The Arizona Cardinals have the best defensive line in the NFC West even though the San Francisco 49ers' line deserves strong consideration. That was how Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. and I saw it during our latest conversation.
That item played off an earlier one sizing up the Cardinals' chances in the division. My thought at the time was that Arizona might have the best offensive and defensive lines in the division.
While Williamson generally agreed on the defensive side, he gave the 49ers' offensive line a significant edge over the Cardinals' version. We shouldn't discount the other offensive lines in the division, of course. The St. Louis Rams' line has strong potential when everyone's healthy, although veteran depth suffered with Alex Barron's departure, and Jason Smith will be changing positions. The Seattle Seahawks' line could improve with Alex Gibbs leading a group featuring No. 6 overall choice Russell Okung.
But the offensive lines of the Cardinals and 49ers provided fodder for my discussion with Williamson.
Matt Williamson: I would much rather have San Francisco's offensive line over Arizona's line.
Mike Sando: My thought was that the 49ers could suffer some growing pains while Anthony Davis gets up to speed at right tackle. The other rookie first-rounder, Mike Iupati, might also need some time. There's a chance the Cardinals' line could be better in the short term even if the 49ers' prospects are better for the long term.
Matt Williamson: Right tackle was such a problem for the 49ers last year. I don’t know how they could be worse. Davis is so young. You could really see growing pains. But he is far more talented than the guys they've had over there. Iupati will be fine as a run-blocker and he will be embarrassed at times as a pass-blocker. They do not have to start right away.
Mike Sando: I know the 49ers were excited about adding Mike Solari to coach their line.
Matt Williamson: I also think [the Cardinals'] Russ Grimm is as good an offensive line coach as there is in the league. Alan Faneca is more or less washed up, but his toughness, leadership and intelligence will help all the linemen in general. Having a full-blown leader to look to in the huddle and the meeting room helps. The other guys can learn how to prepare as a professional. You can ask Faneca anything. But he is a declining player that cannot protect very well. I think Arizona's tackles not very good and Kurt Warner made them look better than they are.
Mike Sando: They're moving Levi Brown from right tackle to left tackle, but I'm not sure there's any reason to think he'll suddenly become a consistently effective all-around tackle. He can be a tough run-blocker, though.
Matt Williamson: The Cardinals' line is better suited to be run-blockers than pass-blockers. But because you had Warner, he got the ball out quick. He could hold it to the last second, then get it out quickly enough to avoid the sack. Like with Indy, their pass protection isn’t as good as it's made out to be. With Matt Leinart, they are going to look worse than they really are.
Mike Sando: That's why it's logical to expect more of a run-oriented offense.
Matt Williamson: Getting Warner for one more year last year was gravy. When Ken Whisenhunt and Grimm took over, they wanted to establish this. They had fullbacks on the roster. Their tight ends are all blockers.
Mike Sando: I'll close by providing another reason the Cardinals' offensive line looked better in recent seasons -- continuity. They had the same five starting across multiple seasons. That is gone. Brown is switching sides. Faneca is replacing Wells at left guard. We do not yet know who will start at right guard or right tackle. I think Arizona can put together a good-looking five on paper, but I think you raise valid concerns and I would definitely rather have the 49ers' line for the long term. The Rams' and Seahawks' lines might even have more promise when we're looking beyond this season, depending upon how well Smith and Okung develop.