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Bengals offensive line ranked surprisingly high in pass-blocking efficiency in 2017

Pro Football Focus thinks quite a few offensive lines were worse at pass blocking than the Bengals’ in 2017.

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NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Bengals fans suffered through watching an offensive line that caused Andy Dalton to be abused and Joe Mixon to be lackluster in 2017. Although I’m sure most would prefer to pretend last season just didn’t happen at all.

Pro Football Focus has a scorching take for Bengals’ fans though. They believe the Bengals really weren’t the worst offensive line when it came to pass blocking. PFF actually ranked the Bengals tied for 19th overall in pass-blocking efficiency in the NFL. PBE is the measurement of pressures allowed on a per-snap basis. And yes, this ranking was for all 32 NFL teams. Playoff teams like the Panthers and Patriots ranked worse.

2017 pass-blocking efficiency: 77.9

Best individual PBE: Clint Boling, 91.8

Prior to the 2017 season, the Bengals chose to let free agents Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler walk away, which proved harmful as the Bengals offensive line allowed 158 total pressures on 562 passing plays. While the unit was relatively porous when it came to total pressures (they averaged 3.56 pass-block snaps per pressure allowed – the 14th-worst mark in the league), they were relatively successful at keeping their quarterback on his feet and allowed just 10 QB hits all season, the fewest among all offensive lines. Left guard Clint Boling was a standout performer as he ended the season ranked fifth among guards with a pass-blocking efficiency of 98.0 and allowed just 12 pressures on 474 pass-block snaps. Heading into the 2018 season, the Bengals have added left tackle Cordy Glenn with hopes he can re-stabilize the position, as Glenn has racked up a career PBE of 95.8 over his time in the league, the 10th-best mark among all tackles with at least 2,500 pass-block snaps over the last 12 seasons.

When considering this, it is important to note that PFF bases their rankings and grades on data and watching every snap of every game more than once. A lot of work has gone into gathering these numbers to get to this point. With that being said, numbers can be wrong.

Context is everything with numbers. Anyone who knows anything about marketing knows it is all about how you spin it. Even when arguing sports, we tend to focus on stats that our favorite players or teams are good at as the most important. It isn’t like PFF is out here trying to cause controversy, but sometimes you can get too fixated on one aspect of a stat.

In this case they love how the offensive line only allowed 10 quarterback hits last season. This is misleading because this stat represents when a quarterback gets hit directly after throwing the pass. This is a great stat to keep track of because when quarterbacks are getting hit directly after throwing the pass it usually means they were under duress. Plus, in theory the more a quarterback gets hit the worse he performs, so when you see a quarterback have a bad season with a high number of quarterback hits then it is easy to see where the correction needs to be made.

You know what an even better, more obvious measure of how well an offensive line pass blocks?

Sacks.

Now not all sacks fall on the offensive line. Sometimes the quarterback will hold onto the ball too long, which Andy Dalton has been guilty of on occasion. Anyone watching a Bengals game last season saw Dalton under extreme pressure in most games. Getting hit a lot impacts how well a quarterback performs, so it is understandable to believe Dalton got a bit gun shy. He was sacked 39 times, and AJ McCarron was sacked once for a total of 40 sacks last season. Dalton was tied for the sixth most sacked quarterback with Jets signal caller Josh McCown.

I don’t see how you can ignore that stat and say “well they were the best at making sure he didn’t get hit a lot after the throw.” The reason for that is probably because Dalton was actually already hit before he could even think about getting the pass off. It is just a weird saving grace to give the Bengals. The Bengals might not have had THE worst offensive line last year, but in reality I can’t imagine there were more than 10 teams that were actually worse at pass blocking.