Meet an Offensive Line: New Orleans Saints

Anyone who's anyone knows that the peak hours for driving internet traffic are the late-afternoon ones on a December Saturday -- which is why, this late Saturday afternoon, Advanced NFL Stats presents the second installment of our acclaimed series Meet an Offensive Line.

Last week, we shook the proverbial hands of, and bought proverbial drinks for, the linemen of the Green Bay Packers' league-leading offense. One could, however -- without much effort, really -- make the case that New Orleans' o-line is better.

The Saint offense currently ranks third, behind Green Bay and New England, by GWP. Beyond that, the offensive line is second in -WPA and first, by quite a bit, in -EPA -- both of which metrics measure how good an offensive line is at preventing opposing defenses from making plays that result in losses (of WPA and EPA, respectively, in this case). Furthermore, the Saints feature the second-highest run success rate (Run SR), third-highest Pass SR, and highest overall SR in the league.

Below are the five starters you can expect to see for the Saints' Sunday afternoon game in Tennessee.

Player: Jermon Bushrod, #74
Position: Left Tackle
Notes: Bushrod, in his fifth year out of Towson and third year as a starter, has played basically every game for the Saints since the beginning of their 2009 Super Bowl-winning season. Per his NFL player profile, he conceded 6.0 and 7.5 sacks in 2010 and '09, respectively. Is that not very many? It's phrased as a positive thing, but I don't know what the baseline is for left tackles. Is 6-foot-5, 315 pounds -- not much different than Packer left tackle Marshall Newhouse, who's listed at 6-foot-4, 319.

Player: Carl Nicks, #77
Position: Left Guard
Notes: Nicks has started basically every game at left guard for the Saints since being drafted by the team in the fifth round of the 2008 draft after having played left tackle at Nebraska. He was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2010, his first. Per Andrew Juge's weekly player grades at SB Nation's Saints blog Canal Street Chronicles (CSC from now on), Nicks has been great (A+) twice and poor (C-) twice over the past four weeks, struggling, for example, against Detroit's Nick Fairley.

Player: Brian de la Puente, #60
Position: Center
Notes: Originally signed by the 49ers as an undrafted free agent in 2008 -- and affiliated, at different times, with Kansas City, Seattle, Carolina, San Francisco again, and Seattle again -- de la Puente doesn't appear to have played in a regular season NFL game until this year with the Saints. Nor would he have played much at all this season, but for a knee injury to, and then the retirement of, starting center and 14-year NFL veteran Olin Kreutz. Kreutz was taking the place of departed free agent Jonathan Goodwin, who started basically every game at center for New Orleans from 2008 through 2010 before signing with San Francisco this past offseason. CSC's Luge has appeared pleased with de la Puente's performances of late, which might be best described as "quietly competent" -- and there does appear to be some indication that de la Puente benefits from the Saints' talented guards.

Player: Jahri Evans, #73
Position: Right Guard
Notes: Selected in the fourth round of the 2006 draft out of Division II school Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania, Evans has basically become one of the most celebrated lineman in the NFL, starting both the 2009 and '10 Pro Bowls at right guard, winning first-team All-Pro honors in the same years, and signing a seven-year, $56.7 million contract in 2010 that made him the highest-paid interior offensive lineman in NFL history. He's started literally every game since being drafted.

Player: Zach Strief, #64
Position: Right Tackle
Notes: Along with de la Puente, Strief is a newcomer to the starting line, taking over for Jon Stinchcomb who, after serving as the team's starting right tackle from 2006, dealt with injuries (and subsequent ineffectiveness) in 2010 before retiring during 2011 training camp. CSC's Luge indicates that Strief has been particularly effective since returning from a knee injury that held him out for (it appears) five games. At 6-foot-7 and 320, Strief is the largest of the offensive linemen. It's notable that the o-line's jump from pretty good to excellent has coincided with Strief's introduction to the starting right-tackle position. Correlation isn't causation, obviously, but, absent any hard data, it's notable, like I say.

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1 Responses to “Meet an Offensive Line: New Orleans Saints”

  1. Joseph says:

    IIRC, Strief started at the first of the year. He got injured right about the time Kreutz retired. So the O-line was starting DLP (basically a rookie) and RT Charles Brown, a 2nd year player who barely saw the field at any time as a rookie. That was when the O-line had their worst games. Then Strief comes back, DLP has some experience, and boom, they get really good. IMO, this bodes well for the playoffs.

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