Submitted by Jim Feist on Tuesday, November 15, 2016 at 12:00 AM
by Jim Feist
Years ago former NFL head coach John Madden was asked if he had one player to draft to build his team around, who would it be? Everyone expected him to take the top quarterback of the day, such as Terry Bradshaw or Roger Staubach. Instead he replied, “John Hannah,” the Patriots Hall of Fame offensive guard.
Madden explained, “What good is having a star quarterback if you can’t protect him and he’s running for his life?” Madden could have been talking about the 2016 NFL season. The Dallas Cowboys drafted Ezekiel Elliot and announced back in preseason that they were going to back to running the football to protect Tony Romo. Well, Romo still got hurt, but rookie QB Dak Prescott has been very strong while the offense continues to have the kind of great balance they lacked last season while going 4-12 SU, 4-11-1 ATS.
The Patriots ran out of gas in the second half of the 2015 season mainly because the offensive line fell apart with injuries and they became one-dimensional on offense. QB Tom Brady was sacked 38 times.
The San Diego Chargers and Chicago Bears have dealt with O-line injuries, and the New York Jets have struggled to run the football like they have in recent years, coinciding with their disappointing campaign.
In the NFC, the lone weak spot for Seattle appears to be the offensive line. When they won the Super Bowl in 2012 the Seahawks had the highest paid offensive line, but in 2016 they have the lowest paid line. The jury is still out on the move to trade center Max Unger to New Orleans for TE Jimmy Graham.
The Dallas Cowboys had huge problems on the offensive line four years ago but continued to use high draft picks on the line. That O-line and ground attack was a big reason they stormed to a division title in 2014. When they had all those injuries in 2013 Coach Jason Garrett admitted they had to bail on trying to find offensive balance and instead threw it over 60% of the time. They've gone back to that balanced formula in 2016 and have been impressive. A good ground game can chew up yards and the clock, keeping a team's defense fresher, too. A poorly functioning ground attack combined with O-line problems can contribute to a skewed run-pass ratio, making this easier for opposing defensive coordinators.
Many organizations get enamored with drafting skill position players out of college at a cost of neglecting the offensive line. They celebrate on draft day about adding a high profile college running back or wide receiver, but often pay the price once the real games start. Remember when Matt Millen was GM of the Lions? He did that every year, it seemed, and his Lions' teams were terrible on the offensive line -- and didn't win many games. Millen is long gone but the current Detroit Lions are also struggling again with the ground game and O-line, among other things.
The Steelers drafted LeVeon Bell to try and provide some balance to the offense, along with a strategy to ask Ben Roethlisberger not to hold onto the ball too long to try and minimize hits. What good is a star QB if he’s getting sacked 5 times per game? What good is a star running back if the offensive linemen are blocking while wearing roller skates? And what good is a star wideout if the QB doesn’t have time to wait for him to get open?
Switching gears for a moment, take a look at some home/road breakdowns in the NFL. The Bengals got off to a poor start partly because they lost three of their first four road contests. Meanwhile the Oakland Raiders and Cowboys got off to great starts on the road, helping to catapult their way into a division title race.
Seattle has been dominant at home the last few years and not as much on the road, which isn't surprising given that they are located in the Northwest with often long road trips. This season they've continued that trend, losing at the Rams, but winning their first three home contests.
In the East, the Washington Redskins have been competitive at home but awful on the road where their defense has been shellacked, allowing 32, 25 and 34 points in their first three road contests (2-1 over the total). And the Houston Texans have been two different teams, starting 4-0 at home, but 0-2 on the road.