First off, don’t yell at me in the comments section about how crappy the Denver Broncos offense was in general this season. I am fully aware. What this article is going to do is try to evaluate the offensive line as a unit comparatively to the rest of the league. Here’s how I am going to do that.
First, we’ll look at FootballOutsiders.com, which does a really good job of getting into the nitty gritty of run blocking. We’ll see how our offensive line fared with 4.5 tackles starting (Connor McGovern played tackle in college) for half of the season. Second we will look at three measures of pass protection: sack %, QB hits allowed and holding penalties. Once we have all of that analyzed we will then be able to make an assessment about how our hodgepodge offensive line fared in 2018.
Run Blocking Metrics
The Broncos offensive line was 6th in adjusted line yards. Adjusted line yards (ALY) is a formula that penalizes the OL if the RB loses yards, but rewards the OL extra if the RB gains 5-10 yards. Runs of longer than 10 yards are not credited to the OL at all. It’s an interesting metric that makes sense (to me, at least). The best OL in the league was the Rams with an ALY of 5.49. The Broncos OL had a value of 4.75.
The Broncos offensive line was also 6th in power run situations success rate. They define power run situations as running plays on 3rd or 4th down where you need one or two yards for a first down or a touchdown. The Broncos were successful on 71% of those plays this year. Baltimore was league best with a 78% success rate on power situations while the Brows were league worst at 50%.
Our 2018 OL was 18th at avoiding stuffed runs. 18.4% of our running plays got stuffed (FO defines a stuffed run as a run for zero or negative yards). New Orleans was the beat OL in the league at avoiding stuffed runs. Only 14.5% of their running plays were stuffed, while the Jets saw 26.1% of their runs stuffed (and yet they shredded our run defense?!?!?).
The Broncos offensive line was 10th in open field rank (which is almost completely a function of elusive running backs). See the quote from FO for context on this.
The final metric that FO discusses in terms of run blocking is what they call 2nd level yards. These are yards gained between 5 and 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. The Broncos OL ranked 5th in 2nd level yards with a value of 1.42. The Rams were again best int he league with a value of 1.58 while the Bills were last with a value of 0.92. Now I’m going to let the FO folks provide a little context to this run blocking data.
Why are these rankings different from the team offense DVOA ratings for rushing? Among other reasons, they don’t include quarterbacks or fumbles, long runs are truncated, and a different set of adjustments is used, attempting to isolate line play rather than total team offense. A team with a high ranking in Adjusted Line Yards but a low ranking in Open Field Yards is heavily dependent on its offensive line to make the running game work. A team with a low ranking in Adjusted Line Yards but a high ranking in Open Field Yards is heavily dependent on its running back breaking long runs to make the running game work. However, it is important to understand that these ratings only somewhat separate the offensive line from the running backs. A team with a very good running back will appear higher no matter how bad their line, and a team with a great line with appear lower if the running back is terrible.
The upshot is that our offensive line in 2018 was one of the better run blocking lines in the league and that was not mainly a function of having a dynamic runner in Phillip Lindsay carrying the ball.
Pass Blocking Metrics
According to FO, the Broncos had the 11th best adjust sack rate at 6.3%.
The Washington Post shows data that is compiled by Stats Inc. All of the data in the table below is from the Post.
|Player||Off Snaps||Total Penalties||False Starts||Illegal Block||Total Holding||Accepted Holding||Sacks Allowed||Snaps/Sack|
Notice that I did not include players with less than a series or two of offensive snaps (Cyrus Kouandjio and Same Jones). The Broncos were called for 30 holding penalties in 2018 - tied for 3rd most in the league. Nine of those were on Garett
Holds Bolles, but only 7 were accepted. There was at least one play where Bolles was blatantly holding and so was another offensive lineman - the other guy got called for it. Washington had the most holding penalties called on them with 32, while Indianapolis with their two rookie OL starters got called for 31.
The Broncos allowed 34 sacks and 91 QB hits in 2018 according to NFL.com. That was tied for 11th in fewest sacks allowed and 16th in QB hits allowed. Adding sacks plus hits (which I called Watts a couple of years ago), we allowed 125 Watts which was tied for 15th with the Lions. The Saints allowed the fewest Watts in the league at 52 while the Texans allowed DeShaun Watson to be hit or sacked 188 times during the regular season.
Keeping in mind that we had a guard playing center for half the season and two tackles playing guard, one of whom was an undrafted free agent who spent most of last season on the practice squad, I am going to give huge amounts of credit to our two offensive line coaches, Sean Kugler and Chris Strausser. They got year over year improvement in all of the players who returned from the 2017 offensive line and helped turn Billy Turner and Elijah Wilkinson into serviceable starting guards in the NFL. Their is a very good reason that the Broncos have so far blocked other teams from poaching Kugler. He is good and I really want the Broncos to retain him for 2019 and beyond (he’s still under contract for 2019 as are all our of coaches not names Vance Joseph).
For those who think that hiring Mike Munchak will magically make our offensive line better if we hire him, you need to slow your roll. According to Football Outsiders TEN had the worst offensive line in the league in 2011 for run blocking (Muncher’s first year as their HC) but gave up the second fewest sacks in the league. In 2012 they were 31st in in run blocking and 19th in sack % allowed. In 2013 they were 19th in run blocking and 12th in sack % allowed. So while Mike Munchak may have been good for the Steelers offensive line (PIT OL coach from 2014-2018), he did not seem to have had a very good offensive line in TEN.
Who was our best offensive lineman in 2018?
This poll is closed
Matt Paradis - despite only playing 8+ games
Connor McGovern - he stepped up to play center and played ok in a "new" position
Garett Bolles - he improved enough to be our best in 2018 despite the holding penalties
Elijah WIlkinson - despite the holding calls the former UDCFA played quite well
Jared Veldheer - he wasn’t flashy but he was light-years better than the tripe at RT in 2017
Billy Turner - he just got the job done