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2009 Offensive Line Review and Ratings - NFC North
John Tuvey
Updated: August 26, 2009
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Chicago Bears

Year Sacks Allowed Sacked Rank RB Rush Yards Rush Yards Per Game Per Game Rush Rank Per Carry Average Per Carry Rank
2006 25 6 1,918 119.9 15 3.8 23
2007 43 24 1,286 80.0 30 3.3 32
2008 29 13 1,535 95.9 22 3.9 27

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle
2006 J.Tait R.Brown O.Kreutz* R.Garza F.Miller
2007 J.Tait R.Brown O.Kreutz R.Garza F.Miller
2008 C.Williams T.Metcalf O.Kreutz R.Garza J.Tait
2009 O.Pace F.Omiyale O.Kreutz R.Garza C.Williams
* Pro Bowler, (r) Rookie

These are not your father’s Bears, the ones who preferred to run the ball as opposed to throwing into the gusts and gales of the Windy City; the acquisition of Jay Cutler makes this statement, and the changing face of Chicago’s offensive line backs it up wholeheartedly. For starters, at left tackle the Bears replaced John St. Clair, who ranked 30th in the league among left tackles with 9.75 sacks allowed, with Orlando Pace. If Pace can stay healthy—a problem the past three seasons—he’s still a top-rate pass protector; however, he’s no longer a force in the running game.

The running game won’t get much help from left guard, either, regardless of whether free agent acquisition Frank Omiyale or holdover Josh Beekman wins the training camp competition. And if the Bears opt for 2009 first-rounder Chris Williams at right tackle over Kevin Shaffer, it will mark yet another spot along the line where Chicago chose pass protection over run blocking. This, of course, assumes that Williams will be healthy; he had barely put on a practice jersey last season before suffering a back injury that ruined his rookie campaign. Olin Kreutz is still solid at center, but he’s also better in pass protect than in trying to move defensive tackles who often outweigh him by 25 pounds or more in the ground game. And right guard Robert Garza is average at best in both facets.

Statistically, you can expect the Bears’ pass blocking metrics to look stellar; not only is their line geared towards throwing the ball, Jay Cutler’s quick release should help shave a few more sacks off the total. However, despite the presence of Matt Forte and his 3.9 yards per carry average from a year ago, it’s difficult to see improvement over a unit that couldn’t produce triple-digit rushing yardage per game from its running backs and has been held under four yards per carry three straight season. Moreover, with new starters at three positions and serious competition at two spots this group may take time to jell. So while Cutler may appreciate what the Bears have going on up front, it doesn’t appear as if Chicago’s offensive line will be doing Forte any favors.

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

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Detroit Lions

Year Sacks Allowed Sacked Rank RB Rush Yards Rush Yards Per Game Per Game Rush Rank Per Carry Average Per Carry Rank
2006 63 31 1,129 70.6 32 3.7 28
2007 54 30 1,180 74.0 31 4.1 14
2008 52 31 1,224 76.5 30 3.8 28

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle
2006 J.Backus R.DeMulling D.Raiola D.Woody B.Stokes
2007 J.Backus E.Mulitalo D.Raiola D.Woody G.Foster
2008 J.Backus E.Mulitalo D.Raiola S.Peterman G.Cherilus
2009 J.Backus D.Cook D.Raiola S.Peterman G.Cherilus
* Pro Bowler, (r) Rookie

The Lions went 0-for-2008 and ranked in the bottom third of the league in just about every metric you could apply to the offensive line: 31st in sacks allowed (and dead dog last in adjusted sack rate, according to Football Outsiders); 30th in RB rushing yards per game (a third straight season without sniffing the 80-yard mark); and 28th in yards per carry with their second sub-4.0 effort in the past three years. So of course four of Detroit’s five starting offensive linemen are back this year—and in true Matt Millen spirit, all are signed through at least next season as well.

At least the Lions will have continuity. Left tackle Jeff Backus and center Dominic Raiola are nothing special, but they’re reliable and will provide stability. Stephen Peterman is a decent run blocker at right guard, and though Gosder Cherilus suffered growing pains at right tackle as a rookie last year there’s actually some upside. Left guard remains undecided with Damion Cook and a pair of converting tackles, former Titan Daniel Loper and ex-Redskin Jon Jansen, expected to slug it out in training camp.

Given that the Lions showed minimal improvement in pass protection despite the departure of Mike Martz prior to last season, you should expect Daunte Culpepper under center when Detroit opens the 2009 season. Unless the new regime wants to turn Matthew Stafford into the next David Carr or Tim Couch or—God forbid—Joey Harrington, subjecting him to another 50-sack season should be low on the priority list. If there’s a bright spot to be found along the line, it’s that they ranked among the top 10 in short-yardage conversions according to the Football Outsider’s Power Success statistic. It’s a small victory, to be sure, but one that will at least provide hope for Kevin Smith in the red zone.

