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Falcons Offensive Line Pass Protection Ratings, and more!

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Let's look at offensive lines around the league and see how Atlanta's stacks up.

Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports

To return to a similar post I did last year, I'm back with mid-season pass protection ratings across the NFL. In case you didn't read that one and you don't feel like linking over, I'll summarize the approach here.

Pass protection is largely a function of play calling, opponents' pass-rush, and offensive lineman talent. It's hard to completely separate the three to understand which effects the others. We can at least understand the overall performance and together decide what we think.

Opponent Pass Rush

The one variable of those three that we can measure is our opponents. So, I looked at each team we faced. I took the pressure our line allowed compared to the average pressure our opponents achieved in other games. Similar to ProFootballFocus, I weighted pressure by accounting for sacks 100%, with hits and hurries only weighted 75%. Essentially, I'm saying sacks provide better pressure. If it makes you feel more comfortable, the general conclusion is largely similar - just some of the team rankings shift around slightly. At most, teams moved one position.

Here's how the differential is calculated:

Opponent Pressure Average in Games Besides Game [X] - Team Pressure Allowed in Game [X]

Averaging all differentials, a positive number means the team performed better by allowing less pressure. Here's how the results shake out:

Rank Team Differential Worse Games SoS Sos Rank
1 Cincinnati Bengals 9.1% 1 18.9 28
2 New York Giants 8.8% 1 12.3 3
3 Denver Broncos 8.7% - 17.0 19
4 Green Bay Packers 5.3% 3 11.5 2
5 New England Patriots 4.9% 3 15.6 11
6 Dallas Cowboys 4.3% 2 15.7 13
7 Indianapolis Colts 3.9% 3 13.1 4
8 Detroit Lions 3.7% 2 13.9 5
9 Pittsburgh Steelers 3.5% 3 20.6 30
10 Kansas City Chiefs 3.2% 3 15.9 14
11 Chicago Bears 2.5% 2 16.6 17
12 Arizona Cardinals 2.3% 3 17.3 22
13 Cleveland Browns 1.9% 4 17.1 20
14 Washington Redskins 1.6% 3 14.4 7
15 New Orleans Saints 1.4% 3 18.5 24
16 Baltimore Ravens 1.2% 4 20.8 31
17 Miami Dolphins 0.4% 4 20.9 32
18 Oakland Raiders -0.2% 3 14.0 6
19 Philadelphia Eagles -0.4% 4 18.5 24
20 Buffalo Bills -0.8% 5 10.6 1
21 Carolina Panthers -2.4% 5 14.9 9
22 Jacksonville Jaguars -2.5% 6 14.4 7
23 San Francisco 49ers -2.6% 6 19.6 29
24 Atlanta Falcons -2.7% 6 15.6 12
25 San Diego Chargers -3.2% 8 16.0 15
26 New York Jets -4.3% 7 16.9 18
27 Minnesota Vikings -6.1% 7 16.1 16
28 Seattle Seahawks -6.3% 6 18.6 27
29 Houston Texans -6.4% 7 15.4 10
30 Tennessee Titans -6.5% 6 17.9 23
31 Tampa Bay Buccaneers -6.5% 6 17.1 20
32 St. Louis Rams -7.7% 6 18.5 24

Atlanta comes in at rank 24 (9th worst), allowing close to 3% more pressure than the average. I added the Strength of Schedule average and ranking in case you're curious, though the differential does factor that in. Our Falcons land close to the middle in terms of opponents' pass-rush ranking. The "Worse Games" column counts the number of games where the team performed worse than average. Atlanta has 6 of 8 games negative, and here's the chart showing more detail:

Time in Pocket

Here's another key performance indicator for an offensive line. How long can the Quarterback stand in the pocket and throw? All things equal, and just logically thinking, more time in the pocket leads to more pressure.

Since 2011, here's what the correlation between time-to-throw and pressure looks like:

Almost half of the pressure differences can be attributed to time. What's more important, though, is how does a team compare to pressure expectations given the time?

