The Offensive Line: the forgotten unit, the backbone of an offense, the big uglies, the protectors of the tribe.
We often see these five large men toll away in obscurity, hidden by the flashiness of the skill players they are paid to protect. Yet, the skill players we all love to watch are nothing if not for the hogs that sacrifice their bodies in the trenches play after play. Where is Emmitt Smith without hall of famer Larry Allen? Where is DeMarco Murray without Tyrone Smith? The list goes on and on. Still, in the age of numbers and data, with metrics and advanced statistics that have made fantasy football (and more specifically dynasty) a true game of skill, the offensive line still gets little to no mention. The two tackles, two guards and the center are the pipeline to fantasy success. The success of the players we all invest significant capital into often hinges on the ability of the offensive line to have five players that are successful on their own but must act as a cohesive unit that will lead the pathway to offensive success. We can judge skill players by their stats, advanced metrics and often in-depth breakdowns by writers across the Internet. But how can we judge offensive lineman, when many cannot even name five linemen on their own team? That is why I decided to create SRVPR. ‘Success Rate Versus Pass Rush’ is a charting tool used to show the success of offensive lineman against the defensive pass rush. For now, only passing plays were charted because these are the only plays where the defensive definitively rushes the passer. When charting the film, there are seven columns to address:
- Total Pass Protection Sets
- Number of Pass Protection Successes
- Percent of Successful Pass Protection Sets
- Number of Pass Protection Failures
- QB Sacks
- QB Hits
- QB Hurries
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These columns draw the picture of a team’s offensive line and the success they have at protecting their biggest asset, the quarterback. Quarterbacks faced with constant pressure can see their career derailed by the effects it has on every facet of their game, while one with time can see an uptick in production due to an increased confidence and ability to go through multiple reads. The percentages and numbers drawn from this charting can help dynasty owners piece together the endless puzzle that is player production and add another facet to the process of building your dynasty. I encourage you to draw conclusions from this data as you see fit and let it be another tool you can use when evaluating players. I cannot stress enough the role an offensive line unit plays in the production of a quarterback and I hope to outline various examples of this as I continue to chart more and more teams.
As this charting process has gone on, multiple questions have arisen to me that I feel obligated to answer to clear any confusion on my process.
- A pass protection set is when the quarterback and then the lineman drop back into the pocket for the pass attempt.
- There can be more pass protection sets than quarterback pass attempts. I chart all attempts at passing, including those nullified by penalty and ones in which the quarterback scrambles or is sacked.
- A ‘QB Hit’ is not a sack.
- A ‘Pass Protection Failure’ doesn’t have to fall under one of the three categories, while rare, it has happened.
- Screen and play action passes were not charted.
On to Arizona
The Arizona Cardinals are widely regarded as the best team in the NFL right now. A ferocious defense, led by Patrick Peterson and Calais Campbell, coupled with MVP candidate Carson Palmer and a three-headed attack at receiver, have Arizona at 13-3 and the #2 seed in the NFC. The offensive line, lead by Mike Iupati, have led the charge in a Bruce Arians offense that has resurged Chris Johnson’s career and created two 1000 yard receivers in Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown. Here is the SRVPR data for the Arizona Cardinals in 2015:
After watching eight games, the Cardinals offensive line is not stupendous but one that gets the job done and opens the door for continued offensive success. It’s evident that Palmer carries this entire offense, including the line, by his ability to get the ball out quick and accurately. Yet when given time, which he received on 67.5% of his 320 charted drop backs, he is able to torch defenses with his deadly long ball. The unit’s obvious weak link is right tackle Bobby Massie. He was punished off the edge by feared pass rushers Michael Bennett, Chris Long, and Cameron Heyward. Fortunately for the Cardinals, they spent their 2015 first round pick on right tackle DJ Humphries, who looks to begin his starting gig beginning in 2016. Fortunately for Massie, he has four other linemen to hide his weaknesses. Veteran center Lyle Sendlein tied the group together with his consistency and if I had to make an educated guess on who had the least individual failures in pass protection, it would be Sendlein. The guards, both first round picks in Iupati and Jonathan Cooper, brought the hammer for the line, adding needed physicality and assistance to the often isolated tackles. Cooper in particular had multiple “wow” plays in which his functional strength and aggressiveness created more time for Palmer and helped out his fellow lineman. Left tackle Jared Veldheer was at times pretty abysmal most notably against all-pro Robert Quinn but overall was able to provide an adequate performance that didn’t often bleed into the unit’s performance.
Since they were the first team I charted, the Cardinals have no baseline to judge where their SRVPR scores place them among the other lines in the NFL. However, I am fairly confident they will be above midline and adequately placed in the upper tier of NFL offensive lines. Carson Palmer alleviated this line because of his ability to find the open man quick and keep the offense running yet their combination of technique, aggressiveness and chemistry created a unit that is able to allow their elite quarterback to foster an MVP campaign and an offense that is on par with the best in the league and one that is entirely capable of winning a Super Bowl. Four of the current five starters are returning and there is nothing that points to Sendlein not resigning, couple that with the assumed replacement of Massie and we are looking at an even better line in 2016.
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