There once was this ugly duckling, you see.
So hideous. Clumsy, raw, and overmatched too -- the laughingstock of the pond. Not clad in the same striking coat of blue, green and gray as his brothers, but haphazardly slathered in an unidentified vague shade that reminded one of... a dirty red, maybe? If one squinted. Or brown. Who knew.
Who cared, really? The duckling was ugly beyond redemption. His mother would probably have found time to love him, if she weren't spending her life being embarrassed about his performance as a duck. She could go on about his brothers' exploits all day; and in fact, she did. They were world-class waterfowl, resplendent in their ringed outfits, championship swimmers all.
When the ugly, graceless bird did manage to get some basic duckian task right, nasty observers -- various geese and gulls -- would typically take the opportunity not to praise it in hopes of encouraging it to new heights, but instead would further deride it for its accumulated faults.
And so, there was a time, a long time, when this pathetic duckling looked like it would amount to nothing. Continually beaten by its peers at a primal level, it looked beyond repair. If it survived the rainy season, it might find itself exiled. To Cleveland perhaps, if fate had its cruel way.
Ah, but weeks and months passed anyway, and the beleaguered, relentless duckling chose hope over despair, hard work over self-loathing. And wouldn't you know it, something beautiful happened. Something transcendent, if a tad overdue. We don't want to give exactly away when the transformation happened, so we'll call it "Week 14."
That's when the young swan -- YES IT'S A FREAKING SWAN, YOU GUYS, NOT SOME STUPID MISSHAPEN MALLARD -- realized its identity to the fullest.
93.7 Pass Blocking Efficiency? Tops in the league.
Three hurries allowed? Elite performance.
One QB hit allowed? Outstanding protection.
Zero sacks allowed? Hard to get any better.
That happened. That really happened.
Okay okay okay, do Week 14's numbers call for a more wait-and-see attitude? Maybe. Could our sudden swan turn out to be a farce, a fraud? Mebbe. But our offensive line's journey from ugly incompetence to grace and dominance is a real statistical story, not a fairy tale.
Chapter Chart One: Russell Wilson, Victim Then Beneficiary
Putting two important stats (sacks and ANY/A, a souped-up version of passer rating) side by side illustrates how decent protection boosts our QB's numbers.
Sacks are trending down. ANY/A is trending up. But those should correlate anyway. Let's insert more variables.
***EDITORIAL NOTE MODE: ON***
Hi, readers. Don't be fooled by my sloppy work in the graphs' X-axis. Everywhere it says "Week," please sub in "Game." That way the bye week stays out of the graph. Thanks!
***EDITORIAL NOTE MODE: OFF***
Chapter Chart Two: There Are 3 Ways to Harass Number 3
Sacks aren't the only negative thing an OL can do to its signalcaller. Here's a sum of all sacks, QB hits and hurries suffered by Wilson this season.
(Stats are courtesy of Jim Seki of Pro Football Focus. Follow him on Twitter here.)
All we've got here at first glance is a pile of numbers with pretty colors. All forms of harassment are weighted the same so far, but a couple mini-trends appear. Mainly, in the first six weeks, it was commonplace for Wilson to experience more than 25 negative moments in a game. But since then, not so much. In general, the negatives are trending down.
The OL had one decent-to-good game in the first half of our data set. In the second half, it's more like three or four fair games. Progress!
(Keep in mind that these numbers do not yet include the aforementioned Week 13, the Pinnacle of Pass Protection. Those will be part of the final update, after Week 17.)
Chapter Chart Three: Working With Weights
Let's mess with the raw numbers now and weigh each negative play more appropriately. From here on out:
Sacks = 3
QB hits = 2
QB hurries = 1
Then to mix things up, we'll sub in passer rating instead of ANY/A. Mainly because I don't want to be accused of cherry-picking stats that make the OL and RW look good. I'm interested in all forms of data.
