A common football adage is that football games are won in the trenches. Each week I’ll be review the offensive and defensive line play of the New Orleans Saints and commenting on what went well and what needs some work.
Sunday afternoon, the New Orleans Saints fell to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 48-40. The Saints now haven’t won an opening game since 2013.
For offensive line grades, I went through and graded performance on every play. This isn’t a fool proof science, as I’m not in the huddle hearing each play call. If the lineman did his job effectively, he received a plus. If he didn’t, he received a minus. Even if the lineman did his job, but looked poor doing it, he received a minus. At the end, I tally up pluses and divide them by total snaps. The overall unit grade is a subjective mark I’ll give based on performance as a whole.
Last year the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were dead last in the league with 22 sacks. After making additions on the line like Jason Pierre-Paul, Beau Allen, and Vinny Curry, the defensive line became considerably more daunting.
Overall, the line played extremely well. In pass blocking, the Saints never had many lapses in assignments, picked up nearly every late blitzer, and passed off every stunt quite well. In the run game, the Saints struggled as the game went along to reach their landmarks in zone.
Grades & Analysis
LT Terron Armstead: 73 run, 94 pass
LG Josh LeRibeus: 67 run, 85 pass
C Max Unger: 93 run, 98 pass
RG Larry Warford: 87 run, 96 pass
RT Ryan Ramczyk: 87 run, 94 pass
In the run game, Unger did extremely well to get to the second level. He turned in the most solid performance by a Saints offensive lineman on Sunday. Another solid performer was Larry Warford, who never had any glaring mistakes and stayed consistent throughout the game.
One thing I’d like to see improve is Armstead’s pad level in the run game. At times, he’ll come straight up to block off the defensive lineman’s path instead of firing off the ball and driving his assignment. Most of this happened on the backside, however, so it didn’t cause many immediate problems.
Tampa Bay rarely blitzes more than four, so the Saints didn’t have much to worry about in the numbers game. When the Buccaneers did blitz, the Saints were exceptional in picking it up. On stunts, tackles Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk did well to pass along the slanters and pick up the loopers coming across them. Interior linemen Josh LiRibeus, Larry Warford, and Max Unger did well to plant their anchor foot all game to negate much of the pressure from the middle.
One thing that was quite admirable out of Armstead and Ramczyk was their excellent ability to recover in pass protection. When beat to the outside, both men displayed excellent athleticism to run their man around Drew Brees’ set point.
When the Saints did get beat on pass rushes, it was usually due to sluggish feet. Armstead had a poor set, LeRibeus struggled late in the game to stay in front of his assignment, and Ryan Ramczyk got beat across his face on the offensive line’s only holding penalty.
The weakest part of the offensive line had to be LeRibeus. Filling in for Andrus Peat, LeRibeus struggled late in pass protection and the run game due to poor footwork. At times, LeRibeus’ feet would stall in pass pro, and his feet caused him to be late getting to assignment in the run game, as well. Overall, it was a solid performance by LeRibeus filling in for Peat, but he definitely has plenty to work on.
In the end, the Saints played a high quality game up front and gave Drew Brees plenty of protection in the passing game and opened plenty of holes in the run game. With Peat back, it will only improve this offensive line.