Clearly, we have a potentially dominant defensive line. They were incredible last season, with Quinn setting the pace and Chris Long adding serious punch. With Brockers chocking up the middle and Langford and Hayes coming in on rotation, the D-line was stellar last year and kept us in games the whole season.
But Aaron Donald adds a whole new dimension. Watching the tape from last year, it was amazing how often teams were putting six and seven men on the line plus a running back to help. Brockers drew a fair number of double teams, particularly in the run game. I think Donald will make this much more difficult. If we can get pressure from every position and have the depth to keep it up the whole game, and we can and we do, this is something the NFL hasn't seen for a long time.
A quick note: In the basic passing formation - if there is such a thing - you have five lineman - LT, LG, C, RG, LT - plus a RB to block four defensive linemen. In essence, two defensive linemen can be picked out on every play to be double teamed. If it is a run play, you pull a guard to that side and run away from a defensive end, if it is a pass play you use the running back to chip an end or stay in the pocket to hit a tackle. With scheme and protections you can really cover for weak linemen as long as you don't have to help against all four players on every play or you don't have two or three weak linemen. But we have four beasts and lots of teams have two, three, even four week linemen.
Week One Vikings: The Vikings really have an incredible line - which, with the best running back of this generation, should equal an unstoppable offense. However, they have no QB. Oh please, oh please, let T. Bridgewater be the opening day starter. In any case, the weak link of there line is on the left side - with Matt Kalil and Charlie Johnson. Weak is a relative term in this case, with only Johnson being suspect. But note the problem. No one can consistently block Quinn by himself, and they will need to help their weakest O-lineman against Donald - assuming Brockers stays primarily next to Long. This leaves Long and Brockers singled up against a tackle and a guard respectively. With a little extra help from a tight-end, the Vikings line is good enough that they might be able to pull this off - but with a rookie QB, I'll put my money on Long and Brockers to ruin their party. But with Peterson running the ball 175 times this game and the quality of their o-line, our d-line might not look as dominant as we are all hoping.
Weak Two BUCS: All of our dreams should come true against the Bucs. Their line is dubious at best. Their center, Evan Dietrich-Smith is suspect and their currently penciled in RG Omameh is more or less unknown. The Right tackle is Demar Dotson who seems solid if unspectacular. The left sides looks a lot better. So again, you have to provide help in the middle against Brockers and Donald and you just can't leave Quinn alone. So how do you double three players on the line every down? And doing this leaves long uncovered. Or you trust your left tackle - Anthony Collins - to hold the fort against Quinn and switch protection to Long? Or you alternate? I think this will be our coming out party, the Bucs should be in for a long, long day.
Weak Three Cowboys: Same story as the Bucs, if we kill the Bucs on the line, I expect us to kill the Cowboys, but in this case their weaknesses is RG - Zack Martin is penciled in as a rookie - and LG - Ronald Leary about whom I know nothing but P.F.F. has him as a below average starter. If their center, Frederick, can take a big step up this year, that would help, but whichever side he helps on, the other side is in big trouble. I would love to see Brockers left one-on-one against a rookie all day. Or Donald trying his luck against Leary. This should be fun.
Week Five Eagles: This has to be the best o-line in football. If you want to know why Foles looked so good last year, it was in large part because of this line. If we can get consistent pressure on Foles against this group - well we are unstoppable. There relative weakness is on the right side, with Herremans and Johnsons both being quality but not amazing. Peters and Mathis on the left are two of the best in the game, and their center Kelce is no slouch. These guys are solid. I have my eye on this game because I think we will have to do more scheming coming out of the bye to get the same pressure (cue Defensive Coordinator Williams).
Week Six/Nine 49ers: A solid line but not quite as good as the Eagles and, I think, a little overrated but we shall see. Their center, Kilgore, is the big unknown. With their use of a FB and a RB, they should be able to hold up against the middle - but they will still need to help on Long and Quinn. Again, if we can pressure the Eagles, I expect very, very good things against the niners.
Week Seven/Seventeen Seahawks: Get excited now, because the single biggest weakness of the Hawks is the offensive line. Unger seems solid under center, but Okung, Carpenter, Sweezy and Bowie are not exactly a fearsome line-up. And they are better at run-blocking that pass blocking. If Lynch slows down at all, the Hawks are in real trouble, because he makes this line look a lot better than it is. Okung cannot stop Quinn, Bowie cannot stop Long, and Brockers and Donald should manhandle the 49er guards. They will need to double everyone, which is, of course, impossible. Man I can't wait.
Week Eight Chiefs: Unless some miracle happens in training camp, the Chiefs do not have an offensive line. They look suspect at every position and that is a recipe for us to clean up. After the run of Eagles, 49ers, Hawks, we should come out swinging against this line. I expect runs and screens or else Smith is going to get killed.
Week Ten and Fifteen Cardinals: see Chiefs comments above. With the exception of Veldheer at LT, and really, I'm not sure how good he is, this line is a Carson Palmer death sentence. I expect our line to dominate absolutely in this game.
Week Eleven Broncos: The Broncos line is solid but not overwhelming. Manning gets the ball out fast, so they only have to hold up so long. But he will not be stepping up in the pocket against us and that may spike a lot of their down the field throws. I also think Long has a chance against Chris Clark if they do not give him help.
Week twelve Chargers: Unless you think King Dunlap can handle Robert Quinn by himself, then the Chargers are in trouble. Their line is OK, but RG Clary is suspect, Fluker is a holding machine, and Dunlap is slooooow. I think we get five or more sacks in this game.
Week Thirteen Raiders: Wow are the Raiders in trouble here. I have no idea who is on the right side - Howard and Watson apparently - and Khalif Barnes is the LG. Wisiniewski, the center, is likely their best lineman, but he can only help on one side per play. Like the chiefs, bar a miracle in training camp, these guys are going to struggle.
Week Fourteen Redskins: I think we are all going to feel very, very good about the RGIII trade by week fourteen. Washington's LG is apparently terrible, but it is hard to tell watching the games because they all look so bad. The center, Lichensteiger, seems to get pushed around a lot, and the RT Polumbus is just not up to snuff. We should kill this line and find out just how fast RGIII really is.
A whole lot of stuff to read through, but here is the central idea. Only three teams that we face, Vikings, Eagles and 49ers, have an offensive line that on paper looks like they can hold up against. Fortunately, the Vikings have no QB. What this means is that we play 12 games with either a large or an IMMENSE advantage on the line. If you just watch games and looked at scouting reports for the Cardinals and the Hawks, I think you would come away saying that the best way to attack them would be with a strong defensive line. The Chiefs, Redskins, Raiders, Giants, Cowboys and Bucs are all in serious trouble.
Teams just don't have the offensive lines to hold up against defensive lines that are strong across the board. Last year, teams were regularly keeping TE on the line and using a running back to block. You would even see two TEs and a RB blocking, which means only two WRs running routes. If Donald can increase pressure up the middle, well this could be insane. All of this, by the way, without any blitzing. And let me assure you, Williams is going to blitz. Don't despair if we don't look other worldly against the Vikes. AP gets his yards and that line is amazing. But things should turn around in weeks two and three and then, the test. If we can dominate the line against the Eagles - well we are going to the playoffs.