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2008 Offensive Line Review and Ratings - NFC East
John Tuvey
June 27, 2008
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Dallas Cowboys

Year Sacks Allowed Sacked Rank RB Rush Yards Rush Yards Per Game Per Game Rush Rank Per Carry Average Per Carry Rank
2005 50 29 1861 116.3 13 3.6 25
2006 37 20 1936 121 13 4.1 14
2007 25 10 1617 101 17 4.2 11

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle Pro Bowlers
2005 F.Adams L.Allen A.Johnson M.Rivera R.Petitti L. Allen    
2006 F.Adams K.Kosier A.Gurode M.Rivera M.Colombo      
2007 F.Adams K.Kosier A.Gurode L.Davis M.Colombo F. Adams L. Davis A Gurode
2008 F.Adams K.Kosier A.Gurode L.Davis M.Colombo      

Everything’s bigger in Texas, especially when it comes to the Cowboys. So there’s at least a little bit of hype surrounding the Dallas line, which is hailed by some as the league’s best. Oh, make no mistake; they’re more than solid. Dallas allowed 25 sacks—half their total from just two years ago—and their running backs topped four yards per carry for the second straight season. It’s clearly a talented group, anchored by veteran left tackle Flozell Adams, who became very rich in the offseason. The Motel was one of three Cowboy blockers to make the Pro Bowl—a group that includes Leonard Davis, a bust as a first-round tackle in Arizona but a road grader as a guard in Dallas, and center Andre Gurode. Mark Columbo has come all the way back from a knee injury that knocked him out of football completely in 2002, and despite entering his third year as the starting left guard Kyle Kosier is generally regarded as the unit’s weak link. This group’s strength lies in its run blocking, especially the interior; and in a flip-flop of convention, Adams on the left side is considered a better run blocker than pass protector while Columbo on the right side is the opposite.

The numbers, however, dispute at least some of the above-held beliefs. According to the adjusted line yardage numbers crunched by the Football Outsiders, Dallas ranked 27th in the league running between the guards averaging 3.79 ALY per carry; meanwhile, the Cowboys ranked 31st (a paltry 2.70 ALY per carry) heading around left end but put up ALY per carry numbers of 4.95 (2nd) off right tackle and 5.15 (1st) around the right side. Statistical oddities or cause for concern? There are also those who are more willing to attribute the decline in sacks to the mobility of Tony Romo—which is true, primarily because Romo’s predecessors were Drew Bledsoe and Vinny Testaverde. Bottom line, the Cowboys’ line got the job done in just about every aspect of the game last season no matter how you want to look at the numbers. And with all five starters back—four of them in their third straight season together—the status should remain quo in front of Romo and a ground game that will pound more frequently with Marion Barber and use rookie Felix Jones as a change of pace.

In fact, this unit reminds me a great deal of the Bears’ line from three or four years ago, a veteran group with experience playing together. But here’s a key difference that those holding Cowboys in keeper leagues will appreciate: Dallas has a backup plan. Adams is in his 11th year in Dallas and as he slows with age he may wind up sliding down the line to right tackle—perhaps as soon as 2009, as Columbo is in the final year of his deal. The Cowboys have Pat McQuistan, Doug Free, and James Marten warming in the bullpen and under the tutelage of ace O-line coach Hudson Houck they could be developed to replace one or both of the Dallas tackles in the next few seasons. Marten and McQuistan could also be in the mix at left guard with a strong showing in training camp, while Cory Procter capably backs up Gurode at center. None of the reserves are household names, but should the Cowboys need to ask one of them to step in for a game or two it wouldn’t be the end of the world. There are other quibbles with the Dallas line—more than their share of penalties, specifically on the left side; Gurode’s struggles with shotgun snaps—but nothing to keep a fantasy owner from banking on continued success from the Cowboy “skill position” players. 


