right tackle to rate above 8.5.
  Detroit's George Foster (7.14) was the lowest rated right tackle, and two others also had BRs below 8: Indianapolis's Ryan Diem (7.35), who clearly benefits (in terms of sacks allowed numbers) from having Peyton Manning as his quarterback, and Denver's Erik Pears (7.83) who dropped off quite a bit from his 8.7 performance against the Bills in week one.

One More Thing
Having reviewed offensive line play in detail for ten games now, one thing already stands out: the amount of yards lost because of linemen not even attempting to stay on their blocks, or linemen who just stop on a play because they feel like the QB should have gotten rid of the ball by then or the running back should have made his cut and shot through the hole already. Well, yes, maybe those things should have happened in the first four seconds of the play, but they didn't, and now you're man in running by you and slamming your QB into the ground, or he's caught the running back and stopped him for a five-yard gain, but it could have been ten yards or more if you'd just stayed with that defensive end and kept him slowed down for another step or two.
  I haven't counted the times I've seen these sort of things, but it's surprisingly high. If I were a coach or GM who wanted to improve his team's offense I would make this a point of emphasis. And even though I'm hesitant to make sweeping pronouncements about players on this account (again, I'm not tallying such instances), I make that "suggestion" with great confidence because it's apparent that this is more of a problem with some teams than it is with others.
  For instance, from what I have seen so far of the Browns and the Cardinals (and going back to week one, I'd have to say the Cowboys and Redskins as well), their linemen stand out as staying at it till the whistle blows. They always seem to be hustling and the only time they let up is when their job really is done, when it's clear their man will not be a factor in the play.
  With such a small sample I'm not going to finger particular players or teams that have exhibited this problem consistently so far, but you can bet that many of the players given to letting up early (though not all) have lower Blocker Ratings, even though it's not a specific criterion in the scoring.

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