Overviewing the Titans’ offensive line

Defensive MVP post should be coming tomorrow, unless I don’t feel like writing it again today. FO colleague, and former All-Pac-10 offensive tackle, Ben Muth has been writing about the Titans’ offensive line all year, and today put up an end of season wrap-up column giving sort of overview/recap takes on each of the Titans’ five starting offensive linemen. I’m pretty much in agreement with his takes, though he’s a little higher on Leroy Harris than I am. One thing Ben mentioned in my discussion with him when we sat down for a day of college football watching is center is a position that normally requires a very high degree of trust from the coaching staff. The trust factor the team has with Amano was, I’m sure, a big factor in the big extension he signed, and why I don’t expect them to pursue an upgrade.

Along with Ben’s column, I wanted to highlight a couple OL-related numbers from FO, especially in terms of year-on-year contrasts. When I wrote last season about the Titans’ struggles running up the middle not being a new thing, I noted that the Titans were still relatively good at running outside. The particular strength last year ended up being on runs listed in the gamebook as at right tackle, where they ranked sixth in the NFL with 4.63 yards. That was actually slightly better than they ranked in 2009. Well, that changed. The Titans ranked no better than 24th in the league on runs in any direction, including runs around left end, where they were average in 2010.

Now, I believe the malaise at the running back position infected the team badly enough that even the FO numbers which try to strip out the effect of running back play are tainted and unreliable guides to offensive line play. The Titans’ offensive line isn’t great, but with an upgrade to even an average right guard, I believe they’re well-capable of being a top ten rushing attack in the league. If you want more evidence of just how much things have changed with Chris Johnson, a great number to use is Open Field Yards, which measures how effective a back is at gaining more than 10 yards on any play. When CJ was CJ2k, the Titans ranked first in the league with a phenomenal 1.78 yards. Last year, that number slipped to 1.25, but that was still a respectable third. This year, they saw another sharp decline, to 0.81 yards, eighteenth in the league. Even what Chris Johnson was awesome at, he’s now only average at.

But, hey, there was one silver lining. The Titans actually ranked third in the entire NFL in a good rushing statistic: Power, which reflects carries on third or fourth down and two yards to go or fewer, plus first and second-and-goal from the one or two. See what can happen when you run the ball about nine times all year on third-and-one?

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