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2009 Offensive Line Review and Ratings - NFC South
John Tuvey
Updated: August 26, 2009
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Atlanta Falcons

Year Sacks Allowed Sacked Rank RB Rush Yards Rush Yards Per Game Per Game Rush Rank Per Carry Average Per Carry Rank
2006 47 26 2,939 183.7 1 5.5 1
2007 47 25 1,383 86.0 27 4.0 22
2008 17 5 2,266 141.6 3 4.6 6

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle
2006 W.Gandy M.Lehr T.McClure K.Forney T.Weiner
2007 W.Gandy J.Blalock T.McClure K.Forney T.Weiner
2008 S.Baker J.Blalock T.McClure K.Forney T.Clabo
2009 S.Baker J.Blalock T.McClure H.Dahl T.Clabo
* Pro Bowler, (r) Rookie

Matt Ryan and Michael Turner receive the bulk of the credit for Atlanta’s turnaround last season, but plenty of their success had to do with the boys up front. After allowing 47 sacks in each of the past two seasons, the Falcons trimmed that number to just 17 last year. Certainly Ryan had something to do with the reduction, but also credit right tackle Tyson Clabo, who gave up just 2.5 sacks, and Todd Weiner, who allowed only three sacks filling in for injured first-round pick Sam Baker. The interior was just as stout, with center Todd McClure and guards Justin Blalock and Harvey Dahl surrendering just four sacks between them. Fears of Ryan meeting the same fate as battered rookie signal callers Tim Couch and David Carr proved unfounded, and Atlanta’s offense flourished because of it.

The Falcons’ run-blocking success came as less of a surprise; after all, in 2006 Atlanta averaged 183.7 rushing yards per game and 5.5 yards per carry. Nonetheless, McClure and Weiner were the only holdovers from that group so last year’s 141.6 rushing yards per game and a 4.6 yards-per-carry average still impressed. One stat, however, proved troubling: on fully one-fifth of their rushing attempts, Falcon backs were stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage.

Okay, so they’re not perfect. Atlanta still converted 70 percent of their short-yardage runs and finished ninth in adjusted line yards, a Football Outsiders stat that attempts to determine what share of yardage gained is directly attributable to the blocking. The schedule Turner faces this year is tougher, but the line returns essentially intact since Dahl beat out Kyle Forney for the starting right guard gig prior to last season and Baker should be back in place on the left side. So if Turner or Ryan are to falter this year, blame the Rule of 370 or a sophomore slump; it isn’t likely to be the line’s fault.


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Carolina Panthers

Year Sacks Allowed Sacked Rank RB Rush Yards Rush Yards Per Game Per Game Rush Rank Per Carry Average Per Carry Rank
2006 32 14 1,659 103.7 24 3.9 21
2007 33 17 1,635 102.0 15 4.0 15
2008 20 6 2,381 148.8 2 5.0 2

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle
2006 T.Wharton M.Wahle J.Hartwig E.Mathis J.Gross
2007 T.Wharton M.Wahle J.Hartwig R.Kalil J.Gross
2008 J.Gross* T.Wharton R.Kalil T.Fonoti J.Otah
2009 J.Gross T.Wharton R.Kalil K.Vincent J.Otah
* Pro Bowler, (r) Rookie

If you were among those who sent a share of your championship check to DeAngelo Williams as a way of saying thanks, make sure you toss a few pennies at the Carolina offensive line. Built to be a mauling run-blocking unit, the Panthers did exactly that last season; Williams and Jonathan Stewart paced a backfield that produced better than five yards per carry, and the Carolina line ranked first in both conversions on short yardage running plays—79 percent—and percent of yardage gained beyond 10 yards. In other words, opponents couldn’t stop ‘em at the line of scrimmage and couldn’t catch ‘em once they broke through.

And the same cast of characters returns in Carolina to repeat the success—hopefully without the injuries that claimed every starter for at least one game during the season and limited the regulars to just seven games together. Left tackle Jordan Gross received a Pro Bowl nod, but it was rookie Jeff Otah who produced the best results, paving the way for 4.60 adjusted line yards per carry off right tackle. Actually, the Panthers averaged four-plus ALYPC across the board—and a gaudy 5.3 yards per carry when all five starters were on the field at the same time. The Panthers were also one of the more balanced teams in the league last year with just one more percent of their running plays going right than left. In other words, any decline in Williams’ or Stewarts’ performance will be hard to pin on the guys up front.

The same can be said for Jake Delhomme. Despite being built for the ground game the Carolina line put up a solid wall around their quarterback as well, reducing their sacks by more than a third and ranking ninth in adjusted sack rate. A year of experience should help Otah improve on the five sacks he allowed, while Gross should be able to trim down the three he surrendered as he acclimates to the left side. The only downside in Carolina is that their depth was gutted during the offseason with three key reserves leaving for a shot at starting jobs elsewhere. Of the 10 non-starting linemen currently on the Panthers roster, only Justin Geisinger has played in an NFL game. So if any of the Carolina starters go down, don’t be shy about hitting that panic button on your Panther fantasy players.


