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2008 Offensive Line Review and Ratings - AFC East
John Tuvey
June 20, 2008
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Buffalo Bills

Year Sacks Allowed Sacked Rank RB Rush Yards Rush Yards Per Game Per Game Rush Rank Per Carry Average Per Carry Rank
2005 43 23 1607 100.4 20 3.8 20
2006 47 25 1552 97 27 3.7 27
2007 26 11 1598 100 19 4.0 20

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle Pro Bowlers
2005 M.Gandy B.Anderson T.Teague C.Villarrial M.Williams      
2006 M.Gandy T.Reyes M.Fowler C.Villarrial J.Peters      
2007 J.Peters D.Dockery M.Fowler B.Butler L.Walker J.Peters    
2008 J.Peters D.Dockery M.Fowler B.Butler L.Walker      

The Bills threw a whole bunch of money at their offensive line last season and by the end of the season were seeing the payoff. Unfortunately, the minicamp holdout of All Pro left tackle Jason Peters suggests Buffalo will have to back up another Brinks truck just to keep the status quo… but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Bills entered last season with three new faces along their line: big-ticket free agent signing Derrick Dockery at left guard, underachieving ex-Raider Langston Walker at right tackle, and right guard Brad Butler, who beat out Duke Preston and Jason Whittle for the gig in training camp. The early returns weren’t all that great, but over the final 11 contests the Bills surrendered just 13 sacks—half their full-season total—and finished with their lowest team total since Doug Flutie was under center back in 1999. Moreover, the unit allowed zero sacks in four of their final five games and saw their passing yardage climb by more than 50 yards per game over the final two-thirds of the season thanks to the improved protection.

The unit returns intact for 2008—excellent news for Trent Edwards, who won’t have to worry about having his spleen dislodged by an oncoming pass rush. Aside from the mountainous Walker, each Buffalo lineman is a better pass protector than run blocker. With this unit back and Edwards developing, downfield receivers like Lee Evans should see more balls come their way—and of course fewer sacks means more pass attempts, with less pressure likely to translate into more accurate passing and ultimately better numbers for the wide receivers. Hopefully, the line’s familiarity with each other will begin to translate into better run blocking as well, something that wasn’t as evident last season. Buffalo running backs averaged 4.0 yards per carry but ranked among the worst in the league in converting short-yardage and goal-line opportunities on the ground—28th according to the Football Outsiders. It’s not necessarily a reason to downgrade Marshawn Lynch—after all, he put up 1,115 yards and seven touchdowns behind this group last year—but don’t go overboard with the positivity.

However, if Peters holds out or this wafer-thin unit suffers an injury feel free to make a beeline for the panic button. Peters had three years remaining on his current contract and is slated to make $3.25 million this year; two of his own linemates make more. Once negotiations commence, expect Peters’ agent to reference Jake Long’s five-year $57.5 million deal, as well as how a 36 percent increase in the NFL salary cap since 2005 would make the $7.5 million deals of Walter Jones and Orlando Pace worth more than $10 million a year today. In other words, the Bills will be setting the market price for left tackles for the foreseeable future… so don’t look for Peters to take a “thanks for developing me from an undrafted tight end into one of the league’s best left tackles” discount. Bills offensive coordinator Turk Schonert has already indicated he would move Walker from the right side if Peters’ holdout stretches into training camp; that’s a dramatic downgrade, as Walker allowed 10.5 sacks his final year in Oakland, and when you factor in the dropoff of Kirk Chambers stepping in at right tackle one shudders for Edwards’ internal organs. The draft yielded massive project Demetrius Bell, who has all the athleticism of his biological father Karl Malone but far more class than his deadbeat dad, but he’s still a work in progress; while Buffalo had success in molding Peters, the process does take time. The Bills are a little more injury-proof inside, with Preston or Whittle capable of filling short-term absences—in fact, Preston took most of the first-team reps during OTAs as Melvin Fowler recovered from offseason shoulder surgery—but this offense isn’t strong enough to withstand a major injury up front. The line play is good enough to allow Edwards and the passing game to develop, and it shouldn’t do anything to prevent Lynch from improving upon last year’s numbers. But if Peters doesn’t get paid or Buffalo loses a starting lineman to injury for any extended period of time, run don’t walk to clear your roster of Bills.


Miami Dolphins

Year Sacks Allowed Sacked Rank RB Rush Yards Rush Yards Per Game Per Game Rush Rank Per Carry Average Per Carry Rank
2005 26 4 1898 118.6 12 4.3 8
2006 41 21 1673 104.6 22 4.2 13
2007 42 23 1609 101 18 4.0 21

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle Pro Bowlers
2005 D.McIntosh J.James S.McKinney R.Hadnot V.Carey      
2006 L.Shelton J.James R.Hadnot B.Anderson V.Carey      
2007 V.Carey C.Liwienski S.Satele R.Hadnot L.Shelton      
2008 J.Long J.Smiley S.Satele S.Murphy V.Carey      

Yes, the Dolphins were brutal last season, and there’s no question offensive line help was one of the team’s most glaring needs heading into the draft. But truth be told, last year’s unit actually outperformed the low expectations set for them. Statistically they were no better than mediocre, but given what they had to work with—and that their only experienced quarterback and their top two running backs missed the bulk of the season with injuries—you have to admire the effort. Of course, a collection of “I Tried” ribbons mean little to Bill Parcels, so the unit received an extensive overhaul in the offseason—from the top down, as Parcels tabbed former offensive line coach Tony Sparano as the Dolhins head coach and used the first overall pick on a cornerstone of a left tackle.

