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2009 Offensive Line Review and Ratings - AFC West
John Tuvey
Updated: August 26, 2009
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Denver Broncos

Year Sacks Allowed Sacked Rank RB Rush Yards Rush Yards Per Game Per Game Rush Rank Per Carry Average Per Carry Rank
2006 31 13 2,152 134.5 8 4.4 9
2007 32 16 1,698 106.1 11 4.5 5
2008 12 1 1,559 97.4 19 4.9 3

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle
2006 M.Lepsis B.Hamilton T.Nalen C.Carlisle G.Foster
2007 M.Lepsis C.Myers T.Nalen M.Holland E.Pears
2008 R.Clady B.Hamilton C.Wiegmann* M.Holland R.Harris
2009 R.Clady B.Hamilton C.Wiegmann C.Kuper R.Harris
* Pro Bowler; (r) Rookie

For all of the hatred fantasy owners harbored for Mike Shanahan and his revolving door backfield, you at least have to admit this: the guy could put together an offensive line. It didn’t seem to matter who the Broncos rolled out at running back, they put up decent stats—to both the delight and chagrin of fantasy owners. Last season was no exception; the Broncos had five different backs score, seven different backs carry at least 15 times (but none more than 76), and every single one of them averaged at least 4.1 yards per carry. Denver’s 4.78 adjusted line yards per carry was tops in the NFL, and despite the smallish nature of their line they also ranked in the top 10 in both success on short-yardage running plays (converting at a 70% rate) and fewest times stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage. The pass protection was equally outstanding; no team allowed fewer sacks than the 12 Denver surrendered, and left tackle Ryan Clady gave up just half a sack in his rookie season. Some of that success may have been attributable to Jay Cutler’s quick release, but not on all 620 passing attempts.

The Broncos will return the same five starters as last year, with Chris Kuper having bested Montae Holland for the starting right guard job heading into 2008. Clady and Ryan Harris, who was essentially a rookie last year as well after missing the majority of 2007 with an injury, should bookend the tackles for years to come, Ben Hamilton is set at left guard, and 14-year veteran Casey Wiegmann has enough in the tank for another go-around at center. All are athletic, and with Wiegmann making the calls work. together as a unit as well as any line in football. The Broncos have also done a nice job of making sure the cupboard remains stocked, drafting Kory Lichtensteiger last year and Blake Schlueter and Seth Olsen this April.

New coach Josh McDaniels isn’t quite as committed to the zone blocking system as the Broncos have been in the past, but his style still calls for mobility and reaching the next level so it shouldn’t be a difficult adjustment; to ensure a smooth transition, Rick Dennison returns as Denver’s o-line coach. Kyle Orton may not unload the ball as quickly as Cutler did, but he should also see better protection than the Bears provided for him—plus, McDaniels’ passing game doesn’t call for him to hold the ball much longer than the previous system. There may be worries about the skill position players the Broncos will field, especially if Brandon Marshall follows Cutler out of Denver, but this line is capable of making adequate players look good—and good ones look great.

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

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Kansas City Chiefs

Year Sacks Allowed Sacked Rank RB Rush Yards Rush Yards Per Game Per Game Rush Rank Per Carry Average Per Carry Rank
2006 41 22 2,143 133.9 9 4.2 11
2007 55 31 1,159 72.4 32 3.4 31
2008 37 21 1,382 86.4 26 4.4 10

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle
2006 K.Turley B.Waters* C.Wiegmann W.Shields* J.Black
2007 D.McIntosh B.Waters C.Wiegmann J.Welbourn K.Turley
2008 B.Albert B.Waters* R.Niswanger A.Jones D.McIntosh
2009 B.Albert B.Waters R.Niswanger M.Goff D.McIntosh
* Pro Bowler; (r) Rookie

Yes, it was bad for the Chiefs last season. But the modified spread offense KC implemented when forced to go to Tyler Thigpen at quarterback not only helped the Chiefs remain competitive—they were within a touchdown in half of their 14 losses—but also covered up some issues along the offensive line. It certainly didn’t hurt that they were able to plant rookie Branden Albert at left tackle; what success the Chiefs had came running left behind Albert and Pro Bowler Brian Waters. The 37 sacks allowed was an upgrade over the 55 surrendered the previous season and attributable as much to Albert as to Thigpen’s mobility. Damion McIntosh was more effective at right tackle than he was on the left side, though only a half-dozen RTs gave up more sacks than his seven.

