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Tuesday, 6 November 2012

OLR Week 9: Lies, Damn Lies, And Statistics

Sometimes, when you analyze the NFL statistically, you can tell a real story. The numbers generated during every game can be crunched this way and that to reveal previously misunderstood units, to prove arguments when a team's record doesn't seem to match their play, or to attribute blame to one particular area of a roster for a team's failures on the field. Sometimes, however, the numbers generated can just be misleading, and less integral sources might use these figures to try and convince you of something that simply isn't true.

Fortunately, here at TPL, we try to keep our integrity in tact, and when the results we generated this week for OLR analysis threw up a frankly ridiculous #1 team, we didn't fall for it and won't try to pedal it as fact. What will do, is present the numbers and let you decide for yourself if they deserve the top spot.

This week's number 1 team: the Tennessee Titans...?

Yeah, we didn't think so either.

So how did the Titans end up at number 1? Well, one play pretty much did it all for them. Already losing 51-12 to the Chicago Bears midway through the 4th quarter, Matt Hasselbeck handed the ball off the Chris Johnson on the Titans 20 yard line. About 10 seconds later, CJ?K found himself in the endzone, completely untouched, with an 80 yard TD to his name. A great play from the Titans, that was admittedly blocked well by the OL, especially with 8 Bears D players in the box, but one that massively inflated the Titans OLR score this week. 

With that run included, Tennessee put up 159 yards on 18 carries (an 8.8YPC) with 1 TD. Without it, they put up 79 yards on 17 carries (4.6YPC) with 0 TDs. A rather sizable difference, and one that would make the Titans OLR fall from 0.748 to 0.485 (from 1st to 6th). What can be said for the Titans is that their pass protection was actually fairly decent. Against a very aggressive and high ranked Bears front 7, they allowed Matt Hasselbeck to be sacked only twice in the game, and didn't really allow much pressure on the rest of his 35 attempts. What let the team down was the fact that Hasselbeck threw a horrible pick 6 to Brian Urlacher, and their special teams allowed a punt to be block for a TD and Devin Hester to take another punt back to inside the Titans 20. Oh, and don't forget all the fumbles - 4 forced by Charles Tilman alone.

Whilst the Tennessee offensive line wasn't bad Sunday, even against a great D, it didn't deserve to be #1, and nothing, not even a reasonable OL performance, will makes Titans fans view this game as anything but a destruction.

Even the team ranked at #2 this week has some big question marks surrounding their performance. The Broncos didn't manage to run the ball at all on Cincinnati this week, racking up a measly 2.6YPC on 26 carries for a total of 67 yards. They also didn't score a TD and managed just 2 rushing first downs all game. The one thing they did do well, however, is pass protect. Peyton Manning was basically untouched for the entire game, the Bengals recording no sacks and no takedowns, and considering Manning threw the ball 35 times that's a fair achievement.

Perhaps the most deserving top 10 team this week is a little lower down the list, and through only their own fault find themselves outside the top 3. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were panicking when Pro-Bowl OG Carl Nicks was placed on IR last week with a toe injury. How would they be able to block a huge Oakland Raiders interior DL including Richard Seymour? Well, very easily by the looks of things. The Bucs put up a huge 278 yards on 32 carries for a YPC of 8.7, with rookie RB Doug Martin going for 251 yards and 4 TDs on 25 carries, 197 of those yards coming before contact! They also allowed just one sack of Josh Freeman and ended with an OLR score of 0.408. However, this score could've been even higher, had the Bucs not finished the game with a final drive of 4 carries (one was a kneel) for -20 yards (-5, -1, -8, -6). Take those carries out of the stats, and the Bucs OLR score goes up to 0.611, just a smidge behind the Broncos and a clear 3rd place this week. Whether they wanted to keep Martin going in an attempt to break the single game rushing record, or whether they just didn't trust Blount to run the game out after he and Freeman fumbled the ball between them earlier in the game, who knows, but the Bucs denied themselves the #3 spot this week.

At the other end of the table, and perhaps even more surprising than the Titans OLR stat from this week is the Giants score of -0.285, landing them in 24th, far below anything they've scored so far in 2012. The Steelers D finally showed some bottle this week, limiting NYG to just 68 yards on the ground, as well as stuffing them for 3 negative runs vs just 4 rushing first downs. In the passing game, Eli took a bit of a beating too, with 6 QB knockdowns (2 of which were sacks, the first time since week 3 they've allowed multiple sacks in a game). Their score was deflated somewhat by the defensive adjustment this week, as so far in 2012 the Steelers front 7 rank in the bottom half of the league in terms of production, but if that unit continues to improve for the rest of the season, this Giants OLR score may find itself creeping back closer to zero as the Steelers D moves up the rankings.

Another traditionally strong OL finds itself even lower than the Giants this week - the Houston Texans. A lowly -0.611 is pretty shocking for a 7-1 team that looks to be plowing its way to the AFC South title on the back of Arian Foster's rushing, but week 9 represented a downturn in performance from the Texans OL, and that was against the statistical worst front 7 in the NFL by our calculations - the Buffalo Bills. Allowing a league worst 5.7YPC, a league high of 14 rushing TDs, and a league worst 79 rushing first downs so far this year says it all about how the Bills run defense is playing. How, then, did a team like the Texans only manage to put up a YPC of 3.6 on 32 carries, score just one rushing TD, and allow 6 tackles for loss? Baffling.

Usually, a performance like the Texans put up against the worst defense in the league would be enough to secure the bottom spot in OLR for the week. But luckily for them, one team was even worse. The Philadelphia Eagles.

I feel really sorry for the Eagles OL coach Howard Mudd. His unit are just atrocious at the moment, and there's basically nothing he can do about it. On MNF vs the Saints, the Eagles started the game with 3 of their starting offensive linemen out with injuries: LT Jason Peters, OG Danny Watkins, and C Jason Kelce. By the end of the first half they'd lost RT Todd Herremans too. Quite frankly it's impossible to win a game when you have 4 backup offensive linemen on the field for every snap. And we're not talking about them not having defined starters at any one position so mixing up the line to find something that fits, we're talking 4 bona fide starters all ruled out through injury.

As it turned out, the Eagles were able to run the ball on the Saints really well (221 yards at 7.6YPC), thanks in no small part to the Saints defense being awful. In all the categories I used above to say the Bills D was terrible, the Saints are right behind them, and also have allowed the most rushing yards of any defense in the league this year, plus a league high 4 runs of 40+ yards. So yes, the Eagles line was able to exploit this, even with 80% of their starters missing. What they couldn't do was protect Michael Vick whatsoever. 13 QB knockdowns, including 7 sacks (3 by Cameron Jordan alone), was pretty much solely responsible for the Eagles loss in this game, and continued a terrible trend that sees the Eagles ranked 29th in the NFL in sacks allowed with 27. Only Chicago (28), Green Bay (29) and Arizona (41. Yeah. 41!) are below them.

Many around the league have started calling for Mike Vick to be benched, and those voices will gain volume after Patrick Robinson picked his pass off and returned it 99 yards for a TD last night, but it simply won't help. Vick wasn't at fault for that interception, his TE Brent Celek tipped the ball straight into Robinson's hands, and when he's basically under siege because his makeshift OL couldn't stop a mediocre PeeWee pass rush let alone and NFL one, he doesn't have a chance. Unless Nick Foles comes with a deflector shield, I'd leave him on the safety of the sideline for now - he'll get his chance, there's no way Vick survives the season healthy.

- Phil Gaskin (@sosayitisaid)
- The Pulling Linemen

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