clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The StatHawk, Halfway Home: Is This OL Any Good Or What? (Probably What But Let's Check Anyway)

An opinion-free, purely statistical look at the 2014 offensive line. Once the datadeluge has passed, maybe we'll have a better idea how offensive they really are.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

"push TD" - Kenneth Arthur
"push TD" - Kenneth Arthur
Otto Greule Jr

If you want mean words about the Seattle Seahawks offensive line, punctuated by a rantastic "fire Tom Cable" diatribe, I hate to disappoint you. (No I don't.)

Ahead lies the most dispassionate look at the overall OL numbers you'll find. I'll present the data, I'll make a few observations, but...

The statistics will not tell us if the OL is good!

Collectively, they will only tell us if the stats point toward excellence, passability, mediocrity, or outright sucktitude. Stats are tools that clarify our understanding. They don't explain everything, and they can be tricky sneaky things. Mis-wielded, they're actually worse than gut feelings or a layman's eye. They have to be paired with an expert's perspective to be useful.

Analogy Hour

I teach piano for a living. I listen to kids and adults play the instrument 40 hours a week; I have a college degree in piano performance; I have coached people from blissful ignorance to blissful excellence. I've done this for most of my professional life. I'm an expert in this one limited area.

You can no doubt appreciate a great piece of music, played well on a beautiful instrument by a talented musician. But you don't know how the piano player got there, you don't know where they messed up, where they excelled compared to their peers -- you don't know how good that performer really is, or can become. You have an idea, and you might even be right.

But importantly, you wouldn't be able to tell much of a difference between me playing Mozart's Rondo Alla Turca and a professional touring pianist playing the same piece. I would.

When we're talking about this one tiny compartment of life, piano stuff, I can see greatness, I can evaluate honest skill -- and I know what hard work looks like, especially compared with its opposite. There are people who can do the same for offensive line play. They're the ones who, if they're given the right stats to buttress their assessment, can synthesize the data below and their personal observations into an educated opinion. The rest of us are just pawing around with one eye covered in a patch and the other one nearsighted and bloodshot while loud distracting noises blare in the background. We can see stuff happen, but darned if we know anything close to the whole story.

All that being said, I think you'll be somewhat surprised at what, collectively, the statistics tell us blindfolk.

They Tell Us This

Organization What they say or have compiled statistically about the Hawks' 2014 OL
NFL The league website keeps a nice log of rushing stats. Hawks are 4th in rushing yards, 1st in YPC, 12th in first downs earned on the ground, 8th best in negative rush plays and 20th in rushes exceeding 10 yards. Hawks are 9th best in QB hits allowed.
Pro Football Focus PFF sees the Hawks as the 19th best pass blocking team, 15th best in run blocking, and 21st in penalty performance (worse than average). In their signature stat "Pass Blocking Efficiency," Seattle is 23rd overall, but how they got there is interesting. Hawks come in at 2nd best in sacks allowed, 5th best in hits allowed, 14th best in something called "total pressure," and 23rd best in hurries allowed.
Football Outsiders FO, makers of DVOA, rates Seattle medium high in run blocking. 12th best in Adjusted Line Yards, 4th best in Power, 2nd best at Stuffed, but just 13th in Second Level and 24th in Open Field. The site ranks an OL's pass blocking skill by Adjusted Sack Rate, which places Seattle 17th, at 6.7 percent.
Adv. Football Analytics Many, many stats here for running and passing. Seattle has accumulated the 4th most negative WPA (so ranks 29th) and the most negative EPA (so 32nd). 6th best in sacks allowed, 6th best in QB hits, 3rd best in tackles for loss. To round it out, in run WPA they're 18th best and in pass WPA -- dead last.

One first thing to do with all this data is to tease out an overall impression of where the Hawks stack up against the rest of the league. Forget if the stats are deficient individually -- a simple list of rankings ought to give us a place to start.

Seattle claims the following ranking spots, for the 28 categories listed:

1, 2, 2, 3, 4, 4, 5, 6, 6, 8, 9, 12, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 23, 23, 24, 29, 32, 32

Average league position: 374 / 27 = 13.9

Some categories were double-counted. And those run stats are not only great, but also over-represented. So leaving first impressions behind, let's march forward with an even amount of rushing and passing rankings, one from each source, the most pertinent one each time.

NFL 4, 9;

PFF 19, 15;

FO 12, 17;

ANA 18, 32.