Not surprisingly, the 14 losses led to a change in administration. However, aside from signing free-agent right guard Mike Goff from San Diego and tossing a fifth-round pick at Colin Brown, Scott Pioli and Todd Haley did little to address the needs up front. At least Goff is an upgrade over the hodge-podge KC used at right guard last season. However, Waters did not exactly mesh with the new regime and though he showed up for mandatory minicamp workouts he has yet to rescind his request to be traded. While at 32 Waters’ best football is likely behind him, it’s not as if the Chiefs are flush with alternatives.

That means four of five starters return from a line that ranked 28th in short-yardage conversions on the ground and 29th in running plays stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage. Albert is a developing stud who appears ready to assume the leadership mantle from Waters, and Goff is an upgrade, but McIntosh struggled mightily last season. Center Rudy Niswanger is serviceable, though he may be pushed by Bengals castoff Eric Ghiaciuc—which would be good, since only two teams were worse than KC’s 3.55 adjusted line yards per carry running up the middle. Larry Johnson will have to get a good portion of his yardage on his own, and truth be told Jamaal Charles might be a better fit for both Haley’s offensive scheme and a line that saw backs produce 25% of their yardage beyond 10-yards. At least this line produced a full yard increase over last year’s abysmal 3.4 yards per carry average.

If the Chiefs can’t run—and/or can’t play defense—they’ll have to throw. Matt Cassel was sacked 47 times in New England last season, so he should be prepared for the pummeling he’s sure to see in Kansas City this season—though he’ll get to see most of the hits coming, since Albert has his backside. The Chiefs have $63 million invested in Cassel, so you would think protecting him might become a priority. Pioli got his defensive lineman with this year’s third overall selection; perhaps next year he’ll start focusing on the offensive side of the front wall.

RUN BLOCKING: C-
PASS BLOCKING: C-
DEPTH: D+
OVERALL GRADE: C-, worse if Waters gets dealt

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Oakland Raiders

Year Sacks Allowed Sacked Rank RB Rush Yards Rush Yards Per Game Per Game Rush Rank Per Carry Average Per Carry Rank
2006 72 32 1,519 94.9 29 3.9 22
2007 41 22 1,887 117.9 6 4.2 12
2008 39 24 1,775 110.9 9 4.2 17

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle
2006 R.Gallery B.Sims J.Grove P.McQuistan L.Walker
2007 B.Sims R.Gallery J.Newberry C.Carlisle C.Green
2008 K.Harris R.Gallery J.Wade C.Carlisle C.Green
2009 M.Henderson R.Gallery S.Satele C.Carlisl K.Barnes
* Pro Bowler; (r) Rookie

The Raiders may still reside near the bottom of the league, but they’re living, breathing proof that the zone blocking system works. Tom Cable’s arrival as offensive line coach in 2007 resulted in 118 running back rushing yards per game, sixth-best in the league, and 4.2 yards per carry. Last year, with Cable being elevated to head coach one month into the season, the Raiders again rushed the ball quite well: 111 yards per game, ninth-best in the NFL, and another 4.2 yards per carry average. The strength of this team is still concentrated in the backfield, and while the Raiders made some tweaks along the front line it still has the look of a decent run-blocking unit.

Both starting guards return for Oakland: Robert Gallery, who was a bust as a first-round tackle but is acquitting himself quite nicely as a guard, and zone blocking veteran Cooper Carlisle. At center the Raiders essentially swapped Jake Grove, who signed with the Dolphins, for Samson Satele, Miami’s starter last year. Satele struggled with the bigger 3-4 nose tackles in the AFC East, and while he’ll see the same formation in the AFC West only San Diego’s Jamal Williams is an established nose. Satele isn’t likely to improve the Raiders 3.55 adjusted line yards per carry between the guards, but the addition of fullback Lorenzo Neal might be just what the doctor ordered to help with Oakland’s 62% success rate on short-yardage rushing plays, which ranked in the bottom third of the NFL.

