Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

25 Jul 2006

FO Ranks All 32 Teams on FOX: Offensive Line

We return to our team-by-team rankings with the offensive line, a position where there are very few elite teams with significant holes or questions. Denver and Cincinnati, take a bow. Also, this article will give you a hint as to why our projection for Edgerrin James is so low. This article represents the "official" FO staff debut of Doug Farrar from SEAHAWKS.NET, who also wrote Four Downs for the NFC West this summer. He won't be writing a regular column during the season, but he'll give a West Coast viewpoint in Audibles and write about the NFC West for PFP 2007.

Posted by: Doug Farrar on 25 Jul 2006

50 comments, Last at 15 Aug 2006, 4:44pm by Kevin


by John B (not verified) :: Tue, 07/25/2006 - 9:12pm

This is the problem with assessing football purely through statistics. You get the Colts ranked well above the Steelers defended by the statement "the Colts bent [in the AFC Divisional game]." Clearly the Colts line broke, and has broken against any top defense in the playoffs in the past several years. Unfortunately the pundits cannot get over their love affair with everything involved with the Colts' offense.

by Michael (not verified) :: Tue, 07/25/2006 - 9:33pm

Thats absurd the 49ers should at least be in the top 20 in offensvie line. I mean they have jonas jennings one of the best linemen in the league (he was hurt last year) Larry allen, and jeremy newberry. They even have depth with kwame harris and David Baas who filled in great as did Adam Snyder last year. ENOUGH SAID!!!!

by Rob Z. (not verified) :: Tue, 07/25/2006 - 9:59pm

I love the placing of the Chargers O-line on the cusp of being in the top 10...couldnt agree more. I think of particular note is the youth of the line and how they will only improve with time together.

by Malene, cph (not verified) :: Tue, 07/25/2006 - 10:35pm

#2 uhm, yeah, I guess it depends on how you interpret the "offensive" in offensive line...

The 49'ers certainly have one of the most offensive lines in the league.

by Kuato (not verified) :: Tue, 07/25/2006 - 10:53pm

Re: #1

So are you arguing that because the Steelers D-line beat the Colts O-Line in the playoffs, that the Steelers O-Line is better? Seems like you are building a logical fallacy to me.

Interesting read and gave me some good information about some players who's names I knew but that was about it. I would quibble with a few points, but I'll leave the quibbling to the other posters.


by Alex (not verified) :: Tue, 07/25/2006 - 11:16pm

I was not aware that the Dolphins' line had improved so much. Last year's prospectus had the comment that the 2004 team was not missing RWilliams as much as they had a Jim Brown-killing line. I'm not surprised by any of these, and only disagree with a couple, most likely due to personal favoritism.

My question is exactly how well the Steelers' line did in the postseason. The comment was made that the line could "get away" with sloppy play because of great defense. What I saw was pass-blocking that could make Drew Bledsoe look good. Has there been any looking into how much difference a team has had in offensive line effectiveness from regular to postseason?

by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 07/26/2006 - 12:26am

The Eagles have indicated that Justice will take the bulk of the snaps at left tackle early in training camp, replacing Tra Thomas, who is struggling with recurrent blood clots in his right leg.

I think this is the media misinterpreting Reid's statements (not much of a surprise: the Philly media thought it was interesting that Koy Detmer lined up as fullback when there was only one other fullback present at camp) - Thomas was only held out the first day because Reid was worried he was a bit winded. Thomas is at left tackle now.

Also, the blood clots were last year: this year the only worry was that (William, not Tra) Thomas was taking his last batch of precautionary blood thinners, and so they held him out of the minicamps. The recurring worry with Thomas was back spasms. He had surgery for that in the offseason, so hopefully that's okay.

by dfarrar777 (not verified) :: Wed, 07/26/2006 - 12:42am

Thanks for the clarification, Pat. I did not know until very recently that Thomas prefers not to be known as "Tra" anymore. As far as the blood clots: During my research, I had come across several articles and news blurbs stating that they were still a concern. Because of that, I didn't know what the exact level of precaution would be, though there seemed to be some speculation that Justice would get more reps than normal. This article was submitted before the Eagles started camp.

by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 07/26/2006 - 10:45am

I think the "blood clots still an issue" thing was just a misinterpretation of a comment the offensive coordinator made to the media that everyone picked up on. There was an interview with Thomas a while back that had the details on what was going on, and it's just the final step in the treatment. It's kindof frustrating that trainers don't tell you that certain things are already planned, and perfectly normal, and so people think it's a real issue.

