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Upgrading the Broncos offensive line coaching

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How have Mike Munchak’s offensive lines fared in the NFL over the years? We take a look.

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NFL: Pro Bowl-AFC Practice Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

So I wrote about the performance of the 2018 Broncos offensive line and praised the Denver Broncos former offensive line coach, Sean Kuglar, but now they will have a new offensive line coach. Since Mike Munchak was considered and interviewed for the head coaching position with Denver, his hiring is being heralded as a great move for the team.

His offensive lines have been “quite” good in Pittsburgh, but you know me, I want to see some data to back that assertion. So let’s look at Mike Munchak’s full body of work as an OL coach using similar methods that I used in my analysis of the 2018 Denver Broncos offensive line.

Mike Munchak became the offensive line coach for the Titans in 1997 after spending three seasons as an offensive assistant/quality control coach for the franchise while it was still in Houston. He stayed as the Titans OL coach until 2011 when he was hired as the head coach of the team. After getting fired as the Titans’ head coach after the 2013 season, Munchak took over the Steelers offensive line and remained there until he moved laterally to take the OL coach position in Denver.

Interestingly enough, footballoutsiders.com has stats that go back that far for OL play so we can get an in depth read on how Munchak’s offensive lines have fared in both run blocking and pass protection. The data is in the table below:

Year Age Team Adjusted Line Yards Power Rank Suffed Rank Adjusted sack rate
1997 37 Tennessee Oilers 2 17 6 17
1998 38 Tennessee Oilers 26 5 23 15
1999 39 Tennessee Titans 6 2 10 2
2000 40 Tennessee Titans 20 29 20 6
2001 41 Tennessee Titans 28 9 29 16
2002 42 Tennessee Titans 21 9 18 3
2003 43 Tennessee Titans 30 31 32 7
2004 44 Tennessee Titans 14 28 23 23
2005 45 Tennessee Titans 19 19 19 3
2006 46 Tennessee Titans 27 13 8 11
2007 47 Tennessee Titans 11 6 8 16
2008 48 Tennessee Titans 20 26 28 3
2009 49 Tennessee Titans 22 15 24 3
2010 50 Tennessee Titans 31 31 31 9
2014 54 Pittsburgh Steelers 6 8 1 14
2015 55 Pittsburgh Steelers 8 24 10 8
2016 56 Pittsburgh Steelers 3 7 4 4
2017 57 Pittsburgh Steelers 7 12 5 1
2018 58 Pittsburgh Steelers 15 5 5 4

Adjusted Line Yards is a metric that tries to separate the performance of the OL from the performance of the running backs. You can read more about it at their website if you are so inclined. Power rank is comparative success in power situations (3rd or 4th down needing 1 or 2 yards for first down or TD). Stuffed rank is the relative rank in percentage of runs that gain zero or negative yards. Lower numbers are better in all four rankings.

As you can see from the table, Munchak’s offensive lines have been consistently good at pass protection even if they have had some years where they were poor to terrible at run blocking. For his 19 seasons as an offensive line coach in the NFL, Munchak’s offensive lines have averaged a ranking of 8.6 in adjusted sack rate.

If you focus solely on his last five seasons (with the Steelers), he has been arguably the best offensive line coach in the league - based on the performance of his OL - with only one season (2015) where his OL did not finish in the top half of the league in all four metrics. It is also worth noting that the Steelers’ OL was ranked 22nd, 21st, 24th and 15th in those four metrics the year before he took over, so he not only got them to improve, but he was able to maintain that high level of performance while he was there. I should note that the 2013 Steelers were without All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey for most of the season. The 2014 Steelers had Pouncey back and playing at high level so that helps to contribute to that overall line performance improvement. Pouncey has been a Pro Bowl center in every season where he played more than one game (he missed all of 2015 and only played one game in 2013).

I’d also like to note what Munchak has been able to do as far as player development on the OL. Let’s do this by looking at some of the pieces that Munchak had to work with in Pittsburgh. Yes, he had some highly drafted offensive lineman in Pouncey (18th overall pick), David Decastro (24th overall pick) and Marcus Gilbert (63rd overall pick), but he also got good performance out of backup center Cody Wallace (UDCFA) when Pouncey was lost for the entire year in 2015 and Alejandro Villanueva who is the Steelers current starting LT and was also an undrafted college free agent. More on Villanueva later. The Steelers had three undrafted college free agents starting on their offensive line in 2017 (Villanueva, Ramon Foster and Chris Hubbard) and 2018 (Matt Feiler started 10 games at RT with Villaneuva and Foster both starting 16 games).

