Criticism of Cards' O-line comes back to Grimm - East Valley Tribune: Fox Sports Arizona

Criticism of Cards' O-line comes back to Grimm

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Posted: Saturday, October 15, 2011 5:02 pm | Updated: 5:12 pm, Sat Oct 15, 2011.

Russ Grimm has a habit of pursuing tangents. Sometimes that means he doesn't answer your questions directly. But as his mind wanders down unrelated paths, his down-home approach is so thoroughly entertaining that you can't help but smile as you're led astray.

When asked if it was fair to criticize his offensive line for an inconsistent performance this season, Grimm unfurled a vintage response.

"Most people in this world want the same job," Grimm said. "Nine to five, come home, have dinner ready, sit on the front porch. On a Wednesday night, they go down to the American Legion. They don't want change.

"This job here, this is change. You're going to step out on the field in front of millions of people, and there's a chance you could fail. There's a chance that you're going to lose, but you're willing to take that chance. That's what makes some of these guys special."

 

Translation: Playing on the offensive line is a brutal job in the NFL. No position is as thankless, and no position is more difficult to evaluate because there are so many interrelated parts and so much scheming to which the public and media are not privy.

"If you have 70 snaps in a game and your left tackle has five bad ones, you grade him somewhere in the 90s, and that looks good," Grimm said. "But if he has five bad ones, your left guard has five, your center has five, your right guard has five and your right tackle has five, that's 25 out of 70 snaps, and that won't work.

"Individually, you'd say they played OK, but collectively we didn't get the job done. It's a different grading scale, because we've got to play as a unit."

And there's the rub for the Cardinals and Grimm. They have played well in spots, played well in individual performances, but not consistently as a unit. That's been a consistent problem for Grimm in his five years at this post.

Despite a Hall of Fame career with the Washington Redskins in which he made four consecutive Pro Bowls, Grimm hasn't produced a single Pro Bowl lineman in five seasons with the Cards -- nor has he tutored one worthy of Pro Bowl mention.

Is that a fair standard? Maybe not.

"I had a group in Pittsburgh with three Pro Bowlers on it, and they couldn't do some of the things that this group can do," Grimm said.

But the group in Pittsburgh won, and that, in the end, is the most measurable metric for an offensive line.

"The bottom line is we're 1-4," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "We aren't getting it done in a lot of areas besides the offensive line play.

"It's a little bit unfair to judge what happened last weekend because of the way the score was. When you are down four scores against probably one of the better defensive lines in the league, it's tough. But that doesn't mean you say it's OK. It's not OK. We are continuing to work on our protections and our sets and our techniques, and we have to do a better job of it."

Last week's 34-10 loss in Minnesota was a difficult game by which to evaluate the line. The Vikings grabbed a 28-0 lead in the first quarter, and that turned the Cardinals offense one-dimensional -- they needed to throw.

Arizona had begun to establish an identity as a running team in the four previous games – an identity Whisenhunt had talked more earnestly about establishing once Kurt Warner retired.

"I think we can run the ball on a lot of people. It's a matter of if the game is close," Grimm said. "Last week, we were down so quick that the run was pretty much out the window. We still got a couple draws in there, but you're going to run out of time running the ball in that situation."

At the same time, center Lyle Sendlein said falling behind doesn't excuse the line from criticism.

"I would think everything is fair when you're 1-4," he said. "Whatever the situation is, even if we're on the road and down by 28, we put ourselves there. We put ourselves in that situation with mistakes.

"You can't make excuses. If the coaches ask us to throw the ball 70 times against two pro defensive ends then we're going to have to get the job done."

Offensive statistics depend on more than the offensive line's execution. In the run game, did the back hit the right hole? In the passing game, did the quarterback hold the ball too long or did the receivers get open? That aside, Arizona is averaging just 4.2 yards per rush, which ranks 17th in the NFL. The line also has allowed 16 sacks (fourth most in the league) and 24 QB hits, the 10th most in the league.

One of Warner's greatest contributions to this franchise was his ability to mask significant issues on this line. Yet since Warner retired two years ago, the Cards have not spent a draft pick on an offensive lineman.

Left tackle Levi Brown has been a favorite whipping post because of his high draft status. Grimm believed Brown was a good pick when the Cards took him No. 5 overall in 2007, but Brown's play has been average.

Still, there has been plenty of blame to spread around.

"Nobody should have to say something to somebody or scream and yell if a play doesn't go well," Sendlein said. "We're all professionals, but there comes a time where you turn on the film after games and have a sense of pride and learn from your mistakes. We all need to do that."

Sendlein insists that Grimm is demanding of his players despite a perception that he sometimes takes it easy on them.

"It definitely trickles down from Russ," he said. "He's always said if you're getting the job done, he doesn't care if you line up backwards. But if you don't do it, he's going to let you know and he's going to hold you accountable."

Still, Grimm is self-effacing when evaluating his own performance.

"It's probably been average," he said. "We can be better."

Until that higher standard arrives, he's willing to accept the blame.

"I'm coaching them. That's part of this business," he said. "If we don't get the Ws, criticism goes all the way through the team, and that includes assistants. That includes me."

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