The domino effect of the selection of Jake Long means Vernon Carey, last year’s left tackle, moves back to the right side where he’s a more natural fit. Both are better run blockers than pass protectors at this juncture, but the expectation is that the talented Long will develop into a solid if not spectacular pass blocker on his quarterback’s blind side. The Dolphins aggressively pursued free agent guard Justin Smiley and will plant him next to long on the left side. Smiley is a more natural right guard, but Miami would prefer to use his veteran presence next to Long since the other guard options are fellow rookies Shawn Murphy and Donald Thomas. The Dolphins did sign veteran Steve McKinney, but he’s still coming back from ACL surgery and after a full set of minicamps they seem willing to roll with Smiley on the left side. Center Samson Satele started last season as a rookie, and while he didn’t make the line calls (departed guard Rex Hadnot handled those chores) the team feels confident he can take over those duties in his second season.

With the potential for a line sporting a mere combined nine years of NFL experience, the Dolphins are bound to have growing pains. Most of those will come in the passing game, so don’t be surprised if Parcels and Sparano opt to use Josh McCown rather than expose either Chad Henne or John Beck to the line’s learning curve. The Dolphins have surrendered 83 sacks over the past two seasons, and despite the presence of Long at left tackle another season in the bottom half of the league in that stat wouldn’t be surprising. Miami’s run blocking, on the other hand, will benefit not only from Long’s arrival but also from Smiley and the move of Carey back to the right side. According to stats compiled by the Football Outsiders, Miami ranked fourth in the league with a healthy 5.0 yards-per-carry average running behind Carey on the left side. If he has similar success on the right and Long is as good as advertised (and benefits from Smiley’s assistance) on the left, the Dolphins should be able to run the ball effectively. Whether or not you believe Ronnie Brown will be all the way back from his knee injury or Ricky Williams has anything left in the tank, you needn’t view the Miami line as an impediment; they were average or better in most measurable categories Football Outsiders use to help determine offensive line effectiveness, and they’ve improved their talent level for 2008. Last year’s line outpaced the lowered expectations; the bar will be set a little higher this time around, and we’re reasonably certain the Dolphins will be up for the challenge.


New England Patriots

Year Sacks Allowed Sacked Rank RB Rush Yards Rush Yards Per Game Per Game Rush Rank Per Carry Average Per Carry Rank
2005 28 7 1512 94.5 24 3.4 30
2006 29 10 1969 123.1 12 3.9 18
2007 21 5 1695 106 12 4.2 10

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle Pro Bowlers
2005 M.Light L.Mankins D.Koppen S.Neal T.Ashworth      
2006 M.Light L.Mankins D.Koppen S.Neal R.O'Callaghan      
2007 M.Light L.Mankins D.Koppen S.Neal N.Kaczur M. Light L. Mankins D. Koppen
2008 M.Light L.Mankins D.Koppen S.Neal N.Kaczur      

It’s trendy to lay the entirety of the Patriots’ Super Bowl loss at the feet of the offensive line. After all, Tom Brady spent more time on his back than Michelangelo painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Brady hadn’t been sacked five times in a game since 2003, and the Giants’ relentless pressure derailed New England’s record-breaking offense and queued up the lone blemish on the Pats’ perfect season. It didn’t help that starting guard Stephen Neal left midway through the second quarter, disrupting the continuity of the group; it’s also entirely possible that tackle Nick Kaczur was between shipments of OxyContin and feeling a bit edgy. But before you downgrade Brady’s fantasy prospects heading into 2008 based on the Super Bowl debacle, keep in mind that the Giants led the NFL in sacks last season and few teams the Pats will see this season are capable of bringing the heat the way Big Blue did last February. The Metaphors picked a lousy time to have a bad game, but don’t view it as a harbinger of the collapse of New England’s dynasty.

That said, there is at least a little bit of uncertainty for the Patriots front line. The left side returns Pro Bowlers Matt Light and Logan Mankins, and center Dan Koppen earned a trip to Hawaii as well. While Light isn’t a top-flight tackle in the Orlando Pace or even Jason Peters vein, the fact that Brady was sacked just 21 times in more than 600 dropbacks indicates that he’s more than adequate. Mankins and Koppen are among the elite at their respective positions and the primary reason New England has so much success running between the tackles; according to Football Outsiders, the Pats’ 4.75 yards per carry behind their center and guards ranked second in the league last year—and only a handful of teams ran middle more frequently than the Patriots. File that tidbit away next time you’re playing QB1 at your local watering hole; Run Middle Gamebreaker is bound to earn you bountiful points. But I digress. New England’s right side is far less settled.  Kaczur has been working at guard during minicamps while Neal recovers from the knee injury that knocked him out of the Super Bowl. Ryan O’Callaghan is playing right tackle, and even if Kaczur’s DEA situation doesn’t affect his availability the Patriots may be ready to make the switch. Russ Hochstein, who saw plenty of action at right guard last season and can also play tackle, is a capable reserve but not necessarily a full-time replacement for either Neal or Kaczur.

