Lion’s Den Special Edition: The Offensive Line Project Part II

The best offensive line in football lurks in San Francisco where the 49ers roam and the cowardly lion likes the philadelphia eagles tooWelcome to Pt. II of Mr. Lion’s Opus.  There’s just something about athletic, sweaty dudes pushing each other around that does it for the Lion.  The battle at the line is the ultimate test of strength, balance, discipline, and explosive power all rolled into one fight that happens over and over again for the duration of a football game.  I played the line, I know the line, and I love to talk about it.  Now in part II of my 2014 OL breakdown, we’re getting into the very best OL units that the league has to offer.  Enjoy:

LEVEL III Really Pretty Nice and Good OL: Now we are getting towards teams that have OL that are a cut above the rest of the league. They are one or two good players away from being elite. You will find most of these teams in the playoffs year in and year out with one exception.

TAMPA BAY BUCS: 18 points:

WHAT? It’s true. The Bucs have a good OL. Hear the Lion out. LG Carl Nicks is still pro-bowl caliber. Tackles Anthony Collins and Demar Dotson are above average. Their C is a 3 as well. The lone below average position is RG, and it’s a 2 not a 1. No wonder the muscle hamster ran wild two years ago and Mike Glennon looked ok last year. I expect the Bucs offense to improve this year based on their draft and the realization that their OL is pretty good.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS: 18 points:

Pitt has one of the two units that are surprises in this group. Last year Pitt’s OL was horrible, especially in the beginning of the year. However it was mostly because they were not healthy. RG David DeCastro returned during the year and the Steelers looked very good down the stretch and made the mediocre Le’Vean Bell look better than he really is. Pro Bowler Maurkice Pouncey missed the entire year and is even better than his brother in Miami. If the Steelers could improve at T they could return to the type of offense the Steelers are famous for, the ground and pound. (Side note, I expect the Steelers to be the surprise AFC North Champs this year.)

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: 18 points:

This is another example of an elite QB making an OL better than it perhaps is. With his lightning quick release and almost unfair pocket presence, Brees is somehow still underrated. Very few QB can truly feel when they’re about to be hit, but Brees consistently gets rid of the football mere moments before contact. The Saints OL is solid all the way from right to left with RG Jahri Evans and RT Zach Streif being the highest ranked. Terron Armstead came in and won the starting job at LT during the playoffs last year and played ok, we will see if he improves with more experience. The only question mark is at C.

CINCINNATI BENGALS: 18 points:

In contrast to the example above, I think this could be the case where an elite OL makes an average QB look better than he is. Or, maybe where a below average QB makes an elite OL look worse than it is. If you asked me which OL was better between the Bengals and Saints I would say Bengals even though they scored the same. LT Andrew Whitworth received one of the few 6’s I awarded. Andre Smith is above average at RT as well. The closest thing the Bengals have to a weak link is C Trevor Robinson from Notre Dame, and he is serviceable. Surrounded by an elite WR (Green), an impactful and versatile RB (Bernard), and a top notch offensive line, this year is put up or shut up time for Dalton.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: 18 points:

No longer the elite unit it once was because of LG Logan Mankins’ age and some unavoidable attrition; it is still a very good line. It also helps to have Tom Brady, who much like Brees, seems to know just when to get rid of the football. LT Nate Solder is Pro Bowl level and is still on the way up. RT Sebastian Vollmer is just about Pro Bowl level as well. The weakness is at C and RG. Those positions keep the Pat’s OL from being in the elite group IV below.

LEVEL IV ASS-KICKERS: These elite units take the fight to their opponents and can control games. While at first glance there are some surprises here, upon closer examination it all makes sense.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS: 20 points:

Wait, I know you are asking the Lion, “A non playoff team with a 20?” It’s true. Don’t forget this unit paved the way for Adrian Peterson to run for 2,000 yards two years ago. They also helped Christian Ponder led team to a 10-6 record and playoff appearance.  The drop back to 5 wins in 2013 is really a tribute to how bad Christian Ponder is if anything. Still don’t believe me? Let’s look at the roster. C John Sullivan and RT Phil Loadholt are pro bowl caliber guys who get awarded 5’s. LT Matt Kalil and RG Brandon Fusco are almost at that level and get 4’s. (I expect Kalil to make the leap this season more than Fusco.) LG Charlie Johnson kind of stinks and only gets a 2. 5+5+4+4+2=20. Teddy Bridgewater has ZERO excuse with an OL like this and weapons like Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Paterson and Peterson to succeed. No excuse Teddy. The Viking Defense on the other hand is another story for another day. (yick.)

