“It all starts up front.”
That’s one of the most commonly-used phases around the National Football Post. Why?
Because the ability to provide adequate pass protection and effective run blocking are the keys to offensive success.
Quarterbacks need time to get through their reads, wide receivers need time to get down the field and running backs need holes to burst through for positive gains. Without a stout and efficient offensive line, it becomes very difficult to move the football.
Yeah, I know the Steelers won the Super Bowl last year with a suspect line. But let’s face facts: Their defense is nasty, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s size helps him shed would-be tacklers, buying him extra time in the pocket.
Take a look at the top seven offensive lines from 2008 in terms of fewest sacks allowed:
1. Tennessee Titans (playoffs)
2. Denver Broncos (12th-ranked rushing offense)
3. New Orleans Saints (top-ranked passing offense)
4. Indianapolis Colts (playoffs)
5. Atlanta Falcons (playoffs)
6. Carolina Panthers (playoffs)
7. Philadelphia Eagles (playoffs)
It should come as no surprise that five of the top seven teams made the playoffs last year.
Sacks allowed isn’t the only statistic we took into account when we put together these rankings, but it’s an important one.
Here are the NFP’s 2009 offensive line rankings. And be sure to check out some of the new features we have inside the NFP Draft Guide!
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1. New York Giants
The Big Blue offensive line anchored the league’s No. 1-ranked rushing attack in 2008.
2. Tennessee Titans
Led by Pro Bowl center Kevin Mawae, the Titans allowed a league-low 12 sacks last season.
3. Philadelphia Eagles
The Birds gained some serious beef up front by trading for Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters (Buffalo) and signing free agent guard Stacy Andrews (Cincinnati) in the offseason.
4. Atlanta Falcons
This unit paved the way for Pro Bowl running back Michael Turner to gain 1,699 yards on the ground, good for second in the NFL last year.
5. Carolina Panthers
Allowed just 20 sacks (sixth in NFL) and set the tempo for a rushing attack that averaged 152.3 yards per game (third in NFL).
6. Minnesota Vikings
Led by Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson, the Vikings’ offensive line has the pleasure of blocking for All-World running back Adrian Peterson, who has amassed 3,101 yards on the ground over the past two seasons, tops in the NFL.
7. Denver Broncos
Left tackle Ryan Clady sets the tone for a unit that allowed just 12 sacks in 2008, tied with Tennessee for best in the league.
8. Baltimore Ravens
Center Jason Brown is gone, but the Ravens filled their needs up front by signing free agent center Matt Birk (Minnesota) and drafting offensive tackle Michael Oher (Ole Miss). Baltimore finished 2008 ranked fourth in rushing yards per game (148.5) and fifth in rushing touchdowns (20).
9. Miami Dolphins
One of the league’s more underappreciated units, the Fish finished 2008 ranked 10th in sacks allowed (26) and 11th in rushing offense (118.6 yards per game).
10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This unit is just starting to come into its own as the average age on the line is 25.6 years old.
11. Dallas Cowboys
One of the most experienced offensive lines in the league, the five starters combine for 45 years of service in the NFL.
12. Houston Texans
They may not be household names, but this group led the way for the offense to pile up some monster numbers in 2008. The Texans ranked third in total offense (382.1 yards/game), fourth in passing offense (266.7 yards/game), and 13th in rushing offense (115.4 yards/game).
13. New York Jets
This unit paved the way for a 30-year-old running back (Thomas Jones) to finish fifth in rushing (1,312 yards) while scoring a career-best 13 touchdowns.
14. New England Patriots
15. New Orleans Saints
There’s something to be said about an offensive line that only allows 13 sacks (third in NFL) in 635 passing attempts (league high).
16. Indianapolis Colts
They did an excellent job protecting Peyton Manning (14 sacks allowed, fourth in the NFL), but blocked for a rushing attack that averaged a pathetic 79.6 yards per game (31st).
17. Green Bay Packers
Average age of a starting lineman in Green Bay is 27.8 years old (good). This offensive line anchored a rushing attack that ranked 17th in the NFL and averaged 112.8 yards per game in 2008 (pretty good). They gave up 34 sacks and ranked 19th in the league (not so good).
18. Cleveland Browns
If they got better play out of the quarterback position and had a faster running back carrying the football, this line would get more credit.
19. Chicago Bears
If free agent acquisition Orlando Pace (St. Louis) can regain his Pro Bowl form at age 34, this unit will start climbing the boards.
20. Arizona Cardinals
It will be interesting to see if the Cardinals can improve on a 2008 NFL-worst 73.6 rushing yards per game. They love to throw, so the line can’t take the heat for the poor rushing totals.
21. San Diego Chargers
The rushing numbers took a dip last season. Was it because LaDainian Tomlinson was a bit slower getting through the hole or because the line wasn’t getting the job done? A healthy L.T. will answer that question.
22. St. Louis Rams
Made some much needed improvements during the offseason by drafting top offensive tackle prospect Jason Smith (Baylor) and signing free-agent center Jason Brown (Baltimore).
23. Seattle Seahawks
Thirty-five-year-old left tackle Walter Jones is banged up at the moment. He needs to get healthy in a hurry for this group to succeed.
24. Oakland Raiders
The Raiders must cut down on the 39 sacks they allowed last season for quarterback JaMarcus Russell to take the next step.
25. Buffalo Bills
The Bills traded Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters to Philadelphia and now have two rookies (Eric Wood from Louisville and Andy Levitre out of Oregon State) in the starting five. Expect them to struggle in 2009.
26. Jacksonville Jaguars
Allowed 42 sacks in 2008 (25th in NFL) and decided to use the draft to solve their problems by selecting offensive tackles Eugene Monroe (Virginia) and Eben Britton (Arizona). They’ll need time to develop.
27. San Francisco 49ers
Yikes. Ranked 32nd in sacks allowed (55) and 27th in rushing yards per game (99.9) despite having running back Frank Gore in the backfield.
28. Washington Redskins
Three of the five starters are over 30. That doesn’t bode well for a quarterback who struggles and a running back who’s entering the twilight of his career.
29. Cincinnati Bengals
Carson Palmer is going to be under heavy pressure this season. Cincy ranked 30th in sacks allowed last year (51) and lost Stacy Andrews to free agency.
The good news: They drafted offensive tackle Andre Smith (Alabama) in the first round. The bad news: Smith is in the midst of a holdout that’s nowhere close to being resolved and he’s out of shape. Ouch.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers did nothing to improve an offensive line that gave up 49 sacks (29th in NFL) on one of the toughest quarterbacks in the league to bring down. Then again, they did win the Super Bowl, so something has to be working.
31. Kansas City Chiefs
If Matt Cassel took 47 sacks playing in New England with Randy Moss and Wes Welker, what’s going to happen in Kansas City with no Tony Gonzalez?
32. Detroit Lions
2008: 31st in sacks allowed (52) and 30th in rushing yards per game (83.2). Yes, the low rushing total resulted because the Lions were throwing late in games, but this unit still needs a ton of work.