We are now over two full weeks into free agency, and the Redskins have barely made any efforts to address their offensive line. While there are a few players still available on the open market, options are starting to get limited (Here is a breakdown of some of the top choices), especially those that would be major upgrades. The lack of urgency has led to schools of thought, that perhaps the offensive line isn't as bad as people think, and/or that Robert Griffin's athletic ability and talent will make up for the deficiencies along the line.
For the first point about the line not being as bad, I don't see much evidence to back up that claim. While this is primarily about pass protection, it is worth noting that the Redskins finished in the 20's in most major rushing categories. While some of that can be attributed to the lack of talent carrying the ball, in watching the games you routinely saw one or more defenders in the backfield forcing the ball carrier to face them alone. While the rushing got better as the year went on, you still didn't see great run blocking.
In terms of pass blocking it's even uglier. The Redskins finished tied for 7th in the league, with the most sacks allowed at 41. Also, the Redskins quarterbacks got hit 108 times last year, which was the third highest in the league. Now some will point to Football Outsiders Adjusted Sack Rate, which has the Redskins at 16th in the league. The problem with this is two-folded. One the stat does delve deeper by looking at sacks vs attempts (note: they only have the Skins at 40 sacks so Washington is probably naturally lower), but it also looks at down and distance, plus opponents. While that is important, the fact that the Redskins had so many sacks on 3rd and long, doesn't get the offensive line off the hook, since they obviously weren't too successful on first and second down. And while adjusting for opponents is a good thing, and you can say that the Skins line might have been better than the Colts line, given the pass rushers (Trent Cole, D. Ware, JPP, Babin, etc.) they had to face vs the Colts having 4 games against the anemic Titans and Jags pass rush units. The problem is that issue isn't going away, the Redskins will continue to face elite rushers during the 6 games in their division, plus anyone else on our schedule (This year the Redskins have a number of tough pass rushers that they will face out of the division as well). So the Redskins line has to be that much better to match-up with them. The other major issue with that line rating, that F.O. acknowledges is that it doesn't take into account things like hits, pressures and batted passes, that severely disrupt a passing game.
The advanced stat site that I like to use is Pro Football Focus. I prefer their offensive line metrics because they have someone watching and grading every snap, and they attempt on some level to assign blame or recognition for a plays success or failure. This is good because for instance on a play where John Beck scrambles around causes his own fumble, and the defense picks up a sack, no offensive lineman should have a sack counted against them. I also like them, because they look at things like hits and pressures, which are highly important to a line's success. An analogy that I've used before is that, if you are only looking at sacks, it would be like grading a pitcher based only on the home runs he gave up, and not all the singles and doubles. The Redskins were bad across the board in pass blocking, and this led them to having the 7th worst line in pass protection.
The other thing that PFF shows (highly recommend reading this) is how much better the offensive line looked due to Rex Grossman. Now I realize a lot of Skins fans will have issue with that, but the numbers show that when faced with pressure, Grossman was among the best QB's in the league in not getting sacked. Now that is the only point that is trying to be made here. It's not to say that Grossman was some great decision maker, or can still put up big numbers in the face of pressure. It is simply saying that the raw sack numbers are as good as they are (which they really aren't) because Grossman saved the line numerous sacks. In fact if Grossman took every offensive snap last year, and maintained that same sack % while under pressure, the total sacks allowed would have been just 32. If you had Tom Brady behind the Redskins line for every snap, you could have expected 43 sacks. Now you might ask why did the Patriots only give up 32 sacks, if Brady was just in the middle of the pack, and it boils down to opportunities. Tom Brady was only under pressure for 172 of his 656 drop backs, by comparison Redskins QB's were under pressure 231 of their 644 drop backs. Now the difference between Brady and Grossman might not fully sink in, but if you look at the bottom of the list, you will see it filled with many young QB's (most very highly drafted). If the Redskins were to go with a rookie QB next year, it is very plausible that their sack % will be in this neighborhood, which based on the 2011 numbers would put Washington in the 50+ sacks allowed category.
Now two quick points I want to make about the idea of Robert Griffin's speed negating the need for offensive linemen. If you look around the league guys who are the worst at taking hits and sacks are the young QB's. A great example of this is looking at the difference between Jake Locker and Matt Hasselbeck.
Now the Titans have one of the leagues best offensive lines and Matt Hasselbeck was only sacked 19 times, or 3.5% of drop backs. Jake Locker who is far more mobile, was sacked 5 times or 7%. The problem is Locker only dropped back to pass 71 times, while Hasselbeck dropped back 537. If you applied Locker's 7% sack rate over the full season you'd have 43.5 sacks compared to the 24 sacks the Titans line gave up. Now if you used the sack % based on pressure numbers, Locker's sack number would drop to about 34, but there is evidence that he caused more pressures than Hasselbeck so it doesn't tell the whole story (note: if you applied Locker's pressure rate for the whole year, then his sack rate, it would be over 40 sacks allowed.. Still going by the PFF numbers, if Hasselbeck took every snap the Titans team sacks would only be 21. Any way you cut it, it was quite evident that Locker's vastly superior athletic ability, could not make up for Hasselbeck's quick release.
The other thing I want to point out is that many fleet-footed QB's are near the bottom of that sack % list. Guys like Tarvaris Jackson, Tim Tebow, Aaron Rodgers and Christian Ponder might not have RGIII speed, but they aren't any where close to being considered lead-footed. Now people will point to both Cam Newton and Michael Vick being higher on this list, but they need to realize that doesn't necessarily mean they are 'saving' sacks, as their speed can contribute to sacks as well. As I mentioned earlier PFF gives blame for sacks, and that blame can fall on the quarterback's shoulders as well. Both Newton and Vick were considered responsible for a high number of sacks. Newton was given 8 of his team's 35 sacks, while Vick was responsible for 7 of 32 (Note: Vince Young was credited with 3 also). By comparison Redskins QB's were credited with just 6 (Grossman 2, Beck 4). Now I know some people will cry afoul with assigning blame to those quarterbacks, so I found video of two examples of sacks accredited to Vick, both from our first meeting this year:
In both cases you can see that Vick avoids an initial unblocked rusher, but in trying to extend the play he gets sacked for a loss, at no real fault to the offensive line. This just looks to be part of the territory with a mobile QB, and something that both the Redskins and their fans need to take into account. The Redskins can't rely on their line 'developing' or Griffin's speed to improve line play. Hopefully they will look at some Free Agents and find some other options in the draft.
Steve Shoup will be covering Free Agency and the NFL Draft for his own site Fanspeak.com, but will provide write-ups on players for the Redskins here on Hogs Haven as well. Check out his NFL Draft Page for more details and updates throughout the draft season! HTTR!