CLEVELAND BRONS: 20 points:

No, that isn’t a typo; The Lion heard that the team is changing the name to thank LeBron James for returning. (Marketing opportunities for days if you’re Skyler Grey – I’m Coming Home, I’m Coming Home…admit that that awful song was the first thing that popped into your head after the Decision 2.0). Ok let’s get serious. How in the world does Cleveland have a better OL than the Pats? Well consider this. LT Joe Thomas might be the best in the game and is one of the five 6’s I awarded. C Alex Mack is easily a pro bowler with all pro potential, and got a 5. The rest of the crew got 3’s across the board. 6+5+3+3+3= 20. One side note, I gave rookie Joel Bitonio a 3 per my stipulation on rookies, but there is a good chance he is actually worse than the departed John Greco. Time will tell. If only there was a QB in Cleveland. Oh wait, they drafted one? I hadn’t heard. If Johnny Football fails, it will not be because he doesn’t have blocking. It will be because his slight frame and douchebag personality weren’t built for success in the NFL.

DENVER BRONCOS: 20 points:

I wonder how much Peyton makes these guys look better by constantly putting them in a position to win their battle and make their block. This group certainly didn’t look elite against Seattle in the Super Bowl. So why the elite rating? Well, two reasons really. Ryan Clady, a pro bowl LT did not play in the Super Bowl, (he got hurt in November). His return boosts the point total from a 3 at LT to a 5. Louis Vasquez is also is a pro bowler who did not play in the Super Bowl due to injury. His return boosts the point total from a 3 at his position to a 5 as well. Starting to make sense? There were reasons the Lion told you to bet the Seahawks in February. There are reasons Vegas/the NFL require injury reports. Did the fact the Broncos were missing two top notch OL affect their protection of Manning? Let’s go ahead and use this as example number 2, along with the Alabama point the Lion raised earlier, in my case for the importance of OL. The Lion rests.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: 22 points:

We only have two OLs left and they are the best two hands down. The numbers don’t lie here. The Eagles ran the ball virtually at will last year. LT Jason Peters is All Pro and so is LG Evan Mathis. Philly is the ONLY team with 2 6’s. (I only awarded a 6 score to 5 players league wide) Jason Kelce and Todd Herreman are not slouches either, they get 4’s. The only question mark/weakness is Lane Johnson, who besides being kind of shaky last year, is also apparently not well liked by his team. (Working together on the OL is imperative to its success.) The awesome Eagles OL begs the question, how good is Nick Foles really? I don’t think he is as good as the spectacular numbers he put up last season, but that being said, I think he is capable of playing better than he did last year and very well could. Sound crazy? It’s not. There is a difference between fantasy worth and reality worth. Nick Foles is one of those guys whose fantasy worth (thanks to his OL, backs, receivers and offensive scheme), far exceeds reality worth. To put it another way, some Jerk is going to get him as a steal this year in the draft and he will end in the top 5-10 QBs in points scored. However players, coaches and executives would rank as many as 14 QBs higher than Foles. Don’t believe me? Read this. (ESPN Insider Required)

Editor’s Note:  I kept quiet as the Lion overrated the Bills, I cannot allow this slight of Dick Folds to pass without comment.  Two words when it comes to Dick Folds, Ben Roethlisberger.  Effectively mobile, strong arm, gigantic and thus hard to take down.  He has one added bonus in that he throws a great deep ball and has a quicker release than Big Ben.  Is he the beneficiary of a great offensive scheme?  Of course.  But his skill set, particularly his accuracy on short and intermediate routes, make this timing dependent offense work.  The respect that he’s given for his talent is comparable to the level of talent Brees was considered to have while in SD, respected but considered a system QB.  I think Folds proves that he’s individually as talented as his numbers suggest this season.  One final note, why do I keep calling him Dick Folds?  Apparently in college that was his nickname because his dick was so massive that he had to fold it in order to get it to stay in his cup and not get crunched by the cup edges upon contact.  Massive hog boys, that equates to  leadership.

SAN FRANSICO 49ERS: 22 points:

The Niners have the best OL in the league. Even though they scored the same, the difference between the Eagles and 49ers is that SF has no weaknesses. LG Mike Iupati gets one of the 6’s I awarded. LT Joe Staley gets a 5. RG Alex Boone and RT Anthony Davis both get a 4. C Daniel Kilgore gets a 3, and he is the biggest question mark in the unit. The 49er OL is the reason Frank Gore continues to produce despite the fact he is almost as old as the Silverfox. So with such an elite OL, why doesn’t the offense put up more points? You can ask the same question about Kapernick we asked about Foles. The truth is San Fran has one of the best teams top to bottom in the NFL, as evidenced by the NFC Championship battle in Seattle. (You’re welcome National Media for stealing “Battle in Seattle”). Kaepernick, like Foles, is ranked right in the middle of NFL starting QBs by league insiders. (See above link). While the 49ers have a better defense than Philly, I think it is safe to say that with elite OLs, both teams will go as far as their QBs will take them.

I hope you enjoyed my OL Project. I will try to give you more insight and analysis in anticipation for Football Season. Training Camps are nearly upon us.

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