The "Justice getting more reps than normal" thing stemmed from a comment Reid made at the end of minicamps, namely, "Training camp we will probably start out with [T Winston] Justice. Just let him work out there", but that comment was made in response to what Reid would do if Thomas was unavailable.

Sigh. Philly media is so predictable sometimes. At least the players are finally starting to tell the media to drop the "T.O." book questions.

by Matt Weiner (not verified) :: Wed, 07/26/2006 - 10:47am

(In my browser at least) the links for the Ogden-Freeney matchup analyses are missing. First is here, second is here.

by Eric (not verified) :: Wed, 07/26/2006 - 10:51am

Any time your offensive line is getting compared to the legendary Cleveland Spiders... well, don't start saving up for those playoff tickets.

by James, London (not verified) :: Wed, 07/26/2006 - 10:52am

The value of coaching:

Miami 2004

ALY 3.48; stuffed 30% ASR 30%

Miami 2005

ALY 4.33; stuffed 23% ASR 12.1%

Hudson Houck may be the highest-paid O-line coach in the NFL, but to get radically different results with essentially the same group of players shows he earns his money.

by krugerindustrialsmoothing (not verified) :: Wed, 07/26/2006 - 12:40pm

I've only read the first few entries in the list, so pardon me if this comment is premature. Having said that, the one glaring omission from this article is the role of TE's and RB's both in blitz pickup and run blocking.
Case in point, I don't think the Indy O-line was as bad in the AFC final in blitz pick up as they are blamed for, with 5 guys, how can any line be expected to constantly pick up 5-7 pass rushers. IMO, the blame for that fiasco lies with the TE's, RB's and coaches.

by Jason (not verified) :: Wed, 07/26/2006 - 2:27pm

Admitted Bears fan, but they're way too low. Solid to plus starters and very good depth with three very capable, interchangeable backups. And all eight are cohesive (intentionally ignoring fact that Kreutz broke Miller's jaw last year), returning from last year when Thomas Jones ran for more than 1300 yards and the two other RBs were very productive all while defenses gave no respect (deservedly) to Orton and the passing game and stacked against the run. There's no way they're in the bottom half of the league.

by DJAnyReason (not verified) :: Wed, 07/26/2006 - 2:59pm

Ok, so if we weighed every position group evenly (which is probably a mistake), we'd get the following breakdown of offensive abilities:

Tier 1 (average 2.5): Seattle
Tier 2 (4.0): Cincinatti
Tier 3 (6.0): Kansas City
Tier 4 (7.25): New England
Tier 5 (8.25-8.75): Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Denver, Washington
Tier 6 (10.5): San Diego
Tier 7 (13.5-14.5): Carolina, Baltimore, New York Giants, Atlanta
Tier 8 (15.25-15.75): Miami, Arizona, Dallas
Tier 9 (17.5-18.25): Minnesota, New Orleans, Philadelphia
Tier 10 (19-19.5): Tampa Bay, St. Louis
Tier 11 (20.5): Oakland
Tier 12 (21-21.75): Chicago, Jacksonville, Cleveland
Tier 13 (23.75): Green Bay
Tier 14 (25.25): Houston
Tier 15 (26-26.5): Detroit, Buffalo, Tennessee, New York Jets
Tier 16 (29.5): San Francisco

There are a few things that stick out as odd looking at this (is Seattle really THAT far ahead of everyone? Is KC that good? Isn't Baltimore a bit high up? Indy and maybe a bit low?) It'll be interesting to see how these predictions stack up against what DVOA comes up with this year.

