First let me start with a caveat - I played offensive line in college, so I am always ready to give the OL credit. 95% of the time the offensive line toils in obscurity and even if the line as a whole is having a great game, few, if any, notice, because the RB/QB/WR gets the glory when they score the TDs. So with that said, I wanted to look back at the play of the offensive line in 2010. The OL was often maligned last year because of poor running game, but a lot of credit has to given to the OL for allowing KO a fair amount of time to throw (stats to back this up later). Make the jump with me and we'll go position by position along the OL (excluding TE) and then look at some metrics to measure OL performance.
Ryan Clady. Clady started all 16 games at LT, but was recovering from a dislocated patella suffered while playing pickup basketball during the offseason. It's hard to say how far into the season it was before he was playing at 100%.
Ryan Harris: Harris started 10 games for the Broncos at RT. Harris struggled running blocking in a power scheme, but was playing injured for a good portion of the season. Harris did a fairly good job in pass protection.
Zane Beadles: Started either 4 or 5 games at RT while Harris was out. Looked bad as a rookie playing RT - two games he got abused. Played much better at LG.
Chris Clark: Appeared in 8 games with no starts.
D'Anthony Batiste: Ugh. Nothing to see here. He appeared in 5 games for the Broncos and then was let go.
Chris Kuper: Kuper made 15 starts for the Broncos after receiving a new contract in the offseason. He was expected to be an effective run blocker in McD's power blocking scheme, his season was seen as a disappointment. He, like most of our OL, struggled to push opposing DL back at all and in too many instances was puished into the backfield himself.
Beadles: see above
Stanley Daniels: Daniels appeared in 7 games for the Broncos and made 4 starts. He was a below average OG who rarely, if ever, was able to move his man off of the line of scrimmage on running plays. Daniels spent almost as much time in the backfield as Buckhalter did last season.
Russ Hochstein: Hochstein appeared in all 16 games for the Broncos in 2010 starting 6. He graded out a little higher than Daniels, but both players were well below average.
C: J.D. Walton - Walton came in as a rookie and started every game at the second hardest (one could argue the hardest) OL position to play. He had some very good moments (driving a DT through the back of the endzone) and some very bad moments (getting destroyed by Ngata multiple times).
Of all the players listed above only Batiste is no longer on the team - Harris is technically a RFA.
So that is the cast of characters from 2010 - now we get to see how they fared. First the overall offensive numbers and in the running game
Points per game: 21.5
Rushing yds per carry: 3.9 (24th) - best was PHL with 5.6, worst was CIN with 3.6
Rushing yards per game: 96.5 (26th) - best was KC with 164.2, worst was AZ with 86.5
Rushing yards on 1st and 10: 762 (26th) - best was KC with 1428, worst was SEA with 627
% first down conversion rushing on 3rd and short: 43.8% (19th) - best was NE at 69.6%, worst was STL at 28.3%
% of touchdown on runs inside the 3: 40% (19th) - best was Miami with 100%, worst was TB at 20%.
non-QB tackles for loss allowed: 66 (27th) - best was DAL with 40, worst was WAS/PIT (tie) with 75
Run WPA: 0.21 (11th) - best was NE with 1.52, worst was MIA with -1.21
Run EPA: -9.5 (24th) - best was AZ at 28.2, worst was KC at -26.7
So the numbers back up what my eyes told me from last year. The OL was pretty bad at run blocking (power scheme). I was initially surprised to see our high run WPA (win probability added), but then realized that number is skewed by how little we ran the ball (39.1% of the time, 27th least - KC ran the ball 52.3% of the time). WPA tries to quantify whether or not a particular play gets you closer to winning or closer to losing. A few successful runs can make an otherwise poor running team look good particularly if they don't run much (in 2010 the Broncos didn't). Similarly the run EPA (expected points added), can be skewed by a few TD runs from a team that is poor at running the ball and doesn't run much (see AZ).
And now the passing game
(Now here is where my bias is going to come into play) I am not going to show completion %, passing yards/g, passing TDs, etc. since the OL directly has no control over those values. I am, however, going to show how much pressure they allowed on our QBs (TT, didn't have enough pressured instances to qualify - stats from PFF and advanced NFL stats), how many times they allowed the QBs to be hit (both QBs included in this value) and sacked (again both KO and TT in this value).
