Happy Tuesday, friends. It’s been five days since the last Broncos victory, so I decided not to rehash it, since it’s been done to death at this point. I have been working on a short (for me) essay about pass protection, and I decided to make it longer and more detailed and give that to you today. Friday, it’ll be back to Digesting the Chargers, and we should be on the regular schedule from here on out. Ready… BEGIN!!!
1. Once, when I was three years old, I woke my mother up from a nap. A man was breaking into the house downstairs, I told her. He was tall and had dark hair, and was coming in through the window in the living room. I was telling my mom about this guy in vivid detail, and like any mom, she got scared. I had three younger siblings who were all also having a nap at the time, so my mother went and frantically made sure that they were safe. Then she locked us all in one room and called the cops.
As it turned out, that was an early indication of the kind of storyteller I was to become. It was like little Eddie Murphy telling the joke about the monkey kicking the lion in the ding-ding. We are all uniquely ourselves, and our character starts getting revealed at a young age. I wasn’t lying, of course; I had just thought up some cool fiction and was sharing it with my mom. She was not as impressed as I thought she’d be, and on the rare occasion I’ve ever heard her tell that story, the context is how hard it was to raise four little kids at once, and tangentially, that I had a hellion moment here and there. (Both are fair points, of course.)
My father came home from work, and he had a different take on it. His son had imagination, and that was a really good thing. He was proud, and I’m sure that pissed my mom off to some degree, but whatevs. I can’t tell you how many times he’s told me that story over the years, especially when he was encouraging me to finally get my act together for 10 years between the ages of 15 and 25. (I eventually did, in case you were wondering.)
Today, I’m going to leverage my imagination for a thought exercise. I’m doing so because I want to ignore something about the Broncos, something that’s staring us all in the face, and continually sucking the oxygen out of the room. I don’t want this to be about a certain somebody who I’m not going to mention by name, because nothing you, or I, or anybody says about that person right now is very meaningful to what the Denver Broncos are going to do.
The leap of imagination that we’re going to take is that it’s April 15, 2012 and the Broncos know who their starting QB is going to be for next reason, and are comfortable with their chosen player at that position. Everybody sends in their tax returns and goes to work, smiling and whistling as they walk into the building, and the QB position is a “known.” Don’t worry about how it got to be that way, other than that it wasn’t the 2012 Draft. Don’t worry about who the specific player is. These are not relevant points to this discussion.
Instead, let’s just imagine the Broncos are coming off of a 9-7 season in which they won the AFC West and were competitive at home in the wild card game before losing to the Steelers. (All realistic so far, right?) The Broncos hold the 21st pick in the Draft and have re-signed all of their key pending free agents, and not signed any major new ones. Their roster essentially stands as it does today for the sake of this discussion.
What position should the Broncos seek to upgrade with that first-round pick? I see a lot of this kind of discussion in the comments section of this site, and I’ve decided to rile up that conversation again today. So what position is it? While a defensible case can be made for Wide Receiver, Running Back, Tight End, Cornerback, Middle Linebacker, or Defensive Tackle, I believe that the best answer is Right Offensive Tackle. This is because the NFL is changing, and the Broncos are way behind the curve on it. Luckily, so are about 25 other teams, and provided they don’t all figure it out right now, there’s a big opportunity to get good value in adjusting to an important change.
We’ve talked about this at length before, but what are the premium positions in the NFL? Quarterback, obviously is one. So is edge pass rusher, DE or OLB, depending on the scheme. Anybody will tell you that Left Tackle is one as well, because it’s usually the backside of the QB. Some will tell you CB is at a premium, but I actually think that a run-stuffing interior DT trumps it, because it’s easier to use scheme to play good coverage than it is to use scheme to play good run defense.
In any case, we’re talking about four positions, right? Let’s go with my list – QB, LT, DE/OLB, and DT, to keep it consistent. The NFL is a dynamic system, and it constantly changes. There were some important rules changes in 1978 that massively changed the game, including the elimination of downfield contact on receivers after five yards. In 2006, Bill Polian of the Colts and the competition committee, self-servingly pushed for tighter rule enforcement on illegal contact. He was tired of losing to the Patriots, and the action became known as the Ty Law Rule, because he was especially tired of Law beating up on Marvin Harrison. The Colts won the following Super Bowl, so it worked out.
