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2009 Offensive Line Review and Ratings - AFC South
John Tuvey
Updated: August 26, 2009
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Houston Texans

Year Sacks Allowed Sacked Rank RB Rush Yards Rush Yards Per Game Per Game Rush Rank Per Carry Average Per Carry Rank
2006 43 24 1,687 105.4 21 3.9 19
2007 22 6 1,493 93.0 23 4.0 18
2008 32 16 1,705 106.6 12 4.4 11

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle
2006 C.Spencer C.Pitts M.Flanagan F.Weary Z.Wiegert
2007 E.Salaam C.Pitts S.McKinney F.Weary E.Winston
2008 D.Brown C.Pitts C.Myers F.Weary E.Winston
2009 D.Brown C.Pitts C.Myers M.Brisiel E.Winston
* Pro Bowler, (r) Rookie

Houston’s top-five offense from a year ago owes a great deal of that success to the offensive line; the line, in turn, can thank Alex Gibbs. The genius behind the zone-blocking success of ground games in Denver and Atlanta worked the same magic in Houston, sparking the Steve Slaton-led attack to top 12 rankings in RB rushing yards and yards per carry. The addition of center Chris Myers, who played in Denver, helped the line come together, and it can only help that four of the five starters return in 2009.

For this unit to take the next step, Houston will need better play out of young tackles Duane Brown and Eric Winston. Brown beat out Ephraim Salaam to start on the left side as a rookie but gave up 11.5 sacks—most among starting LTs. It didn’t help that Brown had to face James Harrison, Joey Porter and Jared Allen as well as Dwight Freeney and Kyle Vanden Bosch twice each, but that’s why left tackles get the big money. Brown’s forte coming out of college was supposed to be pass protection, so Houston has to hope that was growing pains and it’s onwards and upwards from here. It would be nice if Brown’s run blocking improved as well; last year the Texans averaged a paltry 2.96 adjusted line yards per carry off left tackle. On the right side, Winston’s eight sacks allowed ranked 29th in the league. His forte is more run block than pass pro, but Matt Schaub needs somewhere to hide.

Chester Pitts remains solid at left guard, while right guard Mike Brisiel is a classic Gibbs overachiever. Myers’ familiarity with the system helped the middle of the Houston line produce a solid 4.48 adjusted line yards per carry, according to the Football Outsiders stats, but third-round pick Antoine Caldwell could challenge for the center or right guard spot as early as this season. Another year under Gibbs helps ensure that Slaton should avoid a sophomore slump, and if Brown and Winston start playing like they’re capable the sky’s the limit for this offense.

RUN BLOCKING: B
PASS BLOCKING: C-
DEPTH: D
OVERALL GRADE: C

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Indianapolis Colts

Year Sacks Allowed Sacked Rank RB Rush Yards Rush Yards Per Game Per Game Rush Rank Per Carry Average Per Carry Rank
2006 15 1 1,762 110.1 18 4.0 17
2007 23 7 1,746 109.0 9 3.9 25
2008 14 4 1,245 77.8 29 3.6 30

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle
2006 T.Glenn* D.Gandy J.Saturday* J.Scott R.Diem
2007 T.Ugoh R.Lilja J.Saturday* J.Scott R.Diem
2008 T.Ugoh R.Lilja J.Saturday M.Pollak R.Diem
2009 T.Ugoh R.Lilja J.Saturday M.Pollak R.Diem
* Pro Bowler, (r) Rookie

For a clue as to what happened to Indy’s offense—specifically the running game—last year, you need look no further than left guard. Ryan Lilja, the Colts’ best run blocker, missed the entire 2008 season with knee problems and as a result Indy’s running back yards per game plummeted by almost a third. The Colts ranked 27th in percent of runs stuffed at the line of scrimmage and 21st in converting short-yardage situations on the ground, leading directly to Indy ranking 31st in rushing yards last year.

But it wasn’t just Lilja; right tackle Ryan Diem was the only regular from Indy’s offensive line to play all 16 games. On the bright side, the Colts had a chance to throw rookies Mike Pollak, Steve Justice, and Jamey Richard into the fire and get them valuable experience. Swingman Charles Johnson also saw plenty of action and remains the team’s top backup at four line positions—most importantly at left tackle, where starter Tony Ugoh has been unable to stay healthy. Despite the revolving doors up front Peyton Manning still kept his jersey clean, as the Colts allowed just 14 sacks.

