The Rise of Washington’s Offensive Line
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The news around the 2020 Washington Football Team revolved around the defense and its meteoric rise to one of the best in the NFL. In specific their star newcomer DE Chase Young and the other three 1st round draft picks on the defensive line. So naturally entering the 2021 season the talk was about the defense yet again with only question marks and pessimistic takes on the offensive line. Well, why was that? Was the offensive line bad in 2020? Quite the contrary, Per PFF Washington’s Offensive Line finished the 2020 season as their sixth best ranked unit in the NFL. That‘s right, the dominance your seeing this season was set into motion last year. Poor quarterback play and an offensive coordinator’s infatuation with the passing game kept us (WFT Fans) from seeing the real potential of this offensive line group. Ron Rivera and Offensive Line Coach John Matsko have quietly gone about building a physically imposing unit. John Matsko a 29-year veteran offensive line coach has built several quality groups over the years in: (St. Louis, Baltimore, Carolina). Now he is doing it again here in Washington. One of the most impressive qualities about this offensive line is that Matsko has been able to get the backup offensive lineman to perform at near starter-level or above when needed. The likes of; (Tyler Larsen, Cornelius Lucas, Wes Schweitzer, Saadiq Charles, Keith Ismael) have all played well when given the chance this season. That has allowed this offense to continue to be productive while dealing with injuries along the offensive line. Matsko’s unique approach to teaching his players the finer points of the game have included assigning them various books to read and papers to write. That approach has incorporated the life lessons read in those books to help reinforce how important the smaller details in football can be to the success of the entire team.
Another reason for the unit’s success has been the ability of Matsko to effectively cross train all his lineman. What’s cross training a lineman you say? Well, it is the effective teaching of multiple positions along the offensive line to his players so that when injury occurs the team is able to have backup players step into various positions so that there is minimal drop off in performance. This cross training gives Matsko’s group the great benefit of having “Position Flex.” Position Flex is a favorite buzz word/term Ron Rivera loves to throw around when describing the offensive line or really any position group on the team. The benefit of position flex has already shown itself on the offensive line this year. As we have seen Wes Schweitzer already play guard and center. We have also seen Lucas and Saadiq play either tackle spot as well as guard.
We had only seen glimpses of how dominant our group could be in the run game up until this point. One such snippet came at the beginning of the 2021 season where the offensive line would rank highly on ESPN’s Run-Block Win Rate and Pass-Block Win Rate statistic either as a unit or individually. With offensive coordinator Scott Turner operating a pass first approach through the first eight games it was difficult to see how far Matsko’s group had truly progressed. At the bye week the team was 2-6 with the outlook being very grim. Rivera who last week revealed in a radio interview (along with other media outlets) that he made suggestions to both the offensive and defensive coordinators about making changes to their gameplans. I don’t know any of you who are reading this personally or how your jobs work, but I will venture a guess that it is like my own experience that when your boss “makes a suggestion,” that it’s not really a suggestion. It is an actual directive put into the nicest possible terms that you the employee (in this case Jack Del Rio & Scott Turner) better make the changes suggested or there will be consequences of which you will want no part of.
Well, Scott Turner took those suggestions to heart and beginning with the Tampa Bay game has shown a commitment to the run game that I didn’t know he had in him. With the new focus on running the ball it has unleashed a nasty, physically imposing side to our offensive line that has been so impactful in the team’s three game win streak. Our offensive linemen are driving defenders off the ball with relative ease in the run game and in most instances are continuing to block defenders all the way to the ground. Not only is this group creating big running lanes, but they are actively looking to finish defenders right up to the echo of the whistle. Those actions are helping to create a mindset of trying to impose your will on the competition. The team has adopted that mindset recently as multiple players have started to publicly recognize the dominance of the line but more importantly its effect on the team’s success.
The legendary “Hogs” led by famed offensive line coach Joe Bugel did extraordinary things in leading different quarterbacks to the super bowl. Those are enormous accomplishments that may never be duplicated here in Washington. John Matsko and his group of emerging linemen have a long way to go in terms of being a top ranked unit in the league, but they are certainly trending in that direction. As a former high school offensive lineman and tight end watching this group’s physical style of play has been a real joy. I am excited to see the further growth of our lineman and their continued emergence as a real driving force behind the team’s success.