The ongoing result has been that it’s much harder for defenses to contain passing through coverage, so they’ve taken to really emphasizing the pass rush, even more than they ever had before. Every team wants to be able to rush 4 defenders against 6 offensive players (5 OL and 1 QB) and drop the other 7 defenders against 5 offensive skill position players. That’s great math, right? There’s no question that that is the soundest way to play defense, and it provides any team their best shot at stopping opposing passing games. To briefly revive a stupid meme, pass rush > coverage.
What is happening in the NFL is that teams are hoarding pass rushers. It’s not enough to have a top guy coming from the offense’s left side. (We’re going to nod to the fact that most QBs are right-handed and call that the “backside” for purposes of this article). Now, teams want another pass rusher off of the offense’s right side too. (Similarly, hereafter called the “frontside.”) Not only that, they’re always looking for good backups, so that they can always have fresh rushers out there.
What’s even more interesting is that some teams which only have one legitimate pass rusher are using him on the front side and putting a lesser player up against the outstanding Left Offensive Tackles that teams have drafted and developed. Not many guys are going to beat Joe Thomas consistently, so why bother trying very hard? Isn’t it better to go after Tony Pashos instead?
The following table reflects my subjective grading of the edge pass rush capabilities of each of the 32 teams in the NFL. I’m specifically ignoring interior pass rush, and I’m ignoring scheme-driven blitzing, except where that blitzing ends up being part of a team’s usual four-man rush scheme. How well can a team threaten the backside edge and the frontside edge of an opposing offense? To distill it down to the lowest level, can your two dudes whip my two dudes?
|Rank||Team||Backside||Frontside||Others||BS Grade||FS Grade||Total Grade|
|1||NY Giants||Osi Umenyiora||Justin Tuck||Jason Pierre-Paul, Mathias Kiwanuka, Dave Tollefson||A||A-||A|
|This is a great group. 25 sacks between the 5, led by Pierre-Paul (9.5)|
|2||Pittsburgh||James Harrison||LaMarr Woodley||Jason Worilds||A-||A||A|
|The Steelers zone-blitz a lot to scheme up pressure, but both Woodley and Harrison can beat an OT to the QB.|
|3||Denver||Elvis Dumervil||Von Miller||Robert Ayers, D.J. Williams||B+||A||A-|
|This is a very good set of rushers, with 18 sacks between them through 10 games. It'd be more if Broncos had more leads|
|4||Dallas||DeMarcus Ware||Anthony Spencer||Victor Butler||A||B||A-|
|Dallas really threatens teams outside with their pass rush. Sacks: Ware 13, Spencer 4, Butler 1|
|5||Indianapolis||Dwight Freeney||Robert Mathis||Tyler Brayton, Jerry Hughes||A||B||A-|
|The Colts have prioritized edge rush for years, and this is a top-notch set.|
|6||Detroit||Kyle Vanden Bosch||Cliff Avril||Lawrence Jackson, Willie Young||B||A||A-|
|This is a good group, and when you add in the DTs, it's the best overall rush unit. Avril is the best player, but all can really get to the QB|
|7||Minnesota||Jared Allen||Bryan Robison||Everson Griffen||A||B-||B+|
|Vikes are getting it done in a big way with outside pass rush. 23 of team's 28 sacks are from these 3 players.|
|8||Houston||Mario Williams||Connor Barwin||Brooks Reed, J.J. Watt, Antonio Smith||A-||B||B+|
|Texans have gotten a lot of sacks from these 5 players, even after the loss of Williams|
|9||Philadelphia||Trent Cole||Jason Babin||Juqua Parker, Daryl Tapp, Brandon Graham||A-||B||B+|
|Cole and Babin are really destructive as speed guys off the edge. Parker & Tapp chip in some, but Graham has been a disappointment as a 2010 1st-rounder.|
