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Grading the Offensive Line

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It's hard to single out one particular unit to blame for our 2-5 woes thus far this season though some have tried to blame the offensive line. My own opinion is that, although the offensive line play has not been as stellar as our historic expectations (thanks to the legendary "Hogs"), it isn't nearly as bad as many fans and colleagues think.

Tracking offensive line play is difficult because there are few useful, accumulated statistics to measure their worth. As much or more than any other position, an offensive line is typically judged by a fan's gutcheck reaction to their play on the field. Perhaps this is for the best. The conventional statistical method is to look at rushing yards per carry and sacks. The former (supposedly) should tell us how well a line does in run blocking and the latter (supposedly) should tell us how well a line does in pass blocking.

By these numbers the line is doing pretty well. We're currently 4th in the league at YPC (4.6) and about 10th in the league in sacks allowed per game, at just over 1.5 (on a related note, only the Tennessee Titans have fewer sacks per game then we do defensively, yahoo).

But these numbers don't tell the entire story. For instance, how many of those YPC can be attributed to the awesome greatness that is Clinton Portis (and the slightly less great yet still respectable awesomeness that is Ladell Betts)? And sacks per game doesn't consider the amount of passing downs, as a team that passes more often would presumably give up more sacks. For instance, judging merely by sacks per game you might reach the unreasonable conclusion that the Oakland Raiders offensive line was merely horrible. At 29 sacks allowed they lead the league in sacks allowed... in 6 games. Oakland is giving up an impressive 5 sacks game. The second place Dolphins are giving up just 3.7.

But really the Oakland Raiders are much, much worse than that. The Raiders rank second in passing attempts at 163. That means the Raiders are giving up a sack on nearly 18% of their passing plays which isn't merely horrible but criminally spiteful towards their quarterback. To contrast the Redskins give up sacks just over 5% of the time, which is adequate and good for around 11th in the league.

Measuring the impact of a Running Back on the offensive line is a statistical task that I am just not up to. Those intrepid stat nerds at Football Outsiders, on the hand, are up to the task.

Caveat: The following statistics do not factor in the Indy game, as they were taken on October 17th. Our running game was good, but not great in that game. Hence, consider these optimistic figures.

The Football Outsiders offensive line rankings consider Adjusted Line Yards, Power Success Percent, and Stuffed Percentage (they also consider 10+ percentage or the percent of runs that go past 10+ yards, but much of this success has to do with play calling and downfield blocking, in my opinion, and is less a function of the offensive line). Here is how they determine Adjusted Line Yards:

Teams are ranked according to Adjusted Line Yards. Based on regression analysis, the Adjusted Line Yards formula takes all running back carries and assigns responsibility to the offensive line based on the following percentages:

Losses: 120% value
0-4 Yards: 100% value
5-10 Yards: 50% value
11+ Yards: 0% value
These numbers are then adjusted based on down, distance, situation, and opponent, and normalized so that the league average for Adjusted Line Yards per carry is the same as the league average for RB yards per carry (in 2005, 4.08).

You can find more information about this formula here as they expend considerable time defending these numbers better than I could. I ask that you just trust me and, ultimately, them.

Anyways, prior to the Indy game the Redskins were ranked 3rd in Adjusted Line Yards with 4.64 yards. The league average was 4.01 -- the lower the number, the worse the line. That's good.

Our Power Success rating -- which includes 3rd and 4th down runs with 2 or less yards that pickup the first down or 1st and goal/2nd and goal from 2 yards in that result in a touchdown -- is 53.8% good for 22nd overall. The league average was 56.2%. That's bad. But it comes with a free frogurt.

Finally is Stuffed Percentage which is explained thusly:

Percentage of runs that result in (on first down) zero or negative gain or (on second through fourth down) less than one-fourth the yards needed for another first down.  Since being stuffed is bad, teams are ranked from stuffed least often (#1) to most often (#32).
The Redskins were stuffed 22.4% though this number should be higher as they were stuffed a number of times against the Colts which was good for 7th in the league. The average was 25.3%. That is good, perhaps because of the free frogurt (which is also cursed).

Keeping in mind that these figures are optimistic, I give the Redskins offensive line a passing grade. The most important evaluative stat is Adjusted Line Yards as it factors in more information. Losses and gains are weighted, though not 70 yard gains which, after a certain point (11+ yards) cannot possibly be gifted to the line as they aren't running 70 yards down the field next to the RB. Big boys need rest.

Our Power Percentage is troubling, especially for a Joe Gibbs team. Historically the Redskins have been a power team, Superbowl contenders should be able to power the ball, and this number needs to go up immediately. I suggest a heavy dose of Mike Sellers lead blocking for TJ Duckett on short yardage situations. This solution would appear so absolutely intuitive and obvious to me that I'm shocked it hasn't happened yet.

Our Stuffed Percentage (which is optimistic) is encouraging, as nothing points to a weak and ineffectual offensive line more than tackles in the backfield.

All in all, I give the Offensive Line a B Grade. They're close to a B+ but I need to see a few breakout games where they wear out the opposing line towards the end of the game and run the ball down their throats at will. There is the potential for greatness here, as the talent is clear and observable. Chris Samuels and Jon Jansen haven't played like it, but both are pro bowl level talent. Randy Thomas is the best player on the line, and Derrick Dockery is having his best year to date. Casey Rabach isn't all that good of a center but, meh. Can't all be good.

Let me know if B is a fair grade. I'll try and update these figures as soon as those stat nerds at Football Outsiders get around to it.