Another exciting edition of our sprawling roster breakdown? You bet your currency of choice!
Last time we visited the land of tight ends and checked in on a position of strength, and today we'll tackle the offensive line. Please give it up for bigskee, who is headlining this post and accompanied by the great tlozwarlock. Due to a personal obligation that also kept me from posting yesterday, I will only be able to add some brief commentary near the end. Don't shed too many tears, friends.
To find out our collective thoughts on the offensive line—bigskee has an ambitious take on the position—follow along after the jump.
Statistically, the offensive line is a little harder to judge than say wide receivers and quarterbacks. So I will be comparing our line to the same positions on other teams and also just providing a gut feeling/opinion about the OL, and I expect nothing less than tons of disagreement, but that's the nature of the beast.
LT: Sam Baker
Sam Baker, AKA the bearded wonder. Our first round draft pick now two seasons removed, he has proven to be pretty solid, when he's uninjured. He had a few bad games, the most notable of them the first game against the Bucs where he allowed 3 sacks on Mr. Matty Ice. He allowed 5 sacks during the season and a whopping 28 QB pressures. That was a pretty startling statistic to me. Beyond that, my gut, which is almost never wrong, tells me that he is due for his breakout season. The biggest thing he needs to continue improving on is his strength and conditioning, because honestly that's the biggest way to combat his slight tendency to be injured.
Final Grade- B-
LG: Justin Blalock
I really like Justin Blalock for some reason. He's a bulldozer who, according to the stat sheet is a little sub par against the run. I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that Turner got off to a slow start, was subsequently injured, and the backups took over for the rest of the season. My only gripe is a small one; he's the most invisible lineman I think I have ever seen. But I prefer someone do their job competently yet invisibly to making bonehead mistakes that make me smack my head against the wall. He was solid in pass coverage, allowing only 2 sacks all season while allowing 14 QB hits, which was fairly average.
Final Grade- B
C: Todd McClure
The munchkin of the group, I have nothing bad to say about him. He is the glue of our line, and a great leader for the offense. A left over of the old cut blocking regime, he handles his pass blocking duties extremely well, allowing only 1 sack, and 6 QB hits. This is impressive for a center that only weighs in at just over 300 pounds who must block the monster nose tackles that anchor most defenses these days. The downside is that he is aging, and it's a solid bet we will be drafting his replacement this year, and I think the new guy will have a great mentor to groom him into the position.
Final Grade- A-
RG: Harvey Dahl
Harvey Dahl is probably my favorite guy on the team; he is a hard worker and strikes fear into the heart of defenders. He is absolute proof that being gigantic and having a nasty personality on the field will get you places in life. That said, this season was not one worth falling in love with. His run blocking numbers were just average, but once again, Michael Turner spent a hefty chunk of time riding the pine from that ankle injury, so I won't hold his numbers against him. He allowed 3 sacks and 1 QB hit, which is acceptable considering his role is primarily to scare defensive players into losing bowel control when Turner is handed the ball. I feel like he is our guard of the present and future, so if he keeps his numbers up, he could be getting a nice contract extension after this season, if all goes well with the players union.
Final Grade- B+
RT: Tyson Clabo
Tyson Clabo, what can we say? He bounces back and forth between decent and not so decent. While allowing 5 sacks and 5 QB hits, he allowed a whopping 25 qb pressures. (And we wondered why Matt Ryan is always fleeing the pocket in terror). While a serviceable lineman, and a good duo with Harvey Dahl, Smitty and the Comrade seem to be looking to the future at this position. I do like ol baby face, but our pass protection with the tackles really needs to improve unless we want Matt Ryans turf toe to be an annual flare up. Despite the negativity, I think he's a good option for now, but eventually he either needs to protect better or watch his back, cause Garrett Reynolds is coming.
