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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Analyzing the O Line

One of the problems with my job is that I'm hardly qualified to explain the more technical Xs and Os of football, but issues like Georgia's offensive line problems remain an issue I feel obligated to explore. That job is made tougher because Georgia's line coach is, well, not a big fan of folks like me.

One of the great aspects of my job, however, is that when I can't get answers firsthand, I still get to call someone else who knows a great deal about the issues and get their insight instead.

So when it comes to explaining Georgia's problems running the ball behind what was expected to be a solid offensive line, I knew just who to ask -- former Georgia lineman Matt Stinchcomb.

Stinchcomb is not only one of the top linemen in Georgia history and a recent Circle of Honor inductee, but he's also an analyst for the SEC Network. Be sure to check him out on the pregame show at noon this week before Georgia takes on Tennessee.

In the meantime, Stinchcomb was kind enough to break down some of the problems we're seeing with Georgia's line. Here's what he had to say...

David Hale: So I'm assuming you've seen a bit of Georgia this year. What gives with the offensive line?

Matt Stinchcomb: It started this year against Oklahoma State with the injury to Sturdivant, and you start moving guys around trying to plug and play. Vince Vance is coming off a knee injury. There's still some instability in their lineup. Cordy Glenn was the left tackle the last two games. What was thought to be a strength was compromised in Week 1. Ben was injured at the center spot in training camp. It shows up mainly, I think, in the run game. They're protecting the passer pretty well. You look at the South Carolina game, Vance had some difficulties in that game in pass protection, but by and large, they've done a good job of keeping Cox clean, but the running game has struggled. Losing one of the best running backs we've see in a while -- Knowshon Moreno was a unique talent, and it's been a challenge for Georgia to replace him.

DH: I don't claim to know much about the Xs and Os of blocking, but why would a line struggle in run blocking but be so successful at pass blocking?

MS: It's difficult to say because it's not as if in pass protection they're just running man protections and you know who you've got so there's very little tradeoff. You've got to work in symphony with the guy next to you as well in the passing game. So that's a challenging question that's hard for me to answer.

When you look at the running game, there is a more assertive aspect of your blocking scheme. If you're unfamiliar with the position that you're playing, maybe that leads to some hesitancy. That being said you really didn't see that manifested in years past when Georgia had to move guys around. It's not been just a static lineup, but they were able to overcome that. Maybe that's because they had more stability at the tailback position.

You look at it this year, going into the season, you know you're going to have a new quarterback -- it doesn't matter if he's a fifth-year senior, he doesn't have a lot of starting experience. Richard Samuel and Caleb King, neither had a really substantial role in the running game in years past, so you have new faces at the running back position. The mainstay, you thought, was going to be the offensive line, but that changes early in the second half of the opener. So you get two quarters and some change out of your lone known commodity, and now all of a sudden that's in flux.

So really offensively the only established face that you know of that's a playmaker is the guy that's been making plays, and that's A.J. Green. It's not that everybody else is not capable of it, it's just it's new to them. You have new tailbacks and guys in new positions. Cordy Glenn played guard and right tackle at times, but now all of a sudden he's protecting his quarterback's blind side. It's not as if this is the offense they anticipated going into the season -- certainly not in terms of production, but also the roles and personnel. It was different starting in the opener.

DH: There's been problems beyond just running the ball for the O line. For a good bit of the season, they've struggled with penalties, too. False starts and stuff like that, it seems really surprising from a unit coached by a stickler for details like Stacy Searels. But I was thinking maybe all the shifting around and concern over the offensive struggles, does it almost become a situation where, as a lineman, you're thinking about so many other things that that first step sort of slips your mind?

MS: You got it. Absolutely. My senior year when I was at Georgia -- I struggled with false starts really throughout my career. I was so anxious. There's a number of reasons why it goes on, but ultimately it comes down to a lack of focus. You get so honed in on other aspects of your play that there you are, up at the line of scrimmage, and dang if you don't forget the snap count because you're thinking about what will happen post-snap. Next thing you know, you've got guys flinching, especially in passing downs, especially when you're in shotgun, but even in short yardage.

Whenever you see a unit, and this might be what's happening, you start to press a little bit. You can see it when a quarterback is pressing, he's maybe forcing some throws and floating the ball a little bit. In offensive line play, when guys get anxious and they know they're being counted upon, and next thing you know, they're getting a little bit of a head start against the rules.

I think it's probably a combination of a lot of things, but it's basically what you pointed out, that it ends up being a lack of focus on the first thing that has to happen, and that's getting off on the ball.

DH: Mark Richt and Mike Bobo have mentioned that the problems can certainly go beyond just the line and the tailbacks. Obviously play calling comes into it, but the tight ends are young and the fullbacks have to handle their jobs. Does everyone sort of share in some of the blame?

