Posted: 12:00 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014
By Bryan M. Vance
We hardly ever pay attention to the big hogs up front, so how do we really know who had the best offensive line units in the MAC? By using some advanced statistics! Get your calculators and thinking caps out, we're going to school.
Though wins and losses may be the only stat that matters in the end, the fact is, if you're like me at all (I'm assuming you are because the only people reading this are the clones I made a few weeks back) you still love to look at stats. Sure, your team may suck, but they had the nation's 17 leading rusher, so eat it!
But for all of our love of stats (touchdowns-to-interception ratio, yards-after-the-catch and QBR, whatever the hell that is) we tend to ignore one group entirely. I'm not talking about special teams, no, even they get their stats, I'm talking about the offensive line.
We're all guilty of it. Ignoring those big workhouses until they A) get your quarterback/running back creamed or B) win an award/get drafted. It's natural. Offensive line is the least sexy position in football. Even a kicker has a chance to be carried off in glory. No one would dare try to hoist a 330-pound tackle on to their shoulders., it's better to leave them to do the hoisting.
But that's not to say that offensive lineman aren't valuable. Hell, we all know that without the big hogs up front Jordan Lynch would have trucked his way to being just another mid-major dual threat quarterback. It's the lineman that put in the work to get an offense humming. Is your team running at peak efficiency and scoring at will? Chance are, your offensive line is to thank for a big chunk of that. Is your offense getting stopped on an inordinate amount of three-and-outs? Yep, probably partially their fault too.
But besides just looking at other offensive statistics (rushing yards-per-attempt for example), do we really have any way of quantifying an offensive lines effectiveness? Great question, the answer is yes! Thanks to Football Study Hall's Bill Connelly, a champion of advanced football statistics (read: sabermetrics for the gridiron), we've got a detailed look at how offensive line units performed in 2013. Using some complex statistics Connelly was able to rank each offensive line unit in several different efficiencies.
But because these numbers are complex enough, and digging through 126 teams can be a headache, we've pulled out all the numbers for the MAC offensive lines for you. By doing this we can get a clear sense of who had the best offensive lines in 2013, and maybe put a finger on the source of an offenses' successes/failures. First though, let's take a look at just what all these statistics are tracking, courtesy of Football Study Hall:
Adj. Line Yards: An opponent-adjusted version of the line measure derived from the formula found here. The idea is to divvy credit for a given rush between both the runner and the blockers.
Standard Downs: First downs, second-and-6 or fewer, third-and-4 or fewer, and fourth-and-4 or fewer. These are the downs in which the offense could conceivably either run or pass and therefore has an overall advantage over the defense. Offenses typically run about 60 percent of the time on standard downs.
Passing Downs: Second-and-7 or more, third-and-5 or more, or fourth-and-5 or more. These are downs in which passing is easily the most likely option for gaining the necessary yardage, and defenses hold the upper hand. Offenses typically throw about 67 percent of the time on passing downs.
Opportunity Rate: This is the percentage of carries in which the offensive line "does its job" and produces at least five yards of rushing for the runner. (Generally speaking, the first five yards are considered the line's responsibility, the next five are split evenly between the runner and the line, and anything over 10 yards is all on the runner.) See Highlight Yards and Adj. Line Yards for more information.
Power Success Rate: As used in Football Outsiders' pro line stats, this is the percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown. Also includes runs on first-and-goal or second-and-goal from the two-yard line or closer.
Stuff Rate: This is the percentage of runs where the runner is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage. Since being stuffed is bad, offenses are ranked from stuffed least often (No. 1) to most often (No. 125); for defenses, the opposite is true.
Adj. Sack Rate: An opponent-adjusted measure of sack rates.