Also, it would've been nice if in this artice OL depth was discussed like depth was discussed in previous articles.

by centrifuge (not verified) :: Wed, 07/26/2006 - 3:07pm

I was a little surprised when many entries talked about Sacks Allowed and none mentioned Adjusted Sack Rate.

by centrifuge (not verified) :: Wed, 07/26/2006 - 3:13pm

Correction: Sorry, I did find a mention of ASR under the Jets at number 27. Still, the point stands.

by mawbrew (not verified) :: Wed, 07/26/2006 - 3:21pm

Given Denver's O-Line success (with guys not that highly regarded in college), why haven't more teams attempted to adopt their 'system'? We always hear about what a copycat league the NFL is, but relatively few teams have copied the Denver approach.

by mawbrew (not verified) :: Wed, 07/26/2006 - 3:25pm

Off-topic, ad banner question - Why does Jim (off the old Taxi TV show) want to sue Alltel and why does he think anybody on this site would want to join him?

by Drew (not verified) :: Wed, 07/26/2006 - 4:11pm

Re 19

I actually clicked on that out of curiosity. It's obviously a joke site, but I'm not sure what they're trying to accomplish by advertising. The "store" area isn't up yet.

by Grabowski (not verified) :: Wed, 07/26/2006 - 6:55pm

Re #14: Amen to that, brother. Grossman's quicker release is going to bring the sack count way down on account of reducing coverage sacks and blown plays. There's only one line I'd want on my team more than the Bears' current line, and that's Bortz, Thayer, Hilgenberg, Covert and Van Horne.

by Arkaein (not verified) :: Wed, 07/26/2006 - 8:34pm

C'mon, 29th for the Pack? I realize they had a bad year last year, and the line deserves it's share of the blame, but I just don't follow the reasoning.

One of the least sacked teams, despite playing from behind a lot of the time (thought usually not really far behind), but appearances are "deceiving". Pass protection is about half of a lines job, and the Packers were at least league average at it. Even if they were the worst run blocking team in the league that tells me they should be around 23rd or 24th overall.

As far as run blocking goes, yeah it was pretty bad, but things sure picked up when an undrafted rookie broke into the lineup. You simply can't discount the impact of GB's top two RBs being lost to injury fairly early in the season on running totals.

GB returns both tackles, and the guard situation can only improve, if only a small amount. I'd say GB is realistically around 20th, maybe a hair worse in O-line quality.

by Kaveman (not verified) :: Wed, 07/26/2006 - 8:38pm

#18: A few reasons, I think. First, the scheme is complex. It takes between one and three years for a lineman Denver drafts to get on the field. For a team to switch requires some ramp-up time; we're going to watch the Texans do exactly this and they will have teething troubles (although these will be difficult to distinguish from their usual suffering).

Second, the scheme requires the unit to work more cohesively than other schemes. This requires continuity, which is a luxury not always available to coaches.

And third, the scheme requires athletic linemen, who are usually smaller and can wear down while pass blocking. To compensate for this, Denver runs a lot of misdirection plays: bootlegs and rollouts. So, you're not just changing your offensive line scheme, but your entire offense.

That said, there are, as you point out, a few teams who run zone blocking schemes. Denver does it better than most because of coaching and continuity and the priority that the organization places on the unit.

Or that's my $0.02 anyway.

by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 07/26/2006 - 10:31pm

One of the least sacked teams, despite playing from behind a lot of the time

I think that's more Favre than it is the offensive line - Green Bay's sack rate has been low almost every year, with the 2004 GB offensive line ridiculously low.

What did spike this year was Favre's interceptions, and those might be more attributable to the offensive line. Favre's got very good pocket presence, and doesn't get sacked a lot - but those interceptions are probably the result of quite a few hurries.

by admin :: Wed, 07/26/2006 - 11:13pm

Re: 15. We actually talked about this amongst ourselves, that it seemed strange to have Seattle so high in so many categories. But we couldn't find a position where the rest of the staff felt the writer of the piece was more than one or two places off about the Seahawks. (From my piece, for example, Cincinnati and possibly Pittsburgh would be higher than Seattle with fully healthy quarterbacks, but how much lower could you put Hasselbeck at this point?) It gets worse because they're going to be very high in DL and LB also. They don't show up middle of the pack until secondary. Yes, it seems a little odd, but position-by-position it makes sense.

