This Line is Offensive
Want to win every NFL water cooler debate? Learn how to rank offensive lines, and where your favorite team stacks up.
This Line is Offensive
How does a true football fan distinguish himself from the legions of pretenders? In the old days it was simple; you were considered a football expert if you discussed wide receivers. But that was then. The passing game (and the world) has changed. Now, when stats, drive charts, and other data is but a click away, how does the true fan showcase his knowledge at the water cooler? Talking about quarterbacks, running backs, or members of the other so-called "skill positions," is old school. The new-millennium expert discusses... Offensive Linemen.
Why offensive lines? Football, more than any of the other American sports, is a team game. Even a team possessing a brilliant quarterback is stuck if they lack a strong offensive line, good receiving corps, and a solid running back. Unlike baseball, which is often viewed as a series of one-on-one matchups, every player must be present for every play on the gridiron. Rarely in football do you see players who carry a sub-par team; this stands in stark contrast to basketball, where such an occurrence is commonplace. (Garnett's Timberwolves, Jordan's Wizards, and Wade's Heat come to mind.)
Offensive linemen must do their job correctly on every play in order for their team to succeed. Whether by stopping the pass-rush, or blocking on a running play, every down depends on the actions of the O-line.
However, the line is only as strong as its weakest link. This is why we cannot grade individual linesmen, but rather assess an entire team.
Looking over the stat sheets on Pro Football Reference (an invaluable resource), one might think that no stats exist to measure the contributions of the offensive line. However, this is not the case.
Think about it; what are the duties of an offensive linesmen?
1) To block for the running backs
2) Prevent the quarterback from getting sacked.
Therefore, we can grade offensive lines by how well they accomplish each of these two feats. We can rank each team with only two stats: Rushing Yards Per Attempt and Sacks Per Attempt.
As part of their seminal work The Hidden Game of Football, Bob Carroll, John Thorn, and Pete Palmer created a grading system for each facet of the offensive line.
Rush Grade = 120*(RYA / 5.75)
Sack Grade = 1.20*(100 - (4*(Sk% - 1.7)))
Total Grade = (Rush Att / Total Att) * Rush Grade + (Pass Att / Total Att) * Pass Grade
This grade makes it easier to compare run-protection and pass-protection. Also, it gives us a simple score that we can use to easily answer the age-old question "Who is the best?"
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