In the preseason, it appeared that a banged up and unproven line might hold back a potentially explosive Redskins’ offense.
But Kory Lichtensteiger returned from a second knee surgery, Chris Chester’s ankle sprain turned out to be minor, and most important, reserve Tyler Polumbus proved to be an adequate replacement for the injured Jammal Brown.
While it might be a stretch to call the Redskins’ offensive line one of the team’s strengths, the unit certainly has performed much better than anticipated through the season's first six games.
“Overall, I’ve been happy with our guys,” Coach Mike Shanahan said this week. “They are starting to feel very comfortable with the system. They know what they are doing and it shows on the field.”
Quarterback Robert Griffin III has been sacked 12 times, a lower total that 17 other starters and has been hit an average of 5.8 times per game. Some of that, of course, is Griffin’s elusiveness. Some of it, though, is the result of an offensive line that’s in sync and doing an effective job in pass protection.
For comparison’s sake, Arizona’s Kevin Kolb has been sacked 27 times, while Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers has been sacked 23 times.
The statistics also show Washington’s Trent Williams-led offensive line has been effective in run blocking.
The Redskins rank second in the NFL in rushing yards with 996. Rookie running back Alfred Morris leads the way with 538, while Griffin has amassed 379, the most among quarterbacks.
The unit has, however, seen its share of struggles from time to time. Against the Bengals, for example, Griffin was sacked six times for a total loss of 53 yards and contacted 13 other times while passing. In that game, Williams suffered a knee injury in the first quarter and his replacement, Jordan Black, was not sharp.
That game was the line's low point. Sunday's triumph over the Vikings' top-tier defense, meantime, marked its best effort.
Griffin was sacked just once and hit while passing only three times. The team also rushed for 183 yards, a total highlighted by Griffin’s 76-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. That play began with center Will Montgomery and guards Lichtensteiger and Chester opening a gaping hole for Griffin at the line of scrimmage.
Asked about the line’s unexpected improvement, Shanahan singled out three keys: health, chemistry and Polumbus’ emergence. Polumbus, a 6 foot 8, 305-pound tackle, was signed last November as a depth player. But he won the starting right tackle job in training camp, replacing Brown, who remains on the physically unable to perform list with a hip condition.
“There were a number of people that worried about our offensive line,” Shanahan said. “We have stayed fairly healthy, which is always a big advantage. The offensive line is a group of people working together as a unit. Everybody’s got a piece of the puzzle.”
He added: “The big addition has been Tyler Polumbus. He’s come in and he’s done a good job of picking up the system very quickly. Hopefully, he’ll keep on improving.”
On the other side of the line, Williams is quietly putting together a Pro Bowl-caliber season, a bid underscored by his standout performance against Jared Allen last week. Allen recorded a sack late in the game, but the Vikings’ star defensive end beat tight end Logan Paulsen on that play, not Williams.
“I don’t even like watching my rookie year film, because it’s not me,” Williams asked about his progress. “ It’s basically two different players at this point. Last year, I improved a lot. But even that player last year is not the player you see now. It’s experience.”
Williams also knows the line’s biggest challenge awaits Sunday at the Meadowlands. In addition to Jason Pierre Paul, the Redskins must contend with Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora, among others.
“They have the best front four the league has to offer,” Williams said. “It’s going to be a huge challenge.”