April 8, 2009

Redskins OL: Tale of the Tape

Continuing the offseason look into the current state of the Redskins lines of scrimmage and how they arrived there ...

During the Pittsburgh and Baltimore games in weeks nine and ten last year, it became crystal clear to me that the Redskins were simply overmatched on the offensive line of scrimmage. As a result, I have been thinking (okay borderline obsessing) about how the Redskins stack up against the NFL in those areas ever since, and the notion I’ve had in my head is that the Redskins were not only older than most teams on the line, but smaller as well.

Taking a quick break, therefore, from pondering the combination of offensive tackles, defensive ends and linebackers the Redskins will surely draft later this month, I thought I would put that unsubstantiated impression to the test.

Setting aside for today the comparative skill levels of the players involved, as well as how their skill sets might fit the schemes they are being asked to run (a factor in the transition from a Gibbs/Saunders offense to Jim Zorn's that cannot be overlooked), I started by looking at the three other NFC East teams.

It is inescapable—those games are generally the barometer for success in any given season. The Redskins play six combined games a year against the Dallas Cowboys, NY Giants and Philadelphia Eagles, comprising 37.5% of their regular season schedule. Fare well in those six games, 4-2 or better, and we are probably looking at a burgundy and gold playoff season. Fare poorly and we are almost definitely looking at January basketball. Shudder.

Hypothesis: compared to rest of the NFC East, the Redskins are old and undersized on the offensive line.

Data source: NFL.com team depth charts, 4/7/09.

Note: I acknowledge the depth charts are not up-to-date; some players listed are no longer on their respective rosters, others have been added. Given the fluid nature of team rosters at the moment, it was practical to look at the depth charts as they were at the end of the 2008 season. In addition, this exercise is less about predicting what will happen in 2009 than assessing where each team was the last time it took the field of play in anger. If nothing else, it should give us some idea of how the teams in question were constructed.

The Redskins starting OL, as of the end of 2008, by name, age, height and weight:

And for those already saying, "Yeah, but Derrick Dockery (28, 6-6, 330) for Pete Kendall changes everything ..."

WAS - 33, 6-5, 300 (w/ Kendall)

WAS - 31, 6-5, 309 (w/ Dockery)

The rest of the NFC East:

How the Redskins stack up:

[It must be noted that other teams have made changes that impact the numbers as well; good example being Philadelphia, with free agent OT Stacy Andrews (27, 6-7, 342) replacing departing veteran Jon Runyan (35, 6-7, 330), the result of which makes them both younger and bigger as well.]

The results will come as no surprise to those who follow the team—particularly not the age (oldest by 2 years). They may or may not be surprised to learn that of the four NFC East teams, the Redskins were also on average the lightest (by avg. of 24 lbs.), though they are even with Dallas and Philadelphia in average height (6-5 to NYG @ 6-3) among the starting offensive lines.

And since we already invoked the Dockery factor ... plugging his numbers in place of Kendall's, the Redskins are tied for oldest (w/ DAL @ 31), tied for tallest (6-5 to NYG @ 6-3), but still by far the lightest (by avg. of 15 lbs.).

Interestingly, the second-string shows Washington just about even. At an average of 27 years old, age-wise they are tied with the NY Giants (although Fabini, at 71, pretty much blows out the average). Height and weight-wise, however, at 6-4, 312 lbs., they are right in the mix. Which reminds us again that this specific exercise calls for setting aside the players’ relative skill levels and experience—the latter being particularly true in the case of “depth”players.

All that said, bottom line I don't think it is any coincidence that late in games, late in the season and just when matched up against the NFL’s elite defenses, the Redskins offensive line plain and simply looked overmatched.

Add to that the fact that not one of the Redskins starting five in 2008 (or currently projected to start in 2009) were initially brought in with skill sets targeted to running the West Coast Offense, and the only real surprise in 2008 might have been that the OL helped the team get off to the 6-2 start to begin with.

