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Fox Sports Rates The O-Lines
I only included the details for a few teams to make sure it fit, click on the link to see the rest.
Using an aggregate of these statistics in varying degrees of importance, adding in dynamics such as blown blocks and penalties, and topping it off with a good helping of subjective analysis and projection for the new season, here are the best to worst offensive lines coming into the 2006 campaign:
1. Denver Broncos
A punter (!) suspended for Ephedra use. A receiver who won't attend minicamps. The continuation of the Cleveland-to-Denver D-Line Expressway. The unending game of musical chairs at running back. If not for its offensive line, the Denver Broncos might not know any manner of roster stability. Twelve-year veteran center Tom Nalen signed a three-year extension in the off-season ? his absence would have been a major blow to the team. Nalen is among the best pass-blockers at his position. Joining Nalen among the ranks of the re-signed was LT Matt Lepsis, an elite lineman himself. RT George Foster, a three-year veteran, is a massive earthmover at 6'5" and 338 pounds. He has started every game at right tackle since the beginning of the 2004 season, though he's best known for the dive block that ended the season of Cincinnati DT Tony Williams in October of 2004.
The history of Denver's questionable blocking tactics goes back to the genesis of the franchise's time with ex-line coach Alex Gibbs, but the results have also been based on legitimate technique, and they speak for themselves. Though Gibbs moved on to Atlanta before the 2004 season, the line has been just as good under his replacement Rick Dennison. Denver's line will seemingly always find a place in the upper echelon. We ranked them ahead of the Bengals and Colts because we believe they're the most balanced unit from run- to pass-blocking.
2. Cincinnati Bengals
The only line besides Denver's to rank in the top 10 in all four of Football Outsiders' O-line stats ? Adjusted Line Yards, Power Success, Run Stuffs, and Adjusted Sack Rate. They gave up only 22 sacks, second in the league behind Indy. Why is this line so underrated? Well, can you name two of the five Cincinnati linemen?
Left tackle Levi Jones and right tackle Willie Anderson are the "marquee" guys here, as much as anyone in this group gets any recognition. Jones is good against both the run and the pass, but limiting Pittsburgh's Joey Porter to just half a sack in three matchups last year tells you that his specialty is blitz pickup. He's on the verge of joining that elite group of left tackles. Anderson went to his third straight Pro Bowl after the season, and the honors are deserved ? the 11-year veteran is smart, tough and a total competitor who has played in 96 consecutive games. Guards Bobbie Williams (right) and Eric Steinbach (left) anchor the inside ? Williams has only missed one snap in the last two seasons, and Steinbach was an AFC Pro Bowl alternate. Steinbach can play center and tackle as well. The starting center, veteran Rich Braham, may soon give way to 2005 fourth-rounder Eric Ghiaciuc.
From the standpoint of sheer athletic balance, this might be the most impressive line in the league right now. Perhaps the vox populi should pick up on what the NFL already knows?
3. Indianapolis Colts
4. Seattle Seahawks
5. Kansas City Chiefs
6. Washington Redskins
7. New England Patriots
Coach Bill Belichick and offensive line assistant Dante Scarnecchia had their hands full in 2005, as the Patriots' line was severely affected by two major injuries and a host of minor ones. Left tackle Matt Light suffered a broken fibula in September that ended his season, and center Dan Koppen ? who had started 40 straight games ? was lost for the remainder of the year after a November shoulder injury. Light and Koppen were New England's two best linemen and both are expected to return in 2006. Rookie Nick Kazcur replaced Light until sidelined by his own shoulder injury, which meant that Tom Ashworth had to slide in from the right side as the team's third starting left tackle.
One bright spot was the development of first-round pick Logan Mankins. The rookie left guard from Fresno State replaced the departed Joe Andruzzi, played well beyond his years and teamed with right guard Stephen Neal to provide the only real season-long stability on the line. With Light and Koppen returning, expect the Pats to far exceed their 2005 Adjusted Line Yards ranking of 26th. And even with all that personnel ambiguity, New England only gave up 28 sacks, sixth in the league.