|10||San Francisco||Justin Smith||Ahmad Brooks||Aldon Smith, Ray McDonald||B+||B+||B+|
|Smith and McDonald are both among the best odd-front DEs in the NFL, and Brooks and Smith have really gotten after the QB. This is the single biggest reason SF is winning.|
|11||Washington||Brian Orakpo||Ryan Kerrigan||Adam Carriker, Stephen Bowen||B+||B+||B+|
|Skins have 31 sacks this year, with 6 each from Orakpo and Kerrigan. This is a major bright spot.|
|12||Baltimore||Terrell Suggs||Paul Kruger||Jarret Johnson||B+||B-||B|
|Kruger is emerging as a good front-side rusher, making Baltimore a lot tougher to block|
|13||St. Louis||James Hall||Chris Long||Robert Quinn||B-||B+||B|
|Long has had a lengthy learning curve, but he's been one of the best even-front DEs in the NFL this year. Hall and Quinn both have good pass rush skills as well.|
|14||Chicago||Julius Peppers||Israel Idonije||A-||C||B-|
|Peppers is the only major threat; Idonije can get there sometimes, but is more of a run-stopper|
|15||Atlanta||John Abraham||Ray Edwards||Kroy Biermann||B||B-||B-|
|Atlanta can rush from both sides. This is a good set of DEs in the pass rush game.|
|16||Oakland||Matt Shaughnessy||Kamerion Wimbley||Lamarr Houston||B-||B||B-|
|Raiders primarily do it with interior power, but Wimbley is a very good rusher, and Shaughnessy is good too.|
|17||San Diego||Shaun Phillips||Antwan Barnes||Larry English, Travis LaBoy||B-||B||B-|
|Barnes leads the way with 6 sacks, and these 4 players total only 12. SD needs more production with their style of defense.|
|18||Cincinnati||Michael Johnson||Carlos Dunlap||Robert Geathers, Frostee Rucker||C||A-||B-|
|Johnson is solid, and Dunlap is outstanding. According to PFF, he leads the NFL in pressures despite only having 3 sacks|
|19||Green Bay||Erik Walden||Clay Matthews||Jarius Wynn||C||A-||B-|
|Packers very front-side oriented in rush. A lot of sacks and pressure come from scheme.|
|20||Tampa Bay||Adrian Clayborn||Michael Bennett||Da'Quan Bowers, Tim Crowder||B-||B-||B-|
|The Bucs aren't sacking the QB enough this year, but both Clayborn and Bennett have been generating a lot of pressure. With better coverage, there will be more sacks.|
|21||Miami||Koa Misi||Cameron Wake||Jason Taylor||C-||A-||B-|
|Dolphins switch them up, but Wake comes off front-side a lot. This is a good trio, albeit with a fading Taylor.|
|22||Carolina||Charles Johnson||Greg Hardy||Eric Norwood||B+||C||B-|
|Johnson (7 sacks) is very good, and Hardy (3) is promising|
|23||New England||Andre Carter||Mark Anderson||Rob Ninkovich||B-||C||C+|
|Solid group with 15.5 sacks between these three. Carter's huge game vs NYJ helped.|
|24||New Orleans||Will Smith||Cameron Jordan||Roman Harper||B-||C||C+|
|Sack leader is actually SS Harper (6.5). Smith is a good rusher, and Jordan is a 2011 first rounder who's growing into role but has no sacks yet.|
|25||Kansas City||Tamba Hali||Justin Houston||Wallace Gilberry||B+||D||C|
|KC is one-dimensional with their pass rush, and only Hali is a threat.|
|26||Seattle||Red Bryant||Chris Clemons||D||B+||C|
|Clemons is tearing it up from both sides, but he usually rushes from the frontside. Seahawks get nothing from the other side.|
|27||Jacksonville||Jeremy Mincey||Matt Roth||Aaron Kampman||C||C||C|
|Kampman got hurt early (again), and Roth has been pretty good, but is more of a dominant run player. Mincey has 4 sacks to lead the team.|
|28||NY Jets||Calvin Pace||Jamaal Westerman||Aaron Maybin||C-||C-||C-|
|Not much here in terms of pure pass rush. Maybin is best in that area, but these are all scheme rush guys.|
|29||Tennessee||Dave Ball||Derrick Morgan||William Hayes, Akeem Ayers||C-||C-||C-|
