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Washington continues to upgrade offensive line
Posted Jun. 21 at 07:12 AM
I’m feeling better about Washington’s offensive line. It’s been identified by many as the Achilles heel that will prevent Mike Shanahan from being successful in his first season.
But Washington has added some key personnel. It used the fourth pick of the draft on Trent Williams, and now it’s traded a conditional draft pick for Jammal Brown, formerly of the Saints. They’ll start at tackle right away, and those are the most important positions on the offensive line – good coaches can get away with playing lesser guys at guard.
I don’t want to oversell Brown. He missed all of last season after hip and hernia injuries. And while he went to the Pro Bowl in each of his first two seasons, a good chunk of the credit there goes to Sean Payton and Drew Brees. You put any halfway-decent guy at left tackle in that offense, and the Saints don’t give up many sacks. It’s due to the design of the offense and Brees’ ability to quickly get rid of the ball. There’s a shortage of true NFL offensive line gurus who can analyze and grade tackles, so the general consensus (among fans and the media, who aren’t really qualified to grade such things) is that Brown must be some kind of emerging superstar, since he’s not giving up sacks. But he’s obviously not, since the Saints were willing to part with him.
But he’s a functional player, and Mike Shanahan – like Payton – knows how to draw up a game plan that makes an offensive line looks better than it actually is. In his last 10 years in Denver, Shanahan’s offenses gave up fewer sacks than every team in the NFL except the Colts and Packers (two teams quarterbacked by future Hall of Famers).
Wind the clock back to 1995, Shanahan’s first year in Denver. The Broncos had allowed 55 sacks the previous year, 2nd-most in the league. So one school of thought was that aging John Elway doesn’t have enough mobility to avoid pass rushers anymore. But Shanahan changed the offense, establishing a better running game and using more rollouts and play-action. The Broncos – with the same offensive line – allowed only 26 sacks the next year.
I can see the same kind of things playing out in Washington, where it’s now Donovan McNabb in the Elway role. Washington’s offensive line wasn’t good enough last year, but Shanahan should be able to patch together a group that’s good enough. No way will Washington be allowing 46 sacks again?
Will this be enough to help Washington challenge for a playoff berth? That’s harder to say. The NFC East is loaded, where Dallas, Philadelphia and the Giants all look good enough to make the postseason. And Washington looks a little lean at wide receiver and tailback. But Washington won’t be a pushover team.
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