2010 Review and 2011 Early Preview: Offensive Line

Part I: Secondary (includes a brief description of this series).

Part II: Linebackers.

Part III: Defensive Linemen.

Part IV: Special Teams.

Part V: QBs, HBs, and FBs.

Part VI: WRs and TEs.

And welcome to Part VII of this series, the Offensive Line.  The first person that makes fun of me for taking so long to post something substantive will be banned...with a vengeance.  Now that we've established the love, let's play.

Disclaimer: I know that Rivers will disagree some of what I'm about to say, and that's cool.  If I didn't deeply respect Rivers' opinion, I wouldn't even be typing these lines.  As I've mentioned, part of why I like ProFootballFocus is that it removes some of the inherent biases I/we have established by watching the Texans every week.  I think there's value in PFF's rankings, but they also aren't the end-all, which makes Rivers' tape reviews that much more important in the grand scheme.  That said, here we go!

LT: Duane Brown.  When that name was called on draft day, one name immediately sprang to mind: Travis Johnson.  But we have to give credit where it's due, and Duane Brown has improved tremendously over his three years as a pro.  In fact, he's just about gone from the worst left tackle in football to above average, improving along the way.  No, he's not the best pass blocker in the world, but he's certainly a plus in the run game, proof of which was readily available when Rashad Butler stepped in after Brown was caught borrowing "goods" from Brian Cushing's locker.

Overall, PFF ranks Brown as the 11th best LT of the game, struggling a bit against the pass rush.  Once he returned from his suspension, he was tremendous outside of the Trent Cole debacle, as speed rushers still give Brown fits.  Brown ranked 29th in my "OUCH! Factor/Snap" stat, my invented rank that gives three points to sacks, two to QB hits, and one to QB pressures.  So, yes, there's still room for improvement.  Most importantly, however, is that Brown HAS improved year over year, and not just a little.

I know Travis Johnson, and you, Duane Brown, are no Travis Johnson.

LG: I loves me some Wade Smith, and it's just not healthy.  I noted last year that I thought this was a fantastic signing, even though Smith had never held down a full time job, and he truly shined.  PFF ranks Smith as the third best guard in football (second best at LG), and he was charged with only one (1!) penalty all year, which is pretty freaking amazing.  Smith ranked fifth best on my OUCH! Factor/Snap stat, as he allowed just one sack all year.  His weakness is run blocking, where PFF ranks him 24th among guards, still above average.

We make fun of Rick Smith for his personnel decisions frequently here on BRB, often with good reason, but Brown and Smith have made this team better.  Which brings me to one of the biggest targets on this here blog...

C: Chris Myers.  We all remember Myers being Ragdoll'd by Kris Jenkins, and it's true he struggles a bit in pass protection.  But, I'll be damned if I can remember a center better at getting to the second level AND making effective blocks.  PFF ranks him at the top of the class in run blocking but more middling against the pass rush.  Most impressively, however, were his zero (0, nil, none, zip, nada) penalties against.  That's ludicrous speed level right there, I tell you what.  PFF ranks Myers third overall, but he's more closely grouped with the Matt Birks and Nick Mangolds than he is with the next level.  Not a bad return for a 6th round pick.

RG: As much as I loved the Wade Smith acquisition, I've long had a man-crush on Mike Brisiel.  All things considered, Brisiel is the closest thing we have to a true road-grader style offensive linemen, what with all the zone blocking scheme specialists (Myers, Brown, Smith) we normally employ.  Even in his 11 games, Brisiel ranks 14th for guards on PFF, well above average, and his OUCH! Factor/Snap is a dandy 10th.  PFF dings Brisiel for just one sack all year.  We don't know how much Brisiel has left in the tank, but the fact is he's an excellent guard, one who is much underrated in our offense.

RT: Eric Winston, a/k.a Caveman, aka Winstonsaurus, was the most bipolar lineman on the team last year.  Sure, PFF grades Winston as the fifth best RT in the league last year, but he also gave up a whopping eight sacks, the fourth worst in the league.  However, Winston gave up relatively fewer QB hits and pressures, and at the same time he had more penalties than almost the rest of offensive line combined.  It's a crazy mix and match of stats, but I find it all-around worrisome.  If there was one offensive lineman who took a step back in 2010, it was Winston.  At 28, he should still be in his relative prime, so perhaps my worries are overblown.  Still, if I had to worry about a spot on the line aside from the aging and injury-prone Brisiel, this would be it.

The Others:

Rashad Butler: I admit I had high hopes for Butler when he replaced Brown in the starting lineup.  Not so much.  Butler was abused by the Giants, and the Chiefs then stripped him naked, doused him in honey, and left him for dead in an ant-ridden desert.  On a per-snap basis, Butler was one of the worst LTs in the league in 2010.

Antoine Caldwell: Well, he did well by not screwing up!  Most of his value was by not committing any penalties, but he had a tendency to struggle when seeing action.  As the heir apparent to Brisiel, he needs to evolve.  Quickly.

Kasey Studdard: As far as I can tell, he was not credited with a single tackle against his own team in 2010, which would be a vast improvement over his 2009 performance.  That said, he has no business being on the field.

2011: As much as I love Mike Brisiel, and I think he's a completely underrated guard, he's nearing the end of his rope.  Catfish Caldwell has been decent, but I truly expected more from him by this point.  Guard most be addressed at some point extremely soon.

Also, there's right tackle.  Will the real Eric Winston please stand up?  He's bright, he's scary huge, yet I feel he hasn't reached his performance peak.  Perhaps my expectations are too high, but we need more from him.

Finally, it's time to groom somebody, anybody, behind our tackles.  The loss of either Brown or Winston would be absolutely crippling, especially with Butler set to leave.  Amongst all our other needs, I throw tackle in there as well.

Coming Soon!: In the next installment of this series, I'll attempt to sort out needs and priorities.  In other words, I'll become "bfd: Your Houston Texans GM."  If I don't get hired by the Astros before then, I must add.

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