|The Titans have been a disaster rushing the passer from the outside this year. Morgan seems to be developing slowly, and the rest of the players are JAGs. Ayers has been a bright spot as a blitzer.|
|30||Cleveland||Jayme Mitchell||Jabaal Sheard||Marcus Benard||D||C||D|
|Sheard is an impressive young player, but the Browns lack an outside threat beyond him.|
|31||Arizona||Clark Haggans||O'Brien Schofield||Joey Porter||D||F||F|
|A really subpar pair of outside rushers. Counted on Porter too much, and got burned|
|32||Buffalo||Spencer Johnson||Danny Batten||Arthur Moats||D||F||F|
|Not much here. Most of Buffalo's marginal pressure comes from DL and ILBs.|
The average grade I gave was a B-minus, which is reflective of my belief that most teams do a solid job of getting after QBs in some way. (I’m in graduate school, and a B is like the “thanks for trying and showing up for every class” grade, kind of like a C is as an undergraduate.)
I would classify the 32 teams this way, for easy presentation:
|Threatening on Both Edges||Threatening on the Backside Only||Threatening on the Frontside Only||Not particularly threatening|
|New York Giants||Minnesota||St. Louis||Tampa Bay|
|Denver||Chicago||San Diego||New Orleans|
|Indianapolis||Carolina||Green Bay||New York Jets|
That’s a fairly even distribution, right? It illuminates the need for teams to be able to protect against both edges. There are 16 teams which scare you to the backside, and 17 to the frontside, with 10 of them scaring you both ways. If you can’t protect both edges, you’re going to be in trouble.
So which teams can do it? Again, here is my subjective analysis of each team’s ability to protect its left and right edges. Remember, we’re evaluating protection ability on the edges only, and we’re evaluating the roster makeup of the teams, and not necessarily the current situation, where injuries may effect things.
|Rank||Team||LT||RT||Notable Backup||LT Grade||RT Grade||Total Grade|
|1||Cincinnati||Andrew Whitworth||Andre Smith||Anthony Collins||A||B||A-|
|Whitworth has been very good, but the emergence of Smith as a good RT has been a key to the Bengals' surprising season. They've given up only 3 sacks between them|
|2||Carolina||Jordan Gross||Jeff Otah||Byron Bell||B+||B||B+|
|Gross and Otah are a very good pair, though Otah is hurt all the time. Bell is replacement-level.|
|3||Tennessee||Michael Roos||David Stewart||B+||B||B+|
|This is a good pair of OTs. Stewart makes up for average feet with excellent strength and technique. Roos does a really good job all around. Effects of excellent coaching are clear.|
|4||Cleveland||Joe Thomas||Tony Pashos||A||C||B|
|Thomas is excellent, and Pashos is a little below average. He's an old-style RT and struggles with speed|
|5||New England||Matt Light||Nate Solder||Sebastian Vollmer||B||B||B|
|All 3 players have legit NFL Left Tackle skills. As usual, the Patriots are way ahead of the curve.|
|6||Pittsburgh||Max Starks||Marcus Gilbert||Jonathan Scott||B||B||B|
|Starks and Gilbert are both former Florida Gators (like C Maurkice Pouncey), and both have performed well this year. This is the best OT play Pittsburgh has gotten in the Roethlisberger era.|
|7||Dallas||Doug Free||Tyron Smith||Daniel Loper||B-||B+||B|
|This is a good pair. Free is slightly above average, and Smith is going to be excellent as he grows.|
|8||Houston||Duane Brown||Eric Winston||C+||A-||B|
|Brown is average in protection, and Winston is excellent. Both are top-notch in run game, though. Nice set of OTs.|
|9||Green Bay||Chad Clifton||Bryan Bulaga||Derek Sherrod, Marshall Newhouse||C||A||B|
