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What the deuce happened?! 2006 Offensive Line Review

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I will be doing a position-by-position 2007 Season Review of the Washington Redskins in the coming days/weeks/whenever-I-damn-well-feel-like-it. We'll start with the offense and then move on to the (yikes) defense. Enjoy!

Quarterbacks Review
Running Backs Review
Receivers Review

Perhaps the best unit on a disappointing team, the 2006 Washington Redskins Offensive Line defied normality by remaining almost entirely uninjured throughout the season. Ever so briefly was backup Todd Wade asked to relieve an injured Jon Jansen at Right Tackle. Jansen and Center Casey Rabach both played injured during the year, a testament to their durability and toughness.

Offensive Linemen are usually unrewarded for excellent play because statistics do not lend themselves to recognition at this position. The few numbers frequently used cannot single out distinctive play and thus linemen are judged most often (by fans) on a gut reaction to their overall play. Penalties, or lack thereof, go a long way towards defining O-Linemen.

The Basic Statistics -- The Washington Redskins allowed the 3rd fewest sacks in the NFL. Offensively the Redskins were best on the run, finishing the season 4th in total rushing yards. With 4.5 yards per rush the Redskins were 8th in the league per carry.

Nuanced (better) Statistics -- I rely on the stats gurus at Football Outsiders for in depth statistical analyses. And according to them this O-Line excelled against the pass though was mediocre against the run.

  1. Though we allowed the 3rd fewest sacks, that number does not correct for passing attempts. Do not fret though because even when corrected for it, the Redskins ranked 6th in Adjusted Sack Rate; giving up a sack on just 4.1% of all passing plays. Perspective: The league average was 6.2% and Oakland took the honors for the worst protection in the league, giving up sacks on an incredible 11.6% of plays.
  2. You can find an explanation for their "Adjusted Line Yards" here (top of page). It gives the line a value based off the length of a run ranging from loss of yards to 11+ (after 11 yards it is unlikely that the O-Line is having much impact on a run's success). Per this measure, the Redskins finished an unspectacular though acceptable 15th, with 4.28 -- above the 4.19 league average.
  3. Where we struggled most, as many fans remember, was our inability to get those crucial short yardage gains. We ranked 29th in the league in "Power Success" which was a measure of how successful we were on 3rd and 4th down with 2 yards to go. 55% of the time we succeeded; with just 2 yards to go, however, you have to do better than that. How much of that blame is on the line or the RBs I leave to the readers, but at least some of it should be attributed to our front 5.
  4. "Stuffed Rank" basically measures how often the line breaks down and we did average. 24% of runs were "stuffed" putting us at 13th in the league though 24% was also the league average.
What does it all means? Our pass protection was excellent, close to tops in the league. Repeating that is priority made easier by the fact that Jason Campbell is our starting QB. Where we struggled the most was in short yardage situations which are typically defining moments for a football team. If you can't pick up 1 yard, as it is often said, you don't deserve to win.

I will say that our line improved over the course of the year and that our zone blocking scheme was extremely effective down the stretch. If we commit to the run early in the season (we waited far too long this year) then all these numbers should improve. We simply weren't in a position to truly ruin opposing defensive lines as we hadn't spent all game punishing them with repeated runs.

Where this line is most criticized is depth and age. Jon Jansen and Randy Thomas are both over the 30 year mark and by the end of this year they will be joined by Chris Samuels and Casey Rabach. Only Derrick Dockery is younger, and he hasn't been signed to a new contract yet.

Speaking of Dockery:

[S]tarting guard Derrick Dockery and the Redskins are not close on a new deal at this point, according to sources with knowledge of the situation...
I know we are in money trouble and I know that this team has glaring defensive needs. But this feels so much like a repeat of our prior refusal to let "core Redskins" walk that ends up biting us in the ass.

Continuity on the line is important, and the Redskins have enjoyed a very high amount of that. Dockery's absence wouldn't merely be the loss of a great lineman who has come a long way in the past 3 years, but a huge morale hit to his teammates and friends along that same line. Samuels especially seems genuinely concerned about losing the continuity of this line.

Regarding depth, we don't have any known studs rising through the ranks. 2nd day draft pick Kili Lefotu was only recently resigned which means he showed just enough promise for us to cut him earlier. We've brought in a bunch of veterans who are utility players but excel nowhere. Guys like Mike Pucillo, Jim Molinaro, and formerly Todd Wade are all Jack-Of-All-Trades kind of guys who are great backups but by no means reliable starters. And while there are more pressing draft needs than O-Line depth, this team will have to face the reality that players age eventually.

So what you're saying is... This is a good unit that shouldn't decline immediately just because everyone is one year older. We've still got enough juice in the tank to continue with this solid line for some years. Derrick Dockery needs to be signed ASAP unless he is asking for ludicrous moneys. He is, however, one player I would support ever so slightly overpaying. 2007 has too many needs for us to devote high priority draft picks on O-linemen, but the time is quickly approaching when we'll have to do precisely that. Hopefully some of the younger backups, looking at Kili Lefotu and Calvin Armstrong, can emerge as reliable backups -- perhaps one day starters. An additional offseason focused on zone blocking will improve an already impressive scheme. Let this team be defined in 2007 by winning the battle in the trenches, much as we did in years past with The Hogs.

2006 Position Grade -- B+

2007 Position Prediction -- A to A+