When I speak to most Jets fans there is universal acceptance that we will need to improve our offensive line before we hope to challenge in this division. I completely agree. Improving your offensive line, improves your team throughout. It gives the Quarterback more time to make the throws to move the chains. It opens up more holes in the run game to move the chains. It also allows receivers more time to get open, the longer the quarterback has in the pocket the more chance a receiver has of getting open. In fact, the offensive line is one of the most important cogs in making your offense a productive one.
As Jets fans we enjoyed excellent offensive line play during our back-to-back trips to the AFC Championship game in 2009 and 2010. D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Alan Faneca, Nick Mangold, Brandon Moore and Damien Woody. In 2010 the team changed and we introduced some new players to the line, it wasn't half as effective but due to the stellar play of Feruguson, Mangold and Moore, we managed to get by absolutely fine. On any offensive line you want 3-4 players performing at a high level. Obviously you want 5 if you can get it, but 3-4 will enable your line to operate at a high standard.
Through much of this season, our offensive line has been anything but stellar. In fact, it has been by and large downright awful. Here are how our offensive lineman have ranked this season. I've only included players who have taken at least 25% of the offensive snaps for the Jets.
Now it doesn't really take a genius to figure out where our problem is on the offensive line. To start the season we had two of the worst guards in the NFL. Brian Winters was horrendous and when you combine Colon's poor performance with the amount of yards he costs the team in penalties he may be just as bad. Nick Mangold is having one of the finest years in his career and Ferguson and Giacomini are average. You'd like at least one of your tackles to be elite, preferably the one protecting the blindside which is Ferguson with Geno and Giacomini with Vick. However you're not going to win too many games when your interior lineman are playing at the level we've experienced this year.
So lets really focus in on the guards, the players either side of a center who's having a pro-bowl type season. Here are the combined stats for Willie Colon and Brian Winters:
|Number of Penalties||12|
Now the base number isn't a bad one. A couple of sacks, a couple of hits. The penalties are obviously a major problem and you don't want your QB taking 32 hits over the course of 10 games, just from the performance of your guard play. However it's only when you dig deeper into how they rate in two major factors of the game. Pass blocking and run blocking.
|Player||Pass Block||Run Block|
The run blocking here is horrendous. When you have a quarterback that is struggling, you hope to rely on the run game. You have Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson and you want to make sure they are moving the chains and setting up some play-action passes. However when you have someone like Ivory, who loves to run the A and B gaps you need to have guards that are least capable of opening up a little room for him. Ivory has quietly had a decent season without being spectacular, now imagine what he could do with good run blocking guards opening up lanes and getting to the second level. Something I haven't really seen much of since Brandon Moore left. You have to applaud Colon for his pass blocking, that was never really an issue with him, but when you look at the stats above. I think it's clear that we need to replace both guards.
When Oday Aboushi came into the line-up he struggled. However that was to be expected. Remember Aboushi was a left tackle at Virginia and in 2012 he was named to the all ACC first team at tackle. He was selected in the 5th round of the 2013 NFL draft and although he stayed at tackle, he also saw time at guard. The positions are different of course but moving from tackle to guard, you would expect him to instantly pick up the pass blocking and struggle a little bit in run blocking, that hasn't been the case for Oday at all. He's actually struggled in pass blocking and excelled in run blocking:
|Player||Pass Blocking||Run Blocking|
A little surprising to me but It's fantastic to see him grading out well in the run game, because that's what we're missing and I imagine it's a lot easier to teach a converted tackle the intricacies of pass protection at the position, rather than run blocking. However I looked a little closer at Oday's game and saw that outside of a down performance against the Buffalo Bills, a game where everyone struggled, he is gradually improving and over the last two weeks, he's really taken the jump and that's what you want to see with a young player getting valuable snaps and looking to nail down his place in the team next year.
|Game||Snaps||Overall||Pass Block||Run Block||Sacks|
Now I'm not saying these statistics provided by Pro Football Focus don't have flaws, however if you've seen the Jets over the last few weeks, you'd have noticed a little better guard play. Lets not forget that Aboushi has very limited experience. This is his first extended action and he's started to grade out on the positive side, that's important if we hope to only be shopping for one guard next season. It's interesting to note that the positive grades have come as a result of Michael Vick starting. It really does go hand in hand, an offensive line makes the Quarterback better and the Quarterback makes the offensive line better.
Oday Aboushi may not be an elite guard and he may never be an elite guard, however there is a lot to like about his game and if he continues to make improvements over the course of the last 6 games of the season. The Jets will have one less hole to fill for next season. Although a small sample size, being rated as the 21st best guard in the NFL in your first extended action is a very positive sign for a team who will be looking to compete as soon as possible.