New York Giants

Year Sacks Allowed Sacked Rank RB Rush Yards Rush Yards Per Game Per Game Rush Rank Per Carry Average Per Carry Rank
2005 28 8 2209 138.1 6 4.7 4
2006 25 7 2156 134.8 7 4.7 7
2007 28 12 2076 130 3 4.8 2

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle Pro Bowlers
2005 L.Petitgout D.Diehl S.O'Hara C.Snee K.McKenzie      
2006 L.Petitgout D.Diehl S.O'Hara C.Snee K.McKenzie      
2007 D.Diehl R.Seubert S.O'Hara C.Snee M.McKenzie      
2008 D.Diehl R.Seubert S.O'Hara C.Snee K.McKenzie      

The Giants’ offensive line entered last season with a huge question mark at left tackle, where guard David Diehl was sliding over to replace the departed Luke Petitgout. That the Big Blue big fellas ended the year by outperforming their more highly-regarded counterparts from New England in the Super Bowl is a testament not only to how well Diehl performed at his new position but also to the determination of Rich Seubert. The former undrafted college free agent fought through three years and five surgeries to fill in more than capably at Diehl’s vacated left guard position; as a result the Giants surrendered fewer than 30 sacks for the third time in as many years and produced more than 130 rushing yards from their running backs for a third consecutive season. Not coincidentally, that’s precisely how long the right side of the line, from center Shaun O’Hara through guard Chris Snee to tackle Kareem McKenzie, has played together in those very positions. There’s something to be said for continuity. And with this group returning intact (and in Snee’s case, richer as well), the only potential concern is a lack of depth. Third-year lineman Guy Whimper is the insurance plan at both tackle spots, while journeyman Grey Ruegamer filled in capably at center in the Giants’ playoff win over Tampa Bay and backs up all three interior positions.

As a whole this group is a dominant run-blocking entity, explaining why the offense barely missed a beat when Tiki Barber retired… or when Brandon Jacobs was injured and replaced by Derrick Ward… or when Ward went down and Ahmad Bradshaw stepped in. Over the past three seasons Giant running backs have produced 134 rushing yards per game at a gaudy rate of 4.7 yards per carry. Name your Football Outsiders metric of choice, Big Blue ranked among the league’s best: 4.62 adjusted line yards per carry, a 70 percent success rate on the ground in short-yardage and goal-to-go situations, 80 percent of their carries for positive yardage. The Giants ranked in the top three in the league running up the middle, third running around right end, and seventh to the left side (again, all Football Outsiders stats). Sure, the fact that Jacobs is as big as most linemen doesn’t hurt, but there’s no question that the Giants could line up just about anyone with a pulse in the backfield and have success running the football; heck, even Reuben Droughns managed better than three yards a carry, and most football fans didn’t even know he was still in the league. While a pick of Jacobs, who missed five games last season and doesn’t seem capable of a full slate of 16 20-plus-carry games, will need to be insured with Bradshaw (once he gets out of jail) or Ward later in the draft, selecting a Giant running back is one of the safest moves in fantasy football.

Almost equally as safe is Eli Manning dropping back to pass. While the Giants fell out of the NFL’s top 10 in sacks allowed for the first time in three years, the jump from 25 to 28 sacks hardly constitutes a panic. That nearly half that total came through Diehl on the left side is a bit disconcerting, and may have something to do with Eli’s league-leading 20 interceptions, but the final results speak for themselves: more than two sacks allowed in any one game only twice during the regular season and a big, shiny trophy at the end of it all. Would the Giants love to find a franchise left tackle and slide Diehl back inside where he’s more comfortable? Sure, but franchise left tackles don’t grow on trees and there doesn’t appear to be one on the Giants’ roster right now. So Diehl will adequately protect Eli’s blindside, Manning will know that there might be pressure coming anyway, and maybe the G-Men will slide a tight end over or use Jacobs to assist Diehl in pass protect. The Giants seem to have a system figured out, and I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. It may mean you can’t expect Manning to have a whole bunch of time to look beyond Plaxico Burress and find a second or third option; then again, I seem to recall him locating Amani Toomer and Steve Smith on the sidelines and David Tyree downfield the last time I was watching a game that mattered. Big Blue will most certainly face challenges as they defend their title, and it appears that at least along the front line they’re well equipped for the battle.