KO dropped back 545 times and washed pressured on 172 of those dropbacks (31.56%). For comparison Kitna, P. Manning and Hasselbeck were all only pressured 25% of the time. The QBs who were under pressure the most in 2010 were Cutler (41.4%) followed closely by Freeman (41.0%). So our line was in the middle of the pack in terms of allowing pressure on the QB.
When an OL is vulnerable, often an opposing D can get pressure on the QB simply by rushing 4 and dropping 7 into coverage. If an OL is fairly stout in pass protection, opposing D coordinators will try to bring pressure with the blitz, particularly if the QB is not good against the blitz (KO was not - 29th best completion % when being blitzed, although he did throw 7 TDs and only 4 INTs when blitzed). KO faced the blitz (5 or more pass rushers) 205 times in 545 dropbacks (37.6%). Given that there were more instances of facing the blitz than times pressured, our OL (and TE/RB) had a minimum of 33 instances where the opposing D blitzed and the KO was not pressured. This number is likely much higher because KO could be pressured without a blitz. Successful blitz pickup usually leads to big plays for the offense.
So allowing the QB to get pressured is one thing, but letting him get hit is worse.
QBs hits allowed: 57 (10th) - best was TEN with 37, worst was Jax with 100.
QB sacks allowed: 39 (25th)- best was NYG only allowing 17 sacks followed closely by IND with 18, worst was CHI allowing 49 sacks with PIT second worst at 45.
So our OL was pretty good at preventing our QB from getting hit, but our QBs (mostly KO here) were sacked 68% of the time when they were hit. Compare this to JAX (35%), IND (40%) or BUF (42%) to get an idea of how a QB can make his OL look better if you only look at number of times sacked. Having a QB with "escapability" - ala Elway - is a good thing.
My judgement on the play of the 2010 Broncos OL
Once viewed as a strength of the team (2008) the OL regressed in 2009. This can be attributed to three main factors:
1. Switch to a power run blocking scheme/poor fit for some of our OL
2. Injuries to Ryan Harris and Chris Kuper
3. Going from a fairly elusive QB in Cutler to a KO who is much less so
It was hoped that in the second year of the power blocking scheme with a healthy Harris and Kuper and a two highly drafted rookie OL, the running game would improve - taking pressure off of the passing game. The year began with a patchwork OL and the running game was laughable (to the rest of the league at least - mostly we cried). The two wins in the first quarter of the season were attained despite the historically bad run game. By the time we hit the middle point of the season, the OL was fully healthy and the guys who we expected to be starting were - Clady, Beadles, Walton, Kuper, Harris. The running game gradually improved in the second half of the season to the point where it was becoming an asset and not a liability by the end of the season. Overall grade in the running game C-/D+, the good work done at the end of the season got the OL just to the passing level.
The passing game effectively was the offense for the first half of the season. Despite that KO and the WRs were still able to get it done. I give a lot of credit to the OL here. When the vast majority of the time (our average 3rd to go distance of 7.8 yds in 2010) you are in 3rd and long and you manage to keep your QB from being hit, that is a positive. Think about this - with four scrubs playing significant amounts of time on the OL (Hochstein, Clark, Daniels, Batiste), we still managed to be in the top 3rd of the league in keeping our QB from being hit when he dropped back. So based mainly on the OL's ability to keep the QB from being pressured and their ability to keep him from being hit. I grade the OL as a B+. I'd really like to see how the numbers compare early season - when the scrubs were forced into duty vs late in the season when we actually had our starters in there, but KO was playing hurt.
Looking at both the passing and the running game and factoring in the injuries and the questionable play-calling I give the OL an overall grade of B-/C+.
I am optimistic right now about 2011, but only if we resign Harris. Walton and Beadles will be better in their second seasons; Clady will be fully healthy and Kuper should be more effective. I fear that we will be sorely disappointed by Franklin, but I would love to be proven wrong on that. Any OL is only as strong as its weakest link. If we are forced to start Franklin (either at G or T), I think he will be our weakest link. If ACC DEs were able to make him look silly, I cringe when I think about what NFL DEs are going to do to him at to our QB(s).
Go Broncos! Let's get back to a "run to set up the pass offense".