In other words, play-calling decisions assume a certain amount of pressure. We need to compare the expected pressure (trend line) against the actual pressure allowed. This chart is by Quarterback instead of team, though only a few have more than one to look at:

Quarterback Team Time to Attempt Weighted Pressure Anticipated Pressure Difference
Tony Romo DAL 2.73 22% 27% 5%
Andy Dalton CIN 2.22 17% 21% 4%
Aaron Rodgers GB 2.54 23% 27% 4%
Peyton Manning DEN 2.30 17% 21% 4%
Andrew Luck IND 2.65 24% 27% 3%
Eli Manning NYG 2.33 20% 22% 3%
Kirk Cousins WAS 2.37 20% 22% 3%
Michael Vick NYJ 2.72 29% 32% 2%
Ben Roethlisberger PIT 2.42 21% 23% 2%
Matthew Stafford DET 2.44 24% 25% 1%
Joe Flacco BLT 2.53 24% 25% 1%
Alex D. Smith KC 2.33 24% 25% 1%
Nick Foles PHI 2.73 26% 27% 1%
Brian Hoyer CLV 2.58 24% 25% 1%
Jay Cutler CHI 2.46 24% 25% 1%
Drew Stanton ARZ 2.43 23% 23% 1%
Derek Carr OAK 2.53 25% 25% 0%
Ryan Tannehill MIA 2.50 25% 25% 0%
Geno Smith NYJ 2.78 32% 31% 0%
Blake Bortles JAX 2.47 25% 25% -1%
Carson Palmer ARZ 2.55 26% 25% -1%
Drew Brees NO 2.52 25% 25% -1%
Tom Brady NE 2.32 23% 22% -1%
Colin Kaepernick SF 2.60 29% 28% -1%
E.J. Manuel BUF 2.48 28% 27% -1%
Philip Rivers SD 2.64 28% 27% -1%
Charlie Whitehurst TEN 2.90 34% 31% -2%
Cam Newton CAR 2.61 31% 28% -3%
Russell Wilson SEA 2.79 33% 30% -3%
Jake Locker TEN 2.52 32% 29% -3%
Teddy Bridgewater MIN 2.69 31% 28% -3%
Matt Ryan ATL 2.57 29% 25% -4%
Austin Davis SL 2.74 33% 28% -5%
Mike Glennon TB 2.59 33% 27% -6%
Kyle Orton BUF 2.32 30% 22% -7%
Ryan Fitzpatrick HST 2.44 34% 26% -8%
Chad Henne JAX 2.34 39% 24% -15%

For the most part, general rankings are pretty similar to the previous metric. It's interesting to note the massive difference for Jacksonville - rather neutral for Bortles and incredibly negative for Henne. Matt Ryan's 4.0% additional pressure aligns rather well with the previous metric's 2.7%. With the two matching up, I think we can pretty confidentially say our opponents make only a minor difference. It's either our talent, our play-calling, or some combination of those two.

I won't get too nerdy on this part...using both metrics combined results in close to a 65% correlation in predicting pressure.

The interesting part...

If the time-in-pocket and opponent pass-rush both make such a big difference in Quarterback pressure, adjusting the play-calling for different teams seems to be a no-brainer. Right? At least adjusting the plays to get the ball out faster against tougher opponents. However...

This caught me off-guard. The red line shows Matt Ryan's time-to-attempt by game; the grey line shows how much time our opponents allowed in their other games. What shocked me is that the only game where we seemed to try to get that time down is Detroit. Why not Cincinatti? Baltimore? Minnesota? Hell, even Chicago?

I believe that Atlanta can stand to manufacture some better pass-protection by running some different plays and getting the ball out faster. I don't want to go on too much of a tangent, here, but our offense stands to gain by adjusting the plays so we can take advantage of our stars. Example: Julio has trouble being a deep threat so allow how to run some slants and crossing routes similar to 2013 when he was dominating the first 5 games.

Running more quick plays, similar to how Tom Brady and Peyton Manning operate, would make the opposing defense hesitate just a little bit more and allow us to actually take some shots down the field, therefore opening back up the offense.

What about Talent?

Again, talent is important to the success of an offensive line. Talent by itself is really hard to statistically measure. If you believe PFF truly objectively grades each player in a vortex, then good for you. In reality, I don't think it's possible. Team games, by nature, mean that players impact other player's performances.

Fun fact, and something that implies our lack of unified talent: Matt Ryan is sacked faster (2.82 seconds) than any other quarterback since the data has been recorded. That time is almost more than a full second faster than last year (3.84 seconds). However, PFF grades Atlanta's pass protection 18th. Not bad. If teams San Diego (29th), and New England (31st) can find a way to win, put up points, and not complain about pass protection, we should be able to, as well.