OFFENSIVE LINE RANKINGS (SORTABLE CHART):
|Offense||Adj LY||Rk||SD LY/ Carry||Rk||PD LY/ Carry||Rk||Opp. Rate||Rk||Power Succ. Rate||Rk||Stuff Rate||Rk|
Upon looking at these numbers we can see that generally speaking the best teams had the best offensive lines in the MAC, and the worst teams, well, you get this. Of course that's not entirely true.CMU's offensive line was awful at just about everything besides standard down line yards per carry (the typically easier downs to convert on). WMU was actually fairly good in most of these statistics.
But here's what's interesting, and note that the "Ranks" are national ranks in the categories, the MAC actually featured two of the better line units in the nation in terms of their ability to produce yardage. The Huskies were actually tops in the nation in Stuff Rate, meaning they allowed the fewest percentage of plays where a runner was tackled in the backfield.
They were also highly productive on standards downs, excellent in producing on passing downs and produced five or more yards of rushing on nearly 50 percent of all downs (opportunity rate-as Connelly mentions in his post, the first five yards of rushing are generally given to the line in these statistics, the next five are split between he line and runner, anything over 10 is all the runners). This explains why it seems like Stingley and Lynch were always moving forward, because they were. There was no confusion entering this post that NIU's offensive line was the best in the MAC, but no we see they produced on an elite level. Tyler Loos suffering a broken leg surely played an impact on this line's ability to produce in its final two games.
Toledo was the other offensive line that bullied its way through the MAC. The Rockets actually possessed the nation's top offensive line on passing downs. If only the quarterback situation had been a bit better. They were pretty damn good on the offensive line in standard downs, opportunity rate and preventing stuffs too. Considering it seemed like everyone was stepping in and rushing for 100 yards a game after David Fluellen went down. Zac Kerin and his boys were man-handling everyone in their path.
Here's an interesting statistic to note. In situations where teams ran on third or fourth down with two yards or less to go (also includes first-and-goal or second-and-goal from the two-yard line or closer) UMass actually had one of the more successful line units at converting these situations. Power Success Rate, the stat used to measure this, shows that only 35 teams in the FBS were better at converting these crucial short-yardage situations; only Toledo was better in the MAC.
Again, it's important to note that a lot of these statistics are still dependent on the skill position personnel , which could easily explain why a team like NIU was so much better on something like stuff rate than everyone else, considering both Lynch and Stingely are bruising downhill runners who weren't afraid to lower a shoulder and drive. This is a much different style than that of say Jahwan Edwards, who though he can lower the boom, doesn't pack as much power.
Enough about yardage statistics though, we all know that when it boils down to is, the easiest stat for us to understand, and arguably the one the lines get the most credit/blame for is sack rates. Using an adjusted sack rate, which adjusts the stat based on opponents performances, standard down sack rate (sacks allowed on standard downs) and passing down sack rates we can see that overall the MAC was good at preventing sacks.
|Offense||Adj Sack Rate||Rk||SD Sack Rate||Rk||PD Sack Rate||Rk|
All but four teams were in the top fifty in terms of preventing sacks on passing downs. Actually, only two teams were abysmal in all three categories, Miami and shockingly Bowling Green. There was no secret that Miami's offensive line was bad. It's why Chuck Martin has went so hard after brining in fresh blood for 2014.
But Bowling Green won the MAC. The Falcons did so behind one of the conferences best rushing performances, and of course Matt Johnson's arm. This is the thing to note though, as great as Johnson was at times, there were several games where his pocket presence was awful at best. He's got the arm, he can read defenses and can make plays but sometimes he hangs onto the blal a bit too long or just misses out on a defender entirely until they're siting on top of him.
But who was the best at preventing sacks? Well obviously NIU and Toledo are near the top once again, with the Huskies allowing the fewest sacks in the nation on passing downs. But, I'd say it was the rockets unit. Remember, this unit had to deal with some inexperience at QB as well when Terrance Owens got hurt for a little bit last season, and still this unit is never worse sixth in fewest sacks allowed according to these metrics. Not bad for a unit without a single First Team All-MAC selection.
So there you have it, the teams that won typically had the best producing offensive lines. Surprise, surprise.