There is perhaps no player as much maligned as Brian Winters, the collegiate Left Tackle who made his transition to guard in the NFL and who has notably struggled between two All Pros who themselves have struggled. Mangold has had right wrist problems which really seemed to have weakened him, and Ferguson is a bit of a mystery. And there are some who have blamed Winters for the fall of these mighty Offensive Linemen. But it could also be that a better, healthy Mangold could have helped ease the transition for Winters.
Winters also happens to be the player I have looked at most on film. It is kind of trancing to just watch an lineman protect and block down after down on the All-22, and for some reason I've watched him a ton. The one thing I can say is that he looks physically overmatched often. He just doesn't have the size and strength to stand a big or fast defensive player up on many downs, so he is often fighting just to delay the rush. And on run blocking, though not bad, any time he gets beyond the man in front of him, for instance on a pull or on a 2nd level block, he lacks the balance and dexterity to bring his size (the size he has) cleanly on the move - he seems to be rushing in these situations. The real hope is that his size is addressed in the off-season, and that a little more familiarity with technique, protections and the position in general will give him the poise he needs to take advantage of his mobility.
Now the good news. There haven't been a lot of highlights for Winters this year, but in this game he has 3 (well, two and a half) - three big Jet runs, two of which helped change the game.
The first was a 2nd Quarter 21 yard run by Ivory sprung specifically by Winter's 2nd level block on the linebacker - Ivory scoots in right behind him. This is big because, as I said, Winters hasn't been productive on the 2nd level. He he does it great after a bit of a double team chip on the lineman:
It was a significant run because the Jets were down - narrowly escaped being down 14-0 to start the game, but for a wide open TD miss - and Cleavland had only given up one 100 yard rusher all year (Ivory would become the 2nd).
The next one may have been the most important of the game. Rex goes the usual conservative route with a run on the last drive of the half, but Powell bursts open for 39 yards and the Jets threaten a lead taking TD, going onto tie the game at the half. Again its Winters on a 2nd level block, this time on a DB, springing Powell:
And then the 3rd came in the 3rd Quarter after the big Milliner pick. The drive resulted in a doink FG attempt, but this run pretty much set up that possibility. Ivory makes a great zig zag through a hole opened up by both Winters and Ferguson. Ferguson really makes the seal block that opens it up, he gets the credit, but Winter's block is a very strong one in concert, and notice how he stay engaged well through the play, keeping in the body frame and driving for a few extra yards making sure his man doesn't get involved from behind.
Hey, it's Christmas, we throw Winters a bone of appreciation and look forward to the possibilities of his growth. I do see some potential there, I saw his comfort level in combination protections improving in the latter part of the year. It really is a question more of strength.