Terron Armstead refused to give up a single pressure in the final game of the New Orleans Saints season even when matched up with productive pass-rushers in Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett. With four starts
under his belt, should Saints fans be looking for a big year from the second-year left tackle? In short: yes. Photo credit to Steven Bisig/USA TODAY Sports.
The New Orleans Saints offensive line has been a study in contrasts throughout the most recent campaigns of 2011, 2012, and 2013. Seventeen different linemen have played 3,465 snaps over that period. Even so, some continuity has been maintained looking towards the 2014 season with four of last year’s starters returning to the fold: longtime starter at right guard Jahri Evans, former swing tackle and reliable right tackle Zach Strief, 2012 free agent acquisition Ben Grubbs, and sophomore third round draft selection left tackle Terron Armstead.
No other members of the offensive line unit have experience prior to the 2013 season, including second-year interior lineman Tim Lelito who the Saints acquired as an undrafted free agent and have tentatively penciled in as a starter at center. Three-year starter at center Brian de la Puente left town to play for former Saints offensive line coach and incumbent Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. 2013’s starter at left tackle, injury-plagued and inconsistent former second round draft selection Charles Brown, was signed away in free agency by the New York Giants. The Miami Dolphins made a strong pitch to acquire Zach Strief, but the 2006 seventh round draft selection declined the offer to take less money and continue his career in New Orleans.
One thing is not debatable: the Saints offensive line has decreased in quality over the last three seasons. The Saints’ front office and coaching staff have done their part to supply the team with talented players but the results have not met expectations. The number of pressures allowed on all-time great quarterback Drew Brees have climbed and the number of yards gained on the ground have plummeted. To properly understand the struggles the Saints’ line has experienced, its production (or lack thereof) must be studied. This article focuses on the Saints’ rushing attack over the last three seasons and in particular how putting Armstead into the lineup changed its fortunes. Next week’s blog post will cover pass blocking efficiency.
Part of the problem lies in play-calling. The Saints were at their finest when they had a more balanced approach to moving the football; rushing more often such as in 2011 forced more defenders out of coverage and made things easier for Brees and his flying circus. The more frequent rushing attempts also made the play-calls more unpredictable and difficult to defend, increasing the potency of the Saints offense. But by neglecting the rushing attack and calling forty or more passes per game, not only has Sean Payton exposed to Brees to more danger from defenders, he has also declawed the Saints offense.
The 2011 Saints offensive line was one of the finest in recent memory. It played a major role in
blocking for Drew Brees and his weapons so that they could establish all-time great records.
Photo credit to Wesley Hitt/Getty Images.
In 2011, the year the Saints set a number of all-time offensive records, Payton called 402 runs for 1,997 yards – almost five yards per carry. The Saints made the most significant gains running behind since-departed left tackle Jermon Bushrod where they averaged more than six yards per carry, but curiously ran the fewest number of times in that direction. The majority of the carries went around the left or right tackle where Saints rushers averaged 5.75 yards per carry and scored six touchdowns. The second-most came from behind the center of the line where Olin Kreutz, Matt Tennant, and eventual starter Brian de la Puente took turns leading the charge – 27.36% of rushing attempts to be exact. Left guard Carl Nicks blocked very well, helping the crowded Saints backfield collect 5.38 yards per carry on the ground on the third-most numerous attempts.