When trying to promote offensive linemen, there's few areas that we can use to illustrate the best players. The more obvious includes generic hints that takes a broad description. Sacks allowed by an entire offensive line doesn't illustrate their efforts as pass blockers, especially for squads that sport a quarterback that's often sacked. There's too much to consider. Was the sack given up by a poor block from the running back? How long did the quarterback hold onto the ball? Is a receiving specialist Tight End being called to block a Pro Bowl defensive end? Additionally when one offensive linemen gives up a majority of the team's quarterback sacks, the entire offensive line suffers as a result.
During the 2010 NFL season, the Cincinnati Bengals allowed 28 quarterback sacks, ranked eighth in the league. Eighth. Yet it might not be a credit to the team's offensive line as it was Carson Palmer's ability to quickly get rid of the football -- often not setting his feet resulting in errant passes, combined with misreads and receivers running the wrong routes, all leading to a career-high 20 interceptions.
What about average yards for a running back? An offensive line contributes greatly for a running back to squeeze through gaps no larger than the thickness of your walls at home. Yet much like pass protection, too much has to be considered. Is the running back anything like Cedric Benson, with a slight bump through the point of attack resulting in a drunk stumble? Field of vision and awareness. How well can the running back feel and see cutback lanes developing? Does the quarterback audible out of a play when the defense overloads one side?
The Cincinnati Bengals ranked dead last in the league last season, averaging 3.6 yards/rush. Only two teams scored less rushing touchdowns (Buffalo, Carolina). On only three plays last season did Bengals running backs gain 20 yards or more -- tied with Green Bay as the least amount in the NFL.
The question is obvious. Is that the offensive line's fault?
According to Football Outsiders, the Bengals 4.04 Adjusted Line Yards averaged 18th. Adjusted Line Yards for an offensive line takes all of the team's 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
Those numbers are further adjusted based on "down, distance, situation, opponent and the different in rushing averaging between shotgun compared to standard formations." Meaning that the Bengals offensive line was better than their 3.6 yard/rush average illustrated -- but not by much at all. Where the Bengals rushing offense really struggled was the allowance of stuffs (percentage of runs where the RB is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage) and the inability to gain yards on power rushes (percentage of runs on third or fourth down needing two yards or less for a first or any down with two yards to go for a touchdown).
A further breakdown from Football Outsiders, as one could expect, impresses the domination of Andrew Whitworth, helping Bengals running backs sport one of the league's top Adjusted Line Yards, averaging 4.95, behind him; the Bengals ranked 20th or worse outside and inside of Whitworth. Bobbie Williams is a better pass blocker and right tackle has dealt with instability issues to warrant any rhythm for success at the position. That and Dennis Roland.
The whole idea for this post actually originated from Windy City Gridiron's argument that offensive linemen are less received for Hall of Fame consideration because there's little statistical impact for the voters to rely on. We couldn't agree more. Additionally, we still find it rather weird that the Hall of Fame selection process is largely made up of writers, many of whom likely didn't even see these players play; that being said they still make the right selections at the end of the day.
And it's always a tough task to decipher the truly better offensive linemen in the NFL. Because mostly all we have to go on is the same stuff that Hall of Fame voters do. Not much.