NFC North Offensive Line Analysis: Left Guards

Andrew GardaFeatured ColumnistJuly 26, 2012

NEW ORLEANS - JANUARY 24:  Offensive center John Sullivan #65 of the Minnesota Vikings looks down the line of scrimmage as he gets set to snap the ball against the New Orleans Saints during the NFC Championship Game at the Louisiana Superdome on January 24, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Saints won 31-28 in overtime. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

We've hit the center, right guards and tackles, and now we move to the last two positions, today focusing on the left guard.

As before, I'll refer to Matt Miller's BR 1,000 as well as my own eyeballs to give explanation and a basis for my thoughts. On occasion, I'll point to Pro Football Focus as well to support or dismiss a point or at least to counter one.


Chicago Bears—Chris Williams/J'Marcus Webb

I'll be doing this twice, I suppose, as the loser of the battle for left tackle is likely the left guard after the fact. Last year, Williams missed seven games. When he wasn't hurt, he struggled, though I thought he was a fair run blocker and was able to get to the second level at times.

Miller has Williams at No. 30 on his ranking of left guards. Part of that is injury, but part of it is inconsistent and sloppy technique. Williams was a guy for whom we all had high hopes but who hasn't quite made it there.

J'Marcus Webb was a guy who struggled for much of his time at left tackle last year—but it was a bit much to ask a late-round pick with minimal experience to be perfect.

Especially in Mike Martz's offensive blocking scheme. We've talked about this in virtually every single breakdown of the NFC North lines, but it's true—there are huge questions as to whether new OC Mike Tice's simplified blocking scheme will fix enough for the Bears to survive with what they have.

It's kind of a nature/nurture thing—is the talent held back by the environment or is the talent weak in general? My initial guess is a mixture of both, but perhaps Williams—whether at guard or tackle—will bounce back finally. Or maybe Webb will prove a hidden gem revealed at last.

If either one can do a better job at guard, this offensive line will be in much better shape.


Detroit Lions—Rob Sims

You can tell Sims is good from the fact that he doesn't get mentioned much. It also means he's not great, but it's more important to not make mistakes and be solid anyway.

At No. 12, Miller has him at the top half of the league—not quite elite, but very, very good. He's a very solid pass blocker, though he occasionally needs help and does a fair job run blocking.

Sims doesn't stand out in a big way—either good or bad—but Matt Stafford and the Lions can depend on him doing his part to give them a shot at another huge season passing the football.


Green Bay Packers—TJ Lang

Miller has Lang listed as his No. 9 left guard and after some careful reconsideration, I'm on board.

I guess it really wasn't that I didn't buy he was good—just that the line was so deep that retaining him wasn't a big priority. Well, 1) I looked hard at games and felt I was wrong and 2) Derek Sherrod is still hurt, so really the line isn't quite as deep as I thought.

Lang is a tremendous pass blocker who struggles a little in the run game. However, some of that is just rust—the Packers run the ball begrudgingly, so it's not the focal point of practice or games.

On the other hand, that minimizes any lack of skill there as well. We can debate how effective he would be elsewhere, but we won't know because it's unlikely they'll let him go.

He could be shuffled elsewhere in a pinch, but his best place is here on the left at guard.


Minnesota Vikings—Charlie Johnson

Johnson never made a great left tackle—I don't know if I'd call him a complete disaster, but he wasn't good. Adding Matt Kalil to that spot allows Johnson to shift to the guard position, someplace he will fit much better at in 2012.

Johnson was one of the least effective pass-blocking tackles in the league over three years, according to Pro Football Focus, giving up 150 pressures on 1,979 snaps. In contrast, Jake Long of the Dolphins (ranked second in efficiency) allowed just 62 pressures in 1,820 pass snaps.

From a guard standpoint, former Saint Carl Nicks allowed just 63 pressures on 2,043 pass snaps.

Actually, Johnson's stats would make him one of the worst tackles in the league, according to what the bottom of the PFF list looks like.

I don't expect that—I expect Johnson to be much more effective.

Matt Miller had Johnson as the worst left tackle in the league. It shouldn't be hard to improve on that at guard—however, he has to strive to do more than just improve.


The Call—Green Bay Packers' TJ Lang

You may now see why the Packers line continues to be a strong one, even with a question mark at left tackle (tomorrow's piece). While one player can mean a lot, the offensive line is the sum of its parts, and the Packers have some tremendous parts. 

Lang is a free agent after this season—I would imagine he is signed again before that happens. 

Sims is good, but not in the same class. Williams/Webb are a huge "what if," and Johnson is needing to redeem himself.

Again, the Packers come out ahead in this positional analysis.

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