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2009 Offensive Line Review and Ratings - AFC East
John Tuvey
Updated: August 26, 2009
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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
2006 47 25 1,552 97.0 27 3.7 27
2007 26 11 1,598 99.9 19 4.0 20
2008 38 22 1,612 100.7 15 4.2 14

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle
2006 M.Gandy T.Reyes M.Fowler C.Villarrial J.Peters
2007 J.Peters* D.Dockery M.Fowler B.Butler L.Walker
2008 J.Peters* D.Dockery M.Fowler B.Butler L.Walker
2009 L.Walker A.Levitre (r) G.Hangartner E.Wood (r) B.Butler
* Pro Bowler; (r) Rookie

The Bills’ offensive line was average at best last year… so in the offseason they traded Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters, shuffled everything around, and will start a different player at each of the five positions across the line—including two rookies. That’s more upheaval along the line than the rest of the AFC East combined.  And here’s the strange thing: with a full training camp to jell this unit has a very good chance to actually be better than last year’s group.

Peters’ departure does strip the Bills of their most athletic lineman, but no NFL lineman was personally responsible for more sacks than the 11.5 Peters surrendered in just 13 games last year. While Buffalo had tremendous success running left (15th off left tackle and second around left end, as ranked by the Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards per carry), they did just fine running right (10th around right end, second off right tackle). Langston Walker (three sacks in 16 starts at right tackle) should be able to flip sides and give the Bills a comparable performance. Brad Butler, last year’s right guard, slides outside to right tackle; he was a tackle in college and at 6-7 has good size for the position. Both tackles will need some help with speed rushers, but with more than 13 feet of height and 680 pounds of beef between them Walker and Butler should be road graders in the running game and at least take a while to run around in pass rush.

Inside, the plan is to start a pair of rookies—both of whom are changing positions from college: first-rounder Eric Wood moves from center to right guard and second-rounder Andy Levitre slides from tackle to left guard. Both have the size and mentality to play guard, and the good news about wholesale changes is that this entire line will have the opportunity to jell during training camp. Center Geoff Hangartner comes over from the Panthers, where he was a valuable reserve who accumulated 27 starts over the past three seasons. He’s not a dominator, but he has the experience and intelligence to help pull this line together. And besides, after suffering through Duke Preston and Melvin Fowler last year Hangartner might look like Kent Hull to Bills fans.

If promising tackle Demetrius Bell develops as hoped, somewhere down the road the Bills may slide Butler back to right guard and Wood to center. Kirk Chambers would back up either tackle position, while veteran Seth McKinney is the primary interior reserve. In the long run the trade of Peters may allow the Bills to build a better offensive line—or at least one more suited to a power running game. And considering Peters was an undrafted college free agency signing the Bills turned into draft picks, they may eventually wind up the winners of this deal.


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Miami Dolphins

Year Sacks Allowed Sacked Rank RB Rush Yards Rush Yards Per Game Per Game Rush Rank Per Carry Average Per Carry Rank
2006 41 21 1,673 104.6 22 4.2 13
2007 42 23 1,609 100.1 18 4.0 21
2008 26 10 1,748 109.2 10 4.3 12

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle
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
2009 J.Long J.Smiley J.Grove B.Frye/D.Thomas V.Carey
* Pro Bowler; (r) Rookie

The Wildcat stemmed in part from Miami’s struggles to run the ball inside; in fact, the only spot along the line where the Dolphins’ adjusted line yards per carry ranked in the top half of the league was around right end. Rather than rely on gimmicks again in 2009, the Dolphins signed ex-Raider center Jake Grove to solidify their middle—not to mention upgrade the “nasty” quotient of their line.

Outside, the Dolphins are in fine shape with Jake Long being everything the team expected from the top overall selection at left tackle and Vernon Carey getting paid on the right side. Combined with Chad Pennington’s quick release and penchant for short passes, that duo surrendered just seven sacks between them. Inside, Justin Smiley is solid at left guard but there’s still a void at right guard. Donald Thomas was slated to start there last season as a rookie, but a broken foot threw the position into disarray. Thomas is now dealing with a torn pec, so tackle Brandon Frye may slide inside to claim the spot over Ike Ndukwe, last year’s fill in.

This line isn’t particularly deep, with most of the pro-ready talent battling for the one open starting spot. However, new offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo—who helped the Giants’ line produce the top-ranked running game last year—should help this team improve their mediocre running game numbers. And there are metrics that point to a solid base from which to work from: the Dolphins converted 76 percent of their short-yardage rushing attempts (fifth in the NFL) and were stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage just 16 percent of the time, ninth-best in the league. The continued improvement of Long and a healthy dose of attitude from Grove should make Miami capable of running the football without having to rely on the Wildcat—though you can be sure they’ll toss it in enough to keep opposing defenses on their toes.


