The 12 Offensive Lines Most Likely to Get Their QB Hurt
It is often the most under-appreciated group of players on a successful football team.
But it is only when a club struggles to generate points and often has its quarterback on his back that the offensive line gets dubious recognition.
Failing to protect the most important asset of your team could mean the difference between making or missing the postseason. And the task of keeping the quarterback upright is even more difficult if he is inexperienced or prone to injury.
Presented is a list of 12 offensive lines that have the best chance of putting their starting signal-caller on the mend this season.
On the stat sheet, the Bears o-line gave up a league-leading 56 quarterback sacks in 2010. The worst performance came on Oct. 4 at the New Meadowlands against the New York Giants, in which Chicago relented 10 quarterback take-downs and saw starter Jay Culter get knocked out of the 17-3 setback.
The Bears, though, steadily improved in this department as the season moved along. More recently, they added Gabe Carimi in the first round of the NFL Draft in April. That, however, doesn't mean a quick turnaround is in store.
It's quite obvious that it is critical to keep Culter on his feet and give him more time to throw if the Bears want to repeat–or improve on–last year's efforts.
The Eagles make this list purely due to the skills of their quarterback.
Michael Vick's scrambles that zig and zag across the field are nightmares for defensive linemen, but are also difficult for his own blockers to gauge. Unless it's a designed run, the offensive linemen have a hard time determining where Vick will go next–which results in linebackers and cornerbacks having clear shots at him.
If the Eagles' No. 7 does succumb to injury, it may not be totally at the fault of the offensive line.
San Francisco 49ers
This unit has the looks of being much better in the coming years, with the likes of left tackle Joe Staley, left guard Mike Iupati and right tackle Anthony Davis.
That doesn't mean that there are still growing pains. In 2010, the Niners allowed 44 sacks in a year that saw more downs than ups. Most of it was due to poor performance, but some was due to injury and inexperience.
It's unknown who the quarterback will be for San Francisco in 2011 under new head coach Jim Harbaugh. Either way, the young o-line needs to have an improved year if they want effective quarterback play.
Cam Newton better wear extra padding. And it doesn't matter if he has the 1976 Oakland Raiders offensive line in front of him.
Newton, like all first-year quarterbacks, has to get used to timing with receivers, reading blitzes and knowing when to throw the football. When there are slip-ups in any of those areas, he'll likely face hits that he didn't face in the SEC.
Add in the fact that Carolina allowed 93 QB hits and 50 sacks last season, and you have the great potential for a black-and-blue rookie campaign.
It's uncertain if Robert Gallery will re-sign with the silver and black for this upcoming season. If he does bolt for another club, that could mean additional trouble for Oakland.
With Gallery in place last year at left guard, the Raiders finished second in the NFL in rushing yardage. Conversely, they gave up 44 sacks–the worst in the AFC.
Oakland has made several changes in its offensive line in preparation for the 2011 campaign–including the selection of Penn State guard Stefen Wisniewski as the 48th overall selection in April's NFL draft. And while these moves may pay off in the end, it may find some struggles early on.
The retirement of Alan Faneca increases the urgency for the Cardinals obtain offensive linemen in free agency.
That's because in 2010, Arizona allowed the second-most sacks in the league (50). It didn't help that the Cards had terrible quarterback play over the course of the year.
Unfortunately, this glaring issue wasn't dealt with during April's draft. So, if Arizona doesn't address this obvious weakness for the remainder of the off-season, don't expect much improvement from this bunch in the 2011 regular season.
The Seahawks had trouble moving the ball and putting up points in 2010, partly due to poor run blocking (31st in rushing yards) and so-so pass protection (19th in passing).
It's unlikely that 35-year-old Matt Hasselbeck comes back to quarterback the Seahawks for next year, but likely new starter Charlie Whitehurst probably saw that it was no picnic calling the shots.
Granted, Hasselbeck's age was the reason for his many bumps and bruises over the course of the past couple of years. Still, it's likely that Whitehurst will see his share of contact from opposing defenders.
In the music industry, a group or performer aims to have as many hits as possible. The same goes for any batter playing baseball.
But the Jacksonville Jaguars earned the dubious distinction of giving up the most hits to their quarterback over the course of the 2010 season (111).
David Garrard was the unfortunate recipient of most of those licks, but now it looks like Blaine Gabbert–the rookie out of Missouri–will be the one stepping into the fire.
The Jags are a solid run-blocking team, but must improve in pass protection if they want any shot at the postseason.
There is not much to this offensive line beyond left tackle Ryan Clady. Even though they had the seventh-best passing unit in the NFL in terms of yardage, the Broncos still allowed 40 QB sacks.
Kyle Orton will likely take the reigns at quarterback this season. But sooner or later, it's going to be the polarizing Tim Tebow that will get his shot.
It's then that this offensive line's woes may be most apparent, as Tebow's scrambling and struggles learning the offense will make him an easy target for defenders.
If not for standout left tackle Jake Long, the Dolphins would be more vulnerable.
As a unit, left guard Richie Incognito, center Joe Burger, right guard John Jerry and right tackle Lydon Murth can't measure up to Long's ability. That was quite apparent in 2010 when the Miami offensive line allowed 38 sacks and played a part in having two of their quarterbacks leave the field with injuries.
That occurred in November against the Tennessee Titans. The first to succumb was starter Chad Pennington, who suffered an injury to his right shoulder and eventually went into retirement. The other was back-up Chad Henne, who went to the locker room two quarters later with a bum left knee.
The 2009 Redskins offensive line didn't give Jason Campbell enough time to throw. And at the season's conclusion, Campbell's time was up in Washington.
Last year, Donovan McNabb felt the painful wrath of the Skins' porous o-line. With the third-worst rushing game in the NFL, Washington was forced to pass often. That gave the defenses opportunities to blitz more frequently and left McNabb with more than a few grass stains.
In the end, the Redskins had yielded 110 QB hits and 46 sacks.
For 2011, it could be John Beck or Rex Grossman or McNabb taking snaps. Whichever way the Redskins go, they need to hope for improvement in second-year tackle Trent Williams and a healthier Jammal Brown in order to have a more effective offense.
St. Louis Rams
Rams quarterback Sam Bradford is less than two years removed from injuries to his right shoulder. The top pick in the 2010 NFL Draft resulted in him being named the Offensive Rookie of the Year.
But in order for him to remain upright for the grueling years ahead, Bradford's protection must be strong. The 34 sacks that Bradford endured is in the middle of the pack as far as the league rankings are concerned. With several young players in St. Louis' offensive line, improvements are likely from them–as well as Bradford–next season.
That still doesn't mean the injuries that the former Oklahoma QB suffered in 2009 could resurface with any drop-off in the Rams' blocking.