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Did the Broncos offensive line improve in 2019 relative to 2018?

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A look at the stability and the aggregate OL stats for the Denver Broncos from 2018 to 2019.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 Denver Broncs offensive line had six different starting line-ups with the one line-up being employed four times at the start of the season and then another being employed seven times at the end of the season.

2018 Broncos Starting OL by Game

Game LT LG C RG RT
Game LT LG C RG RT
Game 1 Bolles Leary Paradis McGovern Veeldheer
Game 2 Bolles Leary Paradis McGovern Veeldheer
Game 3 Bolles Leary Paradis McGovern Veeldheer
Game 4 Bolles Leary Paradis McGovern Veeldheer
Game 5 Bolles Leary Paradis McGovern Turner
Game 6 Bolles Leary Paradis Garcia Turner
Game 7 Bolles Garcia Paradis McGovern Turner
Game 8 Bolles Garcia Paradis McGovern Turner
Game 9 Bolles Garcia Paradis McGovern Veldheer
Game 10 Bolles Turner McGovern Wilkinson Veldheer
Game 11 Bolles Turner McGovern Wilkinson Veldheer
Game 12 Bolles Turner McGovern Wilkinson Veldheer
Game 13 Bolles Turner McGovern Wilkinson Veldheer
Game 14 Bolles Turner McGovern Wilkinson Veldheer
Game 15 Bolles Turner McGovern Wilkinson Veldheer
Game 16 Bolles Turner McGovern Wilkinson Veldheer

The 2019 offensive line was much more stable with one line-up starting 10 games and the most any other staring combination was used was two games.

2019 Broncos Starting OL by Game

Game LT LG C RG RT
Game LT LG C RG RT
Game 1 Bolles Risner McGovern Leary James
Game 2 Bolles Risner McGovern Leary Wilkinson
Game 3 Bolles Risner McGovern Leary Wilkinson
Game 4 Bolles Risner McGovern Leary Wilkinson
Game 5 Bolles Risner McGovern Leary Wilkinson
Game 6 Bolles Risner McGovern Leary Wilkinson
Game 7 Bolles Risner McGovern Leary James
Game 8 Bolles Risner McGovern Leary Wilkinson
Game 9 Bolles Risner McGovern Leary Wilkinson
Game 10 Bolles Risner McGovern Leary Wilkinson
Game 11 Bolles Risner McGovern Leary Wilkinson
Game 12 Bolles Risner McGovern Leary Wilkinson
Game 13 Bolles Risner McGovern Schlottmann James
Game 14 Bolles Risner McGovern Schlottmann Wilkinson
Game 15 Bolles Risner McGovern Schlottmann Wilkinson
Game 16 Bolles Risner McGovern Schlottmann Rodgers

You should notice that our LT-LG-C trio made every start together and played almost every snap on offense. So if nothing else, the 2019 OL was more stable than the 2018 OL with only five variations being employed. If you combine Garett Bolles, Dalton Risner, Connor McGovern and Elijah Wilkinson you find that they played 95% of the possible snaps at their four positions on the offensive line. If you remember that Ja’Wuan James did not play much in his three starts, we essentially had the same offensive line for the first twelve games. It was only the last four games where thinks got crazy with the injuries to Ron Leary and Elijah Wilkinson. That is good insofar as playing next to someone on the OL can help communication on double teams in the run game and switching on twists in pass protection.

So let’s turn to the rankings. First we will focus on the footballoutsiders.com run game rankings. I find their whole OL rankings to be the most thorough. Note that this analysis of the running game does NOT look at average yards per carry since that is skewed heavily by the running back’s ability to gain yards in the second level and beyond which has very little to do with the offensive line. Football outsiders take that into account in these rankings - in adjusted line yards, ALY, particularly.

Statistic 2018 value 2018 rank 2019 value 2019 rank
Adjusted Line Yards 4.75 6 4.45 10
Power Success 71% 7 69% 8
Stuffed rate 18.4% 14 15% 3

You can see that the 2018 OL and the 2019 OL were both good at run blocking. The 2018 OL was better in terms of ALY while the 2019 OL was significantly better at not having runs get stuffed. Only the Dallas and Baltimore offensive lines were better at avoiding stuffed runs. League average was 19 percent. Miami was league worst at 26 percent in 2019.

So how did the 2019 OL compare to the 2018 OL in terms of pass protection? According to FO, the 2018 OL was 11th in adjusted sack rate (which gives sacks [plus intentional grounding penalties] per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance, and opponent). The 2018 adjusted sack rate was 6.3 percent. The 2019 OL was much worse with an adjusted sack rate of 8.1 percent which was 25th in the NFL. Part of this increase in adjusted sack rate could be blamed on Joe Flacco, who was holding onto the ball too long and took sacks as a result, and Brandon Allen, who didn’t seem to have much of a feel for the pocket. Drew Lock was actually the second hardest QB in the league to sack in 2019 (minimum 50 dropbacks). He was sacked on only 2.825 percent of his dropbacks. Only Matt Schaub was sacked at a lower rate 2.817 percent.

For comparison, Flacco was sacked on 8.15 percent of his dropbacks and Brandon Allen on 8.41 percent of his. Both Flacco and Allen were near the bottom of the league in sacked percentage while Lock was almost at the top of the league and all three ostensibly played behind the same offensive line (see above for who was starting in the games where each QB started - Flacco 1-8, Allen 9-11, Lock 12-16).

