Sometimes it feels like everyone talks about left tackles on offense as if they are the only linemen that count. Ruben Brown has been to nine Pro Bowls but he's hardly in the conversation as a Hall of Fame candidate. Larry Allen struggles to keep up with Jonathan Ogden when I pose the question about who deserves to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Try to run the ball when you lose an elite offensive guard. Try and protect the QB without a stud inside protecting the midline.
Well, the question entering the 2008 season when it comes to offensive guards is actually a two-parter: How much will the Steelers miss Alan Faneca and how much improvement can the Jets expect to have with Faneca in their lineup?
To project the answer to these questions, I went back and looked at three elite guards who recently left their original teams and moved on for financial reasons. Larry Allen left the Cowboys after the 2005 season for the 49ers; Steve Hutchinson left the Seahawks for the Vikings after the 2005 season; and Eric Steinbach bolted from the Bengals after 2006 for division-rival Cleveland. The outcome of these three departures should be a good indicator of the impact Faneca will have in 2008.
In 2005, the last season Allen played for the Cowboys, Dallas ranked 13th as a rushing club in the NFL. In 2006, they remained the 13th-ranked rushing team and continued to rush the ball at 3.7 yards per carry. Not much of an impact on the Cowboys when they let Allen go -- but his impact on the 49ers offense was significant. The year before Allen arrived in the Bay Area, the 49ers were the 17th-ranked rushing team. Allen's first season saw the team jump all the way up to no. 6 rushing the football.
In 2005, the Seahawks were the no. 3 rushing team and most of the running plays were designed to follow Hutchinson. The year after he left for Minnesota, the Seahawks dropped to 14th and the rushing average dropped from 4.7 yards per carry to 4.0. Hutchinson's arrival in Minnesota in 2006 spiked the Vikings' running game, which was no. 27 before he got to there, to 16th in his first season at guard.
The Steelers were the third-best rushing team with Faneca sealing the point of attack either as a pulling guard on plays to the right or drive blocking on runs to the left. Can the Steelers keep up their rich rushing tradition without Faneca? The Seahawks couldn't without Hutchinson and, like Pittsburgh, they were the third-ranked rushing team when their All Pro guard led the way.
It appears the Steelers will probably drop off. As for the Jets, they should expect their running game to jump from 19th to somewhere closer to 12th. Thomas Jones should have a lot more good-sized holes to run through with Faneca blocking the point of attack. The average jump in league ranking when the elite guards switched teams was 14 spots in the team ranking in the first year , so a Jets move of seven spots could be considered conservative.