Philadelphia Eagles

Year Sacks Allowed Sacked Rank RB Rush Yards Rush Yards Per Game Per Game Rush Rank Per Carry Average Per Carry Rank
2005 42 21 1432 89.5 28 3.9 19
2006 28 8 1984 124 11 4.8 5
2007 49 28 1680 105 13 4.7 4

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle Pro Bowlers
2005 T.Thomas A.Hicks H.Fraley S.Andrews J.Runyan      
2006 W.Thomas T.Herremans J.Jackson S.Andrews J.Runyan S. Andrews    
2007 T.Thomas T.Herremans J.Jackson S.Andrews J.Runyan S. Andrews    
2008 T.Thomas T.Herremans J.Jackson S.Andrews J.Runyan      

Tackles Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan bring a combined 22 years of NFL experience—including the past eight bookending the Philly line—to the table. You want tough? Runyan cracked his tailbone last season yet extended his string of consecutive starts to 176. Thomas has played through back problems and a blood clot in his leg the past three seasons, failing to take the field just seven times in that span. How about value to the team? In the one game Thomas missed last season, the Eagles surrendered a dozen sacks. While right guard Shawn Andrews is the Pro Bowl member of this line, the tackles are unquestionably the most important piece of the puzzle. But as both stretch their NFL careers into double-digit years, there are concerns: have they lost a step? Can they continue to play through the assorted bumps and bruises (and blood clots and cracked tailbones)? Do the Eagles have a backup plan? Actually, Philly’s reserve tackles line up right next to their starters, as both Andrews and left guard Todd Herremans are capable of sliding outside and holding their own. Second-year player Winston Justice was hoped to be the future at one tackle, but after he was abused by the Giants in the aforementioned 12-sack disaster the team was trying him at guard during minicamps; they also spent a late draft pick on Auburn’s King Dunlap and scored raw but promising Franklin Dunbar as an undrafted college free agent. Justice is no sure thing to slide into a guard spot should it vacate, either, as the Eagles drafted versatile Mike McGlynn—who is best suited to play right guard in the NFL—and Mike Gibson in April and still has last year’s fourth-round selection, Max Jean-Gilles, vying for playing time. At center Jamaal Jackson returns for a third straight season as starter, with center/guard Nick Cole his backup.

As you might expect from a line with an average size of almost 6-foot-6 and 335 pounds, Philly dominates in the ground game. Their 4.53 average line yards per carry ranked fourth in the league, according to the Football Outsiders, as did their 74 percent success rate in short-yardage and goal-to-go situations. They were particularly successful behind and around Thomas, averaging 5.3 adjusted line yards per carry around left end and 6.0 ALY per carry off left tackle. With all the muscle up front, you might wonder why 26 teams gave their running backs more carries than the Eagles. Frankly, so do I. Philly running backs have averaged 4.8 and 4.7 yards per carry the past two seasons, top-five numbers, and yet only twice last season did they run the ball more than 30 times (not coincidentally, they won those two games by a combined score of 73-28). It’s unlikely the Eagles will ask Brian Westbrook to shoulder even more of the workload, though there’s little doubt behind this group he’ll have plenty of success even if he’s limited to last year’s career high mark of 18 carries per game. With Correll Buckhalter and Lorenzo Booker and Tony Hunt on the roster and such a dominant front it would make sense to get that trio a dozen or so attempts per game—controlling the clock and beating down the defense so a fresher Westy could run wild in the fourth quarter. Hey, a guy’s gotta dream, right?

Again, with a line this big and tackles this old it’s hardly a shock that speed rushers give them trouble. Mix in a less mobile Donovan McNabb and a pass-run ratio that tilted heavily to the air (58 percent of Philly’s plays were of the passing ratio) and all of a sudden the sack total is back up in the 40s, where it was back in 2005. Sure, that game against the Giants skewed the totals a bit but the Eagles allowed three or more sacks in 10 of their 16 games. And while the status quo up front may be great for the running game it doesn’t bode well for McNabb playing a full slate for the first time since 2003. If you’re looking for a silver lining, it’s that McNabb will surely want to dump off to Westbrook with the same frequency that’s netted Westy an average of 75 catches per season over the past four years. As for Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown… well, they’ll need to get open early.

