I'd like some help understanding a few perceptions about the players on our Oline and ultimately what we should do to fix our running game. I was reading the "Scouting Report" for each player on our team via SB Nation (I think they do a good job reviewing NFL players) and several things stood out:
Gosder Cherilus: He gets the highest praise/potential of our lineman in these scouting reports, "Huge and powerful. Has the mobility, athleticism and talent to eventually be dominant on the edge. Possesses the tools to be a top-tier drive blocker in the running game." They label him as an "above-average tackle."
Stephen Peterman: "A tenacious straight-ahead run blocker. Is quick out of the blocks, delivers a blow and sustains. Has great strength and can maul his opponent." The biggest flaw is his mobility in space & ability to hit moving targets. He is labeled as an "adequate starter."
Rob Sims: "Is the type of lineman who can make the game look effortless thanks to his superior technique and positioning. A natural leader on the line. Does a great job clearing the way for running backs." He is labeled as a "reliable starting lineman."
So, my issue is that I question these evaluations. We've all heard about Cherilus' potential to be a mauler, and while he seemed to be better this year; he was far from mauling people in the run game. In fact, our rating for running to his gap by Football Outsiders was downright last in the league. I've heard before that Peterman is supposed to be a mauler, but I never really see that (though I know he can get a good push on drive blocks when he's healthy). I saw some good things from Sims, especially later in the year with straight ahead blocks where Morris took advantage of hitting that hole quickly...but he also struggled to open/sustain holes for some of the year/at times as well.
We know Dominic Raiola struggles pushing the pile or sustaining blocks in the run game. I think that's our biggest obstacle to an effective run game and could result in the biggest turn around if he was replaced by an excellent player. The chances of us getting a starting-ready center is quite low however.
Jeff Backus also is not the most physically dominant blocker by any means, but is pretty good for a left tackle (very solid technique). I do not in any way believe we could replace him this year with someone who would be an upgrade in the run game without being a large downgrade in pass protection. Besides, I'd like to see how Fox shakes out. Seems like he may be a very solid replacement in the vain of Backus (he was actually compared to Backus in his college scouting report...though that may scare a lot of you away! haha)
The bottom line as far as run blocking goes: it appears that when the defense knew we wanted to run it on short yard situations, we did not have the strength up front to move the pile. How does that happen consistently if 3 out of the 5 lineman (+ Pettigrew is supposed to be a very good run blocker) actually excel with physical drive blocks? Is it the case that Sims, Peterman, and Cherilus have the strength and ability to be much better run blockers and they just haven't been able to click/get in sync yet?
The more I read and think about it, it does make sense that collective mistakes were routinely made (or someone on a particular play would mess up a block and it would wreak havoc on the play). When looking at film and Tom Kowalski's film breakdown reviews from the middle of this past season; everyone made mistakes here and there (from Peterman to Pettigrew to Felton). Scheffler was also a liability at times as a run blocker. So there seems to be a collective issue of sorts in addition to the bad play of Raiola and Peterman (before the end of the season).
So what do we do then? We signed Peterman to a nice contract in the last two years and he really does flash the ability to be an effective run blocker. While I fully believe we should have high quality depth behind him, it doesn't really make a ton of sense to spend big bucks on a FA guard or draft one in round 1 or 2 IMHO. I do believe we need a new center, but Dom does an excellent job calling protections and was a huge part of why we were consistently in the top 10 for pass protection this year. I wouldn't want to jepordize that protection with Staff just coming back...that's why I unfortunately think we should stick with the present company. I would love if we picked up a center in the 2nd or 3rd round however.
Therefore, the most likely way to improve the situation seems to be to invest in a power running game. The slow developing plays too often go bad for us (we cannot sustain blocks well enough). It appears that we need a more straight-ahead run blocking scheme and an absolute bruising back and/or at least pick up a dominant fullback as lead blocker. I know I'm preaching to the choir a bit on the power running game, but I just wanted to see if others agree that this present line would be better at run blocking if we ran more straight-forward and fast developing run plays (god-forbid bust out the trusty I-formation more than once every three games!). I mean, it's possible even McClain, Bush, or Jacobs couldn't do too much with this crew if the line plays like it did the first half of the season (where the holes were so tiny and D lineman were always getting on the RB at or before the line...)...
1. Did our line just underperform this year, or will it remain this way if we don't replace one or two of them?
2. Is adding a dominant FB enough?
3. Do we need a supreme beast of an RB, or just one that hits the hole with authority and good balance?
So what's the consensus on our lineman's strengths in the run game and what kind of back (as well as running schemes/plays) will make this run game much more effective in 2011?