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IDEXAN
09-21-2011, 01:08 PM
All the record-breaking, high-flying fireworks produced by NFL offenses during the season's first two weeks has everyone cooking up theories around the backyard barbeque.

But there's a pretty good argument to be made that in a year with a truncated offseason, the primary force behind all this prolific offense has to be the groups of players who make up at least 45% of every offensive unit: The linemen.
Every piece of choreography in the NFL's ballet of brutality starts with these five heavily padded oafs. "Your big guys are really the foundation of what you do on offense," says Tony Boselli, a former offensive lineman. "Teams that have a better, or at least a solid offensive line have a better chance."

The play of offensive lines is hard to measure. While teams go to great lengths to grade linemen, there are no official statistics presented to the public.

Some of this is a result of football's secretive nature. It's difficult to evaluate the play of a lineman without knowing what his blocking assignment was on a given play—and that's something no team is going to offer up. Without knowing what a player was supposed to do, it's impossible to know for sure whether he should get credit for making the correct block.

Not all members of an O-line have the same level of responsibility, either. Left tackles, for instance, have to block the toughest pass rushers, while centers often have help from the guards to their right and left.
The only way to judge this is to employ someone with an educated eye to spend hour after mind-numbing hour watching every lineman's performance on every play. For the past three full NFL seasons, a small outfit called Pro Football Focus has been doing just that.

Based, quite incongruously, in the U.K, this company has a staff of 18 analysts who break down every game. Four are responsible for grading offensive linemen and together they've tabulated about 500,000 blocks over three full seasons.

Each analyst spends somewhere around six hours per game studying film, according to Pro Football Focus's founder, Neil Hornsby. Each time a lineman attempts a block on a running play, he's given a grade on whether or not he was successful. On passing plays, the linemen are graded down when they allow a sack, a hit on the quarterback or defensive pressure that affects the play. The grades are based on how a player's score compares to the overall average for the position.

"There is absolutely no guessing," says Hornsby. "We don't grade down anybody unless we're 90% sure what was supposed to happen."

The company makes some data available to the public, but the company's more-advanced stats are held back and are purchased by NFL teams and analysts. Hornsby says five or six players have subscribed to Pro Football Focus and haven't been shy about voicing displeasure if they believe they've been erroneously graded. After last year's Super Bowl, he says, Green Bay Packers lineman Josh Sitton disputed a sack that was credited against him (Hornsby agreed and changed his score). Earlier this month, he says, another lineman emailed him to say he wasn't responsible for a hit to his quarterback that was tied to him. Again, after further review, Hornsby removed it.

IDEXAN
09-21-2011, 01:11 PM
The lobbying only goes so far, he says. "They don't always get what they want."

Hornsby's effort is something of a noble quest—an attempt to decode the mysteries of offensive lines for causal fans. And there are some signs that a team whose linemen score well by these rankings can expect to win a fair number of games—if not rightnow, then soon.

According to last year's Pro Football Focus grades, the New York Jets had the best offensive line. The team rushed for 2,374 yards, the fourth highest total in the league, and only allowed 28 sacks, the eighth lowest. The Jets went on to lose in the AFC title game. The New England Patriots, who came in No. 3, saw quarterback Tom Brady sacked only 25 times (third-best in the NFL) and win the league's MVP award. The Baltimore Ravens (No. 4) also made the playoffs.

Based on last year's grades and this year's roster moves, the best starting offensive line this year belongs to the Houston Texans, who finished No. 2 last season. Despite missing the playoffs last year, they were No. 4 in the NFL in total yards through the air and No. 7 in run yardage.

According to the numbers, the Texans have two huge stars: center Chris Myers received a score of 21.8 and left guard Wade Smith earned a 17.8. To put that in perspective: The average overall grade given by Pro Football Focus was -3.0

Whle the season is young, the Texans rank No. 9 in passing yards, No. 5 in rushing and No. 9 in fewest sacks. Most telling may be their ability to run this effectively without their injured star running back Arian Foster. The Texans rushed for 167 yards against Indianapolis in their first week and 138 against Miami.

Another team to watch: the Ravens, who are currently the league's top run-blocking team. After upgrading their line this season, Baltimore moved up in the Pro Football Focus grades from No. 4 last year to No. 2 as presently constituted. The team moved left tackle Michael Oher (-10.8) to the right side and brought in veteran Bryant McKinnie (3.8) to fill his place.

In the opening game against Pittsburgh, Baltimore rushed for a phenomenal 170 yards against last year's No. 1 defense against the run. (The following week, the Ravens inexplicably managed to gain only 45 yards on the ground and 197 through the air in a loss to Tennessee).

