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Talking to Pro Football Focus about the Bucs' Offensive Linemen

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After Pro Football Focus eviscerated Bucs' offensive linemen in several - different - articles, I decided to talk to them about their rankings. As I said in those articles, I thought Pro Football Focus's rankings were off a bit on most players - except Jeremy Trueblood and Davin Joseph, who both got beat too much. Khaled Elsayed of Pro Football Focus was gracious enough to answer some questions about their rankings. 

Given their overwhelmingly negative view of Bucs' offensive linemen, I asked whether he felt that the Bucs' offensive line problems could have been caused by another factor - like the quarterback holding on to the ball. Elsayed didn't see it like that, though. "I’d avoid blaming Freeman," he said. "He’s one of the better quarterbacks at avoiding sacks given how much pressure comes his way.  He’s certainly no Peyton Manning when it comes to offsetting the weaknesses of his pass protection, but given our grading accounts for how long it takes pressure to get there, and we apportion blame to quarterbacks, I’d say Freeman is the one shining light about the teams pass protection as a whole."

So, not Freeman's fault then. But there's one factor Elsayed did point to as a contributing factor. "More than likely if you were looking for a reason (or excuse depending on your perspective) why the Bucs were so bad on the line this year you can probably look at (besides the level of talent) the lack of continuity. " 

It's certainly true that the Bucs struggled with injuries along the offensive line last season. In fact, the only player to start all 16 games was left tackle Donald Penn

Speaking of the Bucs' left tackle, he was one of the Buccaneers disparaged by Pro Football Focus. Despite that, Donald Penn earned a big contract and was voted to the Pro Bowl as an alternate. Not only that, but Michael Lombardi came out yesterday and claimed that Donald Penn was the best left tackle in the NFL. Not that I agree with that, but it goes to show that PFF's rankings are not uncontroversial. 

Elsayed explained that Penn really didn't have that good of a year, as their stats showed. "Against the better rushers (players like Brian Orakpo and James Harrison) Penn got beat, and beat often, even if it didn't end up in a sack." he said. "It's not a particularly new thing, his 2009 saw that as well, and even in 2008 - his best year as a Pro in my opinion - he had issues with players like John Abraham and Will Smith, who more often than not seems to win that battle."

That's not something I can really disagree with. When I went back and watched some of the 2010 games again, Penn did get beat more often than I seemed to remember. And the players that gave him the most problems were indeed John Abraham and Will Smith. And of course, those two just happen to be division rivals. 

Moving on to Jeff Faine the problem isn't really elite pass rushers, just simply pass rushers in general: "As for Faine, well a center shouldn't really be given up that much pressure relative to how much they're on the field. It's not just a 2010 thing, but last year as well he was beaten an awful lot more than you see other centers. I think it was week one in '10 where he was just unable to handle Shaun Rogers. Which there is no shame in given how good Rogers is, but I'd worry about it given he's moved to the NFC South."

Now this is something that I still can't really get behind, especially when they rate Jeremy Zuttah as one of the better pass blocking centers, while he didn't seem to do much better than Jeff Faine as a pass protector. Still, Pro Football Focus is sticking to its evaluation of Jeff Faine, and they do watch and evaluate every snap of every game. 

Thankfully, though, Pro Football Focus has some good news for Bucs fans. "Both men have played well before and could play well again," said Elsayed. "But, and especially in the case of Penn the Pro Bowler, I’m not sure the perception of them reflects their performance which you focus in on them on a snap by snap basis."

Clearly, these are talented players that can play but, in the eyes of at least Pro Football Focus, have failed to live up to that talent the past two years. Perhaps a new coach in the form of Pat Morris and the move to a predominantly man-blocking scheme will help them perform well. While there's reason to hope that the offensive line will do better in the future, it is still one of the weakest position groups on the team.