Right On Time
Browns guard, Wyatt Teller, has a great story about his OL coach, Bill Callahan. To encourage Teller to put in extra work, Callahan challenged him to come out 10 minutes early before practice. The next day, the eager, young lineman showed up 15 minutes early. Unimpressed, Callahan asked Teller why he didn't come out 25 minutes early.
With the retirement of Dante Scarnecchia, the former OL coach for the Patriots, the most renowned current OL coach in the league is probably Callahan. In the late 90's, Gil Brandt reportedly called Callahan the best OL coach in all of football. After coaching the last few years with Washington (some with McVay), Callahan is in his 1st season with the Browns.
Last year, the Browns had the 23rd ranked OL, per PFF. With Tretter and Bitonio, they had strong play at the C and LG spots. RG was a big problem as former Ram, Eric Kush (45.4 PFF) and Wyatt Teller (56.8) struggled trying to replace Kevin Zeitler. PFF said that Teller's run blocking was poor and called RG the biggest question mark for the Browns entering 2020. The Browns were 10th in ALY in 2019. They were 2nd in open field yards, a sign that they were a bit too reliant on big runs by Chubb to boost their stats.
The Browns gave free agent RT, Jack Conklin, big bucks to leave the Titans and used a high 1st round pick on LT, Jedrick Wills, Jr. This influx of talent and the addition of Callahan created hope that the Browns would have an elite OL in 2020. Kevin Stefanski installed a play action scheme that he used efficiently with Kirk Cousins and the Vikings. Paired with a good run game, this creates easy bootleg passes for the QB and takes some pass blocking pressure off of the OL. For many years, the Browns had great offensive lines with players such as Joe Thomas and Alex Mack, but they struggled to find the right skill position stars. Now, perhaps they have finally assembled all the pieces necessary to have a good offense.
The early returns haven't disappointed. The Browns were ranked 3rd by PFF after Week 3, an improvement of 20 spots compared to last season. The Browns are 1st in adjusted line yards per FO, with 5.08 ALY.
Wills only has a 61.8 PFF grade, ranking 55th out of 72 tackles. The other starters, plus versatile backup, Chris Hubbard, have been outstanding. Bitonio (81.0, 6th best guard), Conklin (83.0, 8th best tackle) and Tretter (77.8, the 2nd ranked center) are all among the best players at their respective positions. The biggest surprise is Teller, who is the highest graded guard in the NFL with an astounding 94.4 grade. He has the best run blocking grade among guards.
Teller played LG in college and his first year in the NFL with Buffalo. He said that switching to the right side was difficult, because the footwork was opposite of being on the left. Learing a new offense added to the mental challenge. Those factors make this huge jump in performance by Teller even more surprising and reflects well both on his work ethic and Callahan's guidance.
A notable thing about Callahan is that he's a former QB (at the NAIA level), so he didn't even play offensive line as a player. He once coached under Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin. Callahan got his first college job at Illinois under Mike White. Later, White was on the Rams coaching staff during the 1999 Super Bowl season.
A role player who is helping the Browns is Andy Janovich, a fullback. Janovich was someone I had my eye on for the Rams to try to acquire this offseason. The Browns picked him up in a minor trade for next to nothing. Janovich is currently the highest graded FB in the league.
The Vikings are ranked 2nd in ALY, little comfort as they failed to convert a 4th and 1 against Seattle, a pivotal play as they let Wilson steal the game in the final seconds. Despite all their injuries, the Dallas Cowboys are 3rd in ALY.
The Rams are 7th with 4.75 ALY. McVay praised the play of his OL, saying they are playing their [pick any lower body part that starts with the letter "B"] off. I don't think he was speaking literally, but just in case, make sure the trainers have some glue, extra tape and gentle hands.
The Giants are last, but at least their ALY is over three at 3.07, rescuing them from more humiliation.
Week 5 isn't quite over, because there is another game Tuesday night, but FO still released their rankings subject to this last contest.
For the 2nd straight week, the Rams faced a good defensive line. For the 2nd straight week, the Rams linemen saw their PFF grades decline across the board.