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

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Green Bay Packers

Year Sacks Allowed Sacked Rank RB Rush Yards Rush Yards Per Game Per Game Rush Rank Per Carry Average Per Carry Rank
2006 24 5 1,663 103.9 23 3.9 20
2007 19 4 1,534 96 20 4.5 7
2008 34 19 1,590 99.4 17 4.3 13

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle
2006 C.Clifton J.Spitz S.Wells T.Moll M.Tauscher
2007 C.Clifton* D.Colledge S.Wells J.Spitz M.Tauscher
2008 C.Clifton A.Barbre S.Wells J.Spitz M.Tauscher
2009 C.Clifton D.College J.Spitz J.Sitton A.Barbre
* Pro Bowler, (r) Rookie

With the less experienced Aaron Rodgers at the helm, the Packers’ pass blocking metrics didn’t look quite as nice as they did when Brett Favre was shovel-passing his way out of sacks. Green Bay surrendered 34 sacks last season, their most since 1999, and it wasn’t all because tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher are getting old. Age and health had something to do with it, though, and while Clifton returns (on two surgically repaired knees) it appears as if Tauscher has played his last snap in Green Bay.

The current plan is to move Allen Barbre from left guard to right tackle, taking advantage of his athleticism to improve a side of the line that ranked 28th in adjusted line yards per carry, according to the Football Outsiders. If Clifton can’t go at left tackle the Packers have options in Tony Moll and rookie Jamon Merideth, both of whom would be downgrades in pass protect but significantly better suited for Green Bay’s zone blocking ground game. Converted tight end Breno Giacomini could also factor into the tackle battles.

Athletic Daryn Colledge returns at left guard, while center and right guard remain slightly unsettled. Last year Scott Wells played center and Jason Spitz right guard, but this year Spitz may move to center to open a spot for Josh Sitton who was slated to start last year as a rookie before suffering an injury. Green Bay’s line parts are relatively interchangeable, and their drafting emphasis has been on athleticism. If the result is more time for Rodgers to throw downfield and improved running room for Ryan Grant, the Packers’ offense could be poised to put up numbers that would rival Favre’s heyday.

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

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Minnesota Vikings

Year Sacks Allowed Sacked Rank RB Rush Yards Rush Yards Per Game Per Game Rush Rank Per Carry Average Per Carry Rank
2006 43 23 1,820 113.8 16 4.1 15
2007 38 20 2,326 145.0 1 5.4 1
2008 43 26 2,156 134.8 4 4.6 5

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle
2006 B.McKinnie S.Hutchinson* M.Birk* A.Hicks M.Johnson
2007 B.McKinnie S.Hutchinson* M.Birk* A.Hicks R.Cook
2008 B.McKinnie S.Hutchinson* M.Birk A.Herrera R.Cook
2009 B.McKinnie S.Hutchinson J.Sullivan A.Herrera P.Loadholt (r)
* Pro Bowler, (r) Rookie

It’s not difficult to find stats that make the Vikings offensive line look good. There’s Adrian Peterson’s rushing titles, of course, and the Football Outsider metrics that put the Purple in the upper third of the league in most run-blocking categories. But there are glaring deficiencies that make talk of this unit being the NFL’s best look downright foolish.

Minnesota addressed one of those deficiencies via the draft, adding road-grader Phil Loadholt and planting him at right tackle. By replacing Ryan Cook there the rookie should at minimum shore up the weak link in Minnesota’s ground game; according to the Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards the Vikings averaged four-plus yards per carry at every point along the line except off right tackle, where their 3.59 alypc ranked 27th in the league. Loadholt will still need help from blocking tight end Jim Kleinsasser in pass protection, but it’s unlikely he’ll be any worse than Cook was last year in allowing six sacks in 14 games.

The left side of the Vikings’ line remains solid, anchored by tackle Bryant McKinnie and guard Steve Hutchinson. Only one team ran left more than Minnesota, and backs averaged well over four yards per carry heading that direction. Pass protection was somewhat more troublesome, with the tandem giving up 10 sacks between them and the Vikings ranking near the bottom of the league in adjusted sack rate; a running team shouldn’t be giving up an average of 40 sacks per season. The possible arrival of a certain gun-slinging quarterback—one with a significantly quicker decision-making process than Tarvaris Jackson—would likely make those numbers look a whole lot better.

The biggest question Minnesota needs to answer up front is smack dab in the middle, where native son Matt Birk left after the Vikings failed to show much interest in retaining him. In his place Minnesota will insert John Sullivan, a sixth-round pick last year. Like Birk, Sullivan’s key trait is his intelligence, but he’ll be missing the 11 years of experience Birk took with him to Baltimore. Having Hutchinson on his left will help, but Anthony Herrera on his right is nothing special. The pressure will be on Sullivan to make the right reads and calls up front, and if Minnesota doesn’t add Brett Favre before the start of training camp Sullivan will be deciphering a whole lot of eight-man fronts and blitzes. If he fails to do so successfully, the Vikings’ one-dimensional offense will grind to a halt and the consensus top pick in fantasy football could go bust. But hey, no pressure.

Update (Upgrade): So far John Sullivan looks up to the task of replacing Matt Birk at center; having Brett Favre behind him to—in theory, at least—prevent defenses from overloading the line and bringing all kinds of exotic blitzes will help make the line calls easier as well. Phil Loadholt is still a work in progress at right tackle, but he’s a punishing run blocker and the Vikes are used to chipping with the tight end in pass protect anyway.

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

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