Despite the Super Bowl debacle the Pats made few personnel moves along their offensive line. Nine-year, six-team veteran Oliver Ross, signed as a free agent, is the only name you might recognize, and he’s a longshot at best to even make the roster. And really, why wouldn’t Bill Belichick roll with essentially the same unit that performed so admirably for 18 of the team’s 19 games last year? New England’s backs averaged 4.2 yards per carry—even with a frustratingly low dose of Laurence Maroney during the bulk of the regular season—and Brady had enough time to shatter multiple passing records and turn Randy Moss and Wes Welker into fantasy deities. So unless Neal can’t get/stay healthy and Kaczur’s case keeps him on the sidelines—or the league finds a way to bring Michael Strahan out of retirement and schedule the Patriots for a 16-game slate of rematches with the Giants—the status quo should be more than enough to keep New England’s offense humming along at a fantasy-friendly rate. 


New York Jets

Year Sacks Allowed Sacked Rank RB Rush Yards Rush Yards Per Game Per Game Rush Rank Per Carry Average Per Carry Rank
2005 53 30 1328 83 31 3.5 28
2006 34 16 1738 108.6 20 3.5 30
2007 53 29 1472 92 24 3.9 28

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle Pro Bowlers
2005 J.Fabini P.Kendall K.Mawae B.Moore A.Jones      
2006 D.Ferguson P.Kendall N.Mangold B.Moore A.Clement      
2007 D.Ferguson A.Clarke N.Mangold B.Moore A.Clement      
2008 D.Ferguson A.Faneca N.Mangold B.Moore D.Woody      

The Jets spent $65.5 million—roughly the equivalent of the gross domestic product of the Pacific island nation of Kiribati—to upgrade their offensive line in the offseason. On the heels of expending two first-round picks on linemen the previous season, it’s time for Gang Green to see some payoff. And the key to that payoff may actually be a coach who’s been run out of Oakland and Nebraska. Bill Callahan takes over the Jets’ offensive line, a job he held previously with the Eagles in the mid-90s, and word out of minicamps is that he’s been a godsend to the younger members of the line. Obviously, it doesn’t hurt that Alan Faneca, one of the top guards in the league, is sandwiched in between a pair of third-year players, center Nick Mangold and left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson. With Adrien Clarke filling that role last season the Jets regressed in nearly every measurable category that can be tied back to line play; they allowed 19 more sacks than the previous season while rushing for 15 fewer yards per game—not exactly what they were expecting in Year Two of the Mangold/Ferguson era. Enter Faneca, whose veteran presence should steady the two youths. Moreover, Faneca will team with Mangold and right guard Brandon Moore to give the Jets a formidable inside running game—something they lacked last season, as evidenced by a lowly 50 percent conversion rate on short yardage and goal line situations, according to the Football Outsiders; only the Broncos were worse.

Run blocking is not Ferguson’s forte; again using Football Outsider’s stats, the Jets produced an average of 3.30 adjusted line yards per carry when running off left tackle, 31st in the NFL. But Faneca’s steadying influence and run-blocking acumen should help balance the Gang Green running game—at least, that has to be the expectation given that the Jets seem content to roll with Thomas Jones and Leon Washington as their primary ball carriers despite just six rushing touchdowns (tied for second-worst in the NFL) and a paltry 3.9 yards per carry (28th in the league) from their running backs last season. Newly signed right tackle Damien Woody is also a better pass protector than run blocker, but the Jets have preferred running the ball between the tackles anyway (only four teams had a larger percentage of their rushing attempts up the middle, according to the Football Outsiders) so that shouldn’t negatively impact the offense. Any move designed to reduce a sack total that climbed above 50 for the second time in three seasons should be warmly received.

The concern about Woody is that he’s had difficulty staying in shape, and if a lack of conditioning translates into an injury this line is ill-equipped to adjust. Clint Oldenburg and Wayne Hunter offer a combined five games of experience as the backup tackles. Will Montgomery at least has 13 career games (and six starts) under his belt, which constitutes the vast majority of the experience among the interior backups; Robert Turner and Jacob Bender have four combined NFL appearances between them. So while on the surface it appears the Jets have taken major steps to upgrade their line, the entire plan could collapse with an injury anywhere along the offensive front. And while Ferguson, Faneca, Mangold, and Moore haven’t missed a start between them over the past two seasons, Woody has played in just 18 games in that same span. Maybe he can take a cue from noted workout warrior Jones, who certainly has a vested interest in keeping the Gang Green line intact. That will be the key for the Jets this season; a healthy line should help Jones produce the numbers we expected last season and also keep Kellen Clemens and/or Chad Pennington upright—and, by extension, Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery productive. Any extended absence by a Jets O-line starter and all that money will have been wasted.  

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