How did New England find the right combination of offensive linemen this season, and where are Seattle's biggest weaknesses in pass protection?
19 Jun 2012
by Ben Muth
Last week the NFL announced that they would release coach’s film for the 2012 season as part of their Game Rewind package. The news was met with great enthusiasm by most, but there was a bit of "get off my lawn" fist-shaking from a small minority. I assume those people do not read this column or Football Outsiders much (or at least they wouldn't admit to it), but just in case they do, I offer this advice: Get over yourself.
The people who will pay for this service do so because they love football and want to get a better idea of what is happening. That is a good thing. Plus, it’s not like people haven’t been judging, scrutinizing, critiquing, breaking down, and second-guessing players and coaches forever anyway. Now they’ll just have better sight lines to make those judgements on. Analysis will be much better. There are a lot of strong writers online that know a lot about the game. These talented people are going to be able to work wonders with this new information and deliver it in an entertaining and informative way, so as to educate a large population of football fans that want to learn.
Here are some new features in Word of Muth next year that will be brought to you entirely by the new camera view:
Footwork -- Probably the most important aspect of run blocking (particularly in the zone game) is footwork. Broadcast TV makes it hard to see the feet at work, particularly the second step. As a result, I end up doing a lot of guessing as to whether a guy is a bad athlete or has crappy footwork. If you thought I talked about footwork a lot before, just wait.
Alignment -- Both offensive and defensive alignment is important. We’ll be able to tell what splits teams use (these can really vary based on scheme and personnel), whether or not guys cheat their splits, how balanced their stance is, and other good pre-snap stuff that you can really only see when you are looking right down the barrel of five big butts. Also, I won’t have to spend 15 minutes trying to decide if a defensive tackle is a three-technique or a four-technique. I’ll be able to tell much quicker.
Hand Path -- As it stands on broadcast TV, you can only see if someone has really bad hand path (meaning they go really wide). Just like boxing, you want to come straight with your hands when you punch. Straight is fast, and speed is powerful. So now instead of just grading them "pass" or "awful," I'll be able to see the whole spectrum of techniques, grading them as really good, above-average, mediocre, and so on.
There’s more, but that’s what I’m most excited for. In fact, I’m so excited for the end zone shot that watching traditional broadcast tape of the Bills this week could have been a bit of a downer. Luckily, I picked their Week 16 game against the Broncos where Buffalo played really well up front. It was a fun watch.
Demetress Bell is probably the highest profile offensive lineman I saw this week, and that’s mostly because he left Buffalo in free agency. Bell played pretty well against the Broncos and I think it was really smart of Philadelphia to sign him to fill in for Jason Peters. He has a natural pass set, and he blocks better in the run game than a lot of left tackles I’ve seen this year. You could do a lot worse than Bell at left tackle. That being said, I can see why Buffalo let him walk. He doesn’t create any distance with his hands in his pass rush. He also got collapsed a couple of time by Elvis Dumervil, and Dumervil isn't exactly a bull-rush specialist. Bell is a nice stopgap -- which is exactly what he will be in Philadelphia -- but he certainly isn’t someone you build a line around.
Inside of Bell was Andy Levitre, who I thought was Buffalo’s best blocker and maybe their best offensive player. Levitre has moved around a lot in his short career, but it doesn’t seem to have hurt him too much. The first thing you notice is that he is a really good pass blocker. He has a nice controlled set, and unlike Bell does a great job of keeping distance with his punch. He changes directions on the inside move and sits down on bull rushes. If you had a checklist for what you are looking for from a guard in the passing game, Levitre would grade as high as anyone I’ve seen this year, and that includes Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks.
At center the Bills started reserve Kraig Urbik. For a young guy coming off the bench, I thought Urbik acquitted himself well. I thought he did a nice job generating movement on double teams in the inside zone game. He also did a nice job of getting downfield and throwing cut blocks on a couple screen passes. He does play too high though, and that hurts him when he’s singled up in the running game, as well as when he tries to redirect in pass protection. He played well overall, but if he wants to become a full-time starter he’ll have to play lower consistently.
Keeping on down the line we run into right guard Chad Rinehart. Of the five, Rinehart probably played the worst. That’s not to say he played bad, but he was just average on a line full of guys that played really well. The biggest knock on him is athleticism. He looked slow, and had some trouble passing off games with the linemen around him. He also wasn’t great on the second level, where he had a hard time sticking to linebackers. Still, he looks like a strong guy who anchors well on the bull rush and can dig some guys out in the inside running game.
Lastly, we get to the end of the line with right tackle Erik Pears. I gotta be honest: I’m not sure what to make of Pears. His pass set looks weird. Really weird. Most linemen (tackles in particular) glide in their pass set -- Pears almost marches. He really picks both feet up and down, almost like he's marching backwards or something. It doesn’t look good, and it doesn’t look fast. That being said, he really took it to Von Miller, as Miller didn’t get any pressure on pass plays despite Pears’ unconventional set. Pears also really kicked the crap out of Miller in the running game. He hooked him a couple times for big plays and generally knocked him around. My current theory is that Pears may just be the Hunter Pence of right tackles.
That does it for this week. Remember to follow me on Twitter.
41 comments, Last at 23 Jun 2012, 2:47pm by Jimmy