By midseason, as defenses studied enough film to cover any confusion over Zorn's new schemes and were able to start defending the Redskins aggressively, as the element of surprise was lost so was the line of scrimmage. What was also appeared clear down the stretch was that the Redskins were fielding an offensive line that was at best average, and at worst, slow, worn out and ineffective.

We all know age and size are only part of the equation. If the Redskins OL was older and smaller than the opposition but as individuals all playing at Pro Bowl level, we wouldn't be having this conversation. Sadly, they were not, and so we are.

The data confirmed my impression that the Redskins OL was, and as of today still is, not just arguably too old to be effective over the course of a long season, but also, by a noticeable margin, the smallest in an historically smashmouth division. Hate to say, it but ... size matters.

To explore the idea further I plan to get into the skill-level question in a subsequent piece, but first will be comparing the 2008 Redskins OL by age and size to a broader NFL cross-section—the teams that qualified for the playoffs. I hope to find otherwise, but my instinct is that we will find the Redskins firmly planted in the older, smaller end of the spectrum in that company as well.

And in case anyone is wondering, yes, I also plan to also conduct a similar exercise with the other side of the line of scrimmage.

Until then, though, if you happen to be partial to the burgundy and gold, please consider deploying any karmic ammunition you might have at your disposal and join me in beaming it directly toward the quiet D.C. suburb of Ashburn, VA.

"Draft big ... draft big ... draft big ..."


je suis un pizza said...

This is a good point, often overlooked.

Watching back through last year's games, I still believe Samuels is the team's best run blocker, Kendall was solid, but not able to generate a lot of movement, Rabach was a liability with a hard-charging DT over the top of him, Thomas looked to have slowed, and Jansen was not at this best.

I hope Dockery's tradeoff in size over Kendall will overcome Kendall's consistency. Kendall didn't create huge holes, but he always seemed to get his block.

I'm also concerned that Randy Thomas is rolling downhill very quickly what with his declining play last year and offseason neck surgery.

I would be happy if the first two picks were OT and G/C.

Anonymous said...

good thoughts, we definitely need more youth, size and together combining athleticism on the O-Line. That would allow this offense to move forward in they're progression to do some big things...but until then, we will simply be an average, inconsistent offense... DRAFT OT in 1st or 3rd!

Mark "Om" Steven said...

I Am Pizza,

You raise an issue that's been percolating just under the surface. When players get older, particularly big men, the dropoff in performance is quite often sudden, not gradual. I think we've seen that already with Jansen (injuries notwithstanding), and I'm holding my breath we don't see it with Samuels, Thomas or Rabach in 2009.

They all looked worn down by the end of last year is it was; seriously hate the idea of seeing them look like that right from jump this year. Not likely to happen, at least not to all of them, but it's certainly a possibility.

The team can't restock the shelves in one year, so we need those guys to hang in there for at least one more. Geritol is your friend, gentlemen.

Anonymous said...

how do we get shorter on average by swapping Kendall out for Dock?

Mark "Om" Steven said...

"how do we get shorter on average by swapping Kendall out for Dock?"

Because apparently Dock grew an inch or two since I recorded his height on 4/7/09. Thanks for pointing it out---I'll have my NEW fact-checker make the correction to the chart later this afternoon.

Anonymous said...

I'd rather they drafted well than big. I don't think we need to draft any Herman Johnson's. A 400 lb. man is just not going to be very effective in the NFL.

You are on to something when you mentioned the scheme change though. I remember reading somewhere that we made a transition to a zone blocking scheme in the passing game but I think we left the power running scheme alone.

That kind of fence-sitting approach should only be used during a personnel transition to the West Coast offense. After all, zone blocking requires a very different skill-set, i.e. smaller faster lineman.

The issue is, we don't seem to be making the personnel moves necessary to run a complete zone blocking scheme. I'll be very interested to see how Dockery fares next year; depending on what they ask him to do, he could pick up where he left off, or we could be looking for another guard next offseason.

Mark "Om" Steven said...

