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Wednesday, 5 December 2012

OLR Week 13: A Purple Patch

With week 13 in the books, our Offensive Line Rating (“OLR”) series returns again. This week we have a new team that finds itself top of the pile in our stat that grades the blocking performance of offensive line units around the NFL, and their score comes despite losing a big divisional matchup this week which may put pay to their aspirations of playoff football. No, I don’t mean the Eagles (although they scored uncharacteristically well).

This week’s OLR top scorers are the Minnesota Vikings.

 And frankly, they are run-away winners.

When you take into account the statistics we use to calculate OLR, it's hardly surprising that the Vikings find themselves at #1 for week 13, and despite their loss to the Packers that may well mean their shot at an NFC Wild Card slot is slipping away, they really do deserve it.

Firstly, we look at the strength of the running game. 

With Adrian Peterson in the backfield, you can always expect a strong performance here from the Vikings. Peterson notched up a ridiculous 210 yards on 21 carries on Sunday, a YPC of 10! Of course, those numbers were boosted by his 82 yard saunter to the end zone, but even with that carry removed, 128 yards on 20 carries is a YPC of 6.4, a staggering level for a guy still less than a year removed from reconstructive knee surgery. How can he be doing this? Well firstly the man is a monster, but secondly, his offensive line. Of course the rushing stats are bolstered when Peterson can roll off 80 yard carries, but a stat that really relies on solid blocking, grinding out the yards, is the number of rushing first downs. The Vikings managed 6 first downs on the ground on Sunday, compared to just one negative run all game. Impressive stuff.

We next look at the passing game; not at the QBs stats, but at the number of sacks and knockdowns recorded by the opposition defense.

On Sunday, against the always dangerous Green Bay Packers pass rush, the Vikings allowed no sacks. None at all. Indeed, they only allowed Christian Ponder to be taken to ground in the backfield once. Yet another excellent statistic for the O-line, which speaks volumes of how they are playing as a whole, including their rookie OT Matt Kalil.

Finally, we look at the strength of the defense they are facing. It's only fair to adjust the OLR score given to account for how good their opposition is - there's far more value in rushing and pass protecting well against a strong defense like the San Francisco 49ers than there is against a porous and impotent unit like the the Jacksonville Jaguars. Now of course, the Packers D is not at full strength currently, with studs like Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson still injured, and even their backups now struggling too. That said, performing like the Vikings OL did against any Dom Capers co-ordinated defense, with it's multiple fronts and exotic blitzes and rotations is an achievement for any unit.

Sadly for Vikings fans, the OLs performances wasn't good enough to turn the game into a W, and the blame for that has to fall almost solely at Christian Ponder's door. His two interceptions thrown to Morgan Burnett, one of which was in the endzone, were the killer blows to the Vikings chances, and really can't be blamed on anyone but him. The OL did give up some backside pressure on one of the picks, but Ponder was able to comfortably step up into a stable pocket before throwing. On the other, Ponder easily booted a deliberately unblocked pass rusher before throwing towards Kyle Rudolf, only to see Burnett coming down with the ball. Talk of whether to bench Ponder despite his, and Minnesota's, strong starts to the season have emerged, presumably to put the ball in Joe Webb's hands. If the Vikings pull the trigger on said move then Webb really does have every chance to succeed with a running back who is frankly destroying opposition defenses, and an offensive line unit that will definitely have his back.
- Phil Gaskin (@sosayitisaid)
- The Pulling Linemen

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