Some of­fen­sive lines are just plain of­fen­sive

Tex­ans gave up 10 sacks in opener

The Arizona Republic - - SPORTS - BARRY WILNER

Rarely do NFL fans fo­cus on the of­fen­sive line, ex­cept per­haps when they see their quar­ter­back flat on his back. By the looks of how things went for the Ben­gals, Tex­ans, Giants and 49ers in par­tic­u­lar, one must won­der if the coach­ing staffs were ig­nor­ing their block­ers this sum­mer, too.

It was ugly to watch in Week 1, and painful for the likes of Tom Sav­age and De­shaun Wat­son, who shared 10 sacks as the Tex­ans flopped against Jack­sonville. It had to hurt Andy Dal­ton as he went down five times when Baltimore blanked Cincin­nati.

It was a bit bet­ter for the Tex­ans and Ben­gals when they faced off on Thurs­day night, but not much. Each team al­lowed three sacks and the of­fenses were medi­ocre or worse in a 13-9 Hous­ton win.

Eli Man­ning felt the Cow­boys’ pass­rush wrath three times, but the is­sue for the Giants was that its O-line was more of a 0-line, as in zero pro­duc­tion.

Brian Hoyer could get vir­tu­ally noth­ing go­ing for San Fran­cisco against Carolina, and the run game truly failed with 51 yards.

“I knew that game was go­ing to be rough,” first-year 49ers coach Kyle Shana­han said. “I’ve played against Carolina a lot, so you go in ex­pect­ing that. You know it’s not all go­ing to be pretty. It’s go­ing to be ugly. I’ve never played Carolina when it hasn’t been that way. But, you’ve got to come up with those plays and that’s what gives you a chance to win and if you don’t it’s real tough to.”

It was far worse in Hous­ton. At least New York, Cincin­nati and, to a lesser ex­tent, San Fran­cisco have proven quar­ter­backs who can re­duce the dam­age of a leaky of­fen­sive line by mak­ing some ad­just­ments.

Sav­age and Wat­son? Ba­si­cally they are both rook­ies.

“What we talk to quar­ter­backs about all the time is put us in the play that you can,” Tex­ans QBs coach Sean Ryan said be­fore Hous­ton’s win Thurs­day night, when Wat­son’s bril­liant weav­ing 49-yard run pro­vided the only touch­down.

“We preach that all the time to those guys,” Ryan added. “They al­ways do their best to see what’s go­ing on de­fen­sively and get that done for us. And then the next thing for the quar­ter­backs is let’s have that clock in your head. Know when it’s time to get the ball out of your hands or know when it’s time to tuck and go. It’s some­thing that you’re con­stantly work­ing with the quar­ter­backs on and we still work on it and al­ways will.”

Oddly, the Giants and Ben­gals didn’t do much work to im­prove their block­ing units in the off­sea­son.

New York’s main weak­ness on of­fense in 2016, when the de­fense car­ried it into the play­offs, was the pro­duc­tion up front. The run­ning game stag­nated be­cause there were few, if any, lanes to run through. True, the Giants didn’t and still don’t have a stud run­ning back. But a run­ning game by com­mit­tee can work, es­pe­cially with an Odell Beck­ham Jr. on the out­side as the main threat who de­mands dou­ble-teams on vir­tu­ally ev­ery snap.

Yet the Giants barely ad­dressed the O-line, and they sure paid for it in the opener.

The Ben­gals were even more care­less in the trenches. They let not just their best blocker, Kevin Zeitler, but their sec­ond best — the ac­com­plished vet­eran An­drew Whit­worth — leave in free agency. While the Browns are smil­ing about hav­ing Zeitler at guard and the Rams are grin­ning with Whit­worth at tackle, Dal­ton is get­ting pun­ished. And the rush­ing at­tack gained 77 yards in the opener be­fore manag­ing 82 Thurs­day night.

Line play was a no­tice­able prob­lem in many sta­di­ums in Week1. Here are a few rea­sons why this could be an early-sea­son trend be­yond 2017:

TRAIN­ING CAMP: There is such a paucity of hit­ting in the sum­mer thanks to the cur­rent la­bor agree­ment that O-line­men don’t get a feel for the phys­i­cal­ity they will need for the real stuff. We hear com­plaints about the lack of syn­chronic­ity be­tween quar­ter­backs and their re­ceivers, and how solid tack­ling is dis­ap­pear­ing from the game. Add in the bane of block­ers: not enough con­tact work on the field.

THE COL­LEGE GAME: Put sim­ply, the col­leges don’t turn out of­fen­sive line­men who are ready for NFL chores. The spread of­fense, which is only mod­er­ately used in the pros, is the sta­ple of col­lege ball nearly ev­ery­where. The block­ers don’t learn the tech­niques or fun­da­men­tals they need for the NFL. They also don’t get enough bang­ing of bod­ies.

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE BALL: Let’s face it, de­fenses are get­ting the bet­ter ath­letes up front than are of­fenses. As coaches have be­come en­am­ored of size and brute strength in their block­ers, they’ve lost sight of the fact that fast, agile and also strong de­fend­ers are the bet­ter play­ers.

Fans through­out Amer­ica might need to keep this word handy as they watch their QBs drop back to throw: DUCK!


Cow­boys de­fen­sive end DeMar­cus Lawrence sacks Giants quar­ter­back Eli Man­ning last Sun­day. Man­ning felt the Cow­boys’ pass-rush wrath three times.


Ben­gals quar­ter­back Andy Dal­ton is sacked by Ravens line­backer Za’Dar­ius Smith. Dal­ton went down five times when Baltimore blanked Cincin­nati.

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