Losing Ground

Even the most novice of football fans could tell you that it's a lot harder to win in the NFL when your offense is losing ground. Ed Thompson takes a look at the six teams who racked up the most negative yardage last season and what they've done during the offseason in hopes of correcting the problem.

Six of the league's 32 teams lost more than 450 yards of offensive production during the regular season last year, limiting the number of wins they were able to chalk up along the way.

How significant were those losses? Well, only one of those teams managed to qualify for the playoffs - the Seattle Seahawks- who lost 464 yards, third-worst in the NFL.

By contrast, the four teams that were able to minimize their negative yardage on offense were all playoff teams: Indianapolis, Baltimore, New Orleans, and San Diego. The Colts only lost 208 yards all season with an almost even split of 89 yards on rushing plays and 98 on pass plays. They were the only team to finish the year with less than 100 negative yards in either category, so to achieve that feat in both areas was certainly impressive.

Here are the six teams that need to fix some problems this summer as they tune-up their offenses for the 2008 season.

1. Oakland Raiders (-524 yards): No surprise here. How many times did you see highlights of Raiders quarterbacks getting creamed by opposing defenders? By the end of the year, Aaron Brooks was sacked 26 times in eight game appearances while Andrew Walter suffered the same fate 46 times in 12 appearances. Oakland's league-worst 72 sacks allowed cost them 430 yards of field position. As a result, the team is experimenting with moving Robert Gallery to left guard, signed a pair of unrestricted free agents - guard Cooper Carlisle from Denver and tackle Langston Walker from Buffalo - and used a third-round pick on tackle Mario Henderson out of Florida State. Brooks is gone and the Raiders spent their top pick on LSU's JaMarcus Russell as new head coach Monte Kiffin looks to solve this problem quickly.

2. Detroit Lions (-506 yards): Pass protection was also the key to Detroit's woes offensively in this category. Quarterback Jon Kitna suffered the full brunt of the team's 63 sacks, losing 388 yards in the process and turning the ball over 7 times on fumbles.  Detroit brought in a pair of free agents - former Ravens guard Ed Mulitalo and Broncos offensive tackle George Foster during the offseason while releasing Rick DeMulling and Ross Verba. Through the draft, the team added Texas Tech's Manuel Ramirez in the fourth round, a perfect choice for a team looking to keep their quarterback's uniform clean. As the team's top offensive lineman, Ramirez provided key support to the third-best passing attack in the nation last year. 

Shaun Alexander takes a hit from Chicago's Lance Briggs
(Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
3.  Seattle Seahawks (-464 yards): While Seattle tied for fourth in yards lost due to sacks (-333) along with Pittsburgh and St. Louis, just as problematic for them was their fourth-place finish in the number of running plays that resulted in losses (61 for 131 yards). In ten game appearances, Shaun Alexander lost 75 yards, getting stuffed on 12.3 percent of his carries (7th-worst percentage in the league) while Maurice Morris was stymied on 14.9 percent of his attempts (3rd worst percentage). Seattle's run deep into the playoffs was a real tribute to their overall team balance, and with a healthy Matt Hasselbeck and Alexander this season, they should see immediate improvement. The Seahawks also added talented lineman Mansfield Wrotto in the fourth round of the draft, a tackle out of Georgia Tech who will play guard at the pro level, and Wake Forest guard Steve Vallos in the seventh round. 

4.  Buffalo Bills (-456 yards):  J.P. Losman's erratic play combined with an ineffective offensive line set the team back 47 times for 332 yards due to sacks allowed.  The team added talent to their offensive line depth chart through free agency by signing guard Derrick Dockery (Redskins), offensive tackle Langston Walker (Raiders), and center/guard Jason Whittle (Vikings).  They also drafted former Stanford QB Trent Edwards who is used to playing under heavy pass pressure. The impact of the departure of veteran running back Willis McGahee to Baltimore during an offseason trade will be interesting to watch as top draft pick Marshawn Lynch out of California will be called on to contribute early.  McGahee was stuffed on 12.3 percent of his carries last year versus just 8.3 percent in 2005.

5.  St. Louis Rams (-454): Unlike the other four teams mentioned so far who logged over 100 negative yardage plays each, the Rams didn't have as many (89) - they just lost bigger chunks of ground when they did. Quarterback Marc Bulger took the hit for all 49 of the team's sacks, losing 366 yards in the process. But give him credit for taking those hits instead of chances. He threw just 8 interceptions in 16 game appearances. The Rams get offensive tackle Orlando Pace back after losing him in Week 10 last season due to a torn triceps. Offensive guard Adam Timmerman was released while the team added feisty C/G Dustin Fry out of Clemson during the fifth round of the 2007 NFL Draft and 6-foot-5, 322-pound offensive tackle Ken Shackleford out of Georgia.

6.  Pittsburgh Steelers (-451): While rushing for 1,494 yards last year, Willie Parker lost 80 yards, second-worst in the league amongst running backs. The Steelers' offensive line yielded 49 sacks last, all but three weathered by Ben Roethlisberger. But you can't credit the Steelers' passer for taking hits instead of interceptions. He tossed 23 turnovers, three more than his first two seasons combined. Pittsburgh addded former Bucs G/C Sean Mahan while center Jeff Hartings retired. Former Rutgers guard Cameron Stephenson has been favorably compared to Mahan, and the two could eventually end up playing shoulder to shoulder in Pittsburgh.

Statistics referenced in this article were provided by Stats, Inc. and were used with permission.

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