Statistics 101: The Offensive Line Edition

In this series, we're looking at some of the commonly-used and less-commonly-used foozbah statistics available over the interwebs. Last week we discussed statistics that can be used to evaluate a WR's performance. And this week we're taking a closer look at offensive line statistics.

Offensive line statistics are tricky. Not quite as tricky as rockin' a rhyme, but tricky nonetheless. Ever heard the expression "there's no 'i' in 'team'"? Sure, it's a cliche phrase, one we've all heard ad nauseum. But when it comes to the enigmatic, often misinterpreted, downright kooky world of offensive line statistics, it really rings true.

I have to give props where props are due; orang3b was all over this last fall, but it's a topic worth discussing (again), especially given the concerns some have expressed about the future of our offensive line.  And ya know, if you're a nerd, and you dig nerdy stuff, you'll definetly want to get in on this. 

Join me after the jump if you're even moderately interested! Please?!

 

Let me throw out a hypothetical: Mularkey calls in a run play where Burner is supposed to take the ball through the "C" gap (off Baker's left side). Baker and Gonzo are supposed to pick up the strong-side DE and Ovie is the lead blocker. Baker - because he's Baker - trips over his untied shoelaces. By the time he gets up, Ovie has already flatbacked the "Sam" LB and Gonzo has flatbacked the strong-side DE without Baker's help. Burner quickly gets to the second level and is tackled 35 yards down field by the SS.

In this scenario, stat-wise, it's darn near impossible not to give Baker too much credit. Put differently, the outcome was solid, but Baker had nothing to do with it. On paper, at least for some folks, it'll look like he did. Enter game film. There's no replacing it. But if you can manage to keep all this in mind - as a sort of implicit and irrefutable limitation - there's some next-level stuff that's worth taking a look at.

Without further adieu, if you are interested in tracking offensive line statistics, there are two websites I would personally recommend.

(1) Football Outsiders

At football outsiders, you can access "innovative o-line statistics." For free. Here is the link.  

They usually update everything Tuesday or Wednesday each week. One of their really cool measuring sticks is ALY, or Adjusted Line Yards, which can be used to evaluate a team's run blocking performance/ability. You can read all about it on their website.

If you don't have time to read that over, here's FO's "short version": 

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, opponent, and the difference in rushing average between shotgun compared to standard formations. Finally, we normalize the numbers so that the league average for Adjusted Line Yards per carry is the same as the league average for RB yards per carry. 

If you think I'm crazy you're still confused, here's Wikipedia's version, which actually does a really good job of just putting all this mumbo jumbo into lay man's terms:

Adjusted Line Yards (ALY) is a statistic that attempts to measure an offensive line's contribution to the running game, separating the blocking from the runner himself. Each of a team's running plays are included, with yards gained weighted by category -- losses, where a runner is tackled in the backfield, are weighted heavily against an offensive line, while long gains, where a runner is far beyond his initial blocks, are reduced and eventually eliminated. The plays are adjusted for game circumstances, and the result is normalized so that the league-average ALY is the same as the league-average yards per carry.

The cool thing about FO is that they also chart some other helpful statistics. For example, they chart what is called "Power Success." Power Success measures the percentage of 3rd/4th downs with 2 or less yards to go that result in a first down or TD.

They also chart sacks/sacks against rank (if you're a traditionalist), Adjusted Sack Rate (a normalized sack rate - i.e., sacks against bad teams are not worth as much as sacks against good teams), and "Stuffed Percentage/Rank" (how often the RB is tackled behind the line of scrimmage). 

Wondering how our boys have done? Well: 

(1) Our current Adjusted Sack Rate is 4.4% (5 sacks in 3 games), 11th lowest in the league (the lower the better). 

(2) Our Adjusted Line Yards is sitting pretty at 4.43, 5th highest in the league (the higher the better).

(3) Our Power Success is 71%, 11th highest in the league (the higher the better).

(4) Our Stuffed Percentage is 13%, 5th lowest in the league (the lower the better).

Not bad all in all. In fact, darn impressive if you ask me.

(2) NFL.com

At NFL.com, you can access "team-by-team offensive o-line statistical categories." And once again, it won't cost you a dime. Here is the link.

Their numbers may appeal - in particular - to those who prefer a more traditional statistical approach. They chart experience (by starts), attempts, yardage, yardage per attempt, sacks, and QB hits. They also chart 1st down rushes, negative rushes, and +10 yard rushes specific to "rush left," "rush center," and "rush right." Because of a limited sample size (only three games), these numbers won't paint as-clear-of-a-picture now as they will 3-5 weeks from now. Thus we'll have to re-visit this. 

Once again, our boys have been fairly impressive, at least in my opinion. Check it out:

(1) We're leading the league in rushing attempts, and if we had managed 2 more yards over the first three games, we'd be the league leaders in rushing yardage

(2) Our offensive line is the 15th most experienced in the league (310 career starts)

(3) Matty's been hit 9 times this year ... ouchskie

(4) Rushing left, the Falcons have posted more first downs than any other team in the league. Oh my Vishu! Baker drink milk. Get strong (see above). Win. Or not. Rushing left, the Falcons have the second-most negative rushes in the league. Then again, rushing left, the Falcons have the second-most +10 yard rushes in the league. 

(5) Rushing up the middle, the Falcons have the 8th most 1st downs in the league. Not bad. Rushing up the middle, the Falcons have one negative rush (sample size makes the ranking irrelevant). And rushing up the middle, the Falcons have one +10 yard rush (sample size - once again - makes the ranking irrelevant).

(6) Rushing right, the Falcons have second-most first downs in the league. Rushing right, the Falcons have 3 negative rushes (and sample size makes the ranking irrelevant). Finally, rushing right, the Falcons have the 9th most +10 yard rushes.

What say you?!?! Am I completely off my rocker, or is there some real utility in all this statistical hubbub? Next week you'll call for my resignation we'll discuss RB statistics, but as always, GO FORTH AND BE STATISTICAL!

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