The New Orleans Saints offensive line didn’t leave its matchup with the New York Giants’ expensive defensive line intact. Both starting offensive tackles suffered injuries that cost them practice time this week; Zach Strief is sidelined with a chest injury that he hopes to be fully-recovered from in time for Monday Night Football’s divisional grudge match. Left tackle Terron Armstead isn’t much better-off with a knee injury on top of his already-hurt quadriceps.
The good news is that the Saints’ offensive line did a solid job of run-blocking across the board. Mark Ingram wasn’t given many chances to carry the ball, but he made them count and was given room to run by his offensive line. The Saints had some success in bouncing Ingram outside where he could set up the Giants’ back seven defenders for missed tackles. The problem is that he wasn’t given enough touches.
A weak spot in run blocking was at left tackle, with Terron Armstead struggling to generate much force from his lower body because of his lingering injuries. He lacked the strength to fire upfield and drive opponents off the line of scrimmage, which is normally a key part of his game. Hopefully he will be fully recovered soon because his run blocking success rate (67.9 percent) was below-average and worst on the team against the Giants.
Armstead found more success in pass protection. His kick-slide and mirroring techniques don’t seem to be much-affected by his lower body injuries, which allows him to be as reactive and twitchy as ever. Except for a play where he was flagged for going offsides, the Giants’ marquee free agent defensive end, Olivier Vernon, couldn’t find a way around Armstead on passing downs. Armstead’s 79.5 success rating in pass protection buoyed an otherwise negative performance.
Andrus Peat continues to develop next to Armstead. The youngster (Peat turns 23 this November) finally looks comfortable on an NFL field, and now he’s starting to get up to speed. Peat has been a disappointing first-round pick because it’s taken him too long to come along and figure out how to keep his body right.
Peat is at his best with an assignment right in front of him so that he can get tunnel vision and trust the men on either side of him to hold up. Peat still isn’t a nasty blocker, but you can see him getting with it and looking to hit someone on every snap. His run blocking success rate of 78.6 was best among offensive linemen who saw all 62 snaps.
Max Unger is playing well now that he can put confidence in Jahri Evans to his right and focus on helping Andrus Peat to his left when needed. Unger isn’t throwing the dominant pancake blocks offensive line enthusiasts live for, but he’s plenty capable on the field and deserves the praise that’s coming his way. He’s an above-average starter on his worst days.
The situation on the right side deserves some meditation. Zach Strief didn’t see a single rep in the second half after injuring his chest (presumably a pectoral muscle injury, but that’s pure speculation), so Senio Kelemete took over for him at right tackle after spelling Jahri Evans at right guard earlier in the game.
Kelemete is the Saints’ most-versatile lineman because he can play all five offensive line spots, though with varying degrees of success. His run-blocking success rate (87.5) was awesome, but comes from only six snaps in the run game. The four losses Kelemete lost in pass protection are concerning. He looked overmatched by the Giants’ interior line.
Some of the problems we feared with the offensive line during the preseason are beginning to materialize. Depth is a problem – neither Tim Lelito nor Senio Kelemete are quality options as starters, and the limited exposure they saw against the Giants should be as much as they can be trusted to handle in a pinch. Hopefully the team will attack personnel deficiencies along the offensive line next spring as feverishly as they addressed a weak defensive front seven this year.