If you're expecting that clear-cut an answer from me, you're in for a disappointment. Only the coaching staff knows where Mansfield Wrotto and Ray Willis are in their development, and if Chris Gray is a better player than them. Of course, it should be noted that the coaching staff is quite capable of misjudging talent - just last year they started the season with a banged-up Burleson as the number two wide receiver, while D.J. Hackett sat inactive. While I can't tell you if Ray Willis is a better guard than Chris Gray, I hope I can shed some light on whether or not Chris Gray is an effective football player.
This week, I charted every offensive snap, focusing specifically on the play of #62. In typical iron man fashion, he was present for every play the offense ran. He was assigned a grade (A, B, C, D, or F) based on his impact on the play. For example, if Chris Gray stopped a defensive tackle in his tracks but the tackle managed to get his hands up before the ball cleared the pocket, he would score a B for an overall good job. In order to provide some comparison, I also rated the Cardinals starting RG, Deuce Lutui, the same way.
Why this game? There are a couple of reasons that I felt this game would provide the information needed to answer questions regarding Gray's value. The first is that neither Chris Gray nor Deuce Lutui appeared to have a spectacular or horrendous game. Perhaps the biggest complement you can give an offensive guard is that you didn't hear their number called all game, and for the most part neither did anything noteworthy.
The second reason is that they are such opposites. Gray is of average size for a guard, has declining physical skills, but plays with an excellent understanding of the offense and great technique. Deuce Lutui is a 2nd-year giant from USC who has exceptional physical skills but faces questions about his conditioning, work ethic, and technique. Lastly, the both faced fairly similar starting defensive tackles. Rocky Bernard and Darnell Dockett are both quick tackles with decent size but great explosion off the snap. Bernard is undeniably better, but the Cardinals rotate Dockett less and it's safe to assume Dockett is better than Craig Terrill, Bernard's primary backup.
The quickest and easiest answer to this question is that Lutui appears to be a better run-blocker, while Gray has the edge in pass protection. After charting the data, I assigned a point value to each letter grade and found the percentage. On running plays, Lutui graded out around 86%, while Gray scored a 77.63%. This backed up what I observed and also would seem to support standard NFL dogma that bigger guards are better in the running game. After a horrible start in which he amassed 2 Fs, 2 Ds, and 3 Cs in his first seven runs, Gray started delivering much better blocks. His improvement in the second half of the game seems to coincide almost perfectly with the greatly improved running statistics Shaun Alexander put up in the second half.
Lutui was much more inconsistent than Gray in the running game, starting and finishing strong but with a series of mediocre plays during the middle of the game. This could relate to conditioning, since Lutui also played in ever snap and perhaps needed a halftime breather after the Arizona offense spent most of the first quarter driving down the field. Interestingly enough, despite his mammoth size Lutui pulled often and was quite effective (especially against Peterson, who seemed to be constantly be blocked out of plays by Lutui) in that role.
|Unweighted Pass Grade|
|Weighted Pass Grade|
Chris Gray's advantage in technique doesn't appear to make up for his declining physical skills in the running game, but he did grade higher as a protector for his quarterback. Gray graded out at 86% as a pass protector, while Lutui scored only a measly 72.3%. Those numbers are a little deceiving, however, for while Gray scored significantly higher than Lutui he also was asked to do much less.
In addition to noting the result of Gray's blocking, I also kept track of whether or not he had help from C Chris Spencer and whether or not the play called was a designed "short pattern" where Hasselbeck would release the ball almost immediately after the snap. For example, Chris Gray earned 17 "Bs" and 8 "As" in pass-protection over the course of the game, making a total of 25 plays where he graded out 85% or better.
Because I double-scored certain plays (meaning that Gray and Lutui could be knocked for both receiving double-team help and a 3-step drop on the same play) Chris Gray received a total of 24 "black marks" on those 25 plays. In comparison, on the 19 plays where Lutui scored 85% or higher, he was only given a total of 8 "black marks".
Because our goal is to grade the individual players, not their teammates, this presented a bit of a problem. How reliable is Chris Gray's grade if he was receiving help nearly twice as often as Lutui (and from an undoubtedly better C) and benefited from several more quick pass plays designed to make things easier for the offensive line?
In the interest of more reliable numbers, I decided to weigh the scores based on the number of "black marks" on each play. While this sounded like a good idea, the mathematics I employed only corrected the situation slightly, which would indicate either I didn't weight the "black marks" heavily enough or that Gray was still noticeably better than Lutui as a pass-blocker. Even though I am not sure they were weighted enough, I do believe that the weighted numbers are more accurate than the unweighted numbers.
I will admit that while I tried to keep an open mind in this data, I am one who doesn't believe that Chris Gray should be starting for an effective offensive line. However, this data would seem to support the conclusion that he is serviceable enough, even if he does have some weaknesses that require the coaching staff to adjust for. Most surprisingly was his ability to get quickly out of his stance, he was rarely beaten on the first step. Chris Gray isn't going to make it any easier for Shaun Alexander, but he might just keep Hasselbeck alive.
1.) After reviewing this play a dozen times, it really does appear that the majority of the blame for "The Fumble" lies with the backfield. Alexander's feet are set like he is expecting to block, which would agree with the belief that he thought Hasselbeck audibled. More importantly, Strong completely missed his block on Cardinals SS Adrian Wilson, who would've had Alexander for a big loss even if Alexander had correctly heard the play. For the record, Chris Gray was opening a large hole for Alexander to run through if he had the opportunity.
2.) Matt Leinart may have strafed Seattle pretty badly, but he is far from a mature quarterback right now. Despite a fairly promising rookie year, he doesn't have the poise an NFL Quarterback needs to have to lead his team to the playoffs - on several plays, I felt the need to note how often Leinart threw flat-footed for no reason and how he seemed nervous.
3.) Lutui's agility is seriously underrated. It's easy to lump him in with maulers like Shawn Andrews of Philadelphia, but he is far quicker on his feet than any 330-pounder has a right to be. I was actually impressed by his overall promise, if not his play. He picked up the blitz exceedingly well, got to the second level quickly on running plays, and pulled better than anyone in Seattle. I did detect a flaw that some time will exploit in the future - he has absolutely no idea how to handle a spin move. Twice Craig Terrill was able to employ spins to get right past Lutui with good results. Rocky Bernard tried, but his spin moves make me think he should stick to stunting and shooting gaps.
Speaking of Terrill, for a guy who was considered a training camp casualty
he gets a ton of snaps in Seattle's defensive rotation. My analysis focused
primarily on the right guard for each team, so this is just subjective opinion,
but I saw significantly more of Terrill than I did of rookie Brandon Mebane,
who might have had better success against Lutui.
Plays of the Day: Seattle's Defensive Line (9/12/07)
Kyle Rota writes for Seahawks.NET, and he can frequently be seen on our message boards under the handle "Rotak". Feel free to e-mail him here.