Justin Pugh knew how it would sound, and he plunged ahead anyway. A minute or two into his interview session with a scrum of media Wednesday, Pugh moved into a matter-of-fact-yet-impassioned defense of offensive line play in general and the difficulty in outsiders to decipher what is always going on. Here are his words:
On the Cardinals and their run game:
"Everyone wants to blame the offensive line and it's really 11 guys out there playing football. We all play a part. Does the offensive line have to do better? 100 percent. When you get down in games ... you have to call passes. It's the nature of it. If you want to win games, you have to throw the ball."
Is the offensive line unfairly blamed?:
"I've been in the NFL for seven years and every year -- and I've been on two teams -- the offensive line is always (called) the problem. What happens, it's a position where no one knows enough about it. I read things online, thinking what qualifies (this person)? Anyone in here know a lot about offensive line? Could you sit in an offensive line room and have a legitimate conversation about offensive line play?"
At this point, ABC-15 reporter Craig Fouhy, who coached football for 20 years, including the college level, raises his hand.
"OK, so we have one person out of everybody. So now magnify that by (Pugh pauses) ... America. Tell me how many people in America can have a legitimate conversation. I look sometimes at what people say. They have no idea about offensive line play. I watch Syracuse football (his alma mater) and I see them bash the offensive line when I know the running back failed the pick up and they blame the offensive line anyway.
"I'm going to keep fighting for offensive linemen. I know it's a misunderstood position. I know we're going to catch the brunt of it and I know if we run the ball well, we're going to be the best offensive line in football. It's how those things go."
What about the grades from Pro Football Focus?:
"Here's the thing: If I say something bad about Pro Football Focus, it's going to affect my rating next week. I'm going to say it anyway. They don't know scheme. Granted they do a good job of what they know, saying typically this is what is supposed to happen on this play. But at the end of the day, if we run a misdirection, and we do things in our offense that not a lot of teams do, Pro Football Focus has no idea. I may be bluffing a guy on a play and it looks like I give up a pressure but really I'm bluffing a guy because we are running a reverse or the play is supposed to cut back. Yes and no, it helps to a degree, a site like that. ... They do as good a job as they can, and they have a lot of great football minds over there, and I'm trying to help myself out now, hyping them back up.
"If you don't know offensive line play and you're not in the room. ... I know offensive line play, but if I go watch Seattle's film, I can't tell you exactly what Seattle is doing and I pride myself on being a pretty smart offensive lineman. It is definitely a misunderstood position, and that's why it tends to be easy to blame the offensive line. It's easy to pick on."
Pugh wasn't angry as he said it. He smiled a chunk of the time. But he talked about offensive linemen sticking together on the subject, and said he was happy about a handful of linemen who had started to represent the position on social media (he named Duke Manyweather and LeCharles Bentley specifically.) Pugh said whenever his career is over, he would try to be one of those representatives.
"I'll continue to always fight," Pugh said.