I was going to add "aka the one player who's most to blame for our struggles on offense", but I tried to be civil.
I got good response to my last offensive line related fan post, and while looking up stats to comment on a recent blog post I decided to gather some stats and compare how each of our other 4 starting offensive linemen played in the 4 games Gaither played vs the 6 Harris has (5 for Green). Partly to sadly-laugh at how bad Harris is, partly to examine the notion that the "real" value of a great LT** is not just his ability, but his ability to do it alone, leaving the rest of the line to focus on their work & not help him. (NOTE: I know there's more factors*** that come into play and I am only taking one angle in looking at this, but I believe it is a telling one. ***For example, Harris played both DEN games, and Gaither both KC, yet for the most part the other 4 players played worse in the 2nd of each game, so even within the same opponent there's other factors in play).
**Gaither was under-achieving in the pass game this season (though excellent in the run), but when he's been on the field, there's no question he's been an elite LT. He was 27th (on PFF) last season, in only 5 games (no pressure allowed though not enough snaps to qualify for ranking). 2nd if you extrapolate to 16. 2009 he was 11th in 11 games (3rd in 16). He was 4th in protection grade in those 11 alone. He was 10th in 2008, actually playing all 16 games (9th in pass, 2nd in run-blocking, just 5th worst in penalties). He's an elite T - period. Though I think that makes these differences (Gaither vs Harris effect) even worse, is because they occurred when Gaither wasn't even 100%
Here are tables breaking down how each of the 4 other players played in MH games vs JG games.
Green's current ranks (pass,run) of 77 G: 35, 43
If extrapolated JG grades to 9 games: 3, 15
Current (of 35 C): 27, 24
To 10 games: 7, 23 (Hardwick's never been a great run blocker though)
Current (of 77 G): 14, 35
To 10 games: 5, 13
Current (of 72 T): 50, 27
To 10 games: 33, 4
Granted, it's a small sample size, and there's many other variables (especially give the inconsistencies against the same opponent), but I think these numbers all still support that Mike Harris makes the rest of our offensive line play at a lower level than even an 'average" Jared Gaither does. They all pass protect & run-block better (for the most part). If Gaither played all 10 games at the same level he played his 4, it looks like we've have likely the best pass-protecting interior-3 in the league, and arguable the best run-blocking OT's (save maybe SF).
And yes, we won & lost games with both Gaither & Harris. And the opponents we faced with Gaither for the most part weren't great. But NO & CLV (the 2 Gaither loses) were his worse of the 4. He played well in NO until he tore his groin & left himself in the game ending any chance of a comeback (if you weight this, it over-takes his play until then....which I choose to do) (that, and the pass-rush was horrible), and vs CLV he was easily our worst pass-protector that game. When Gaither plays "okay" our OL is (potentially) pretty damn good. If we can solidify the LT spot with consistent "okay" play, I think that will take away a lot of the work of improving the rest of our line**. I would say the priority (in replacement) is LT, RT/LG, future-C (Molk?), with RG tied up for a while (Vasquez is still doing pretty well w/Harris here. Before his terrible pass-grade vs Tampa, he was one of the top rated Gs). (I say RT/LG just because I believe Clary is viable but the value of the position is higher, so if we could theoretically replace either with an elite player, I'd go with RT). And to touch on my last OL article, we need that future-C to be able to run-block (and LG as well), so we can finally get push inside.
(**Yes, I realize in a recent blog-comment I preached that RT is just as important as LT, especially given us facing the current top-2 pass-rushers 2x a year (Miller & Houston) & that both are left-side rushers, but I was letting the Mike Harris effect cloud my judgement of Clary. He was actually getting a lot of praise from writers & PFF alike on his improved play this season. Unfortunately he has had this "proving ground" taken away from him***).
(***and yes, there are quite a few instances on PFF's grading where a team's RT is good when the LT is bad (by a significant margin) or bad when the LT is good, which would back up that their "mission" to grade each player's results independent of the effect other players have on him (and that's it's some other effect, like opponent, that is causing Clary to be bad in the same games as Harris), but I'd still argue there's merit to Mike Harris making the whole line worse than Gaither's sub-standard play).