Three of this season's five teams with the highest-ranked offensive lines (the Texans, Jets and New England Patriots) are also undefeated. The Cincinnati Bengals, who are ranked fifth, upset the Cleveland Browns and narrowly lost on the road to the Denver Broncos, 22-24. Cincinnati's left tackle, Andrew Whitworth (24.6), has one of the league's highest rankings.

These numbers might have tipped one of the season's biggest surprises: Rookie quarterback Cam Newton, who has passed for 854 yards in two games. His Carolina Panthers had the No. 8 best pass-blocking line when the season started.

The Dallas Cowboys, a team many people counted out before the season, were also ranked high in pass blocking (ninth) and have passed for 774 yards, third in the league so far. On the other side of the ledger: The suddenly anemic Kansas City Chiefs. They ranked No. 29 in pass blocking before the season.

Some of the results are more curious: The Detroit Lions, who by this data should have the NFL's second-worst run-blocking line, are 2-0. One possible explanation is something Pro Football Focus doesn't factor in to its grades: continuity. The Lions' five starters took 5,362 snaps together last season, the second-most in the NFL.



On the Line
How all 32 NFL teams' offensive lines rank overall and on run and pass blocks.

OVERALL RanK RUN BLOCK PASS BLOCK
1. Texans 2 1
2. Ravens 1 3
3. Jets 4 2
4. Patriots 3 20
5. Bengals 7 11
6. Browns 12 6
7. Chargers 8 18
8. Cowboys 9 8
9. Panthers 14 7
10. Giants 10 19
11. Eagles 11 10
12. Packers 17 9
13. Dolphins 13 13
14. Falcons 19 17
15. Jaguars 15 22
16. 49ers 6 27
17. Chiefs 5 29
18. Colts 18 12
19. Seahawks 16 21
20. Saints 23 4
21. Broncos 27 15
22. Rams 29 5
23. Bills 21 16
24. Lions 31 14
25. Vikings 30 24
26. Redskins 24 30
27. Cardinals 22 28
28. Steelers 25 25
29. Raiders 26 26
30. Bears 20 31
31. Buccaneers 28 32
32. Titans 32 23


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http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111904106704576582863603744104.html?m od=WSJ_hpp_MIDDLE_Video_Third
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I know most of you don't subscribe to the Journal, so I took the liberty of posting the whole article.

Texas T
09-21-2011, 01:19 PM
Thanks and good read.

The thing I am thinking is "wow, we are still first after last week when the line did not look good at all, so other teams in the NFL must really suck!"

It's nice to have a really good O-line, 2 excellent running backs, the best WR in the league, a very good QB and a good D. Looking good Texans!!

Double Barrel
09-21-2011, 01:20 PM
Great article. Thanks for posting it.

The old saying about games being won or lost in the trenches is true. I always pay attention to these battles, even though we might not know exactly what is supposed to happen like the article mentions. That's one of the great things about having Vinny back. Dude is like an encyclopedia about football, and especially trench warfare. I dig reading his insight and analysis, and hope he's got the time this season to share his thoughts with us.

Our line and offense is one of the reasons that I'm stoked about this season, because any upgrade to our defense is only going to help us win those close games. And I honestly believe that our D is getting more than just an upgrade, but a complete overhaul that will ultimately place them in the top half of the league this season.

srrono
09-21-2011, 01:39 PM
good find very intresting read

TheCD
09-21-2011, 01:58 PM
#1 offensive line? But...but I thought we were a finesse team that can only cut block?

IDEXAN
09-21-2011, 02:07 PM
According to the numbers, the Texans have two huge stars: center Chris Myers received a score of 21.8 and left guard Wade Smith earned a 17.8. To put that in perspective: The average overall grade given by Pro Football Focus was -3.0
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High praise for Myers & Smith !
Smith made some pretty good coin when we got him in FA awhile back, but
Chris Myers has gotta be way under paid.
When you see something like this, gotta wonder how the Texans haven't got a single guy at OLine into the Pro Bowl since Kubiak got here from Denver
with this system. It's an injustice, a travesty !

b0ng
09-21-2011, 02:37 PM
Chris Meyers has done an admirable job of shutting up haters.

Texans_Chick
09-21-2011, 02:50 PM
Here's something I wrote a while back on these numbers:
Pro Football Focus: How Do They Put Their Numbers Together? (http://www.aolnews.com/2010/03/04/pro-football-focus-how-do-they-put-their-numbers-together/)

Does a nice job of explaining the limitations of the numbers through an interview with the people from PFF and others.

Playoffs
09-21-2011, 02:53 PM
Pro Football Focus is quickly becoming my favorite NFL site.

Really interesting stuff there,

ChampionTexan
09-21-2011, 04:33 PM
Chris Meyers has done an admirable job of shutting up haters.

The entire O-Line has also quieted those bitching about how obsolete the concept of Zone Blocking is.

DocBar
09-21-2011, 08:55 PM
Good find. Nice read.