GB's low adjusted sack rate is almost entirely Favre.

by Ben (not verified) :: Wed, 07/26/2006 - 11:33pm

Come on guys, the Cardinal's line is so fat that it takes a defense at LEAST two seconds to run around them. Surely that gets them in the top thirty.
Plus, We have secret weapon converted defensive lineman Fred Wakefield. I got him to the Pro Bowl once in Madden.

Go Cardinals.

by dfarrar777 (not verified) :: Wed, 07/26/2006 - 11:40pm

As I told one reader via e-mail today, with all the team/position rankings, there has been a lot of discussion between staff members re: the numbers and their meanings. For this article, I started with certain equations and wound up modifying them based on Aaron's take on the importance of certain stats over others. Then, subjective analysis was shared by staff members. While I did lead with the stats, they weren’t the only concern. As has been noted here, there are other factors involved, and the idea is not to miss those and rank a team way out of whack. Some teams moved drastically from their 2005 numbers based on off-season acquisitions, Minnesota being the obvious example.

While I had numbers revealing 2-TE sets and several other things from the charting project, even without adding that in, the article was 10 pages long. I brought in penalties and blown block sacks because they were more line-specific.

The TE/H-back subject is an interesting one - almost worth an ancillary article, as I didn't feel I would be able to give those players their due and keep this under book length. I'm sure that as the FO metrics progress, there will be ways to codify other factors so succinctly that even verbose writers like me will be able to explain their importance without tripping all over myself/losing the train of thought.

by Sergio (not verified) :: Thu, 07/27/2006 - 1:03am

I just have to say, to see the Dolphins in the top 10 of OL is just surreal, what with 2004 and all...

Even if they aren't in reality, I'm very thankful Houck has come aboard...

by putnamp (not verified) :: Thu, 07/27/2006 - 1:12am

You can probably also consider the Seahawks' ratings to be slightly inflated by the weakness of their conference opponents, if that helps explain anything. (Seahawks fan writing this).

by Kibbles (not verified) :: Thu, 07/27/2006 - 2:09am

Denver is clearly ranked too low in this article because... wait, what's that? They're #1 you say? Well then, carry on, nothing to see here. *whistles tunelessly*

Re #18: Given Denver’s O-Line success (with guys not that highly regarded in college), why haven’t more teams attempted to adopt their ’system’? We always hear about what a copycat league the NFL is, but relatively few teams have copied the Denver approach.

Pop quiz. Guess which team spent the highest percentage of its salary cap on the O-line last year. I'll give you a hint- it starts with a "D", and ends with an "enver". I'm pretty sure they're spending the highest percentage of their cap on the Oline this year, too, given the fat contracts they just handed Nalen and Lepsis.

Denver's system is not as economical as you'd think. A lot of the reason why they succeed with relatively no-name players is because of quality talent evaluation and the dearth of competition for certain types of players. It's very similar to how Pittsburgh used to draft pro-bowl LB after pro-bowl LB. They were pretty much the only team in the league running the 3-4, so the players they most coveted were viewed as "projects" and "tweeners" by other teams. Same thing with Denver- there's virtually no competition for the ideal "Denver-style" linemen, so they can wait until late to draft them. If everyone switched, then there'd be more demand, and they'd start going earlier (much like "tweener" LBs have started to do with the 3-4 back in vogue). I suspect that Denver would have spent 3rd or possibly even 2nd rounders to get their current rookie duo of linemen if there was more of a market for them, because they're really perfect for the scheme (even if nobody else in the NFL wants them).

Another reason why Denver succeeds is because they're willing to spend lots and lots of money to ensure continuity. Very few teams have the patience to install the scheme, the foresight to draft linemen 3 years before they need them, and the willingness to spend like crazy to keep their own successful linemen.

Also, as has been mentioned, since Denver's line is undersized, they do tend to get pushed around a bit in pass protection. A very large part of that Adjusted Sack Rating should be credited to The Snake and his shifty ways.

by Chris (not verified) :: Thu, 07/27/2006 - 10:25am

"while right guard Bennie Anderson has great strength at the point of attack."

--Did anyone watch him play for the Bills last year? I mean seriously. Houck might be a great coach, but Anderson was pretty terrible.