So Indy has already seen a worst-case scenario and at least survived. But that doesn’t mean it will be easy in 2009. In addition to waiting for Lilja to return from multiple knee surgeries—he was participating in non-contact activities during OTAs and expects to be back at full speed by training camp—the Colts must also adjust to life without longtime line coach Howard Mudd. Retaining center Jeff Saturday will go a long way towards easing the transition to Mudd’s top assistant, Pete Metzelaars, and it’s possible Mudd and fellow retiree Tom Moore will come back as consultants. New head coach Jim Caldwell wants to run the ball more, and to do so this line needs a healthy Lilja

RUN BLOCKING: C+
PASS BLOCKING: A-
DEPTH: B
OVERALL GRADE: B

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Jacksonville Jaguars

Year Sacks Allowed Sacked Rank RB Rush Yards Rush Yards Per Game Per Game Rush Rank Per Carry Average Per Carry Rank
2006 30 12 2,541 158.8 3 5.0 2
2007 31 15 2,116 132.0 2 4.8 3
2008 42 25 1,445 90.3 25 4.2 16

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle
2006 K.Barnes V.Manuwai B.Meester C.Naeole Ma.Williams
2007 K.Barnes V.Manuwai D.Norman C.Naeole T.Pashos
2008 R.Collier U.Nwaneri B.Meester V.Manuwai T.Pashos
2009 E.Monroe (r)/T.Thomas V.Manuwai B.Meester M.Williams E.Britton (r)/T.Pashos
* Pro Bowler, (r) Rookie

Saying the Jaguars’ line was decimated by injury last year is akin to saying the Titanic sprung a little leak. Just two weeks into the season Jacksonville was down their top three guards and their center; while Brad Meester returned in the middle a couple months into the season, the Jags were forced to audition an array of untested guards and as a result everything fell apart. David Garrard was sacked more than he had ever been, but even worse Jacksonville’s trademark running game tumbled by more than 40 yards per game.

Jacksonville’s solution to the problem was simple: they spent their first two draft picks on offensive tackles, and it’s entirely possible eighth overall pick Eugene Monroe will start on the left side while second-rounder Eben Britton will open on the right. And if one or both aren’t quite ready to make the jump to the pros, the Jags have former Eagles Pro Bowler Tra Thomas and two-year starter Tony Pashos in reserve. Vince Manuwai returns to the left guard position, assuming he’s fully recovered from a knee injury, while former tackle Maurice Williams slides inside to right guard.

That’s a pretty complete overhaul, but look at it this way: Williams lacked the footspeed to be a quality tackle, but moving to guard plays to his strengths rather than his deficiencies. Monroe kept current Chiefs LT Brandon Albert at guard while the two were teammates in college, so he’s an upgrade over Khalif Barnes and Richard Collier; on the right side a competition between Pashos and Britton should yield an upgrade there as well. A healthy Manuwai gives Jacksonville a road grader at guard, and the 10-year vet Meester compensates for a lack of size with plenty of smarts. Barring another lightning bolt of injuries, the Jaguars seem well situation to return to the power running game they were known for—which is a big reason Maurice Jones-Drew sits atop more than a few fantasy draft boards.

RUN BLOCKING: B+
PASS BLOCKING: B-
DEPTH: B
OVERALL GRADE: B

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Tennessee Titans

Year Sacks Allowed Sacked Rank RB Rush Yards Rush Yards Per Game Per Game Rush Rank Per Carry Average Per Carry Rank
2006 29 11 2,214 138.4 5 4.7 6
2007 30 14 1,699 106.0 10 3.9 27
2008 12 1 2,086 130.4 5 4.5 9

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle
2006 M.Roos Z.Piller K.Mawae B.Olson J.Bell
2007 M.Roos J.Bell K.Mawae B.Olson D.Stewart
2008 M.Roos* E.Amano K.Mawae* J.Scott D.Stewart
2009 M.Roos E.Amano K.Mawae J.Scott D.Stewart
* Pro Bowler, (r) Rookie

The Titans’ reputation as a power running team stems as much from sheer quantity as it does from quality. Almost a quarter of their running back rushing yards came 10 or more yards downfield (thank you, Chris Johnson), according to the Football Outsiders, while the Titans ranked a dismal 26th in success converting short yardage situations on the ground and 28th in percentage of runs stuffed at the line of scrimmage. Given the strengths (and weaknesses) of this line, don’t be surprised if the backfield split starts tilting more towards Johnson than towards LenDale White.

Truth be told, aside from right tackle David Stewart this is only a slightly above average run blocking unit. Also, the interior is a bit undersized with both center Kevin Mawae and right guard Jake Scott under 300 pounds. However, with Mawae making the calls at center they’re rarely out of position and have the luxury of the lightning-fast Johnson hitting holes quickly. Left tackle Michael Roos is an improving run blocker as well, and left guard Eugene Amano is serviceable.

Where this group excelled last year was in giving Kerry Collins time. The Titans allowed just 12 sacks, fewest in the league, and even when you take into account the fact that they didn’t throw all that often they still ranked third in adjusted sack rate, according to the Football Outsiders. That protection allowed Collins to make good decisions; only Washington and Miami quarterbacks threw fewer interceptions than the Titans’ nine.

All five starters return in 2009, assuming Mawae is recovered from the elbow injury that prematurely ended his season. And should the veteran Pro Bowler not be ready to go, the team has been grooming Leroy Harris as a replacement; Harris could also fill in at guard if necessary. That, unfortunately, constitutes the entirety of the Titans’ proven depth. Nonetheless, continuity and a fair amount of talent ensure that the Titans’ offense won’t take any steps backwards heading into 2009.

RUN BLOCKING: B-
PASS BLOCKING: A-
DEPTH: C-
OVERALL GRADE: B

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