Villaneuva, a green beret and graduate of West Point, was a skinny 6-9 offensive tackle for a very bad (at that time) Army football team. He was on the Eagles and Steelers practice squads in 2014 after serving on active duty and being deployed to Afghanistan. He did not appear in an NFL game until 2015. He has made the Pro Bowl in both of the last two seasons.

According to profootballfocus.com, he was the 12th best offensive tackle in the league in 2018 and has been in the top 15 in both 2016 and 2017 in terms of their relative grades for offensive tackles. Alejandro praised Mike Munchak’s ability to aid in his development from UDCFA to Pro Bowl LT.

A member of arguably the best offensive line in football, Villanueva spoke at length about what makes the unit tick. Specifically, he pointed to offensive line coach Mike Munchak. “What makes Coach Munchak great first and foremost is that he’s a great person,” Villanueva said. “He’s a person that has a great set of values that works harder than anybody. He’s a person that truly understands the game from a technical aspect. He’s not gonna really worry about things that just happen in football where other coaches might spend too much time thinking about those little mistakes. He’s such a good person and he’s such an admirable man in every single way. The way he behaves, the way he carries himself. He’s very consistent, treats everybody the same. He’s always the same person. ”It gets to the point where you really don’t wanna let him down. You wanna play your best for him.”

I really want to see what Mike Munchak can do with the talent that seemed to be starting to develop in some of our offensive lineman in 2018.

That is what {Villaneuva} delivered when recently appearing on SiriusXM Radio and was asked to talk about the impact that offensive line coach Mike Munchak had on him during his career, saying, “I would need an hour; I would need a whole podcast just to tell you the wonders of Mike Munchak”. Munchak, already a Hall of Famer as a former guard, long established a reputation for himself as one of the premiere teachers of the offensive line positions before the Steelers signed him to a contract to coach their linemen in 2014. That also happened to be the year that the Steelers brought in Villanueva, spending that season on the practice squad. It was under Munchak that he essentially learned the tackle position starting in September, and about 13-14 months from that point, he entered the starting lineup and never left it. “The best way to describe him is he’s a great person”, he said of his position coach. “He’s a great man. He’s a great human. Because he’s a great person, you have a lot of respect for the way he approaches the game, the way he loves the game, the way that he understands how the position should be played”. Villanueva also pointed out that Munchak is no taskmaster, calling him “a very fun guy” who “makes everything very funny”. At the same time, he keeps his players on-course. “He doesn’t let you make the excuses for the shortcuts that we all make when we’re working hard”, he told the hosts. “He doesn’t let you take that rep off. He doesn’t let you relax when things are going okay. He’s reminding you of the next defender that’s coming up and that’s going to try to come get you”. It is basically a credit to Munchak for nurturing Villanueva into an NFL-worthy tackle, and the Army Ranger never hesitates to express his appreciation for what was given to him through his influence and teaching.

Of course the Broncos don’t have many offensive lineman under contract for 2019. Jared Veldheer, Matt Paradis, Billy Turner, Max Garcia and Gino Gradkowski are all unrestricted free agents. Elijah Wilkinson is an exclusive rights free agent. Garett Bolles, Connor McGovern and Sam Jones are all currently still on their rookie contracts. Ronald Leary is signed through 2019. So given the moving parts, Mike Munchak may have a very different offensive line to work with in 2019 than what we saw in Denver in 2018.

Matt Paradis will get paid like a top center (which he is) at roughly 10 million per year, whether it is here or somewhere else. Jared Veldheer will get at least 8 million per year somewhere given the dearth of offensive tackle talent available via free agency. I doubt that we retain both players. Veldheer is clearly the best RT available in free agency and arguably the best OT available in free agency. He could easily command 10-11 million in free agency given what other offensive tackles have been given recently, even at his age (see Whitworth, Andrew).

Poll

Which returning offensive lineman will benefit the most from signing Mike Munchak as our OL coach?

This poll is closed

  • 78%
    Garett Bolles
    (1322 votes)
  • 1%
    Elijah Wilkinson
    (25 votes)
  • 2%
    Sam Jones
    (46 votes)
  • 7%
    Connor McGovern
    (128 votes)
  • 2%
    Matt Paradis (if he resigns with Denver)
    (45 votes)
  • 0%
    Billy Turner (if he resigns with Denver)
    (13 votes)
  • 0%
    Ronald Leary
    (9 votes)
  • 5%
    Andreas Knappe (6-8, 325 OT of the practice squad) who could be our Villanueva
    (94 votes)
1682 votes total Vote Now