Ravens Could Fall Victim To O-Line 'Theory Of 150'
PRECOCIOUS YOUTH WOULD HELP SEVERAL TEAMS
By Joe Platania
On Wednesday, the United States of America will turn 236 years old.
In relative terms, that makes the country a youngster. But, considering its history, its youth should be viewed in the context of being a precocious child that knows more than it probably should.
With today's society so preoccupied with age -- not to mention the physical and mental capabilities that allegedly come with certain numbers of years -- a certain theory has come to light regarding offensive linemen that is worth repeating.
Noted football journalist John Clayton is a McCann Award winner, that is, he has been cited by the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his longtime print and broadcast work. He has come up with the "Theory Of 150."
The theory states that if a team's five projected starters along the offensive line have a total age of 150 or more and at least three of those starters are age 30 or older, the team for which they play can expect a decline in the win colunn.
Experience may help when it comes to a team gaining cohesion with a five-man core, as well as figuring out its various blocking schemes.
But with the increasing speed and physicality of defenses across the league -- as well as the salary cap -- it's more incumbent upon teams to field the kind of precocious youth across their front lines that has helped this nation progress.
Clayton is on record this offseason as saying that when it comes to the 150 theory, the Ravens should be concerned when looking at their projected starting five.
With Cincinnati Bengals free-agent pickup Bobbie Williams (age 35) seemingly taking the lead in the left-guard race during organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp practices, it means that a starting line of Bryant McKinnie (32), Williams, Matt Birk (35), Marshal Yanda (27) and Michael Oher (26) would give Baltimore the oldest line in the NFL.
That quintet's ages add up to 155, with three starters older than 30, and that doesn't take Williams' 2011 injuries and McKinnie's weight problems into account. Also, Birk's starting status could be considered in jeopardy after leg surgery, and Oher has led the team in penalties the last three seasons.
That's why the offensive line -- the lifeblood of any football team -- has been a point of scrutiny in Baltimore, even with only one starter (left guard Ben Grubbs) departing in free agency.
Despite Grubbs' Pro Bowl-level of play, many New Orleans Saints observers see his acquisition as a step down from previous left guard Carl Nicks, who departed for Tampa Bay.
The league's fourth-toughest schedule is staring the Ravens in the face this year, which could lead to a drop-off in the win column; in the tough AFC North, a division that sent three teams to the postseason last year, it could be enough to stop Baltimore's run of four straight playoff appearances and eight during the last 12 years.
As proof, Clayton offers up several examples.
In 2007, the Chicago Bears were coming off the second Super Bowl appearance in team history. Much-maligned general manager Jerry Angelo -- still villified in Baltimore for a draft-day phone snafu -- decided his team could return its ancient line for another season.
The problem was that Angelo's line -- John Tait, Fred Miller, Olin Kreutz, Ruben Brown and Roberto Garza -- came into the '07 season with a total age of 159, an average of 31.8 years per man.
The Bears went from the Super Bowl to a 7-9 season, allowing 43 sacks and fielding a running corps that gained a mere 3.1 yards per carry.
(If Miller's name sounds familiar, it should. During the 2000 playoffs, it was Miller's last-ditch tackle that failed as Ray Lewis ran back his memorable interception into the end zone to beat the Tennessee Titans during the Divisional Playoff round.)
Another example comes from just a few miles down Route 295.
The Washington Redskins' most recent playoff appearance, in 2007, featured an offensive line that was old enough as it was (total age: 158), but it ballooned to 161 the following year. They promptly allowed nine more sacks and missed the postseason.
An interesting team to watch this year is none other than the Super Bowl champion New York Giants, the first-ever team to win the Lombardi Trophy with a 9-7 record. Part of the reason for the Giants' inconsistency through much of the year was an offensive line that had constant breakdowns at both tackle spots; the team did not bring back right tackle Kareem McKenzie.
Tennessee and Detroit are also teams to watch when it comes to the "Theory Of 150." The Titans signed one of the present era's best guards, Steve Hutchinson, but they don't have that kind of quality elsewhere up front, and Hutchinson is 34 himself.
Teams that recognize the problem an aging offensive line can cause have made moves to rectify the problem. It should come as no surprise that the New England Patriots are one of those teams.
Three years ago, New England's starting offensive line was up to 151, so they infused it with youth by drafting tackles Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder during the ensuing years.
Dallas took USC tackle Tyron Smith to be its new left-tackle anchor and moved the still-youthful Doug Free to the right side, helping to ensure a successful season for quarterback Tony Romo and breakout running back DeMarco Murray.
The Cowboys made those moves because three years ago, everyone along the starting line was older than 30. In fact, the total age of the quintet was 157; those five players, which included future short-term Ravens backup Andre Gurode, are all out of football.
But for now, the Ravens can deal only with the players they do have, and some of them have names the fans haven't heard that often in a first-string context.
A key question is: what do guards Jah Reid, Justin Boren, Kelechi Osemele and Howard Barbieri, not to mention center Gino Gradkowski and tackles Ramon Harewood and Paul Madsen, have in common?
It's an easy answer: they're all in their early 20s, full of enough youth, fire and brimstone to put forth the effort to make the team.
But do they have enough precociousness to be the next men up that they will surely be, and soon?
Posted July 3, 2012