It’s a crying shame, really, that the Eagles don’t put this line to the 35- or 40-carry-per game use it deserves. As it stands, Westbrook (and any back who shares the load or picks it up if he gets nicked) will have continued success on the ground. And backs will continue to be primary receivers as speed rushers—of which there are a few on Philly’s schedule, including a Week 14 visit to the Big Apple—zip around Thomas and Runyan. But McNabb seems set up for another season of abuse, torment that manifests itself in his wideouts’ numbers and ultimately drives fantasy owners to frustration.


Washington Redskins

Year Sacks Allowed Sacked Rank RB Rush Yards Rush Yards Per Game Per Game Rush Rank Per Carry Average Per Carry Rank
2005 31 12 2183 136.4 7 4.2 9
2006 19 3 2216 138.5 4 4.5 8
2007 29 13 1675 105 14 3.8 29

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle Pro Bowlers
2005 C.Samuels D.Dockery C.Rabach R.Thomas J.Jansen C. Samuels    
2006 C.Samuels D.Dockery C.Rabach R.Thomas J.Jansen C. Samuels    
2007 C.Samuels P.Kendall C.Rabach R.Thomas J.Jansen C. Samuels    
2008 C.Samuels P.Kendall C.Rabach R.Thomas J.Jansen      

That the Redskins battled injuries to their offensive line last season was hardly news—and the fact that all five starters (and two key backups) are on the wrong side of 30 hardly suggests a reversal to this trend is imminent. This unit has for the most part been together for quite some time, with left guard Pete Kendall the newcomer last year as he stepped in to replace Derrick Dockery. Left tackle Chris Samuels is a Pro Bowl fixture, a dominating run blocker and solid in pass protection as well. Somehow both he and Kendall avoided the injury bug, which may explain why Washington ran left more than any team in football last season. They did so with success, too; using the Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards stat, the Redskins averaged 4.8 ALY per carry behind left tackle (seventh in the league) and 4.1 around left end. The rest of the line spent more time getting medical attention than your typical hypochondriac; center Casey Rabach missed one game, while guard Randy Thomas missed 13 with a torn tricep and tackle Jon Jansen 15 with a broken leg and dislocated ankle. Even backups Stephon Heyer (four games) and Todd Wade (six games) went down, leaving the Skins to cobble together an offensive front on an almost every-week basis. Jansen said in a published report he’s not yet 100 percent but hopes to be by the start of training camp; in the interim, he’s working at center and has expressed a willingness to play guard if he’s unable to regain the quickness required to hold up on the outside. The Redskins drafted Chad Rinehart in Round Three of the 2008 draft, and while he has tackle experience he’s expected to move inside at the NFL level; he’s also a bit of a project and may be viewed as the heir to Kendall down the road rather than an immediate contributor.

Let’s assume for a moment that the Skins’ veteran line gets—and stays—healthy. If so, they become the unit that finished third in the league in fewest sacks allowed in 2006 and ranked in the league’s top 10 in running back production (around 137 yards per game) and averaged better than 4.2 yards per carry in 2005 and 2006. New coach Jim Zorn is implementing the West Coast offense but indicated during minicamp that the running game is remaining virtually untouched. That means Clinton Portis will have copious space on the left side, as proven last year, and should find similar room on the right behind Jansen and Thomas. And if it’s Portis and not a lineman who falls victim to the injury bug, Ladell Betts should do just fine in his stead. Zorn’s WCO also means shorter drops and quicker releases for Jason Campbell, which should help keep the sack numbers down regardless of front line personnel. Washington’s line has proven capable of solid protection in the past—last year they allowed two or fewer sacks in 12 of their 16 games—and should provide Campbell with more than enough time to make the quick reads the WCO requires. And, again, if Washington’s line isn’t ravaged yet again by injury he should also have ample opportunity to look downfield when Santana Moss or Antwaan Randle El go deep.

To sum up: did we mention this is an older line that’s been prone to injury? The backups were adequate last season in the face of tremendous adversity, especially on the right side, but asking for a repeat—or even for a group with an average age of 32 and a track record of bumps and bruises to stay on the field for 16 games—might be playing with fire. It’s certainly something to consider when contemplating Portis in the latter half of Round One or any member of the Redskins passing game outside of Chris Cooley.

RUN BLOCKING: B, with room for improvement if Jansen gets and stays healthy.
OVERALL GRADE: B-, with upside if this aging line can avoid injury.

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