The tackles are likely to change, and in both cases should provide upgrades to a pass-protection unit that ranked 30th in adjusted sack rate and has stunted JaMarcus Russell’s development by forcing him to throw under duress. Mario Henderson is expected to take over for Kwame Harris on the left side; he has the quick feet necessary to deal with speed rushers and was solid in a brief stint in that role late last year. Khalif Barnes could play left tackle if necessary, but he may be a better fit on the right side as a replacement for Cornelius Green, whose offseason brush with the law might earn him a suspension and also cost him his starting gig. Barnes is a better run blocker than pass protector, making him more useful on the right side, but he’ll need to play more like he did in seasons prior to last year. Green provides depth, assuming he’s still on the roster, and veteran John Wade could step in at center if the need arises, but despite a plethora of warm bodies there are few the Raiders would like to see getting regular snaps this season.

Ultimately, Cable’s zone-blocking scheme helps this unit look better than the sum of its individual parts, and don’t underestimate Neal’s value in the running game as he has a history of paving the way for 1,000-yard rushers. But Al Davis still wants to throw the ball deep; see his first-round selection of Derrius Heyward-Bey (over Eugene Monroe, among others) as further proof of that. Tight end Zach Miller should still be a favored target if only because he’s an available checkdown when Russell feels the rush closing in. However, if the new tackles pan out as hoped, at least this version of the Oakland line might keep Russell upright long enough to go deep from time to time without winding up on his backside.

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

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San Diego Chargers

Year Sacks Allowed Sacked Rank RB Rush Yards Rush Yards Per Game Per Game Rush Rank Per Carry Average Per Carry Rank
2006 28 9 2,578 161.1 2 4.9 3
2007 24 9 1,987 124.2 4 4.5 6
2008 25 9 1,572 98.3 18 4.1 21

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle
2006 M.McNeill K.Dielman N.Hardwick* M.Goff S.Olivea
2007 M.McNeill* K.Dielman* N.Hardwick M.Goff S.Olivea
2008 M.McNeill K.Dielman* N.Hardwick M.Goff J.Clary
2009 M.McNeill K.Dielman N.Hardwick K.Forney J.Clary
* Pro Bowler; (r) Rookie

Sometimes stats don’t quite tell the whole story. If you look at the Chargers’ line-specific metrics, they were their usual solid selves last season: their 78% conversion rate on short-yardage running plays was second in the league, and only 15% of their runs were stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage. However, the Bolts’ per-game rushing yardage fell 26 yards to a middle-of-the-pack 98; that’s a whopping 63 yards off of 2006’s 161. And their per-carry average fell another 0.4 yards, from 4.9 in ’06 to 4.5 in ’07 to 4.1 last year. It didn’t help that Michael Turner was gone and LaDainian Tomlinson was banged up; but it also didn’t help that center Nick Hardwick was down early with a foot injury and left tackle Marcus McNeill battled neck and back problems all season long. Ultimately the Chargers running game was merely okay—which by San Diego standards is substandard.

The pass protection was also decent, though much shakier on the right side (where Jeromey Clary gave up 6.5 sacks and Mike Goff 4.5) than the left (where Pro Bolwers McNeill and Kris Dielman surrendered just three between them). Goff is gone, with Kyle Forney expected to beat out rookie Louis Vasquez as his replacement. Another rookie, Tyrone Green, and Scott Mruczkowski give the Bolts plenty of interior line depth, and L.J. Shelton is a capable swing tackle.

Obviously, the Chargers would prefer not to tap into that depth. The hope is that Hardwick and McNeill are healthy, in which case this line—specifically, the Pro Bowl left side—regains the form that consistently placed them in the top in rushing prior to last season. It’s no coincidence that when McNeill, Dielman, and Hardwick were dominating opposing defenses LT was the most valuable player in fantasy football. Any sort of return to that level of play should slingshot Tomlinson right back to his perch amongst the elite running backs; anything less might be “good enough” for other teams, but in San Diego the expectations are set too high to settle.

RUN BLOCKING: B+
PASS BLOCKING: B+
DEPTH: B+
OVERALL GRADE: B+, with "A" potential if McNeill is healthy for 16 games

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