8. Minnesota Vikings
9. Miami Dolphins
10. Atlanta Falcons
11. Pittsburgh Steelers
What kind of offensive line does it take to win a championship? In 2005, the Steelers ranked 12th in Adjusted Line Yards, 15th in 10+ Yards and 23rd in sacks allowed. These numbers fairly represent their strengths as a run-blocking unit, and their relative liabilities in the pass protection game. However, it's important to remember that Football Outsiders' offensive line stats cover the regular season ? and not the postseason, when the Steelers went on quite the tear. And as previously mentioned, Pittsburgh's "hot knife through butta" playoff run was dependent on many factors. If your defense is playing at a dominant level, you can get away with sometimes questionable line play, and that is what the Steelers did in 2005.
Alan Faneca remains one of the NFL's best guards. (Jonathan Ferrey / Getty Images)
Guard Alan Faneca is the one Steelers lineman whose play is above reproach. Named to five consecutive Pro Bowls, Faneca is strong enough to bull up against the run, and agile enough to handle any pass blocking assignment. Center Jeff Hartings is the line's second-best player. Left Tackle Marvel Smith missed time with ankle injuries and was temporarily replaced by rookie Trai Essex. Pittsburgh's late-season three-game losing streak took place with Smith out of the lineup.
Last year, the right side was the problem, as guard Kendall Simmons and tackle Max Starks struggled through slings and arrows ? both players have heard whispers that replacements are in order. Simmons has been battling adult onset diabetes, and Starks is still learning his position after two full years in the league.
12. Carolina Panthers
13. San Diego Chargers
When discussing the Chargers' line, special attention must be paid to the value of LaDanian Tomlinson, considered by many to be the NFL's best running back. But Football Outsiders' stats tell us that the team ranked 8th in Adjusted Line Yards, and 11th in 10-plus Yards ? and this would lead us to the conclusion that LT isn't the whole story. San Diego also ranked 13th in sacks allowed with 30. Line coach John "Jack" Henry has an impressive history with New Orleans and Detroit. This will be his third year at the head of a line featuring center Nick Hardwick, who signed a six-year contract with San Diego in the off-season. Guard Mike Goff is a veteran leader, who has helped youngsters like Hardwick and tackle Shane Olivea fill out a line that could become a top ten unit very soon.
14. Cleveland Browns
After watching the Browns rank 21st in Adjusted Line Yards and give up 46 sacks (26th in the league) in 2005, Romeo Crennel and his front office got busy redefining the line. In doing so, they landed the two best offensive line free agents of the past off-season: ex-Saints center LeCharles Bentley, and former Falcons left tackle Kevin Shaffer. Drafted in 2002, Bentley has earned a Pro Bowl berth at two separate positions ? once as a guard and once in the middle. Shaffer replaces L.J. Shelton, who signed with the Miami Dolphins. He's a try-hard guy who plays tougher than his scouting reports and started all sixteen games at left tackle last year for Atlanta.
15. New York Giants
16. Philadelphia Eagles
17. New Orleans Saints
18. Chicago Bears
19. Dallas Cowboys
20. Baltimore Ravens
Finishing 28th in Adjusted Line Yards and 19th in sacks allowed won't get the job done ? especially in a system that wasn't exactly firing on all cylinders. Steve McNair may not be done proving how tough he can be.
Just a few years ago, there was little question as to who were the three best left tackles in the league ? everyone always mentioned Baltimore's Jonathan Ogden, St, Louis' Orlando Pace and Seattle's Walter Jones in the same breath. In 2005, the Ravens' line had a lot to answer for, but Ogden wasn't the problem. Football Outsiders' Michael David Smith penned a fascinating study of two matchups between Ogden and Indy DE Dwight Freeney. The December 2004 battle recap can be found here, while the September 2005 follow-up is here. Ogden may not be what he used to be, but he's still pretty special. Guard Edwin Mulitalo isn't a bad player, but the options after that tend to dwindle. This line could be in for a freefall if they're not careful. Ogden keeps them from a lower rank.
21. Jacksonville Jaguars
22. Buffalo Bills/23. Oakland Raiders/24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers/25.Tennessee Titans
26. Detroit Lions
27. New York Jets
28. St. Louis Rams
29. Green Bay Packers
30. San Francisco 49ers
31. Houston Texans
32. Arizona Cardinals