Average league position: 126 / 8 = 15.8

There appears to be very little statistical ammunition for the argument that Seattle's OL stinks overall. There's some real evidence that their pass blocking is bad; there's some real evidence that their run blocking is good. There's less evidence for the opposing view each time.

Overall, objectively, the stats point toward a reasonable conclusion that the Hawks' linemen are middle of the pack, overall, at the skills they should display for their job. Depending on how you weight a certain skill or individual stat, you can make a case for better than average, or worse than average, statistically. But since you can't chop Justin Britt into a pass-blocking half and a run-blocking half (however much you might want to cut him in pieces this instant), it's essential to acknowledge that the stats tell a story of overall competence.

I've got more measurements to tack on, chiefly because I want to reference them later, and they're good for context.

Pass Blocking Potpourri

  • Russell Wilson is under siege more often than Steven Seagal. (Get it? "Under Siege"? Sea-gal? Get it? Yes I know it's dumb.)
  • He faces pressure on 42.5 percent of dropbacks, second-most after Austin Davis' 42.8.
  • He's still only 23rd in sacks conceded under pressure: 12.4 percent, half as often as Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Stafford or Colin Kaepernick. Escapability for the win.
  • He has the second most time to throw in the league! 3.02 seconds.
  • He also takes the most time, on average, between snap and attempt: 2.79 seconds.
  • Half the time (48.8 percent) he throws in under 2.5 seconds. That's not great -- it's 20th overall. And yet, on 42.5 percent of dropbacks, he's under pressure. Looks, on the surface, like damning evidence against Wilson and the line both -- he appears to hold the ball too long on average; they appear to give him too little time on average. (PFF is where these numbers are coming from.)
  • His line is new. How new? This new, according to
Team Experience League Rank
Saints 421 games 1
Median 265 16.5
Hawks 126 31
Jaguars 121 32

"Median" sounds like a nice place to visit someday.

Unsecret Weapons MODE: OFF

At this point, I'd like to address the Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch factors. It is understood by observers of the game that Wilson is better than the average quarterback at evading pressure and at rushing the football. Likewise, it is understood that Lynch IS AN AUTHENTIC FUCKIN BEAST is capable of accumulating yards after contact.

It's largely unnecessary to source those statements, but I'll do it anyway.

Wilson is 1st in the league in QB runs with 27... and first in the NFL, period, with 7.6 yards per carry. He's actually also the 24th leading rusher in total yards, with 393.

Lynch is 6th in yards after contact, with 317. (He's 18th in yards after contact per attempt, with 2.4, somewhat surprisingly.)

So what happens if a critical person (I volunteer!) decides that the vaunted Seattle O-line should not get credit for any of the special attributes their QB and RB bring to the table?

That critical person would offer you this dishonest chart:

Category NFL rank Now unfairly remove: Hawks' new unfair NFL rank
Rushing Yards, with 1188 4th All of Wilson's rushing yards 24th, with 795
Rushing Yards 4th All of Lynch's yards after contact 20th, with 871
Rushing Yards 4th Both of the above 32nd, with 478 (Oak, 529)
Yards Per Carry, with 5.1 1st Wilson's league-leading 7.6 YPC on 52 att 13th, with 4.4
Team Rushing TD, with 9 6th Wilson's scores and Percy's illegitimate TD 19th, with 5
Sacks + QB hits, 51 total 10th best RW's escapability. Add 1 hit or sack/g 19th, best with 63

It's blatantly unjust to strip a team of its playmakers' playmaking. And yet, the removal of Seattle's unsecret weapons merely has the overall effect of bringing the stats back to the middle of the pack, if a bit worse. (The third row's just for giggles, it doesn't count, and also for haha Raiders.)

Conclusions, To Recap

1. The Seattle line is statistically excellent at some things, good at some, average at others, bad at some, terrible at others. Overall though they tend to grade more often above average, especially in the running game, according to traditional and advanced statistics culled from four independent sources.

2. The Seattle line is statistically bad at giving its quarterback time to throw comfortably, is unusually inexperienced, but gives up fewer sacks and hits than average.

3. The Seattle line is statistically formidable at producing rushing statistics. Once the quarterback's ground contributions are removed, which is cheating, the line's essential numbers retreat toward the middle of the pack, without becoming overall bad.

4. It is objectively wrong to call the Hawks's offensive line bad overall. A more narrow analysis -- for example, focusing strictly on pass protection -- could yield a different conclusion.