On the Offensive: Is this Offensive Line Actually Good?
I’ll admit, I was concerned for Russell Wilson’s life following this offseason’s changes on the offensive line. Gone are Justin Britt, DJ Fluker, and Germain Ifedi. With a shortened offseason program, no preseason, and all the complications surrounding Covid-19, continuity was more important than ever. Through Week 4 of the 2020 NFL season, I must say I’m surprised at how well the line is holding up, despite the recent injury to Damien Lewis, Mike Iupati’s managed workload, and Ethan Pocic at Center. The O-Line at least passes the “eye test”.
In this article, I’ll go through various statistics and metrics to assess just how the offensive line has fared through Week 4. I’ll be using advanced data from a variety of sources: ESPN Analytics, Pro Football Reference (“PFR”), Football Outsiders (“FO”), and other widely available team statistics. I’ve chosen to stay away from more simple metrics, such as total pressures allowed and sacks, as they don’t give a complete picture of how the line is performing. At the end of the article, I will simply average the rankings for each metric for an overall offensive line ranking (I know this is a crude and imperfect way to quantify this data, but it is the simplest way to aggregate information into one number).
ESPN: Pass Block Win Rate (“PBWR”)
Rank 6, 66% PBWR
(Simply put, PBWR calculates how often a pass blocker is able to sustain a block for at least 2.5 seconds. Purely using pressure percentages and sack totals often doesn’t capture the whole story.)
SIXTH?! Am I reading this right? Have I woken up in an alternate universe? This can’t be right… right? As happy as I am with the Seahawks O-Line being top-6 in ANY metric, I am skeptical given we’re slightly below average in sack rate (20th, 7.4%) and much worse at 27th in pressure on % of dropbacks at 26.6%. The discrepancy between data might be attributed to Wilson’s 5th highest Time to Throw (TT) at 3.02 seconds, courtesy of NFL Next Gen Stats. This makes sense given Wilson’s ability to scramble and Schotty’s vertical passing attack. Remember, ESPN’s PBWR counts a win as sustaining a block for MINIMUM 2.5 seconds, meaning there’s a 0.52 second differential between Wilson’s TT and what counts as a “win” per ESPN Analytics.
I should really stop complaining. I’m happy to hear that any advanced statistic is willing to rank the Seattle O-Line that high in pass blocking. I think it just shows how far the unit has come since even last year. For reference, Seattle ranked 28th in PBWR in 2019.
JORDAN SIMMONS ranks 2nd among all guards with a 98% PBWR (small sample size alert!). According to Pro Football Focus (“PFF”), he’s only allowed one pressure (it was a hurry) through Week 4. He’s only played 92 total snaps on the year, with most of them coming in Week 3 against DAL when he filled in for RG Damien Lewis. His other snaps have typically come in relief of Mike Iupati at LG. As for his pass blocking, Simmons has allowed just 1 pressure on 67 pass blocking snaps, good for a pressure rate of 1.5%. Again, small sample size, but we’ve seen Simmons flash in 2018 in his breakout game against Aaron Donald before missing all of 2019 with an injury. I think more than anything, Simmons’ performance is a testament to the depth at offensive line. No other Seahawks cracked the top 10 in any other pass/rush win rate metrics at ESPN, including on defense.
ESPN: Run Block Win Rate (“RBWR”)
Rank 22, 69% RBWR
(RBWR calculates how often a run blocker “wins”, and includes wins as preventing gap fills, holding their block, and more, based on assigned responsibilities. Run defense is more nuanced and subjective than pass rush and ESPN acknowledges these difficulties in their model explanation.)
I’m now convinced ESPN somehow switched Seattle’s RBWR and PBWR. As an observer, I definitely feel like Seattle’s run blocking ability supersedes its pass blocking. This year, Carson has had some giant holes to run through (more on that later). I wonder if ESPN is overweighting the Travis Homer runs up the middle that go for 0 yards… I seem to remember Homer having some success running outside last season. He’s too small to be running up the gut. DeeJay Dallas, however, looked good running up the middle on his 2 carries against Miami. Get that man some more touches!
PFR: Rushing Yards before Contact per Attempt
Rank 5, 3.1 YBC/A
Generally, if an RB can gain this many yards BEFORE contact, the O-Line is getting pretty good push up front. This seems to directly contradict ESPN’s RBWR, where Seattle is ranked 22nd. We can argue about which metric is better for measuring the O-Line’s success in run blocking, but this is EXACTLY why we use multiple metrics from multiple sites to assess performance. In 2019, the Seahawks gained 2.3 YBC/A, which ranked 14th.
