The Fine Line – Week 1

September 9, 2010

Hi everyone, my name is Tom Kellogg and I’m going to be providing the Power Rank faithful with football insights through the 2010 season.  As a former lineman and current line coach, I also hope to shed some light on one of the more obscure parts of the game, line play.

Everyone knows deep down that the line is of critical importance to a football team.  Announcers talk about the action “in the trenches”, coaches say that it’s the key to the game, and general managers spend high draft picks on these no-name players.  But since these players score no points, acquire almost no stats, and have zero fantasy relevance they remain the neglected step-children of the league.

The NFL is starting the season right with an NFC championship rematch between the Saints and the Vikings, whose defense is led by one of the more recognizable linemen in the league, defensive end Jared Allen.  Allen is everything one could want from a defensive end:  he’s fast, strong, emotional, and a sack machine.  Last year Allen racked up 14.5 sacks, so can we expect to see him getting up close and personal with Drew Brees in New Orleans this week?

The short answer:  No.

The biggest single advantage offensive linemen have over defensive linemen is that they know the snap count, which gives them half a step before the defensive player can attack. This critical half step can be the difference between placing a 300lb body between a speed rusher like Allen, and leaving him with nothing but open space to the quarterback.

When teams play in domes like Minnesota does, the sound can get deafening for fans and players alike.  When a linemen can’t hear the quarterback’s cadence, he loses his advantage and can’t do his job as well.  For proof that playing at home in a dome is a critical factor in a sackmaster’s repertoire, just look at Jared Allen.

In his two seasons with the Vikings, Allen has tallied 62% of his sacks at home.  Last year he only had 5 sacks on the road, outside of their dome’s din.  If you think Allen is an aberration, think again.  Dwight Freeny is another speedy sack-happy defensive end who enjoys the loud confines of a covered home stadium.  Over his career at Indianapolis, Freeny has recorded 60% of his 84 sacks at home.  Freeny’s teammate Robert Mathis has also recorded 60% of his sacks at home.

Compare this with some marquee defensive ends that play outside.  Recently retired Michael Strahan racked up 141.5 sacks in his career with the New York Giants, but only 49% of the quarterbacks were crushed at home.  Jason Taylor recorded 127.5 sacks with Miami and Washington, with only 51% earned at home.  Unlike a Jared Allen or Dwight Freeny, these pass rush specialists can be expected to impact games both at home and on the road.

In last year’s NFC championship game Jared Allen had no sacks against New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees.  In fact, Brees was only sacked once all game and threw for 3 touchdowns and no interceptions.  Allen’s pass rush was not a major factor in that game, and it will most likely not be a factor in tonight’s game either.

That’s the difference a half a step can make for speed rushers like Allen and Freeny who rely on the noise at their home fields to give them an extra few inches in getting around offensive tackles.  Don’t get me wrong, these players are still tremendous athletes and playmakers on any field but don’t buy into the media hype and expect these pass rushers to dominate the line when they play on the road.

We get our statistics from www.pro-football-reference.com.

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