This week we move to the other side of the trenches, to the offensive line. Good tackles come at a premium in the NFL. They are often required to take on pass rush specialists in defensive ends and outside linebackers. They have to seal the edge on outside runs, and open holes for the runner for off tackle runs. Teams have taken notice that continuity on the offensive line leads to a better whole.
The Chargers will not have that luxury this season. The Jared Gaither Experience required antacid to get through, and Mike Harris is clearly not yet ready to take over the duties entailed in the left tackle position. I applaud him for his efforts last season, but the skills are just not there yet. As it stands right now, both guard positions and the left tackle position may have starters that were not on the Chargers last season. Until the unit can congeal as a whole, they will have to rely on individual skills much of the time.
This week we are looking at new tackle King Dunlap. Barring the Chargers using a high draft pick on an NFL starter-ready tackle in the draft, he will likely be the starting left tackle at the start of the season. At 2 years and $4 million, his signing suggests to me that Telesco and McCoy may just be looking to use him to fill in while they search for a more long-term starter at the position.
Based on the game tape from Philadelphia’s Week 13 game against the Cowboys, they may have been wise to do so. Dunlap started the game at left tackle, and played every offensive snap at that position. He was often tasked with blocking either DeMarcus Ware or Jason Hatcher one on one, giving us a test case to evaluate his skills. Andy Reid also called a surprisingly balanced game, with 35 passing plays, and 26 running plays, letting us have a good sample size of Dunlap’s skills in both run blocking and pass blocking.
The Situation: PHI 0, DAL 0; 5:44 left in 1Q; 1st and 10 from the DAL 10
The Play: Dunlap is lined up as usual at left tackle. DeMarcus Ware is lined up just outside of him. The play is a run to the left side, Dunlap will be a key blocker in whether this play succeeds or fails. Dunlap starts by punching Ware to the chest. This is usually a good move in pass blocking, and in this case it proves ineffective. Ware takes it and starts to step around Dunlap. If Dunlap doesn’t do something, Brown will likely be tackled for a loss. Dunlap grabs Ware by his left shoulder and turns him. Brown is able to get by and runs on for a touchdown.
The Lesson: To be honest, I’m surprised holding isn’t called on Dunlap here. Normally when you see a defender by spun around from behind like this, holding is called, ESPECIALLY when it happens right as the ball carrier is going past the defender. This play is a prime example of Dunlap’s poor run blocking. Usually at best he does the punch maneuver and slows the defender down just long enough to keep him away from the carrier. I noticed that the Eagles avoided too many left tackle and left end runs in the game (only 3 or 4 total).
The Situation: PHI 7, DAL 3; 9:17 left in 2Q; 2nd and 13 from the Philadelphia 24
The Play: The play is a run to the right, so Dunlap is not at the point of attack here. Right at the snap, Dunlap falls to the ground in from of Tyrone Crawford, trying to block his progress. The move slows Crawford only momentarily, as he deftly sidesteps Dunlap and is off chasing Brown down the field. The right side of the line does better, and springs Brown for an eventual 39 yard gain. Crawford was the second defender to reach Brown.
The Lesson: He knows how to stop, drop, and roll if he was on fire. I don’t like it when linemen "block" like this. It is a sad and cowardly way to play football. Unlike the good old days, where they’d play on a field that was uphill. Both ways! In the snow! LIKE MEN!
The Situation: PHI 17, DAL 17; 9:41 left in 3Q; 2nd and 6 from the Philadelphia 41
The Play: On this play, Foles is going to fake a handoff, roll out right and throw a short pass to the right to the TE Celek. Dunlap’s responsibility is to watch Foles back end, make sure no one kills him from behind. Dunlap sets up shop on the outside, and initially blocks DB Sterling Moore. After giving him a push, Dunlap moves out of his way further left, to where there is no one to block.
The Lesson: This one is more about work ethic. There were several plays where Dunlap seemed to just decide he was done with the play and stand around. If Celek was covered and Foles was forced to scramble around, Dunlap had just let a defender into the backfield that really didn’t need to be there. Yes, Moore gets picked up eventually by another lineman, but who did Dunlap think he was going to block out by the numbers?
The Situation: PHI 27, DAL 38; 3:08 left in 4Q; 2nd and 8 from midfield
The Play: Foles takes the snap out of the shotgun, and drops back a couple of step, looking down the field. Two seconds later, he is on the ground, and so is the football. Ware just speed rushes right outside of King Dunlap’s shoulder, and doesn’t slow down until he has sacked and forced a fumble. Dunlap at least falls on the ball, keeping possession of the football in Philadelphia’s hands.
The Lesson: This was unquestionably Dunlap’s worst play of the night. Ware exploits Dunlap’s major weakness in pass protection: the speed rush to his outside. In the fourth quarter, the Dallas defenders would take notice of this, and three different defenders would speed rush past Dunlap during Philadelphia’s final drive of the game.
I realize all the plays highlighted were negative on Dunlap. He simply didn't have any exceptionally great plays, but he did well enough most of the time.
As a pass protector, King Dunlap is a serviceable tackle. He has a good punch with his hands that stops defenders progress well, but his footwork is subpar. After the initial punch, he will often be forced into a slow retreat, getting pushed back. He also is susceptible to speed rushes to the outside, and a quick defensive end or linebacker will see some success trying to beat him that way. In pass blocking, you want your linemen to keep the defender from reaching the quarterback, and the pocket clean so that the QB has a lane to throw the pass in. While not at an elite level, Dunlap does a good job at this. Up until Philadelphia’s final drive of the game, Dunlap did a decent job keeping Foles from getting killed by DeMarcus Ware, which is no small feat.
As a run blocker, Dunlap rates below average. He has no drive, and at best he simply keeps the defender from tackling the runner in the backfield. His punch only slows defenders down, and gives them space to divert toward the runner instead. In run blocking, you want your linemen to be able to drive defenders back. That ability allows for bigger holes for the runner to maneuver through, and takes defenders out of the play longer. Dunlap does not do this. He stands up somewhat tall, and is unable to get under the pads of the defender to get any driving force. I don’t see our running game improving much as a result of Dunlap being in the lineup.
All in all, Dunlap's technique in both run and pass blocking relies heavily on upper body strength. He does not use his legs and feet to good effect, allowing more athletic defenders to use speed and agility to get by him. There are also some plays where he would do the bare minimum to keep the play from blowing up, but then take the rest of the play off.
Next week we’ll move away from the trenches a bit, and take a look at new CB Derek Cox. I might find the ability to say nice things by then.