MS: Here's the thing about football in general -- it's pretty tightly strung. You're going to have difficulty establishing any silos where there isn't any interdependence. It's hard to say, oh our defense is playing great, and it's got absolutely nothing to do with our offensive play or vice versa. That's a bunch of bull. One impacts the other, incredibly so. The three phases of the game interact tremendously.

The same can be said for subsets of those phases. You look at the running game, you can go out there and say the offensive line has played poorly, but it very easily could have been that the backs haven't done a very good job of hitting the hole. Or the opposite is true where you may have a great running game, where your running back has a tremendous outing, and you didn't block that great. He just made them look really good.

I think it goes back to what I was trying to point out before. You come into the season, and you think you know what you've got. You know you're going to have some new faces in other spots, but you think you know what you've got at least on the offensive line, and now all of a sudden, even that has some new faces and some new roles for those faces.

It's got a cumulative effect. You have a couple tailbacks who aren't used to having as significant or as substantial a role, you have some guys playing different positions up front, and it's a little bit disjointed. Everybody hasn't played a lot together, hasn't played next to this guy very much, you have Caleb King coming in a couple games into the season and he's still trying to get into a rhythm. Everybody is still trying to develop some kind of a, you don't want to say a routine, but a rhythm. That's kind of what it looks like out on the field is that they've yet to have the right mix to where everything starts to click a little bit outside of, well, throw to 8.

DH: I did some research and looking at the five games so far, well over half of Georgia's drives are five plays or less -- either three-and-outs or turnovers or quick scores. Does having so many short drives make it hard for the line or the runners to get in a rhythm and maybe that's a reason they'd be struggling?

MS: It's true. That's exactly right. All of these are reasons. None of them can really be excuses, nor do I think anyone is going to propose they are. But absolutely that's part of it. Guys, especially at the running back position, the more they play, the more they get a feel for the game, I know as a player, that's one of the hardest things in the world to do. As a freshman, I platooned with another guy and you kind of get out of a rhythm. When you get a little bit removed from the game, it's hard to kind of re-introduce yourself to it. I've always wondered how defensive players do it where they can come in and out of the game when you have no idea what the flow of the game feels like.

You don't play a guy the same way in the first quarter as you do in the third quarter. You only get a feel for that as the game evolves, and you only get a feel for that as the game evolves. That's the same for the running backs. Maybe the holes seem to be developing on the back side a lot more than the front side. You can see that from the sideline maybe, but you can't feel that from the sideline, and there's a difference there.

DH: So looking forward, what's the longterm prognosis?

MS: Offensively, these guys -- with Ealey coming in there, there's a potential for there to be an establishment of something. At the end of the day, it's like skipping engines. You can see it there, but you see it in flashes. It's not synchronized. I think that's the ultimate overall assessment for Georgia, especially on offense. It hasn't lined up yet.

It's like an in-line six. You can see one or two cylinders are hitting and you're dropping a cylinder. It's not going to run smooth, but it's going to run. You see these guys, and they're able to put it up, they're just not able to put it up with any consistency yet. I think that shows up in the lack of long drives and with the spotty play. It doesn't mean they're not capable of it. They lack consistency, not capability. I view it how I view my golf game. It's frustrating why every once in a while I'll hit a decent shot and wonder why in the world I only do that three or four times a round. But that's a heck of a lot better than going out there and having no glimmer of anything whatsoever and shelving my clubs.


Big thanks to Matt for his help. That's what makes a great analyst -- you don't have to understand all the technical stuff about playing on the line, but if you've played golf or changed a set of spark plugs, he's got you covered.

Along these same lines, I also have a story in today's Telegraph on Georgia's problems with its running game and a whole bunch of additional quotes from the folks involved on what needs to change to get the ground game going.


ChattaDawg said...

hmmmm..Good comments from Matt.
I think he is right about us just "missing on all cylinders". I hope the engine is tuned up quickly.

I will point out that Bama has a remade offensive line and QB. Their backs are relatively young as well but seem to be "hitting on all cylinders" in their run game.

Just win this Saturday! Go Dawgs.

Anonymous said...

If you are bored and want to know the basics you can check out the DVDs at the Georgia Military Institute which explain aspects of the game:

JRL said...

Nice questions and even better answers. I remain skeptical but hopeful.

Bill said...

I am continually amazed by the depth of your Bulldog coverage. Thanks David.

Anonymous said...

maybe its conditioning all around...

Anonymous said...

Man, missing Knowshon is really huge. I don't know that the blocking is that much worse this year than the last two, Knowshon just made them look good. 24 had some of the greatest no gain runs of all time. I distinctly remember watching and saying if that wasn't Knowshon back there that would have been a 5 yard loss or no gain, instead he got yards where there weren't any or didn't lose any where we should have. I'm not making excuses for the o-line I'm just saying maybe it was unreasonable of all of us to think our line was going to be that good in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Free willie and bozo the clown