Preseason Statistical Analysis: Offensive Line

This is part 1 of my Preseason Analysis series. I’ll be using and interpreting the stats from the groundbreaking site Football Outsiders for each part. This part looks at the offensive line. Future parts (to be posted once or twice a week through the rest of training camp) will look at the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers/tight ends, defense, and special teams.

The offensive line has seen a lot of worry from local pundits so far during training camp, especially given the Willie Colon injury. Is the worry justified? What about the other teams in the AFC North? Let’s take a look at the stats!

This page gives Football Outsiders’ offensive line stats for last season.  The Steelers were 14th in Adjusted Line Yards (explained here, essentially yards per carry adjusted to give credit for those yards to the offensive line; in short, say Rashard Mendenhall gets a 25-yard run, the OL gets credit for only 7 yards), so they were basically in the middle of the pack. The page cautions, though, that they can’t completely separate offensive line from running backs, so having Chris Johnson instead of Mendenhall would affect these numbers somewhat.

Team

ALY

Rank

Power  Success

Rank

Stuffed

Rank

2nd Level Yards

Rank

Open Field Yards

Rank

BAL

4.42

4

68%

9

17%

8

1.29

6

1.26

3

PIT

4.13

14

72%

5

20%

18

1.18

15

0.87

13

CLE

4.01

22

65%

14

18%

13

1.10

22

0.50

30

CIN

3.97

24

79%

1

19%

17

1.20

12

0.74

16

 

One stat that may surprise some people is the Steelers’ fifth-best Power Success percentage (72%), defined as “the percentage of runs on third or fourth down, with two yards or less to go, that result in a first down or touchdown.”  This indicates that the cry of “when will the Steelers get another bruising short-yardage running back” is not necessarily valid. The Bengals’ top ranking in this is also interesting. Jump it for the rest of the analysis…

“Stuffed” is the percentage of runs that went for a loss or no gain. Twenty-seven of the 32 teams were between 16% and 22%, so it only seems to matter if you’re terrible or great at avoiding losses. Second-level yards are yards per carry between 5 and 10, and open-field yards are yards per carry above 10. I expected the Steelers’ open-field yards to be higher, partly because of Hines Ward’s reputation as a blocker, but they weren’t.

The Steelers were near the bottom of the NFL in Adjusted Sack Rate (the rate of sacks and intentional groundings adjusted for situation and opponent). Obviously, this can be partially attributed to the amount of time that Ben Roethlisberger held the ball, but pass blocking is definitely a huge concern heading into the 2010 season.

Team

Adjusted Sack Rate

Rank

Sacks

CIN

5.6%

10

29

CLE

6.1%

15

30

BAL

6.6%

19

37

PIT

8.5%

29

50

Now for the fun part. Another table on the page shows the Adjusted Line Yards for each listed direction. This can give a rough approximation for how well individual offensive lineman can run block, though keep in mind that it doesn’t take into account plays where, say, a right tackle pulls left and blocks on the left side. Below, I’ve reproduced the chart for the AFC North and one other team:

 

-

-

Left End Left Tackle Mid/Guard Right Tackle Right End


Team

ALY

Rank

ALY

Rank

ALY

Rank

ALY

Rank

ALY

Rank

4

BAL

4.22

17

4.15

15

4.46

5

3.98

18

5.40

1

14

PIT

4.58

14

4.30

11

4.08

17

3.72

25

4.72

8

22

CLE

5.21

4

3.72

26

3.97

23

4.09

17

2.73

29

24

CIN

3.79

23

4.46

9

4.26

10

3.82

24

2.79

28

3

DAL

5.21

3

5.03

4

4.19

13

4.16

15

4.80

6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some very interesting things on this chart. The Steelers were worst last year at running over right tackle, meaning Colon may have actually been the weak link on run blocking, though they were best at running outside to the right, which also would figure to be Colon’s territory. They were also fairly good at running outside left and over the left tackle (Max Starks). Other fun stuff around the division: the Ravens were best at running outside right (Michael Oher), and although the Browns and Bengals had poor run offenses overall, they got good results running outside left (Joe Thomas) and over left tackle/middle (Evan Mathis/Nate Livings/Kyle Cook), respectively.

I also included Dallas’ stats at the bottom, since that’s where Flozell Adams played last year, and from the data, it certainly seems that Adams hasn’t yet lost it as far as run blocking goes. Pass blocking? Well, the Cowboys were in the middle of the pack in Adjusted Sack Rate, but it isn’t divided by offensive lineman. Adams certainly didn’t look great at pass blocking against the Lions, but it was only a few plays in one game.

The Steelers need to improve most at pass blocking in general and run blocking up the middle. Of course, that’s why they drafted an OL with their first-round pick. The performance of Maurkice Pouncey will go a long way to determining the state of the offensive line this season.

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