Certainly over the past three weeks, better OL performance translates to better passer rating. Which is good because QB rating may be flawed, but passer rating differential is maybe the greatest predictor of victory and defeat we have at our disposal.
But one thing we saw with the ANY/A chart earlier and this one, is that decent OL protection in weeks 7-8-9 did not help Russell Wilson take over the game. Great protection recently has led to great results, but his mid-season lull can't necessarily be put on the line.
Chapter Chart Four: Quarterly Reports
Examined on a weekly basis, it's clear that plenty of variation occurs in our OL stats. So I'll transfer all these guys to quarterly numbers. For three reasons:
A) It's cleaner. Easy to get lost in a cityscape of columns.
B) It's more honest. Arbitrary endpoints of Weeks 1-6, then 7-9, then 10-13 would show a story of dramatic improvement that would, in my opinion, overstate the OL's progress. I'm not interested in fooling you into thinking the OL has turned a corner.
C) It allows us to later consider the final four games as a comparable unit.
Look for these in the last three tables and charts. The trend is obvious. And I didn't even have to manipulate anything to make it appear!
Chapter Chart 5: Remember, We Also Used to Run the Ball
Maybe we can set up OL pass pro performance alongside yards per carry. You wouldn't think they correlate. But hey, if we're on a fact-finding mission, any result is good.
|Category||Games 1-4||Games 5-8||Games 9-12||Trend|
You could tie the positive YPC trend to the emergence of Thomas Rawls, who posted a league-leading 5.6 average in his shooting star of a season. Or -- you could posit that improved pass performance leads to better passing, which opens up the running game. If you ask me, probably some of both those factors at play. Which is why the fourth quarter of the season will be so telling.
Chapter Chart 6: This Is Where I Will Lose Some of You So Feel Free to Skip Ahead
Now we're going to throw in what pro-football-reference calls "Expected Points." In case you're unfamiliar with the concept, Expected Points is a way to quantify the role each facet of the team had in the final margin of victory or defeat.
Example: Hawks win 30-23 behind a typical Seattle offensive showing, a defensive score and a huge return on special teams. The defense also gives up several long FG drives and Jon Ryan pins the opponent deep three times. The expected points might distribute thusly:
- 1.40 offense
- 3.20 defense
- 2.60 special teams
The reason is, the three measurements should add up to almost exactly the final margin. In Seattle's 20-3 victory in San Francisco this year, it was:
- 6.26 offense
- 15.72 defense
- -3.58 special teams
So when we overlay the offense's Expected Points with the OL's pass protection, there should be some correlation.
|Category||Games 1-4||Games 5-8||Games 9-12||Trend|
|OL numbers||153||139||113||It's getting bettah|
|Total Expected Points -- Offense||0.82||12.33||66.09 !!||Sexy explosion|
As the OL's negative acts dropped by 9 percent, the expected points skyrocketed. Then after the OL eliminated 19 percent of its mess-ups, the expected points again went through the roof.
Correlation, causation, yada yada yada, I know. But the early numbers mean more examination is worthwhile. Let's schedule some more games!
Conclusions and Takeaways
Anyway you want to slice it, the line is performing better. Maybe the opposition is easing up. We saw the full-strength Rams and Panthers in the first half of the season; we drew the depleted Niners and Ravens in the second half.
But what's not "maybe" is the continuance of good trends, backed up by the eye test, backed up by Russell's performance, backed up by independent sites like PFF, backed up by points.
And backed up by wins. Big wins.
It's the second half of this chart that is telling -- when the OL performs well and its negative plays decrease, it sends the winning percentage up that week. When the line fails, the team fails. The Arizona game in week 9, the one that probably handed the division to the Cardinals, sticks out like a sore big toe. Not only as the only recent loss, but as the OL's only truly bad day in a while.
Since then, though? Swans.
And while the song might say Santa Claus is coming to town, the idiot Rams are right on his heels, and probably not with tidings of comfort and joy. Those ancient enemies of goodness and light will tell us a great deal about the staying power of what was once a very ugly duckling indeed.