Saints 2012: O line a huge part of success for offense
by Kristian Garic, Kristian@wwl.com,posted Mar 14 2012 8:08AM
Drew Brees is straw that stirs the drink for the Saints offense. The Saints offensive line is the drink! "The Big Guys" up front - as they're often referred to by their quarterback. We saw a glimpse of what happens to this offense last year against St. Louis when some of their key members along the offensive line were out with injury. Uh, hello remember the Rams game? Ouch! The Rams defensive front four repeatedly dumped Brees.
However, it begins with two emerging players at the tackle position. Jermon Bushrod has steadily improved since being thrust into the starting line up in 2009. The Saints rewarded him with a two year contract extension last offseason, and Bushrod garnered Pro Bowl honors in 2011. At right tackle Zack Strief took over for Jon Stinchcomb last season. Strief missed some time with a knee injury in 2011, but with his big frame, he's a tough guy to get around and an excellent run blocker for the Saints.
The Saints currently boast the best guard "tandem" in the NFL with Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks. It's hard to believe both guys were picked in the fourth and fifth rounds of the draft respectively. Nicks and Evans allow Brees to climb the pocket and distribute the football to his countless weapons.
"Nicks, isn't just the best offensive lineman on the team, he's the best offensive lineman in the league," said NFL analyst Mike Detillier.
When the Saints lost center Jonathan Goodwin in free agency last year, it provided a bit of a scare and uncertainty. The team moved quickly to sign veteran Olin Kruetz to replace Goodwin. Kruetz abruptly retired after struggling through the first handful of games. Second year man Brian de la Puenta stepped in and played really well.
"He's a good player, but make no mistake about it... de la Puenta is aided by having those two big guys (Nicks and Evans) next to him," Detillier explained.
The five guys up front were outstanding after working through some continuity issues early in the season. The offensive line helped the Saints to the top ranking on offense, protected Drew Brees during his assault on Dan Marino's single season passing record. They kept defenses off balance with an excellent rushing attack. New Orleans enjoyed their finest offensive season in club history, rushing for an average of 132 yards a game - good for 6th best in the NFL. The Saints led the league in passing yards per game with 334 and total yards with 467. The Black and Gold averaged 34 points per game in 2011. The Saints offensive line only allowed 24 sacks last season.