Published On: Wed, Sep 13th, 2017

Sage Rosenfels column: 3 teams with serious offensive line issues

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Sage Rosenfels is a former 12-year NFL quarterback who writes, does radio, and podcasts about the NFL and college football. Find him on Twitter @SageRosenfels18.

Everyone loves talking about quarterbacks. Since they touch the ball on nearly every offensive play, they have the most influence on an offense’s success. Though football is the ultimate team sport, the quarterback gets the majority of credit and blame when a team wins or loses.

Although the premier quarterbacks in the NFL make over $20 million a year, they are helpless without a legitimate offensive line. If a team can’t run the ball, it’s forced into second- or third-and-long situations that make the quarterback’s job extremely difficult.

Offensive lines are the foundation of a football team. Having one of the best in the league, such as the Cowboys or the Oakland Raiders, can neutralize the team’s weaknesses. If an offensive line controls the line of scrimmage in the running game, it makes things much easier for the quarterback and play caller. It also keeps a defense on the bench, giving them extra rest, while keeping the other team’s offense off the field.

When the unit is weak, every other aspect of the team gets pushed to its limit. A 16-game regular season will expose a weak offensive line, and teams that have one won’t get very far in their quest for a Super Bowl.

Here are three teams that made the playoffs last year but should be very concerned about their offensive lines based on Week 1.

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks have one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, yet Russell Wilson was helpless against the Packers. Seattle’s O-line, one of the best in the league not long ago, looks nothing like the group that helped Wilson trounce the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.

During their Super Bowl year, the Seahawks ran the ball and protected their young quarterback in the passing game. Since Wilson received his huge contract – which, in theory, put more offensive responsibility on his shoulders – the Seahawks’ line has steadily worsened. Though they still have the same offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, the players are different. The unit was poor in 2016, and looked terrible again against the Packers.

The Seahawks’ offense only racked up 225 total yards Sunday, including 90 on the ground. Forty of those rushing yards came from Wilson, who finished the game as their leading rusher. Since they were regularly in third-and-long situations, the Packers’ defensive line harassed Wilson, limiting him to one of the worst passing performances of his career.

The Seahawks have talent at all of the skill positions, including a top-five quarterback. This talent is nullified by an offensive line that can’t open running lanes for its backs or pass protect its franchise quarterback.

New York Giants

During two Super Bowl seasons with Eli Manning at the helm, the Giants had elite players on both the offensive and defensive lines. Those Giants defenses, led by Justin Tuck and Michael Strahan, stopped the run on the early downs, then substituted their interior linemen for defensive ends, giving them four pass-rushers on third-and-long. This formula was extremely effective.

Offensively, those two Giants lines had an incredible run of consistency between 2006 and 2011. Shaun O’Hara, Rich Seubert, Kareem McKenzie, David Diehl, Chris Snee, and Kevin Boothe, along with a few backups, played the vast majority of snaps during the first half of Manning’s career. Those lines could run the ball, pass protect, and finish ballgames with smarts and grit.

Those days are long gone. All of those players retired within a few years of each other and the Giants haven’t been the same since. Consistency along the offensive line is vital for a quarterback, and this line’s only been consistent at playing poorly.

Sunday night, the Dallas Cowboys exposed the Giants’ O-line weaknesses. Like the Seahawks, the Giants couldn’t run the ball effectively, ended up in third-and-longs, and then couldn’t pass protect.

The Giants have tried to hide that weakness by getting the ball out quickly, hoping for high-percentage throws. With Odell Beckham out of the lineup, though, the rest of the Giants passing game didn’t scare the Cowboys’ secondary. Knowing that New York couldn’t pass protect for long periods, the Cowboys played close to the line of scrimmage, limiting the windows for the Giants’ quick passing game concepts.

This Giants team has a top-five defense, three good receivers, a talented rookie tight end, and multiple backs that can hurt a defense. But their offensive line is one of the worst in the NFL. The Giants won 10 games last year, but the NFC East is one of the best divisions in football this season, and it will be tough for them to get back into the playoffs.

Houston Texans

The Texans are another playoff team that should be seriously worried about its offensive line. Though they played against a much-improved Jacksonville defense that spent big dollars in free agency on that side of the ball, the Texans face a multitude of issues.

First and foremost, they are missing Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown, who remains a holdout. Second, they rushed for 93 total yards, including 16 from their quarterback. An inability to run the football, like that of the Seahawks and Giants, is a recipe for disaster on third downs.

One of my biggest concerns about this offensive line is the compromising situation the offensive coaching staff is putting them in. As a play designer and caller, the concepts installed in the game plan are a mix of the defensive schemes you expect to see, and the individual matchups your offense will face.

Despite knowing the line is a major weakness on the Texans, the coaching staff repeatedly called deep pass pattern routes, forcing Tom Savage and rookie Deshaun Watson to hold the football while their receivers worked their way down the field. This resulted in an astonishing 10 sacks by the Jaguars’ defense.

Sometimes sacks are the offensive line’s fault. Occasionally, the running backs or tight ends can be blamed. Quarterbacks are responsible for more sacks than most fans realize due to holding the ball too long. Rarely is a play caller blamed for sacks, but when a team gives up seven or more in a game, I put much of the blame on the coaches.

The Texans started an inexperienced quarterback and replaced him with a rookie. Combine that with an offensive line missing its best player, and most coaching staffs would limit the passing game concepts to a lot of three-step, bootlegs, and screens. These types of plays help quarterbacks get the ball out quickly, move the pocket, and slow the pass rush – and the Texans didn’t implement these concepts often enough.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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