Following poor form amongst a majority of the Redskins offensive linemen last season, new head coach Jay Gruden has taken simple steps so far this offseason to help improve the blocking up front in Washington. But even before free-agent signings and potential draft picks come May, Gruden’s style of offense may have the power to immediately increase the offensive line’s efficiency in pass protection.
During Gruden’s time in Cincinnati (specifically last season), two things that stood out in the Bengals passing attack were pace and protection—both of which are linked to one another.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), no quarterback spent less time in the pocket before attempting a pass than Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton last season. Dalton’s average of 2.24 seconds in the pocket ranked him ahead of powerful arms like Matthew Stafford and quick thinkers like Peyton Manning.
Since being thrown into the fire as a rookie in 2011, Dalton has averaged just over 2.3 seconds in the pocket from the snap of the ball to pass attempt over the course of three seasons and more than 1,600 attempts—all under the direction of Gruden as his offensive coordinator.
That’s not to say the quickest throws are always the best ones, but it does help demonstrate Gruden’s preference.
Assessing the sample and its size can draw some criticism. While some may claim three years doesn't provide enough data, others could argue Dalton's skill set warranted a certain style. But from the looks of things, Gruden (a former college and Arena Football League quarterback himself) prefers getting the pass out as quickly (and accurately) as possible.
And, with a quicker pass comes less time in the pocket. With less time in the pocket comes less demand for the offensive line to maintain protection. And as a natural result, that's less time for opposing edge-rushers and blitzers to attack and make landfall on your quarterback.
In addition to leading the league in quickest pass attempt from snap last season, the Bengals also ranked first in total quarterback pressures allowed (135), which Pro Football Focus defines as the combined number of sacks, hits and hurries allowed by an offensive line.
For his three years in Cincy, Gruden’s offensive line units ranked in the top five in the league each season, allowing an average of just 117 quarterback pressures.
So far this offseason, we’ve seen the Redskins add two interior offensive linemen in Shawn Lauvao and Mike McGlynn, while also trying their hand at addition by subtraction with the release of Will Montgomery and Kory Lichtensteiger’s resulting move to center. Although Tyler Polumbus at right tackle and Chris Chester at right guard (depending on where they plan to use Lauvao) leaves much to be desired, Gruden may feel comfortable with what he has.
Could the Redskins use a right tackle? Sure. A right guard, too? Yes. But Gruden’s offensive line units can benefit from his pace of play, making it feasible to have a couple of average offensive linemen at select positions.
More so during his rookie season than last year, we saw Robert Griffin III make his offensive line better. Although it wasn’t a unit stacked with talent, we witnessed a quarterback with good footwork and a strong arm behind a deadly read-option attack making it a little more painless for the guys up front in 2012.
Last season? Not so much. Equipped with a wobbly knee following intense offseason knee surgery, Griffin wasn't the same quarterback, and the offensive line did him no favors by allowing more than 170 total pressures.
How often the Redskins run read-option under Gruden next season remains to be seen—as does what the Redskins decide to do with their draft picks in a little less than a month. But with the coach’s preferred rate of play and ordinary acquisitions—operating amidst a quarterback with two good knees and an enticing skill set—the Redskins offensive line is already better than it was last season.