|Clifton is aging and marginal. Bulaga is excellent at RT. Sherrod was drafted in 1st rd to replace Clifton, but was beat out by 2010 5th-rounder Newhouse|
|10||Baltimore||Bryant McKinnie||Michael Oher||C||A-||B-|
|McKinnie is passable as a LT, and Oher is a great example of letting a very good RT be what he is, rather than forcing him to be an average LT.|
|11||Philadelphia||Jason Peters||Todd Herremans||Winston Justice||B+||C-||B-|
|Peters is above-average, mainly because he's in shape this year. Herremans is a good RG, and a mediocre RT. He lacks great feet, and has given up a lot of pressure.|
|12||Oakland||Jared Veldheer||Khalif Barnes||Joe Barksdale||C+||C+||C+|
|Veldheer is a solid young LT, and Barnes is better at RT than he ever was at LT. This is a passable duo.|
|13||Denver||Ryan Clady||Orlando Franklin||Chris Clark||B+||D||C|
|Clady is a big-time talent having a slightly down year, and Franklin is definitely a useful OL, though he may ultimately be better at Guard|
|14||New York Jets||D'Brickashaw Ferguson||Wayne Hunter||Vladimir Ducasse||B+||D||C|
|Ferguson is very good in protection, and Hunter is very bad. Ducasse still looks clueless when he plays|
|15||Jacksonville||Eugene Monroe||Guy Whimper||B||D||C|
|Monroe is a good LT, and Whimper is replacement-level on the right side. RT was supposed to be Eben Britton, but he couldn't hack it and was moved to LG.|
|16||Tampa Bay||Donald Penn||Jeremy Trueblood||B||D||C|
|Penn is above average, and Trueblood is lousy. The Bucs need an upgrade at RT to help them make the next step.|
|17||New Orleans||Jermon Bushrod||Zach Strief||C||C||C|
|Both starters are league-average. Real strength of line is at OG. Brees makes it work for the most part, but edge-rush teams can give them trouble.|
|18||Atlanta||Sam Baker||Tyson Clabo||Will Svitek||D||B||C|
|Baker is lousy, but Clabo is solid.|
|19||Chicago||J'Marcus Webb||Gabe Carimi||Frank Omiyale||D||B||C|
|Carimi is going to be really good on right side, but Bears need better than Webb on left.|
|20||Buffalo||Demetrius Bell||Erik Pears||Carl Hairston||B-||D||C-|
|Bell is a good athlete with excellent bloodlines (he's Karl Malone's son), but his skill is still developing. Pears is pretty terrible, but the QB's quick release hides it.|
|21||San Francisco||Joe Staley||Anthony Davis||Alex Boone||C-||C-||C-|
|Staley and Davis both have solid LT feet and skills. Neither is ever going to be much above average in protection, but both are passable at this point. 10 sacks, 12 hits, and 40 pressures between them in 9 games.|
|22||NY Giants||William Beatty||Kareem McKenzie||Stacy Andrews||C+||D||C-|
|Beatty has been surprisingly solid in protection. McKenzie has always been more of a run-blocker, and is declining. He's the picture of an old-style RT|
|23||Washington||Trent Williams||Jammal Brown||Tyler Polumbus||C+||D||C-|
|Williams has improved to the point of being average, and you can clearly see that he's really talented. Brown has regressed to the point of being just a little better than Barry Richardson, Marc Colombo, and Jeromey Clary.|
|24||Detroit||Jeff Backus||Gosder Cherilus||D||C||C-|
|2 former first-rounders. Backus is lousy at LT at this point, and Cherilus is average. Lions need a real LT desperately.|
|25||Miami||Jake Long||Marc Colombo||Nate Garner||B-||F||D+|
|Long is only average in protection, and Colombo is awful. Another bad team that can't protect.|
|26||Kansas City||Branden Albert||Barry Richardson||Jared Gaither||C+||F||D|
|Albert would be an All-Pro LG, but instead he's an average LT. Richardson is one of the worst OTs in the NFL. It's mind-boggling that Gaither can't beat him out.|
|27||Indianapolis||Anthony Castonzo||Jeff Linkenbach||C||F||D-|