Incredibly, Jim McNally was brought in by the Bills from the Giants in 2004 to fix our OL - I can't say I've seen great results. Mike Williams, bust-ola. Trey Teague - ugh. But is it him, or the total lack of talent on the O-Line?

by admin :: Thu, 07/27/2006 - 10:54am

Thanks for noticing that. I hate missing things when I edit. That's a mistake left over from a previous draft. Not only does Bennie Anderson suck, not only is he probably the worst pulling guard in the league, he's also not the Miami right guard we were talking about here. It was supposed to be changed back to "Rex Hadnot" and I just e-mailed FOX to do so.

by Josh (not verified) :: Thu, 07/27/2006 - 12:36pm

Cleveland just got much lower on the OL rankings, if Bentley is seriously injured

by mawbrew (not verified) :: Thu, 07/27/2006 - 12:38pm

Re: 30

Was the Denver sack rate much worse when the no-so-shifty Brian Griese was playing QB?

The Pittsburgh analogy is a fair one, I think, but doesn't really explain why the system hasn't been copied more. After all, the 3-4 has been picked up by quite a few teams.

The point about the investment and need for continuity make sense as does the earlier comment about requiring a different offensive scheme.

by oljb (not verified) :: Thu, 07/27/2006 - 2:42pm

I imagine this drops Cleveland into the bottom half of the OL rankings.

by Michael (not verified) :: Thu, 07/27/2006 - 11:03pm

#4 That joke was the weakest joke i have ever seen think about what you write before you type.

by Brian (not verified) :: Fri, 07/28/2006 - 3:13am

Re 36: May I have a hit or two of whatever you are on?

by Jets fan (not verified) :: Fri, 07/28/2006 - 11:36am

A Bill Parcells team lead the league in offensive holding penalties... I love it.

by cjfarls (not verified) :: Fri, 07/28/2006 - 11:42am


No stats or anything to back this up, but just from watching the Denver games, it was because Griese tended to dump it off or throw it away at the faintest wiff of pressure (better than picks, but still not great)... Griese is a smart QB with a pretty quick release, and I think he's a bit more "pocket mobile" than given credit for (although he doesn't seem to throw very well on the run, maybe due to a relatively weak arm). That said, he didn't do particulary well in Denver's system because he couldn't deal with the system's heavy pass rush.

by Ken (not verified) :: Fri, 07/28/2006 - 12:57pm

Just heard that Willie Roaf announced he will retire RIGHT NOW. That puts a spin on KC, Larry Johnson and fantasy owners who thought the first pick was an easy choice.

by the peepshow (not verified) :: Fri, 07/28/2006 - 2:41pm

QB - 3
WR - 2
RB – 1
OL – 4

QB – 15
WR – 8
RB – 19
OL – 12

You mean to tell me that the Seahawks actually are a good team? Wow, and all this time we thought they went to the Super Bowl because they played in the NFC West…

Carolina is supposed to be the class of the NFC not Seattle. Every talking head on ESPN says so. Clearly you guys must be mistaken. I mean it’s not like you have any statistical analysis or complex mathematical algorithms to back this up…

by mm (not verified) :: Fri, 07/28/2006 - 11:51pm

As a Saints fan (yes I accept your pity), I think you've overrated our line. The past few years there's been little to no holes for running backs and ridiculous number of false starts and holding penalties. In this case, I think your system separating running back contributions from offensive line contributions has been overly generous to the line, to the detriment of the running backs.

Fortunately, the line has been somewhat overhauled this year, though there isn't any addition that I find inspiring. While I hope it will not again be one of the worst in the league, I don't see any particular reason to believe it will.

by dfarrar777 (not verified) :: Sat, 07/29/2006 - 2:00am

Interestingly enough, the Saints' line did not rank near the top in either false starts or offensive holding calls. No Saints player finished in the top ten in individual penalties. Factoring in the line stats, and considering the fact that they weren't really debited for penalties or whiffed block numbers (those were factored in and affected the rankings of teams like the Rams pretty severely)...I don't think 17th is completely nuts.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Sun, 07/30/2006 - 1:50pm

The Vikings will be interesting on offense this year, for those of us who enjoy watching a run-dominant attack, which is quite a departure for the franchise from the last few decades. If Kleinsasser is fully recovered, and with the addition of Tony Richardson, it's pretty obvious that Childress is going to attempt to hammer opposing front sevens, which isn't how the west coast offense is usually viewed. If people remember the pre-Jerry Rice Bill Walsh teams, however, there isn't anything about that kind of offense which precludes an emphasis on running. It'll be fun to see if this group can pull it off.