The 2020 Seahawks actually rank 28th in yards after contact (YAC) per attempt with 1.4 YAC, which is really surprising considering Chris Carson is a human bowling ball. If you’re wondering if the other Seattle backs not named Carson are dragging down the team’s YAC, then you’ll be surprised to hear Carson himself is only gaining 1.8 YAC per attempt, 34th among all qualifying rushers (includes a couple QBs). I believe that the YAC stat is strongly skewed towards longer runs and SEA ranks just 19th in longest rush at 28 yards. By the way, that 28 yard rush was actually by Russell Carrington Wilson, not even Carson. Carson’s longest run thus far has gone for just 23 yards. A couple more long runs will likely bring up Carson’s and the team’s YAC. For reference, the Seahawks ranked 12th last year with 2.2 YAC per attempt and Carson ranked 9th among all qualifying rushers with 2.6 YAC. This isn’t a shot at Carson’s tackle-breaking ability, as he’s still averaging 4.5 yards per attempt, 16th best among RBs.
PFR: Pressure Rate Allowed
Rank 27, 25.9% of dropbacks result in a pressure allowed
(A pressure is defined as a hurry (QB threw ball earlier than intended or chased out of pocket), a QB hit, or a sack.)
For anyone who is looking for some optimism in our O-Line progression this year, don’t look here. Seattle has given up the 10th most pressures (and also 4th most QB hits) despite ranking in the bottom half of the league in pass attempts. As I noted earlier, this might have to do with Wilson’s propensity to hold onto the ball and/or Schotty’s vertical passing attack, which requires Wilson to stay in the pocket for longer to let receivers get open downfield. While there have been far more instances of Wilson operating within a clean pocket, we’ve seen some pockets collapse fairly quickly as well. The Cowboys game in particular comes to mind, when Aldon Smith alone wrecked our line.
PFR: Pocket Time
Rank 2, 2.7 seconds
(Average time QB has in the pocket before throwing the ball or pressure collapses pocket.)
I thought this would be a good metric to show how long a QB has to throw before the pocket collapses, but to be fair, the metric can be skewed depending on what type of offense is deployed. A quick throwing passing game will be unfairly punished in this metric, whereas a passing attack that attacks vertically, like Seattle, will be rewarded, provided that the pocket doesn’t collapse. Either way, I think this shows that when Seattle does want to throw downfield, Wilson has ample time to do so.
FO: Adjusted Line Yards (“ALY”)
Rank 11, 4.48 yards
(Adjusted Line Yards attempts to assign responsibility of rushing yards to the offensive line. Runs longer than 5 yards are less dependent on offensive line play and are more likely a result of running back ability, thus carry less weighting.)
FO’s ALY is likely the best indicator at how well the O-Line is blocking up front for run plays. Seattle also ranks 14th in Power Success, which is percentage of successful runs converted with less than 2 yards to go on 3rd down, 4th down, or on goal. SEA’s Stuffed Rank, percentage of runs going for no gain or worse, is 8th, which lines up fairly well with PFR’s YBC metric. As FO points out in its disclosures, 2nd Level Yards and Open Field Yards are indicative of the RB’s ability to make defenders miss and break longer runs. SEA ranks 10th in 2nd Level Yards, which are runs 5-10 yards past the LOS, which makes sense considering we’ve seen Carson consistently hit the 2nd level and get near a first down, but not break anything much longer than that. SEA’s 24th rank in Open Field Yards, rushes past 10 yards, confirms this.
Source: Football Outsiders
Further, FO breaks out ALY by direction. Notice how most of SEA’s success comes from runs up the middle (5th) or to the Left Tackle (3rd, shout out Duane Brown!). Conversely, SEA ranks poorly in runs outside the tackles, ranking 24th to the Left End and 28th to the Right End.
Source: Football Outsiders
Final Results – Rank 12th
PBWR – Rank 6, 66%
RBWR – Rank 22, 69%
YBC/A – Rank 5, 3.1 YBC/A
Pressure Rate – Rank 27, 25.9%
Pocket Time – Rank 2, 2.7 seconds
ALY – Rank 11, 4.48 yards
This sounds about right. We’ve seen the O-line perform mediocre at worst and decent at best, so a ranking slightly above average makes sense. I included 3 metrics each for run blocking and pass blocking, so those two are weighted equally. We can debate about what is more important in the context of a good offensive line, but I made them equal for simplicity, as both are important to a certain degree. I will GLADLY take any SEA O-Line that is slightly above average. This is a huge step forward versus years past, when Seattle’s O-Line ranked 21st using the same metrics.
2019: PBWR 28th, YBC/A 14th, Pressure 30th, Pocket 19th, ALY 16th (no data provided for RBWR)
Below are the average ranks individually for run blocking and pass blocking:
Run Blocking – Rank 13th (2019: 15th)
Pass Blocking – Rank 12th (2019: 26th)
We already knew Seattle was adept at run blocking last year, but the biggest improvement has been in pass blocking, where Seattle now ranks 12th versus 26th last year. In summary, the SEA O-Line in 2020 seems fairly well rounded, but not elite in any one area, which is fine when Wilson can create extra time in the pocket through scrambling and Carson can routinely make the first defender miss. Luckily, it looks like they won’t have to do as much of that this year. Go ‘Hawks!