|Castonzo is OK at LT as a rookie, but Linkenbach is terrible. The Colts have a big need at OT|
|28||San Diego||Marcus McNeill||Jeromey Clary||Brandyn Dombrowski||C||F||D|
|McNeill has been beaten a lot this year, but not like Clary. This is really a pretty bad pair of OTs, and Dombrowski is awful his damn self.|
|29||Minnesota||Charlie Johnson||Phil Loadholt||D||D||D|
|This is a bad pair of OTs, almost as bad as Arizona's, and there's no upside like St Louis, Seattle, and Indianapolis have. Abysmal.|
|30||Seattle||Russell Okung||James Carpenter||D||D||D|
|Okung and Carpenter, who were first-rounders in the last 2 years, have to be seen as major disappointments so far. Both routinely get beat, especially Carpenter, who should clearly be a Guard.|
|31||St. Louis||Rodger Saffold||Jason Smith||Adam Goldberg||D||D||D|
|Saffold is having an awful season after a promising rookie year, and Smith hasn't been much better. These are 2 high picks who are really struggling.|
|32||Arizona||Levi Brown||Jeremy Bridges||F||F||F|
|This is the worst pair of OTs in the NFL, and it's the biggest reason the Cardinals lose|
The average grade here is a flat C, and that reflects the reality, when compared to the B-minus average for pass rushing, that pass rushers are ahead of offensive lines on a league-wide level. Here’s a representation of the distribution like we saw above.
|Can Protect Both Edges||Can Protect Backside||Can Protect Frontside||Protects Neither Side Well|
|New England||New York Jets||Baltimore||San Francisco|
|Pittsburgh||Jacksonville||Atlanta||New York Giants|
Notice how it’s a lot less even? I’m not being any tougher with my grading, there’s just less quality protection ability than there is rushing ability. The only conclusion you can reach from this is that defenses are trying to exploit a lot of bad Right Tackles in the NFL, and that offenses need to get a lot better at that position to counteract that trend.
The first thing to understand is that the concept of what a RT looks like is changing. The archetype used to be a Phil Loadholt type; Loadholt is listed at 6-8, 345 pounds, but is probably more like 360. He’s a guy who is best-utilized moving forward, locking onto a defender and driving him in the running game. If you ask a guy like that to block Von Miller, he’s going to really struggle, and as we saw before, the NFL is looking for elite front-side rushers to beat these big/slow guys.
We also saw that there are more good edge pass rushers in the NFL than there are good edge pass protectors. NFL teams are going to eventually be hurrying to replace the Loadholts with players like Bryan Bulaga (6-5, 314 pounds) or Gabe Carimi (6-7, 316 pounds). Both guys played LT in college and could be decent NFL LTs, but they were drafted in the last two first rounds to be elite new-school Right Tackles.
The reason that NFL teams have always favored the big guys on the right side is that they’re right-handed running teams, and they want a power element on that side. As DEs and OLBs get smaller and faster, so too can offensive linemen. If a LE in a 4-3 front used to be 290 pounds and is now 270 pounds, the RT across from him can/should downsize and be a leaner guy as well.
Something that will help teams move in this direction is that more and more college teams are zone-blocking nowadays, and they’re using more athletic and smaller linemen as a result of that. Interestingly, that’s been a big factor in the struggle teams have had over the last 10 years finding the big power RTs that they’ve historically favored. Colleges are doing something different, and the Aaron Gibsons of the world are just not being produced anymore.