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New Orleans Saints

Year Sacks Allowed Sacked Rank RB Rush Yards Rush Yards Per Game Per Game Rush Rank Per Carry Average Per Carry Rank
2006 23 4 1,761 110.1 19 3.7 25
2007 16 1 1,442 90.0 26 3.9 23
2008 13 3 1,542 96.4 21 4.2 15

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle
2006 J.Brown* J.Nesbit J.Faine J.Evans J.Stinchcomb
2007 J.Brown J.Nesbit J.Faine J.Evans J.Stinchcomb
2008 J.Brown* J.Nesbit J.Goodwin J.Evans J.Stinchcomb
2009 J.Brown C.Nicks J.Goodwin J.Evans J.Stinchcomb
* Pro Bowler, (r) Rookie

If the Saints had a less decisive quarterback with a slower release, their line stats may not look quite as nice. But Drew Brees is the New Orleans quarterback, and as such the line’s numbers are sterling. This unit, which will have three of the five members in place for the fourth straight season, has given up just 52 sacks total the past three seasons, including just 13 last year. And it’s not as if the Saints don’t throw the ball.

What makes you think that those numbers aren’t just Brees’ doing is an improved array of rushing statistics. Despite finishing fourth in the NFL in fantasy points scored by running backs, the Saints averaged just 96.4 RB rushing yards per game—21st in the league. On the bright side, the backs’ per-carry average crept over 4.0 for the first time in three seasons to a respectable 4.2 despite the lack of breakaway runs; just 15% of New Orleans’ rushing yardage came from beyond 10 yards, ranking them 26th. And the Saints ranked seventh in the league in fewest rushes stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage, according to the Football Outsiders stats.

Attribute some of that success to 6-5, 345-pound Carl Nicks, a fifth-round steal who stepped in at left guard and along with Pro Bowl tackle Jammal Brown helped pave the way to a league-high 5.17 adjusted line yards per carry off the left side. In fact, the Saints averaged 4.31 alypc or better across their line with the exception of right end. Right tackle Jon Stinchcomb is a better pass protector than run blocker, so the drop-off is forgivable, but don’t be surprised if Zach Strief takes over sooner rather than later. Whomever plays tackle benefits from lining up alongside Jahri Evans, who is developing into one of the league’s better guards. Center Jonathan Goodwin will face some training camp competition from Nick Leckey, but he should do enough to hang on to his job.

With Deuce McAllister out of the picture, the Saints will be looking for a between the tackles back. The rise of Pierre Thomas on draft boards suggests that fantasy owners have found their candidate, and if the New Orleans line metrics are any indication he should find plenty of room to run. And the Saints’ airtight pass protection will keep Brees upright as he takes another shot at Dan Marino’s record.

Update (Downgrade): Left tackle Jamaal Brown underwent surgery to repair a sports hernia, and while he’s expected to be back in time for the start of the regular season that’s a troublesome injury; it cost Donovan McNabb half a season and slowed Jeremy Shockey last season. Suddenly Drew Brees’ blind side is a little less secure.


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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Year Sacks Allowed Sacked Rank RB Rush Yards Rush Yards Per Game Per Game Rush Rank Per Carry Average Per Carry Rank
2006 33 15 1,523 95.2 28 3.8 24
2007 36 19 1,883 118.0 7 4.0 16
2008 32 16 1,648 103.0 13 4.1 15

Year Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle
2006 A.Davis S.Mahan J.Wade J.Terry K.Walker
2007 L.Petitgout A.Sears J.Wade D.Joseph J.Trueblood
2008 L.Petitgout A.Sears J.Faine D.Joseph* J.Trueblood
2009 D.Penn A.Sears J.Faine D.Joseph J.Trueblood
* Pro Bowler, (r) Rookie

The Buccaneers are quietly building a solid offensive line in Tampa Bay, and the switch to a zone-blocking scheme should allow them to capitalize on the group’s athleticism and youth; center Jeff Faine is the only Buc lineman who was in the NFL prior to 2006. The veteran in the middle is the only sub-300-pound member of the line, but he’s the glue that holds them together. And it doesn’t hurt that he has Davin Joseph on his right; Joseph is rapidly developing into one of the better guards in the game. To Faine’s left will either be Arron Sears, a converted tackle who has started since his rookie year of 2007, or second-year player Jeremy Zuttah. Sears suffered a concussion last year and has missed much of the Bucs’ offseason workouts—though there is talk that it’s a personal issue (some sources say clinical depression) rather than lingering effects of the concussion.

Zuttah’s quickness is a plus in the new scheme, and if/when Sears returns he would either provide depth or allow Zuttah to kick outside and replace left tackle Donald Penn. The former undrafted free agent struggled last year, giving up 8.5 sacks; worse, the Bucs ranked near the bottom of the league in rushing to the left side, averaging 3.54 adjusted line yards per carry off left tackle and a brutal 2.16 alypc around left end. The right side behind Jeremy Trueblood was slightly better (3.91 and 3.90 alypc, six sacks allowed), but the Bucs have a second-round pick invested in Trueblood and are hopeful for continued improvement.

New coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski wants this team to be physical, which certainly plays to the aggressiveness of players like Trueblood and Joseph. This group’s skill set is also a perfect fit for Jagodzinski’s zone blocking scheme—the same system he used to help the Falcons lead the league in rushing back in 2004 and 2005. And while the Bucs’ line metrics weren’t all that pretty last year, there is one to build on: the team ranked in the top 10 in the league in fewest rushing attempts stopped for no gain or behind the line of scrimmage.

OVERALL GRADE: B-, with upside if the Bucs adapt quickly to the zone scheme

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