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The Offensive Line - Better Than We Think?

Writer's note: I had planned on writing this up this weekend but failed. Tip o' the hat to AllenOU for bringing this up in the awesome t-shirt thread. It definitely merits its own article and discussion. Onto our regularly scheduled program...

I'm going to say this outright: Yahoo! Sports has to be on Bob McNair's payroll. It's the only way I can justify all of these positive articles and interviews lately on that website. McNair must've bought Yahoo! when we were sleeping. Yup, that's my conspiracy theory for the month.

What brings about this conclusion you ask? The latest rankings from Yahoo! Sports writer (and Schaub interviewer extraordinaire) Jason Cole has him looking at the offensive lines. The page has links to his quarterback, wide receiver, and running back rankings so you can find those there if you haven't seen them on your own or in the OTA reviews.

Back on where does Jason Cole rank your Houston Texans offensive line? Join me after the jump for the ranking, justification, and reaction.

Holy crap, we're sixth! I got to say that again: A national sportswriter believes the Houston Texans have the sixth worst best offensive line in the NFL. For those wondering, the line is only behind New Orleans, New England, Baltimore, Atlanta, and Miami. It looks like those 76 sacks are a distant thing of the past! Seriously, I'm a bit stunned given how much we've griped about the offensive line here. Going into the article, I expected to have to scroll past the Jets, Vikings, and even the BE-SFs. I expected to find the Texans in their usual spot - middle of the pack where mediocrity is our friend. Let's see why Cole puts the Texans sixth, shall we?

"Despite putting Baltimore and Miami in the top five (mostly because of personnel and not necessarily execution), I can’t harp on this enough: The most important objective in the NFL today is to keep the quarterback clean. Houston ranked eighth in the league last season despite the fact that the running game was mediocre and quarterback Matt Schaub's mobility was limited because of an ankle injury. There’s not a household name in the bunch and offensive tackles Duane Brown and Eric Winston are both limited physically. Still, they don’t let people touch Schaub and the running game could really improve with better running back play." - Jason Cole

Well, I'd disagree with the whole they-don't-let-people-touch-Schaub line as he does see his fair share of pressure. Matt Schaub dropped back 626 times, according to ProFootballFocus, and took 42 hits and 25 sacks - including that vicious one in Jacksonville that let us see the Sex Cannon in all his big armed glory. That's an 11% hit rate. The number is astounding when you consider the lack of a running game, but is that praiseworthy for the wrong reasons? The pass blocking gets a bit of a pass because the running game was never a factor sounds a bit like a backhanded compliment.

Let's not forget about that 30th best (read: third worst) running game. You know, the running game that struggled to get one yard on multiple occasions. Should we have spit bleach-induced rage at Slaton? Are we all really buying into the fact that Steve Slaton's regression was the key culprit to the running woes? That's been suggested by a lot of the stat guys, such as K.C. Joyner in his interview with TexansChick. Could it be all on the back and not the line?

Statistically speaking, there is something to these lines of thought. Schaub's hit/sack rate was 4.19 per game, which isn't that bad compared to Peyton Manning's rate of 3.5 (43 hits, 10 sacks). Of course, Peyton's rate is lower because he generally gets rid of the ball on time, not because of his offensive line. That's why the Colts' offensive line is ninth on Cole's list. Well, that and the fact that they are worse at running than we are.

As for the running game, Slaton averaged 3.4 yards per carry and 39.7 yards per game. Ex-Texan Ryan Moats upped that to nearly 4.0 YPC while the Pterodactyl smashed that with 4.8 YPC and 108 YPG in his two starts. It's a small sample size (Slaton to Moats/Arian Foster), but maybe the poor running game was on Slaton's regression, injury, and weight gain. Are we beginning to understand why Rick Smith was hellbent on grabbing a high-round running back as opposed to an offensive lineman?

Depending on how you look at things, it does make you wonder if we, the debauchery loving upstanding denizens of Battle Red Blog, are too critical of the offensive line. Does this zone-blocking thing actually work? Do we just obssess on
Duane Brown's beatings at the hands of LT Destroyer Dwight Freeney? Did Kris Jenkins blind us to the (takes a drink...takes a second drink.....takes a third drink) awesomeness that is Chris Myers (backed up by his massive amount of PFF love)? Is Kasey Studdard serviceable? Do we not show Eric Winston enough appreciation? 

These are simple questions really in an effort to fill a few days in the summer gap: What do you make of the offensive line? What are your thoughts on the ranking? Have we graded our offensive line a bit too harshly? Are we not critical enough here? Is Bob McNair the secret owner of Yahoo? Have at it in the Comments, you intellectual enthusiasts of the gridiron.