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O-Line Differential: An Experimental Experiment

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Let's see where this takes us.

shit happens
shit happens
Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Gonna go a little off book here, and start an mathy experiment without a great clue of where it will take us. Writing without a net. Don't fall. Don't dangle your participles.

Please meet, at the same time as yours truly, the "Offensive Line Differential."

Inspired by Brian Billick's crude "Toxic Differential" (read about it here), this is an easily-enough calculated metric designed to compare OL-DL in-game battles and their impact on the result.

Each negative play that can be ascribed to an OL failure will count points against them. They will earn positive points for rushing yards that are before contact and also not QB scrambles, plus a bonus for any explosive plays.

The scale, in terms of components, has a lot of categories. Many things can (and do) go wrong!

First the negatives

Four things are worth -3 points apiece: a sack, a tackle for loss, a failure to convert on 3rd and 4th with 2 yards or fewer to go, and a personal foul penalty by a lineman.

Two things are worth -2 points apiece: a QB hit allowed and a holding penalty.

Two things are worth -1 point apiece: a QB hurry and a false start penalty.

Then the positives

Rushing yards before contact: .5 points/yard. As said above, QB scrambles are excluded.

Explosive play: +3 points apiece. Explosive plays are hard to pull off without some success at the line of scrimmage.

Finally, one subjective adjustment

This step might raise the controversial quotient so I'm quite interested in your input here.

QB elusiveness: -5 to +5 points based on subjective grading of the quarterback's mobility. Healthy Russell Wilson would usually count 4 or 5 points against the Seattle line -- his elusiveness can cover up for blocking deficiencies. Peyton Manning would count 4 or 5 points for the Denver line -- they have to do their assignments right or he dies.

For context, a good OL performance ought to score somewhere around 0 points. We'll see about that as the season progresses.

But the raw number obtained after tallying positives and negatives -- that's not the stat I'm after. The unicorn hunted at this moment is instead the difference between the two teams' OL performances in a single game. Why? Let me offer this rationale: It might not matter to the game's end result if the Seattle line is terrible, so long as the opposing line also has a hard day. If our DL beats up their OL a lot, and their DL dominates ours only a little more, then the OL Differential will be smaller, and the game will come down to talent and execution elsewhere on the field.

If our DL has an off day and our OL gets beat up? A huge differential materializes, and that ought to mean serious trouble. Yes, I'm thinking of the Lions game from four days ago.

To the calculations, mateys.

Game 1: Seattle Two-TIme Conference Champs at Future Los Angeles Rams
Worth? Opposing OL Hawks OL
Sacks allowed -3 -6 -18
TFL allowed -3 -18 -12
3rd/4th and short fails -3 0 -9
15-yard penalties -3 0 0
QB hits allowed -2 -16 -6
10-yard penalties -2 -2 0
QB hurries allowed -1 -11 -23
5-yard penalties -1 -2 -1
Total Negatives -55 -69


Rush yds before contact 0.5 18 19
Explosive plays 3 27 18
Total Positives
45 37
Preliminary Total -10 -32
QB elusiveness adj. +1 -5
Final Total
-9 -37


OL DIFFERENTIAL +28 -28

Some notes: This will be the biggest differential of the four games thus far. Why? Six sacks allowed and a ton of explosive plays for the Rams. Explosive play-wise, the Hawks got only six, their lowest total of the season; meanwhile, they gave up nine, or about as many as against GB-Chi-Det combined.

(Explosive plays are judged to be 20+ yard pass plays and 10+ yard runs.)

Game 2: Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers Out For Revenge As They Well Should Be Because Those Poor Guys

Worth? Opposing OL Hawks OL
Sacks allowed -3 -6 -6
TFL allowed -3 -6 -18
3rd/4th and short fails -3 -3 0
15-yard penalties -3 0 -3
QB hits allowed -2 -6 -2
10-yard penalties -2 0 0
QB hurries allowed -1 -23 -12
5-yard penalties -1 0 -1
Total Negatives -44 -42


Rush yds before contact 0.5 16 16
Explosive plays 3 15 21
Total Positives
31 37
Preliminary Total -13 -5
QB elusiveness adj. -4 -5
Final Total
-17 -10


OL DIFFERENTIAL -7 +7

Some notes: The OLD (terrible or awesome acronym) jibes with the eye test and the memory test here. Rodgers was seemingly pressured consistently, while the Hawks kept Wilson relatively clean and upright. Where the math goes off the rails a little here is with the QB hurries: 23 of them on Rodgers sounds like an achievement, but I'm not sure that hurrying him a tad has any positive effect. Because have you seen Aaron Rodgers play the footballs? He's a veritable pocket ninja: he knows exactly where all the safe little subpockets are when pressure comes. Wilson is famous for watching all of Brees' tape -- maybe now it's time for him to seek to emulate Rodgers in this aspect.

Also, in the first three quarters, Marshawn was tackled five times for a loss. Five. In one game.

Game 3: Chicago Cubs at Seattle Seahawks

Worth? Opposing OL Hawks OL
Sacks allowed -3 -6 -12
TFL allowed -3 -9 -3
3rd/4th and short fails -3 -3 -6
15-yard penalties -3 0 0
QB hits allowed -2 -6 -14
10-yard penalties -2 -2 -2
QB hurries allowed -1 -6 -18
5-yard penalties -1 -1 -2
Total Negatives -33 -57


Rush yds before contact 0.5 14 34
Explosive plays 3 12 24
Total Positives
26 58
Preliminary Total -7 1 (!!!)
QB elusiveness adj. +3 -5
Final Total
-4 -4


OL DIFFERENTIAL 0 0

Some notes: Not dominating the Bears OL at home might be disappointing; however, opening up several large holes (67 yards before contact!) for Thomas Rawls to run through is... appointing.

In the context of 2015, this tie feels a lot more like kissing your sister's cute friend.

Game 4: Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks, Batting and Punching

(yes you guessed it that was an obscure "Californication" reference")

Worth? Opposing OL Hawks OL
Sacks allowed -3 0 (ugh) -18
TFL allowed -3 -12 -12
3rd/4th and short fails -3 -3 -3
15-yard penalties -3 -3 0
QB hits allowed -2 -4 -6
10-yard penalties -2 -2 -2
QB hurries allowed -1 -13 -18
5-yard penalties -1 0 -1
Total Negatives -37 -60


Rush yds before contact 0.5 6 8
Explosive plays 3 6 24
Total Positives
12 32
Preliminary Total -25 -28
QB elusiveness adj. +3 -5
Final Total
-22 -33


OL DIFFERENTIAL +11 -11

Some notes: RW has been hurried 71 times compared to 53 for opposing QBs. On the bright side, just 12 yards before contact for all Lions runners and just two explosive plays allowed. The Seattle DL really showed up everywhere except in sacks, to help compensate somewhat for a forgettable night by the Seattle OL.

Moving Forward

That worked okay, I thought. Well enough to decide to track OLD as the season progresses in three different ways.

A) game by game
B) as a running total
C) checking in with our division rivals from time to time for context.

I also have a shortcut version in the works that trims the categories to six, where:

Sack = -4 points
TFL = - 3 points
QB hit = -2 points
Penalty = -1 point
Rushing yards = x .33
Explosive play = +3 points

Look for that one later in the year. Because if there were ever any season to embark on a data-filled, detached, non-prejudicial, 99 percent objective project analyzing the offensive line, it'd be this season, right?