If we know that the most correlative statistics to winning in the NFL are passing efficiency and defensive passing efficiency, and we do, we should take an intelligent approach to considering how to staff a team for maximum success in those two functional areas. We need to put some football thinking, in an all-11 sense to this, otherwise we end up crediting and blaming the QB far too much. That’s the trap that stats guys can sometimes get into, where the success or failure of a team’s passing game is treated as being entirely reflective of the performance and ability of the QB. Keith Goldner of Advanced NFL Stats, which is a site we all like and respect, said yesterday that Tim Tebow personally lost the Lions game, which I think is a silly and hyperbolic conclusion.
It's possible to get to a line of thinking, like, since we can’t easily measure the entirety of the contributions of the other 10 guys in the play, we treat it like it all evens out over time for all teams. The trouble is, on football fields, it obviously doesn’t work that way. Some teams have good offensive lines, and others don’t. The same is true about the quality of runners and receivers. Those factors have very meaningful effects on the ability of a QB to be successful.
The number one defensive priority in stopping the pass is rushing the passer, so the number one offensive priority to successful passing is to protect the passer. Not every team can have a Tom Brady or an Aaron Rodgers, but if a team can protect consistently, one of the many competent QBs playing in the NFL can be very efficient passing the ball. Think of a guy like Alex Smith, whose passer rating is 93.9 this year, (which is 7th in the NFL) and whose team is 9-1. His edge protection isn’t the greatest, but it’s decent, and the 49ers do a good job in the middle, and their backs can protect. Their protection schemes are rock solid, they execute well, and the QB is able to play to his capability and hit a lot of receivers.
Conversely, if a team can’t protect, a similarly competent QB like Sam Bradford can really struggle. Bradford has a 70.9 rating, which is 29th. He’s been getting crushed, because the Rams have been terrible in protection all season, and their receivers have also struggled to separate and catch the ball. You want another example? How about Philip Rivers? Statistics indicate that he’s regressing as a player, but the truth of Rivers’ season is that his protection has been terrible, and that it’s had an enormous effect on his ability to be successful as a passer, like it does with almost any QB. How good did Mark Sanchez look last Thursday when the Broncos were passive with their rush? How awful was he when they started getting pressure? When you can’t protect, nothing good happens, and it's far from being all the QB's fault. The only QB I've ever seen who doesn't really need good protection that much is Peyton Manning, so it's not like you can really say, well, if the QB was better, he'd overcome the bad protection. No, sorry, you can't expect everybody to be Peyton when there's only ever been one.
I think that looking at the 2011 Broncos holistically through 10 games, their main issues are on offense. This is still an ongoing rebuilding process, but it’s time to put some resources to the offensive side. Given the assumptions I gave before, especially the re-signing of both Brodrick Bunkley and Marcus Thomas, I think that the first three picks I’d make in the Draft would be a RT with LT skills, and then big-play speed at WR and RB. I’m not even very focused on names right now, but those are the improvements that I think would help the Broncos quickly become a much higher-functioning offense, regardless of who the QB is.
So, I know what you’re thinking – what about Orlando Franklin? Was that a wasted second-round pick? No, it wasn’t wasted, but he doesn’t belong at RT in the modern NFL. He just doesn’t seem to have the feet for it, and he was mostly a LG at Miami. I think that that’s where he belongs, and when you pair him with Ryan Clady, that gives you a really good duo there. That bumps Zane Beadles, but it establishes a strength vis-a-vis another important NFL-wide trend, which is using a sixth offensive lineman in the running game. Every team seems to be doing that right now, and it’s very effective. It doesn’t have to be Beadles as the extra/utility guy, either. The best five guys should play, and if you’ve got six with NFL-starter ability, that establishes a high level of competition for the whole group. When a football team is confident that it can protect its QB with a 5- or 5.5-man protection scheme (with the 0.5 being a check-release assignment for a RB usually), the whole passing game improves. There are more receivers in the pattern, and coverage people are stressed much more effectively. It all begins with pass protection, because even a really good QB will struggle if he’s getting knocked down every time he drops back. I know it’s not that sexy, but I’m looking for a protection-oriented RT in the first round, because I'm convinced that being able to protect both edges is increasingly going to make the difference between good offenses and bad ones. What say you?