The biggest pitfall, however, is how much depends on the health of guys, like Birk and Kleinsasser, who have not had good luck in that department in recent years. Of course, the same could be said for a lot of teams in the league, no matter how they intend to play the game.

by Sisyphus (not verified) :: Sun, 07/30/2006 - 4:48pm

A Tale of two lines: (Or the offensive scheme matters)
The Indianapolis offensive line is going to be very effective for any of a number of reasons but one has to be what the offense dictates to the defense. For Indianapolis this means more seven man fronts than anyone else in the league sees. This alone makes an offensive lines numbers look better. With Peyton Manning behind center every defense is thinking pass first because if they don't he will find the open man.

The Chicago Bears however had less than no passing game going and were a run first team. With their receiver corps no one inspired either fear nor a double team. That offensive line always was seeing eight and nine man fronts and to get the results they did last year is actually pretty impressive.

Numbers can only give you an idea, you have to put the numbers into context.

by Gibson (not verified) :: Mon, 07/31/2006 - 7:38am

Forney is widely known as Atlanta's best offensive lineman.

The comment about Gandy was odd.

by Bobman (not verified) :: Thu, 08/03/2006 - 4:16pm

I Think #45 has a point regarding Indy--Manning is a part of the OL. This ties into the infinitely repeated "we had some protection problems" quote, which he clarified a few days later by saying "I call the protection schemes, so it's up to me, too."

He doesn't block, but he does part of the assigning, and when he changes plays, it changes the protection scheme. Also, a fast release makes their sack rate seem better than if another QB were back there.

by stan (not verified) :: Thu, 08/03/2006 - 8:37pm

Indy's O-line is horrible. There is a reason that the Steelers made fun of them for being so soft. It's because they are so soft. They can't drive block at all. And they get knocked back on their asses by a good bull rush.

The Steelers were so unimpressed with them that they played with 2 def linemen, 3 LBs and 6 DBs almost the whole 2d half of the reg. season game. And the Colts really struggled.

After SD totally abused the Colts' O-line (just as they had the year before), Pitt decided to overwhelm with pass rush rather than drop everyone in coverage. And they totally abused the Colts.

The Colts have built a marginal running game off nothig but the draw and their unique version of the zone stretch. Without Manning's handoff technique and the threat of the play action pass, they wouldn't gain 1000 yards a year on the ground.

Several years ago, they were so bad in short yardage running (think NE, Buf, Tenn, etc.) that they essentially abandoned power running the last 2 years. They will pass or run wide, but they won't run inside unless the defense plays prevent down on the goal line. Even then, it is risky.

By the way, anyone ever notice the bizarre goal line defenses the Colts face? Every other team faces real goal line defenses. Colts often face a loose nickel package when they are down on the 3 or 4 yard line. Why? Because other teams know that their O-line couldn't run block against a decent Jr Pro team.

by dave whorton (not verified) :: Mon, 08/07/2006 - 9:48pm

after listening to mark schlereth talk about the colts o-line after the steelers beat them made me question just how good they are. schlereth was pretty harsh with his criticism saying that the steelers didn't do anything that should of created near the problems that they did . then to hear bill polian talk about his o-line said the steelerws didn't do anything out of the ordinary they just couldn't execute what they prepared for.

by Kevin (not verified) :: Tue, 08/15/2006 - 4:44pm

The Giants hate is very funny in these rankings. The Giants ranking was based mostly on penalties, which correct me if I'm wrong, isn't one of the criterion mentioned at the start of the article. Also, considering the ranking, Tiki Barber must be the number 1 RB in the sport if he can accomplish these things despite this o-line.