Question: What's that sound you hear when an offensive lineman is having a great season?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
When a quarterback is sacked, you see the player he beat on replays. When you see a running back dropped at the line of scrimmage, you see the offensive lineman that the defensive player shed to make the stop. There's no stats that truly articulates an offensive lineman's production comparable to the most rudimentary statistics for skill players on offense. You can make an assumption based on sacks allowed or yards/rush, but that speaks to an offensive line as a whole, not an individual player. There are some expert analysis that provides a glimpse into a player using ratings, but they're often not popular because of the difficulty some are to understand.
When an offensive lineman is producing, you don't hear about him because he's doing his job. Typically, midway through the third quarter or by the fourth quarter, one of the announcers will talk about how James Harrison or Terrell Suggs have been shutdown, and if they're lucky, the offensive lineman's name will be mentioned. But not always.
And it's generally unfair because football IS the trenches. Passing is great and exciting. Bruising running backs -- the few that remain -- go hand-in-hand with great offensive line work. But the trenches is where games are definitely won and lost.
Through 15 games this year, Andrew Whitworth is rated as the league's second-best tackle, second-best pass blocker and one of the best run blockers according to Pro Football Focus. Yet, when the 2011 NFL Pro Bowl was announced Tuesday night, Whitworth's name was omitted from the roster. Few analysts called Whitworth's omission a snub, simply because Joe Thomas, Jake Long and D'Brickashaw Ferguson are having fine seasons in their own respects. But they're also the most recognized of the bunch and if you break it down, all four offensive tackles are very close in terms of production.
Here's a breakdown of Whitworth, compared to the three offensive tackles chosen for the 2011 Pro Bowl.
|Tackle||Sacks||QB Pressure||QB Hits||Yards/Rush*||TDs|
|Yards/Rush is defined as rushing plays around the tackle -- typically from the tackle to the end of the line.|
Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander disputes the three sacks and argues that Whitworth has only allowed two, according to Mothership Captain, Geoff Hobson.
Whitworth has allowed two sacks this season, both to Pro Bowlers in the last minute deep in Cincinnati's own territory on the road, John Abraham in Atlanta and Dwight Freeney in Indianapolis. Which means at one time or another this season Whitworth has blanked five players with at least 7.5 sacks: Miami's Cameron Wake (14), Harrison (11), Suggs (11), San Diego's Shaun Phillips (11), and Cleveland's Marcus Benard (7.5).
The good news is that Whitworth is likely to be the first alternate. And if that's the case, depending on injuries being mended, there's a shot Whitworth makes the team if Ferguson's Jets, at the very least, makes the AFC Championship game. Players may take the weekend off, consider the Pro Bowl is after a playoff game and before the Super Bowl.
Either way, that doesn't limit the disappointment Whitworth feels about being passed over.
"You figure the high draft picks and more visible teams are going to have an edge and D'Brickashaw is on a team that is doing well," Whitworth said. "And once someone goes, it seems like they're there every year because of the name recognition. It is what it is. It would have been a nice honor. But the real honor is going to be when I help the Cincinnati Bengals to a championship."
Most of you remember Willie Anderson, who was a first class offensive tackle stuck on a bad Cincinnati Bengals squad, always passed over when it came to the Pro Bowl.
"I empathize with him and I know how well he's played," Anderson said. "Three things go into making the Pro Bowl. Being good, but also being on a good team and name recognition and I think Whit's the victim of being on a team with a bad record. Everybody who has watched the Bengals play knows what a good year he's had, but no one wants to look at you if you’re on a bad team. Only three make it, but if you don't make it, it doesn't mean you're not an elite tackle."
All in all, I'm happy for Whitworth to get the recognition he's getting, at least from Bengals fans. And I'm happy that we have Whitworth, an effective left tackle, a leader and a great influence in the community.
Andrew Whitworth. A Pro Bowler in the hearts and minds of Bengals fans.