Whit 87.3. Despite a slight decline, Whit is the highest ranked OT in the NFL. He is 4th in pass blocking and 6th in run blocking.
Edwards 67.5. A huge drop of over 13 points. The 23rd ranked G, which isn't shabby.
Blythe 69.8 (11th ranked center)
Corbett 64.8 (27th ranked G, not too far behind Edwards) Worth noting that Cesar Ruiz, a 1st round pick rookie, has a 60.1 grade.
Hav 73.8 (25th ranked OT, 2nd highest graded Ram) Mitchell Schwartz is up to 75.1, a nose out in front of Hav.
The 3rd quarter ended with the Rams getting stuffed on a 3rd and 1 running play. On this snap, Blythe isn't big or strong enough and gets turned in the hole. Edwards isn't very flexible or agile, so he isn't able to bend over and give Blythe much help on his combo block, then when he climbs to the 2nd level he's not able to stay in front of that defender either. Corbett gets thrown to the ground (yes, it was rainy and tough conditions, but you need to be able to run the ball when it gets sloppy.) So, Corbett isn't able to get to the middle linebacker. Hav stumbles. The DE splits Hav and Higbee. Brown does a good job avoiding this defender. The LB Corbett was supposed to block, however, cleans up the play and helps tackle the RB. The Rams aren't able to convert the 4th down passing play.
What if I told you that after last season, the Rams could trade all 5 of their starters for 5 first round picks? Would you take that deal? Sounds great, right? But, what if I told you that if you put together an "All Star" lineup of 1st round OL picks from the 2018 through 2020 drafts, the Rams starters are just as good, if not better than that collection of 1st rounders? Strange, but true.
Meanwhile, you could put together a collection of 5th round or later draft picks from the last 3 drafts and that "late round" all star team would compare favorably to this 1st round all star team. Bradley Bozeman (76.4, 6th round), Wyatt Teller (5th round), David Edwards(late 5th round), Micahel Onwenu (6th round, 92.2) and Tyrell Crosby (70.5, the guy I wanted the Rams to take instead of Brian Allen) all have been solid (or great) this season. That's not to say a team shouldn't draft 1st and 2nd round linemen, but it does illustrate how you shouldn't assume a lineman will be garbage just because he was a late round pick (or even an UDFA).
"What the [heck] is this??!" tweet by Joe Staley, during the 43-17 Niners blowout loss to Miami.
A negative spin on the Rams line is that if you compare individual grades, the Niners OL might be just as good as the Rams. Are the Rams contenders or pretenders up front? Maybe the last 2 games have exposed some vulnerabilities.
Trent Williams 84.8
Laken Tomlinson 70.2
Ben Garland 71.1
Daniel Brunskill 59.3
Mike McGlinchey 73.3
The Niners had 2 linemen opt out of the season, including former 3rd round pick Shon Coleman (he's a cancer survivor). Highly paid center, Weston Richburg, started out on the PUP list, due to a torn patellar tendon he suffered last year.
McGlinchey was the 9th overall pick in 2018. He has a virtually identical grade to Hav.
Their reserves include Hroniss Grasu (65.8 grade based on one start), 5th round rookie Colton McKivitz (my recollection is that my draft profile on him said he was similar to David Edwards), Justin Skule (6th rounder from 2019) and vet Tom Compton (who was inactive the last game).
The Niners appeared to have some mental errors against the Dolphins. One problem with PFF grades is PFF doesn't know the line calls and blocking assignments. On one play, it appeared that Trent Williams thought he was going to get guard help. I'm basing this on the way he took his pass pro set. Instead, the rest of the line slid the other way, so the DE pretty easily gets inside of Williams and sacks the QB. After the play, a confused Williams gestures towards the G and C, as if he's asking them why no one helped.
On a different play, the LG Tomlinson takes his set as if he's expecting the center to help him. Instead, the center sees a LB blitzing and helps the RB on that block. The center gets tripped up from behind, because Tomlinson's inside edge is vulnerable, and this frees up the LB to get another sack. I have no idea how to grade these two plays from a PFF POV. Seems like obvious miscommunication, but how do you know why it happened and who messed up?
