The O-Line’s Blocking in First Half of Week 1

This week, a lot of folks seem to be making a point of having Grave Concerns about the performance of the offensive line.  More specifically, they want to know why the o-line failed so very hard and broke our hearts and ruined our season and we should just toss the entire line in the trash and buy some better players from that nice offensive lineman store down the block (‘cause it’s just that easy), woe is us, etc.

My maudlin exaggeration aside, I think there’s something very important getting lost in all this: the Cardinals were playing in that game, too.  Really, I’m reminded here of something Jon Madden used to do as an announcer.  With him, it was never “the Seahawks won that game,” it was always “the Raiders/Chargers/etc. lost that game,” as though the other team went out there unopposed and somehow managed to lose to the goalposts or the refs or something. 

Listening to Madden do that to the Seahawks never failed to drive me up a wall, and I’m not about to turn around and do the exact same thing to the Cardinals.  Yes, our offensive line wasn’t spectacular, but they weren’t bad, either.  Like it or not, Arizona’s defense may just be that good.  In particular, they have a hell of a defensive line, their linebackers played disciplined and assignment-correct all game long, and they dialed up some great blitz packages.  Credit where credit’s due, you know?

Anyway, after finally being able to fully review the coaches’ film from the game, here’s how the offensive line fared in the first half, along with the tight ends and fullback.  Again, I apologize for how late this analysis ended up being, but now that I’ve got the technical bugs worked out I should be able to actually get film analysis articles to you earlier than, say, the morning of the following week’s game.

Name Position Positive
Russell Okung LT 25 7 0
Paul McQuistan LG 23 5 4
Max Unger C 27 5 0
J.R. Sweezy RG 19 12 1
Breno Giacomini RT 20 10 2
Zach Miller TE 8 4 0
Anthony McCoy TE 3 4 3
Michael Robinson FB 7 0 0
Total 132 47 10

First off, I should point out that I have no training of any sort in grading offensive linemen.  In general, I looked at whether or not a blocker had an overall positive impact on a play.  For example, if a blocker whiffed on a cut block but still delayed the defender enough to keep him out of the play I marked it positive; if a blocker walled a guy off for most of the play but then let his guy shed the block & tackle the ballcarrier, I marked it negative.  And if the blocker was never in position to affect the play in any way (or if I just wasn’t sure) I gave them a neutral grade.

I know this isn’t as dire a gradeout as some of you were probably expecting, but it’s important to keep in mind here that on any given play it only takes one guy failing to do his job to derail the whole thing.  Individually, most of these guys did reasonably well, but as a group they tended to take turns screwing up.  If Okung let some blitzers through on one play, then on the next one Giacomini would get manhandled by Dockett, or Sweezy would opt to help double team a DT instead of blocking the LB blitzing through his now-vacant spot on the line, etc.

One thing that really surprised me was how well McQuistan came out in the final tally.  Looking over the tape, he reminded me a lot of Chris Gray: he’s not the fastest, biggest, or strongest guy on the line, and as such he is eminently replaceable, but more often than not he managed to do just enough right to get the job done.

Sweezy was rarely beaten outright, but he made a lot of mental errors and needs some serious work on his cut blocks.  Unger spent most of the half rocking so hard it hurts.  Okung was up-and-down; he’d play flawlessly for a few plays, then freeze up and let guys blow right past him.  Giacomini got away with a few penalties the refs failed to notice — he really needs to reign in his temper and play a much smarter game than he did versus the Cardinals.

Robinson did his usual excellent job, but for whatever reason Miller saw a lot of snaps lined up in the fullback position instead of Robinson.  Several of Miller’s screwups were on plays where he was attempting to lead block for Lynch.  McCoy had a couple of absolutely dominating blocks, but he had some trouble blocking defenders in space.

If you’d like to look at the notes I took on the blocking for each play, you can see them here.  Among other things, they include observations on the blocking done by running backs and wide receivers during the first half.