Eight in the Box: This season’s most underachieving NFL offensive lines
Each Friday, Eight in the Box will highlight a list of eight players, teams or moments and their impact on the 2013 season.
When teams slump on offense, it’s easy to pin blame on the quarterbacks and running backs. Usually, that rush to judgement fails to tell the whole story.
This week’s Eight in the Box takes a look at the teams that have had the most troubles up front in 2013, with an attempt to rank the eight most disappointing offensive lines in the NFL.
8. New York Giants: Andre Brown’s return at running back may change the perception here; he had 115 yards rushing in his first game back. But this season has been a struggle up front for the Giants, which goes part of the way toward explaining Eli Manning’s struggles.
The pass-protection numbers are not particularly horrible on the surface: The Giants have permitted 22 sacks, fewer than 20 teams in the league. Manning, though, has been hurried 107 times and, according to Pro Football Focus, of his 355 dropbacks (counting sacks, etc.) Manning has been pressured 149 times — nearly 42 percent.
As such, the Giants have shortened up their routes in the pass game to allow Manning to get rid of the ball more quickly. The changes have worked the past three weeks, but this group remains far from perfect.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers entered 2013 knowing they had issues up front, and the loss of center Maurkice Pouncey to a season-ending injury in Week 1 just solidified those woes. Through nine games, Pittsburgh has allowed the second-most sacks in the league (36) and grades out 30th on Football Outsiders’ adjusted pass-protection rankings. The run game has not been much better: The Steelers are averaging just 3.6 yards per attempt on the ground.
Now, the good news: David DeCastro has made significant strides in his second season, especially as a run blocker. And the addition of veteran center Fernando Velasco at least stabilized that position in Pouncey’s absence.
Ben Roethlisberger’s ad-libbing makes for some difficult blocking assignments — but also prevents even more sacks from occurring.
6. Arizona Cardinals: Where do the Cardinals’ issues lie? Well, we can start with the fact that they may have the most underachieving set of starting tackles in the league in Bradley Sowell and Eric Winston. They brought in the veteran Winston as a free agent after Bobby Massie bombed in his rookie year, but Winston has hardly been Pro Bowl-caliber in 2013, allowing team-highs in sacks (six) and hurries (29).
The Cardinals used a 2013 fourth-round pick on guard Earl Watford, but he’s yet to crack the rotation at all. One of the guys in front of him, journeyman Paul Faniaka, hardly appears to be a long-term answer.
5. Baltimore Ravens: Is this the worst run-blocking group in the league? An argument certainly could be made with the Ravens posting just 74.3 yards per game rushing, despite the presence of Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. (Rice has looked a long way from his old, dominant self, so the line does not deserve 100 percent of the blame.)
The Ravens’ line fell into a timely groove last postseason with Bryant McKinnie’s arrival in the starting lineup an unexpected key. McKinnie returned for this year overweight and was so ineffective that Baltimore dealt for Jacksonville’s Eugene Monroe.
Monroe definitely has provided an upgrade at left tackle, but the overall problems remain. Until Baltimore can crank its running backs into high gear, it’s hard to envision this offense taking off.
4. Oakland Raiders: Getting standout tackle Jared Veldheer back on the field will be a boost — he tore his triceps back in August and was placed on IR with a designation to return. He should reclaim his left tackle spot, pushing out Khalif Barnes. Tony Pashos, a surprisingly effective starter at right tackle, also missed time with an injury.
The run totals and sack totals have been aided and hurt by QB Terrelle Pryor, respectively. Oakland is fifth in the league at 143 rushing yards per game, inflated by the 60-plus yards Pryor has averaged. Meanwhile, Pryor’s indecisiveness in the pocket has helped cause a healthy dose of the team’s 36 sacks allowed. Twenty-nine of those have come with Pryor at QB, including nine in a loss to Kansas City.
3. Atlanta Falcons: This is (almost) all about the run game. The Falcons have been absolutely brutal on the ground this season, averaging a league-worst 64.3 yards per game.
“I don’t believe that we have done it consistently enough in terms of saying we’re running it well, because it’s really not about one guy when you’re run blocking,” Falcons head coach Mike Smith said last week, pinning most of the onus on his offensive line. “It’s about the unit up front. They’ve got to work together. They’ve got to see it out of the same eyes. And we just haven’t been consistent.”
Without any real ability to grind out drives, the Falcons have dropped a lot of pressure on Matt Ryan and his depleted receiving corps. Ryan has felt the heat this season, too, though he has managed to avoid sacks, going down 16 times despite 114 hurries (via Pro Football Focus).
The Falcons released starting tackle Tyson Clabo in the offseason, then lost fellow tackle Sam Baker to injury after a shaky start. They have yet to find the proper combination to replace their missing parts.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jaguars’ big move prior to the 2013 season was to draft tackle Luke Joeckel No. 2 overall. But then Joeckel suffered a season-ending injury, Jacksonville sent Eugene Monroe to Baltimore and the focus shifted to 2014.
The performance actually has been slightly better in recent weeks, but the Jaguars still sit at No. 31 in rushing (65.0 yards per game) and tied for fourth in sacks allowed (31).
1. Miami Dolphins: Miami has the only line that ranks in the bottom 25 percent of both Football Outsiders’ run-blocking and pass-blocking grades. It’s not too difficult to see why either: Ryan Tannehill has been sacked 37 times, more than any quarterback in the league, and the run game is averaging fewer than 90 yards per outing.
The aforementioned Clabo resurfaced here, only to justify Atlanta’s decision to cut him loose (10 sacks allowed). And the wheels have come off completely in recent weeks with the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito story taking two starters off an already-disappointing line. The Dolphins’ decision to trade for Bryant McKinnie — a player who fell so quickly out of favor in Baltimore that the Ravens traded for his replacement — emphasized what a dire situation this has been.