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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
2006 29 10 1,969 123.1 12 3.9 18
2007 21 5 1,695 105.9 12 4.2 10
2008 48 28 1,988 124.3 7 4.6 6

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle
2006 M.Light L.Mankins D.Koppen S.Neal R.O'Callaghan
2007 M.Light* L.Mankins* D.Koppen* S.Neal N.Kaczur
2008 M.Light L.Mankins D.Koppen S.Neal N.Kaczur
2009 M.Light L.Mankins D.Koppen S.Neal N.Kaczur
* Pro Bowler; (r) Rookie

After allowing just 50 sacks the previous two years combined, the Patriots’ line not only surrendered a season-ending hit on Tom Brady but then went on to give up 48 sacks for the season. Coming off a troublesome performance in the Super Bowl where New England couldn’t keep the Giants out of the backfield, it’s easy to pin the blame on the guys up front. But don’t you think Matt Cassel, making his first starts since high school, might have been holding onto the ball a little longer than Brady did? There were also injuries up front, most notably to right guard Stephen Neal at the start of the season and right tackle Nick Kaczur mid-year. Not surprisingly, New England’s line metrics to the right were awful (3.9 adjusted line yards per carry off right tackle and an NFL-last 2.5 alypc around right end).

However, for the nine-game stretch when the entire starting unit was intact—later in the season, as Cassel was becoming more comfortable—the Pats surrendered just two sacks per game. And the overall run blocking bordered on dominant—which is even more impressive considering the Patriots run almost two-thirds of their snaps from three- or four-receiver sets. New England’s 4.63 adjusted line yards per carry, according to the Football Outsiders, ranked third in the league and backs were stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage just 14% of the time—tops in the NFL. The Patriots also have continuity in their favor, as they will field the same starting unit for the third consecutive season: Kaczur and Matt Light at tackle, Neal and Logan Mankins at guard, and Dan Koppen at center. And oh yeah, they have Brady back to help tidy up those sack numbers.

About the only negative is that New England’s line is aging, and only Light and Koppen are under contract after this season. But in typical Patriots fashion, they’re planning ahead: second-round pick Sebastian Vollmer could wind up as the team’s left tackle of the future (allowing Light to shift to the right side, which might be a better fit for his run-blocking acumen), and the team drafted linemen in the fourth and fifth rounds as well. Bottom line, quicker decision-making from Brady should help decrease the sacks, while the ground game should remain productive despite the lack of a go-to feature back. And if New England’s draft class pans out—and there’s plenty of evidence to suggest this franchise has a pretty good handle on scouting and talent evaluation—there’s little reason to fear a drop-off in the line’s level of play any time soon.


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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
2006 34 16 1738 108.6 20 3.5 30
2007 53 29 1472 92.0 24 3.9 28
2008 30 14 1,833 114.6 8 4.8 4

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle
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
2009 D.Ferguson A.Faneca N.Mangold B.Moore D.Woody
* Pro Bowler; (r) Rookie

The guys up front get much of the credit for the Jets’ success last season, specifically in the running game, and the metrics back up that assertion. Using the Football Outsiders’ stat adjusted line yards, the Jets’ 4.72 ypc ranked second in the league. They also excelled at avoiding negative plays, as only 14% of their rushing plays were stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage—fourth best in the NFL. And at almost every point of attack across the line, the Jets ran the ball well. Their 5.3 yards per carry around right end ranked first, as did their 5.0 off right tackle; their 4.8 ypc up the middle and 5.2 ypc around left end both ranked third.

But not everything was sunshine and puppy dogs. Running behind left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson the Jets averaged a league-worst 2.8 adjusted line yards per carry, and their 61% conversion rate on short-yardage running plays ranked in the bottom third of the league. And the Jets’ 30 sacks allowed, while a dramatic improvement over the 53 surrendered in 2007, ranked them in the middle of the pack—and given the sack numbers the Packers allowed with Brett Favre at the helm, you were likely expecting better.

The good news is, for the first time since 2001 the Jets return their entire line intact: four former first-round picks in Ferguson, left guard Alan Faneca, center Nick Mangold, and right tackle Damien Woody, along with right guard Brandon Moore. Ferguson and Mangold, plums plucked in 2006, should continue to improve and the underrated Moore, a converted defensive lineman, is starting to get the recognition he deserves. The bad news is, Faneca allowed seven sacks last season (29th in the league) and is starting to show signs of aging—not what Jets fans want to see, especially two years into a hefty five-year deal. And whomever the Jets start at quarterback will have considerably less experience than Favre, which could lead to a step backwards in decision-making time—and more sacks. Moreover, an injury anywhere along the front would cause problems, as there is nary a single game of starting experience among the Jets’ o-line backups.

Rex Ryan wants this to be a run-first offense, which should play to this line’s strength (all five won their individual point-of-attack battles better than 85% of the time, according to the Football Scientist’s research) as well as the conditions of December football in New York. And continuity should help the pass protection, at least offsetting the absence of Favre’s ability to get rid of the football. For what the Jets pay for this line they should expect elite results; the results may fall short of that level, but not by much.

OVERALL GRADE: B, but everyone has to stay healthy

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