Ranking the NFC North OLs, Pre-NFL Draft Edition
During the first week of this blog (which has only been about two weeks but seems far longer—in the best way possible), I came across some offensive line rankings, which made me take an extra long look at how I measured success and how I ranked the efforts of offensive lines in general.
I didn't totally agree with all four rankings that Pro Football Focus did (nor all 32 rankings for that matter), but it made me stop and think.
Something I always think makes for a successful article.
That said, in the end it didn't quite change my opinion of the overall effectiveness of the offensive lines—though it did make me rate the top three closer than I had previously.
These rankings don't just reflect the 2011 efforts of these teams, but the upcoming 2012 season—how they might do and what they could do.
1. Green Bay Packers
As much as anything else, injuries damaged the play of the Packers offensive line in 2011. All things being equal, head coach Mike McCarthy would like to roll out a group consisting of LT Chad Clifton, LG T.J. Lang, C Jeff Saturday, RG Josh Sitton and RT Bryan Bulaga. Now it's possible the Packers would need to shift the line around—it could be Derek Sherrod moving to one of tackle spots, perhaps Bulaga doing the same.
There are several keys here. The acclimation of Jeff Saturday to the Packer scheme. The return of Derek Sherrod from a bad leg injury. The continued maturation of Bulaga.
Still, the Packers have the pieces to move around, and, despite injuries, the line held up all right. Not great, but well enough to help get the team to the playoffs. Does it need to continue to improve? Yes. Does losing Scott Wells hurt, even if you gain Jeff Saturday? Yes.
However, the foundation of this line is solid and will continue to improve each year.
2. Detroit Lions
The Lions were ranked very well in pass protection and very poorly in run blocking by both Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus. It's an interesting observation, as Stafford appears to get hit pretty often. However, the Lions only allowed 36 sacks, which is pretty impressive since the Lions led the league in pass attempts with 666. (The Saints were second with 662 attempts and an astounding 24 sacks.)
Also, while the run blocking needs to improve, it can be hard for a team to block for a revolving door of running backs with different strengths, attitudes and styles.
Not to throw the running backs under the bus—just pointing out that there were other things that affected the overall play.
The bottom line though, is that the overall talent on the offensive line is average for the most part. The Lions need to keep building and tweaking to get better. If they can add some more talent or get an elite guard or tackle, they could easily challenge the Packers for the title of best offensive line in the North.
3. Minnesota Vikings
My biggest issue with the Vikings offensive line is age, which the only cure for is good drafting.
Otherwise, a second look has taught me that this is a line which played much better than advertised. While they did allow 49 sacks (tied with the Bears for most in the North), they allowed only 76 QB hits, dead middle of the pack in the NFL and 11 less than the Bears.
The good news is, that's a pretty decent amount for a team with a young quarterback who can scramble and holds the ball a tad too long. The bad news is, when they did allow a hit, it was a good one, since a high percentage of QB hits resulted in sacks.
The sacks should go down this year as Ponder settles down, gets the ball out quicker and gets more rotatable reading the defense. Ponder struggled last year, no doubt about it, but he was in too early and always looked like he would be a bit of a project.
He'll get better, and the Vikings' line will have an easier time keeping him upright.
4. Chicago Bears
I really wish I knew what the Bears see in this offensive line that has them so confident. Yes, when "Mad" Mike Martz left, the line jelled a bit more. And yes, Gabe Carimi's injury hurt the productivity.
In the end though, this is a line that lacks any really great talents (even Carimi) and was struggling long before Martz arrived in the Windy City.
I didn't love what I saw in 2011. I don't like what I'm hearing in terms of 2012.
Hopefully, the Bears will prove me wrong and I can eat some crow with a side of "SHUT UP GARDA," but I feel as though that's unlikely to happen.
This team needs a healthy Jay Cutler to win the division. They won't get it if they don't start focusing on the offensive line.
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