In terms of pressure percentage allowed, the 2018 Bronco OL allowed 162 pressures on 632 dropbacks (586 passing attempts, 12 scrambles and 34 sacks) - not counting the passing attempts from Emmanuel Sanders and Colby Wadman. That is pressure on 25.6 percent of dropbacks. The 2019 OL allowed pressure on 25.5 percent of dropbacks. So while the adjusted sack rate may have gotten worse year over year, the frequency with which the offensive line allowed pressure was almost unchanged. That value of 25.5 percent was 24th in the league in 2019. The Saints were the best OL allowing pressure on only 16.1 percent of dropbacks, while the Jets allowed pressure on 30.5% of their dropbacks. From an absolute numbers perspective the Dolphins allowed 203 QB pressures which was the highest value in the league while the Ravens allowed an astounding 84 total pressures in the regular season.

Rank Team Cmp Att Drpbcks Sacks PktTime Bltz Hrry Hits Pressures Scrm Pressure %
1 New Orleans Saints 418 581 620 25 2.4 162 48 27 100 14 16.1%
2 Baltimore Ravens 289 440 508 28 2.5 162 31 25 84 40 16.5%
3 Los Angeles Rams 397 632 664 22 2.6 221 52 48 122 10 18.4%
4 New England Patriots 378 620 651 28 2.5 200 55 38 121 3 18.6%
5 Dallas Cowboys 388 597 640 23 2.6 155 41 57 121 20 18.9%
6 Cincinnati Bengals 356 616 680 48 2.3 228 55 31 134 16 19.7%
7 Jacksonville Jaguars 364 589 682 42 2.4 174 62 34 138 51 20.2%
8 Oakland Raiders 367 523 566 29 2.5 111 67 19 115 14 20.3%
9 Arizona Cardinals 355 554 634 50 2.3 155 63 16 129 30 20.3%
10 Los Angeles Chargers 394 597 637 34 2.4 115 40 56 130 6 20.4%
11 San Francisco 49ers 331 478 526 36 2.4 201 41 32 109 12 20.7%
12 Kansas City Chiefs 378 576 625 25 2.5 129 60 45 130 24 20.8%
13 Cleveland Browns 318 539 597 41 2.3 213 65 24 130 17 21.8%
14 Green Bay Packers 356 573 635 36 2.6 154 57 46 139 26 21.9%
15 Buffalo Bills 299 513 596 40 2.3 225 47 44 131 43 22.0%
16 Chicago Bears 371 580 648 45 2.4 152 64 37 146 23 22.5%
17 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 382 630 708 47 2.5 243 61 54 162 31 22.9%
18 Houston Texans 355 534 632 49 2.5 183 55 41 145 49 22.9%
19 Atlanta Falcons 459 684 755 50 2.5 217 56 68 174 21 23.0%
20 Philadelphia Eagles 391 613 678 37 2.4 184 67 53 157 28 23.2%
21 Detroit Lions 344 571 642 43 2.5 177 59 47 149 28 23.2%
22 Minnesota Vikings 319 466 503 28 2.7 110 56 33 117 9 23.3%
23 Carolina Panthers 382 633 716 58 2.4 184 75 35 168 25 23.5%
24 Denver Broncos 312 504 566 41 2.4 155 62 36 139 21 24.6%
25 Pittsburgh Steelers 315 510 561 32 2.5 206 64 46 142 19 25.3%
26 New York Giants 376 607 678 43 2.5 169 58 74 175 28 25.8%
27 Tennessee Titans 297 448 532 56 2.6 161 48 36 140 28 26.3%
28 Indianapolis Colts 307 513 580 32 2.6 165 63 61 156 35 26.9%
29 Miami Dolphins 371 615 713 58 2.3 223 64 81 203 40 28.5%
30 Seattle Seahawks 341 517 610 48 2.4 221 71 58 177 45 29.0%
31 Washington Redacted 298 479 546 50 2.5 146 69 47 166 17 30.4%
32 New York Jets 323 521 581 52 2.5 203 76 49 177 8 30.5%

Comparing our three quarterbacks in 2019 you find that Flacco was pressured on 28.1, Allen on 19.4 and Lock on 24.2 percent of their respective dropbacks. So Allen was pressured the least frequently of our QBs, but sacked the most frequently. A full fifty percent of his pressures resulted in sacks. That was the worst figure in the league (minimum fifty dropbacks). For comparison 32.1 percent of the time that Flacco was pressured he was sacked, while only 12.8 percent of Lock’s pressures resulted in a sack. That 12.8 percent was second best in the league. Only Ben Roethlisberger was more difficult of sack when he was pressured (11.1 percent).

So it would appear that in the aggregate the offensive line in 2019 performed about the same as it did in 2019. The run blocking improved in some facets and regressed in others as did the pass protection. Drew Lock’s pocket awareness and mobility helped the offensive line during his five 2019 starts. I would expect that having him as the starter for (hopefully) 16+ games in 2020 should lead to significantly improved pass protection stats.

Teams can win while allowing frequent pressure on the QB, as you can see from the rankings of the Vikings (22nd), Titans (27th) and Seahawks (30th) in pressure percentage allowed. That being said, keeping your QB from getting pressured does not correlate with making the playoffs as the Rams (3rd), Cowboys (4th) and Bengals (6th) can attest. In fact only three of the top ten ranked teams in pressure percentage allowed made the playoffs - go figure.