Another play, Garland and Brunskill don't pass off a twist well. The RG gets surprised, then the C is late to pick up the 2nd defender and appears to hold. Another time, the line doesn't handle a loop well and the pressure contributes to an INT by Jimmy G. On a key failure on 4th & 1, Trent Williams doesn't get any push at the LOS and the RB gets stuffed.
The Niners are 29th in ALY at 3.81. They are last in the league in stuff rate at 27% (9% behind the Rams, who are 19th).
Even though Garoppolo played poorly against the Dolphins, I wouldn't take the injury depleted Niners lightly. Mostert is averaging 7.0 ypc this season. The Niners aren't built to play from behind, but if the OL can help get the run game going and play from the lead or stay close, they could get some things done against the Rams defense. Like the Rams, the play action plays work better when the defense has to respect the run.
Not For Long
Three years ago, Thomas Dimitroff was ranked as a top 10 GM, while Les Snead was ranked near the bottom, in 26th place. One reason Snead was ranked so low was this power ranking said that Jared Goff's struggles showed that trading up for him was a mistake. Niners GM, John Lynch, was praised in this ranking for his draft trade with the Bears (the Trubisky deal) and for drafting Reuben Foster. Last year, Lynch was named NFL executive of the year.
This week, Dimitroff was fired by the Atlanta Falcons. Dimitroff won multiple executive of the year awards himself and was praised when the Falcons went to the Super Bowl, but as the Falcons have collapsed, he ended up going down with the ship.
In hindsight, Lynch mostly made a mess of the Bears trade. Solomon Thomas has been mostly a disappointment (a slot where the Niners could have had McCaffrey, Jamal Adams, Mahomes or Watson). Lynch traded out of the Alvin Kamara slot (where he also could have taken Cooper Kupp) to get a pick he later used to trade up for receiver Dante Pettis (which seemed like a reach to me). Pettis has been a huge disappointment and was a healthy inactive last game against the Dolphins. Lynch used another one of the extra picks to trade up for Foster, a player with character red flags. Foster was waived due to off field issues. Foster injured his knee and has yet to appear in another NFL game. If Lynch hadn't traded away that 4th round pick go get Foster, the very next player taken after that slot was Eddie Jackson, the star safety for the Bears.
Being an NFL GM isn't easy. Maybe it is still better than being an NFL kicker. After just 5 games, the Jags are already on their 5th kicker. Their original kicker was Josh Lambo, considered to be one of the better kickers around, but he injured his hip after the 2nd game and went on IR. The next guy injured his groin in the 3rd game and was waived. The 3rd kicker appeared in the 4th game, but he also got hurt and went on the practice squad injured list. The 4th kicker, Stephen Hauschka, recently was waived after missing kicks in the 5th game. Now, they are trying a new kicker pulled up from the practice squad.
Catching Up with Cooks
I watched a cutup of Brandin Cooks with the Texans. His receiving stats (18-299-1 on 33 targets) are almost the same as the numbers for Robert Woods (23-300-2 on 31 targets) but he should have much better stats. Cooks is playing well, but Deshaun Watson (80.8 PFF) has missed him on 2 sure TDs, a couple of long passes, and about 5 or 6 very simple short passes that were off target.
Before this season, almost every power ranking had Watson as a top 5 type QB, while Goff was typically ranked in the low 20's. Goff has an 88.3 PFF grade, 4th best among QBs. Watson is ranked 9th. In raw DYAR, Watson and Goff are almost identical, with Goff ranked 7th and Watson ranked 8th.
In NFL.com's QB rankings prior to week 5, Goff was ranked 9th (oddly enough, Rivers, a QB people are saying needs to be benched, was ranked 8th), while Watson was ranked 23rd (one spot ahead of Wentz). CBSSports had Goff ranked 10th and Watson 11th. NBC had Goff 14th and Watson 15th.
The media always focuses on the Hopkins trade, but Cooks is a good WR in his own right. They just need Watson to be more accurate and hit a few more of these opportunities.