The 5 o’clock club is published from time to time during the season, and aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.
I read a fascinating article on Riggo’s Rag this week. I’d like to summarize the key point I want to talk about, but I’m not sure how to do that. Instead, I’ll just paste it here and let you read it in full. Effectively, the author counts how many starting offensive linemen (out of 5) played at least 75% of the team’s offensive snaps in the season.
Last year, all five Philadelphia Eagles starting offensive linemen were in on more than 75 percent of the team’s offensive snaps. Actually, the number is far more impressive – they all played at least 82% of the snaps, but I am using 75% as my benchmark for this particular analysis.
The Dallas Cowboys, despite losing left tackle Tyron Smith in the pre-season, still had four such players. The New York Giants, who have been in the multi-year process of rebuilding a very weak line, had three. And the Commanders had two – left tackle Charles Leno, Jr (who played every single offensive snap) and left guard Andrew Norwell.
That tracks exactly with the order of finish in the division, with the Eagles coming in first, the Cowboys second, the Giants third, and the Commanders fourth.
Now consider 2020 – the last time Washington won the division. The order of the finish was precisely inverted. And it also tracked 100% with the number of offensive linemen who played 75% of their team’s snaps.
The Eagles, who lost their prospective starter at left tackle, Andre Dillard, before the season even began, had just one lineman hit that benchmark – center Jason Kelce. The Cowboys, who were without both starting tackles for much of the season and who saw all-world guard Zach Martin come and go, had just two players make it to 75%. The Giants had four. And so did Washington.
Washington may well have had five if they hadn’t made the mistake of beginning the season with Geron Christian Jr. at left tackle. Once they realized he was not up to the task and subbed in for Cornelius Lucas, the line really came together. Over the second half of the season, all five linemen were reliably on the field.
Washington finished first. The Giants were second. Dallas was third. And the Eagles – who just two years later looked like the best team in all of football – were in last place with a 4-11-1 record.
This lengthy quote is suggesting a significant link (causation) between the overall health of a team’s starting offensive linemen and success in the NFC East. Basically, it says that the team with the healthiest OL wins the division, while the team with the most injured OL gets the wooden spoon.
The article that I copied this from was about Chase Roullier, and the point of this analysis was (I think) to suggest that Chase Roullier’s injuries in 2021 and 2022 were critical factors in the relative lack of success that the Commanders enjoyed in those two years, and to discuss how those injuries impact his legacy.
In the upcoming 2023 season, the team could be looking at a much younger and durable offensive line than they’ve fielded for a number of years. If so, that may bode well for the team’s outlook in the NFC East. Of course, you can’t guard completely against the kind of fluke accidents that cost Roullier most of 2 seasons, but starting with young, healthy linemen (or those with a history of durability) seems like a good place to start.
So, let’s take a look at the 5 offensive line positions:
LT - The oldest player likely to be a Week 1 starter on the Commanders’ O-line is Charles Leno, who is currently 31 years old, but Leno hasn’t missed a game since his rookie season (2014) and played every single offensive snap for the Commanders in 2022.
LG - Ron Rivera has talked about a competition between 23-yr-old, 4th-year player Saahdiq Charles, and 24-yr-old 2nd-year guard Chris Paul. Though the younger of the two players, Charles is the more veteran, and has been ruled out of at least 9 games in three seasons for a variety of reasons (concussion, knee, thigh, calf, and illness). Charles was injured, in fact, in his first-ever start as a rookie. On this basis, I’m going to identify Chris Paul as the ‘winner’ of this competition for the purposes of today’s exercise.
C - When Nick Gates was signed in March, I described him as “the new Wes Schweitzer”; in other words, an experienced veteran player who could play center or guard, and was most likely to start Week 1 on the bench, but slot in as the backup to all three interior offensive line positions. The Commanders spent a 3rd round draft pick on the best blocker in the SEC. I’m going to say — again, for the purposes of this exercise — that 22-year-old rookie Ricky Stromberg gets the nod as the Week 1 starter.
RG - I think RG is Sam Cosmi’s roster spot to lose. The 24-yr-old 3rd-year player started out at right tackle, but appears to be the presumed starter at guard after getting snaps at both positions in 2022.
RT - New offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy brought the right tackle with him that helped the Chiefs win a super bowl a few months ago. The 28-yr-old Andrew Wylie started all 17 regular season games and 3 playoff games for the Chiefs in 2022, logging 1,276 snaps as the right tackle for the world champions.
The Week 1 starting offensive line
This is not a prediction, but for the purposes of today’s discussion, let’s assume that the opening day offensive line for the 2023 Commanders is:
- LT - Charles Leno (31)
- LG - Chris Paul (24)
- C - Ricky Stromberg (22)
- RG - Sam Cosmi (24)
- RT - Andrew Wylie (28)
I feel like this sort of relatively youthful lineup, where the oldest player has a history as something of an ‘iron man’, gives the team an advantage with respect to the chances that the OL stays healthy all year — and we saw from the Riggo’s Rag article quoted above how significant that can be.
The interior would be inexperienced, starting a rookie center and left & right guards in their 2nd & 3rd seasons, respectively, but the line would be anchored by veteran tackles, and would provide a strong foundation for the seasons beyond 2023.
On a scale from 1 to 5, how good would you feel about an opening day starting OL comprising Leno, Paul, Stromberg, Cosmi, Wylie?
This poll is closed
5 - That would be outstanding
4 - That sounds pretty good
3 - Yeah, that’d be okay
2 - I don’t really like the sound of that
1 - Disaster
Which of these 5 guys would you prefer to see as a backup (or off the roster) in Week 1?
This poll is closed