One of the hardest positions to assess in the National Football League, is the value of an offensive lineman. Outside of pancake blocks (which favor the individual but don’t tell the full story) and sacks, which favor the unit but don’t tell the story of the individual, there are very few stats to gauge success.
Centers can point to the quarterback exchange and fumbles off of snaps. Quality left tackles are easy to spot. The rest is a bit hazy, unless you factor in sabermetrics.
Now, to be fair, sabermetrics are an inexact science, and usually assign weighted, arbitrary values where no numbers are readily available. What you end up with is something comparable to a quarterback passer rating: it’s a lovely number, if you have any idea what it means.
Some of the best sabermetricians in the football business are the fine folks over at Football Outsiders, who seek to find accurate adjustments for every statistic under the sun. With few normal stats to back up why the Redskins offensive line had a good year, I yield to their second-level stats to explain why the O-line was one of the best in the business:
The key here is finding out how much of a role the offensive line played in the success the team had on offensive. The Redskins had the top rushing attack in the NFL by a wide margin, keyed by one of the best running backs in the NFL in Alfred Morris.
To judge how important the line was, the Football Outsiders assigned values to runs of different lengths. Even though the Redskins offensive linemen are very athletic and consistently blocked at the second level, less credit is given to the line on such plays.
Here are the criterion for the formula, as explained by the Football Outsiders:
RB Yards: Yards per carry by that team’s running backs, according to standard NFL numbers.
Power Success: Percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown. Also includes runs on first-and-goal or second-and-goal from the two-yard line or closer. This is the only statistic on this page that includes quarterbacks.
Stuffed: Percentage of runs where the running back is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage. Since being stuffed is bad, teams are ranked from stuffed least often (#1) to most often (#32).
Second Level Yards: Yards which this team’s running backs earn between 5-10 yards past the line of scrimmage, divided by total running back carries.
Open Field Yards: Yards which this team’s running backs earn more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage, divided by total running back carries.
Did you catch all of that?
So what the Football Outsiders came up with, is that the Redskins were pretty darn good at run blocking. Even though they struggled in the power run game, they very rarely got stuffed, tying for third in the NFL in places for a loss. Morris and Co. also did well bursting into the second level behind downfield linemen, as the Redskins ranked No. 5 in second level production.
The Redskins O-line did have a few areas of improvement, ranking in the middle of the pack for open-field production. While that sounds important, Morris isn’t the traditional homerun threat in the backfield, as he is much more valuable as a four-down back that can pick up a sizable chunk of yardage. He doesn’t cut past or outrun defenders as often as he simply bowls them over or carries them on his back.
Open field yardage would be good to improve, but it just doesn’t match the personnel that the Redskins have.
The Football Outsiders page also gives an adjusted sack statistic, that factors in the number of pass attempts and drop backs. To play devil’s advocate, I would argue that the mobility of Robert Griffin III allows him to run both out of and into sacks. Where pocket quarterbacks are at the mercy of their offensive lines, Griffin III has the ability to bail out his line or run himself into trouble.
I’m not sure that there is a sabermetric designed to adjust statistics for a mobile quarterback. But if there is a way to figure it out, you better believe these guys will.
Overall, Redskins fans should be pleased with the consistent play of the offensive line, which was a point of criticism in 2011 and training camp 2012. The starting unit played 15 games together, only missing one game with a concussion to right tackle Tyler Polumbus.
How did you think the Redskins offensive line performed under the circumstances?