At this time last year, the Carolina Panthers' offensive line was not playing well and was a liability for this offense. Well, that has quickly changed as this group is playing some of the best football collectively in the NFL and was recently ranked as the second best offensive line the NFL by Pro Football Focus.
At this time last year, the Panthers had a starting five of Byron Bell at left tackle, Amini Silatolu at left guard, Ryan Kalil at center, Fernando Velasco at right guard, and Nate Chandler at right tackle. This team had this starting five to start the year for four straight games but was very ineffective. Pro Football Focus gave them a cumulative rating of -30.3 over those four games and they had allowed 10 sacks over that time frame. There was not one game that they had a positive rating as a group.
Fast forward to this year and the Panthers have found some young building blocks to build around center Kalil, who is the only starter to return from this offensive line at the start of last year. The group of Andrew Norwell, Trai Turner and Mike Remmers all became starters towards the end of the season and there was some signs of what this offensive line could become. The only major question mark this offseason was at left tackle and the team brought in Michael Oher.
Over the first four weeks of this season, the Panthers' offensive line has played very well as mentioned above being rated second best overall in the NFL. This starting five has a cumulative rating of 11.5, which is a 41.8 point swing from the beginning of 2014, and only allowed 4 sacks. Meanwhile, right tackle Remmers has not given up a sack since being named the starter in Week 12 of last year, which is a streak of 11 consecutive games.
The strong start this year again can be attributed to the fact that the majority of this line did get a chance to play together and gel. The addition of Oher, while he hasn't necessarily played great, has helped provide a veteran presence at a key position and he has played much better in pass protection compared to Bell. Pro Football Focus gave Bell a rating in pass protection of -7.6 and credited him with two QB sacks, three QB hits, and eight QB hurries while Oher has a rating in pass protection of -.5 with two sacks given up, zero QB hits and seven QB hurries.
The play of the offensive line has been one of the reasons that Cam Newton has had such a strong start this year. The fact that he has been able to stand in a clean pocket has helped him make the necessary throws or find alleys to scramble up the field for positive yards.
As long as this starting five is able to play at the level they have through the first four weeks, this offense will be good enough to put points on the board and compliment one of the stronger defenses in the NFL.
*Stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus, unless otherwise noted.