What concerns me about this particular issue (as if I needed more to worry about) is what happens if, for whatever reason, the Zorn Experiment were to end in a year or two, and we're installing yet another regime. Just about the time they're putting together personnel to fit the modified WCO, maybe Snyder remembers this is still the NFCE, and decides to go shopping for smashmouth ...

Guess this is why we talk about "continuity."

Anonymous said...

Always love your articles. I enjoy reading a fellow fan's perspective,Also, I don't see u as a complete homer and it seems that you'd be willing to constructively critique the guys.comments about o-line are so true. this group is old and our draft picks should be used there. smith, britton, or michael oher are the only players that can make us better than 8-8. Osi is back, Ware never left and Phil. still use blitzes on 1st down. think about it. as always. I enjoy your post being a fan in mississippi.

Yusuf06 said...

Great post Mark. I hadn't given the size of our OL a lot of thought as I was focused primarily on the age issue. However it's certainly plausible as at least a partial reason for the collapse we saw in the second half of last season. OTOH Alex Gibbs got great production out of small, athletic lines in Denver and Atlanta. In fact, Gibbs actually had weight limits for his guys. Of course he was relying on chop blocks for a lot of that. :)

I still tend to think it has more to do with age and conditioning, but you do make a compelling case.

Mark "Om" Steven said...

Just to reiterate, my point was simply to do the research and see where it lead. I'm not trying to make the case that the Redskins necessarily need to get bigger on the OL (the "draft big" comment refers simply to drafting linemen). One could make a case, in fact, that in a WCO-style offense bigger might actually NOT be better.

What I do think will be interesting is to see where the Redskins stack-up size-wise on a broader cross-section; which is why I'm looking at the numbers of all the teams that made the playoffs last year. If the Redskins turn out to be the smallest in that group as well, though, the size thing might carry a bit more, um ... weight. Might even look at how they stack up against other teams that run WCO's in order to compare apples to apples.

Whether we do or not, however, the bottom line remains this was presented as just one part of a much larger equation. That's what the offseason is for. :)

AstonJay32 said...

"One could make a case, in fact, that in a WCO-style offense bigger might actually NOT be better."

And One's case probably wouldn't need any other evidence beyond the offensive line of the greatest WCO (ok, a somewhat modified version of the WCO) in the history of the NFL - the 2007 New England Patriots.

(Age shown is their age on April 11th, 2007. Weight shown is their weight today, which I assume is equivalent.)

LT, Matt Light, Age 28, 6'4", 305 lbs.
LG, Logan Mankins, Age 25, 6'4", 310 lbs.
C, Dan Koppen, Age Age 27, 6'2", 296 lbs.
RG, Stephen Neal, Age 30, 6'4", 305 lbs.
RT, Nick Kaczur, Age 29, 6'4", 315 lbs.

Ave >>> Age 27.4, 6'3.5", 306.2 lbs.

Granted, all they did was pass, something I don't think we're prepared nor inclined to do, but in terms of pass protection, this group was the most outstanding I've ever seen in my life. Brady consistently had all day to throw, and with the exception of the Super Bowl, this group had no issues dominating opposing defenses, despite only averaging a biscuit over 300 from end to end.

So the age argument would definitely apply, as would the skill argument, but size clearly isn't needed in this offense.

And for those interested how these 'Metaphors' ended up in New England:

LT, Matt Light, 2nd round, 2001 draft
LG, Logan Mankins, 1st round, 2005 draft
C, Dan Koppen, 5th round, 2005 draft
RG, Stephen Neal, FA, 2001
RT, Nick Kaczur, 3rd round, 2005 draft

Mark "Om" Steven said...

Nice work, Aston.

I think where this is clearly heading is further evidence that not only are the Redskins OL seriously pushing the age envelope, but confirming the concern many have had since Zorn's hiring that it isn't just his QB who is ill-suited to the modified WCO.

Of course, any comparisons involving the NE Patriots offense need one strong qualification: it is triggered by one of the best QB's ever to play the game. Analysis of any other part of that offensive unit has to be viewed in that context.