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The nexus between OL health and scoring points

Is there a connection between offensive line health and scoring in the NFL?

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last eight seasons the Denver Broncos have had the worst offense in the league. Let that sink in.

This statement was made by looking at the average rank in scoring for every team going back to the 2015 season. See my tweet below.

Yes, the Jets, Browns and Bears have all had a better average scoring rank than the Broncos over the last eight seasons. The Broncos average rank in scoring was 25.4. The last place finish in 2022 dropped us below the Jets and the Bears who both had been near the bottom with the Broncos.

The Broncos have scored a total of 2533 points over the last eight seasons. Compare that to KC who has scored 3674 points. So, since winning the Super Bowl, the Broncos have been outscored by the Chiefs by an average of 143 points PER SEASON. That works out to almost NINE POINTS PER GAME. Even the lowly Bears have scored more points over the last eight seasons than the Broncos.

2022 287 496 391 395 326
2021 335 480 474 374 311
2020 323 473 384 434 372
2019 282 451 337 313 280
2018 329 565 428 290 421
2017 289 415 355 301 264
2016 333 389 410 416 279
2015 355 405 320 359 335
TOTAL 2533 3674 3099 2882 2588

I started wondering how much of this was due to offensive line health for the Broncos. Based upon my OL health score the Bronco OL has not been very healthy during the this period.

The OL health score uses offensive snap %. OL players with 80 or 90% of the offensive snaps are counted on the positive side of the ledger (weighted) while OL players with 20% or more and more than 0% of the snaps are counted on the negative side. The best you can get is 15.0 and the worst is negative 13.0 (or so). The formula I use is:

  • A = >90% snap guys
  • B = >80% snap guys
  • C = >20% guys
  • D = 0% or more guys
  • 3A + B - C - D/2.5

The thought is that in a given year the average should be zero and the highest should be about the same magnitude as the lowest. Because familiarity leads to better communication for the OL which is critical for high level OL performance, a team gets a higher score for having five OL guys take as many snap as possible. Conversely having to use many OL players just a little bit generally makes the level of OL play decrease dramatically because of DC’s attacking the “weakest link” on the OL.

Theoretically, if a team had all five starters play 100% of the snaps and never used any other OL guys on offense (even for 6 OL “heavy” formations), they would get a score of 15.0. While I have only looked at eight seasons, the closest any team has come to that was the 2022 Steelers, although the 2018 49ers were close.

The 2022 Steelers had an OL health score of 12.2, while the Rams were the least healthy with a score of -13.0.

The Steelers had an amazingly healthy OL in 2022. All five of their starting offensive linemen started 17 games. Their center, Mason Cole, played 96.0% of the offensive snaps for them and he had the LOWEST snap % among their offensive linemen. Outside of their starting five, the Steelers had only two OL guys play offensive snaps, JC Hassenauer and Trenton Scott, and they combined to play 77 total offensive snaps. Their starting five OL combined to play 5753 offensive snaps. The Rams most often used OL combination played about one fifth of those snaps together as a unit.

The Broncos who had no OL guys play 90% or more of the snaps. The Broncos were not as bad as the Rams though. They only had one guy who played 80% and only had two guys who played 60%. Shown below is the raw snap data that was used to calculate the 2022 full league OL health scores.

In the above table the Broncos were 32nd in OL health if you just using 90% guys, if you use my formula above the Broncos ranked 30th in OL health in 2022 with a score of -9.4.

This poor OL health along with the 32nd place finish in scoring got me thinking about the connection between the two.

So I used my OL health score and did the math for every team for every team going back to the 2015 season. Then I used scoring ranks to see if there was a correlation between OL health and ability to score points in the NFL. Interestingly the correlation value was only -0.24, which is strong in some contexts, but weak in others. I’m going to say that it is weak here. In other words there are plenty of teams who have poor OL health scores that still can score points and there are also plenty of teams, like the 2022 Steelers, who have very healthy OLs but still struggle to score. The Steelers finished 26th in scoring in 2022. This might come as a shock but QB play is the biggest determinant in ability to score in the NFL (but that’s a different study).

I also wondered if focusing on the best scoring teams and the worst scoring teams would lead to a stronger correlation (remember correlation goes from 1.0 to -1.0). The five best scoring teams over the last eight seasons are the Chiefs, Saints, Seahawks, Patriots and Buccaneers. The correlation values for those five teams are 0.36, -0.42, 0.02, -0.43 and -0.88. The most interesting thing here is that the Chiefs have the largest positive correlation meaning that in general their scoring rank has been worse when their OL has been healthy. This is partly due to 2015 and 2016 when they had fairly healthy OLs but finished 9th and 13th in scoring.

The Buccaneers are also interesting with their correlation value of -0.88. That means that when their OL has been healthy, they have scored points. From 2018 to 2021 they had fairly healthy OLs and they ranked 2nd or 3rd in scoring all four seasons. Their four worst scoring seasons they either had average or poor OL health.

Looking at the five worst scoring teams: Washington, Cleveland, NYJ, Chicago and Denver, we find correlation values of 0.03, -0.35, 0.15, 0.03 and -0.53. The reason that the Broncos have a fairly strong negative correlation value is that our two healthiest OL seasons (2015 and 2016) correspond to our two best scoring years of the last eight (when we sadly ranked 19th and 22nd in scoring). The full league correlation table is below.

In terms of OL health the average score has ranged from a high of 0.2 in 2018 to a low of -1.7 in 2021. The Rams score of -13.0 is the worst score for any OL over the last eight seasons. The team with the healthiest OL over the last eight seasons is the Steelers with an average of 2.6 while the Jets have had the least healthy OL with an average of -5.3. There have only been two seasons in the last eight where the Jets had a positive score for OL health.

There might also be a connection (correlation) between OL health and QB play. While I haven’t done that study yet, if there is interest from my readers, I can do that study to see if team passer rating or some other QB stat, such as sacks or completion percentage, has any correlation to OL health.

Looking forward to 2023, the Broncos have a putative line that has generally been healthy during their NFL careers.

Bolles had missed very few games prior to 2022. Powers has only missed four games with injury since becoming part of the Ravens game-day roster in 2020. Lloyd Cushenberry was remarkably durable before last season even if his level of play was poor. Quinn Meinerz has missed six games with injury over the last two seasons. Mike McGlinchey has average 13.8 games played per regular season during his five year career. (Knocking on wood) None of our projected OL starters has a problem staying healthy enough to play.


What OL health score would you expect the Broncos to have in 2023?

This poll is closed

  • 23%
    10 or better
    (26 votes)
  • 38%
    (42 votes)
  • 22%
    (25 votes)
  • 9%
    -2 to 2
    (10 votes)
  • 4%
    -6 to -2
    (5 votes)
  • 1%
    worse than -6
    (2 votes)
110 votes total Vote Now