Final Grade- B
Guard: Quinn Ojinnaka
I classified him as a simple guard, although he played a game at left tackle and several at right guard, he even played three snaps at tight end. He started a few games this season and posted decent pass coverage numbers, which is great for a backup to have the ability to play multiple positions without blowing it. While playing 339 snaps he allowed 2 QB hits and 1 QB pressure, which is more than acceptable.
Final Grade- C+
Center/ Guard: Brett Romberg
We didn't see all that much of Mr. Romburg last season, and that's okay with me. Another backup with the flexibility to play multiple positions, he allows coach Smith to have depth at multiple positions which each backup. In 91 snaps he allowed 2 QB hits and 1 QB pressure, which is actually pretty good.
Final Grade- C
Combo Tackle: Will Svitek
It seems as if every backup player we have can play several spots on the line. Will handled 273 snaps while giving up 2 sacks and 6 QB hits. He provides great depth and is a good addition to the team.
Final grade- C
RT Garrett Reynolds
Its impossible to grade a rookie tackle who played 24 snaps at right guard, but if he puts some bulk on his six foot seven frame, he could be a dominant right tackle that can really help out. Thankfully we don't have to rush him because we have Tyson Clabo at the helm, and he is a serviceable starter. If he learns his craft and bulks up we could have the starter of the future on our hands.
Final Grade- INC
I was going to approach this per position per player and then realized that’d take a smallish novella to accomplish so I’m just going to go for broke with an overall observation: this OL was decent to the point of only allowing two more sacks than they did the previous year.
Then again, they allowed 19 with Matt missing two weeks. Just imagine if the 8 sacks Redman absorbed were instead inserted into Matt’s numbers. Now you’re at 27 total sacks over the period of 16 games. That’s a tiny bit more than one a game.
If we expect to have a healthy, happy, passing QB, we have to get these sacks under control. Half the time Matt was on the field, he had to run for his life or dump the ball away because his protection broke down in mere milliseconds. Heck, his turf toe was likely due to the fact that he had to scramble so much. Let’s face it. Matt is a great QB, but he’s not built to be Brett Farve or Fran Tarkenton. He’s a pocket QB ala Manning. With a stronger OL in front of him, he can achieve that greatness we know he’s destined for.
Oh and…well…okay, they didn’t do so bad on the rush. Still, Turner was out a lot so it’s hard to compare to last year. Jason Snelling was serviceable but it was apparent to me that the holes just weren’t there like they used to be. Remember Turner’s slow start in the beginning games of the season? Yeah, I’m blaming some of that on the OL.
Dave the Falconer writes:
I'm of the opinion that you can never achieve perfection when it comes to an NFL team, so of course I think the offensive line needs to be improved. In this case, your eyes did not deceive you in 2009: the line wasn't great.
Given a plethora of injuries both on the line and around it on offense, it's difficult to tell exactly how effective the line was last season, but I'm going to echo tloz and note that Matt Ryan and Chris Redman got absolutely pounded by opposing pass rushers at times last season. While Michael Turner looked slower at the beginning of the season and they paved the way for Jason Snelling effectively late in 2009, they can't be held blameless in his slow start, either. You're looking at a few bad stretches interrupted by above average stretches. That's basically an average offensive line.
The culprit here is a mix of injuries and ineffectiveness. Sam Baker needs to prove in 2010 that he can be the answer at left tackle, and that means he's got to avoid the injury bug that has bit him hard each of the last two season. Justin Blalock has some putrid games but is generally above average at left guard, Todd McClure is aging but still effective at center, and Harvey Dahl and Tyson Clabo used nastiness and potent beard power to hold down the right side of the line. There's no glaring weak link here, but our depth is mostly middling (Garrett Reynolds and his potential excepted) and the team could definitely stand to upgrade or get younger at some point in the depth chart all along the line.
So what does that mean for the Falcons? It means that the team needs to continue to work to keep the O-line healthy and address the position through the draft in 2010, preferably through a couple of mid-to-late round picks who can be brought along slowly yet still provide value in case injuries strike again.
Is that a tall order? I don't think so.
As always, leave your thoughts in the comments.