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Play By Play: Saints Offensive Line versus Houston Texans

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Was the black and gold’s front line as bad as it seemed?

NFL: Preseason-New Orleans Saints at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

One area of the NFL that does not get a bright enough piece of the spotlight is the line of scrimmage. The offensive and defensive lines are the crux of every team; the best lines lead the best offenses and the most formidable defenses.

I’m doing my part to give those underrated units the respect they deserve by giving them a weekly focus. I’m rewatching every snap played by the New Orleans Saints defensive and offensive lines at a quarter of the live-action speed to see who won their brutal contests in the trenches.

There’s been some confusion about my methodology, so I’ll break it down a little further. On any given play a lineman will WIN by moving his opponent off their spot or knocking them to the ground, STALL by holding up and neither giving nor gaining ground (nor getting bodied themselves), or LOSE by failing to complete his responsibilities on the play.

I then take that raw data to find the key stat I use to measure offensive line play: success rate. By combining wins with stalls (which are valued slightly less than wins) and dividing them by the total number of snaps played, I can get an idea of how often a lineman was helping the offense. Stalls go in favor of the offense over the defense because they don’t hurt play execution.

Full disclaimer: My charting of those outcomes is highly subjective and comes with a lot of leeway. Without knowing the Saints’ playbook, I can’t definitively say what each lineman is supposed to do on any given play. Combine that with the chaos that happens when an offensive line meets its defensive opponents, and you get a mess that even the most-experienced scouts struggle to navigate.

So, take my findings less as gospel and more as general guidelines to indicate how guys are performing.

Best Success Rate: Terron Armstead. Terron Armstead hit the lineup without missing a beat or a hint of rust. He won 6 of his 13 snaps against the Texans’ stout defensive front and did not fail any of his assignments, giving him a stellar success score of 86.5 percent. Armstead finished blossoming into one of the NFL’s best left tackles last year and looks the part of an elite talent. Now that he’s healthy and refreshed, look for him to be the steadying presence a dysfunctional New Orleans Saints offensive line can rally around this season.

Worst Success Rate: Tim Lelito. It would be hard to believe that the Saints’ coaching staff doesn’t love Tim Lelito, or that the feeling isn’t mutual. Lelito has done everything right off the field; he learned to play center, picked up the team’s tradition of a spring charity softball game, and even turned down an offer from the Dallas Cowboys to stay in New Orleans.

Unfortunately, all of that good karma hasn’t turned into on-field success for the 27-year-old former undrafted free agent. Lelito has struggled this preseason, posting a middling success rate against the New England Patriots (69.1 percent) and flopping terribly against the Houston Texans (52.3 percent). Lelito lost 11 of his 32 snaps and won only four, while also ceding a quarterback hit and two hurries. He can’t be relied on to start in 2016.

A Tale of Two Andruses: Andrus Peat caught a lot of flak for his poor play against the Texans, having given up two sacks and committing a holding penalty to save a third. Saints fans were in dire straits on social media this weekend with some even speculating that Peat is already thinking about life after football.

That’s ridiculous.

What’s interesting is that Peat saw a huge discrepancy between his level of play at guard and tackle. He spent his first 13 snaps of the game at right guard, lining up between Max Unger and Zach Strief. Peat had the second-best success rate on the team (69.2 percent) during those snaps at right guard, winning three times and losing only twice (one of them being a blind side trip over a backpedaling Unger, which Peat couldn’t really avoid). Peat had his struggles at guard, sure, and he stalled out more often than not. But he wasn’t the problem with the offensive line.

Then, Peat was moved to left tackle. He was an elite NFL prospect there in college so you’d expect that familiarity to transfer to the pros. That wasn’t the case Saturday night, as Peat scored the second-lowest success rate on the team (56.6 percent). He looked off-balance and awkward in his movements, which I chalk up to confused muscle memory.

Peat has spent the last eight months learning to rely on his right side and taking cues from the center to his left. Now he’s been thrust back to the left side and is having to forget all he’s practiced, which would explain his struggles. The sooner Peat can stay on the right side of the line (whether that’s at guard or tackle), the better.

Landon Turner Emerges: Landon Turner was the breakout performer of this week’s preseason exhibition, maintaining his success rate in the same range as last week while the rest of the backup linemen floundered. Turner looked much more comfortable in pass protection and was significantly more aggressive as a run blocker, showing a confident burst to get upfield and bully linebackers that wasn’t there last week.

Maybe Turner had rookie jitters against the Patriots. While his success rate dipped slightly from one week to the next (going from 69.5 percent to 68.5 percent), what’s very encouraging is that he cut down on his mistakes. His win/loss differential jumped up from 2 percent (fifth-worst) to 7.1 percent (third-best).

Either way, Turner’s growth this week couldn’t come at a better time. It’s too soon to lock Turner into the final roster, much less expect him to burst into the starting lineup. But for now we can take some solace that he was a bright spot in an otherwise dreary night out for the offensive line.