When discussing the offensive line of the Miami Dolphins, there are many points of contention. However, aficionados generally agree on two points --- that the line has a lot of talent, and that it underperformed in the 2010-2011 season. But can we break this failure down statistically?
You're damn skippy we can. Offensive lines don't lend themselves to easy scrutiny like a running back or quarterback would. But there are several statistical measures we look to for help. This post will use four parameters that I believe comprehensively cover all o-line functions - rushing yards, yards per carry, rushing touchdowns and sacks allowed. So without further ado, let's get to the nitty-gritty.
The Miami Dolphins racked up a paltry 1,643 rush yards this season; 21st in the league. Pretty disappointing, considering how last season we had 2,231 rush yards and were ranked 4th in the league below only the Panthers, Titans, and Jets. A bit of solace could be found in the fact that our opponents this season had 1,601 yards, which means we do "out-rush" them (by a paltry margin). But that speaks more to the talent of Nolan's defense than anything else. An even sadder truth lies in our rushing attempts. We're 11th, with 445 carries. And that leads us to...
Yards Per Carry
Ready for this? 3.3. That's our average YPC. Teams that have a better YPC? Seattle Seahawks. Indianapolis Colts. Denver Broncos. Buffalo Bills. Are you kidding me? In 2009 we had 4.4 --- good for 8th in the league. This year? 29th. We are one of the very worst YPC teams in the entire league. I don't want to talk about it anymore.
29 seems to be a magic number in Miami because here we are again. 8 rushing TDs. Only the Panthers and the Bills are worse (some teams tied, so the "total" team count is off). Our run game does not work in the red zone -- where it should be most effective. Last year? We had 22, tying us for (drum roll) 1st in the league. Incredible. This is the most foolproof area of rushing. Granted, we don't visit the red zone as often as we did last season. But I feel like once you get that close, you enter the most "no-brainer" part of rushing. Either you put it in or you don't. The Dolphins? They don't.
By some odd twist of fate, sacks allowed his stayed mostly stable. Last season? 34. Not fantastic, but good for 18th place. This year? 38 sacks. It may be a step backwards, but only a baby step.
So What Part is Breaking Down?
Like any community, the Phinsider has certain trends. In terms of the o-line, the fashionable thing to do is blame our interior linemen. They were the most shuffled, after all. But is that really the case? Let's take a look at our directional rushing numbers. Rush Pwr is a handy little stat. The definiton of Rush Pwr is the "percentage of rushes on 3rd or 4th down with 2 or fewer yards to go that achieved a first down or TD. Also includes rushes on 1st-and-goal and 2nd-and-goal from the opponent's 2-yard line or closer." So basically it's an efficiency measure on short yardage situations.
When going left (Jake Long's side), our rush Pwr is -- well I'll be damned --- first in the league at 92. Don't let the success mislead you. In terms of total first downs, all of the sides are pretty close -- 33 to left, 28 up the middle, 30 to the right. But that says nothing about efficiency, eh? When we go up the middle , our rushing Pwr is --- slap me. Tied for first with the Texans. This is the same middle that houses Feinga/Incognito/Jerry/Mcquistan/Berger. When we go right, our Pwr is 5th in the league. Still good. Still really good.
If you're weirded out, it gets better. Our Pwr is actually an IMPROVEMENT on last season. So what's going on? Well, if we're doing so well in 2 yard situations, the only logical explanation is...anything more than 2 yards. Our total 1st down rankings for left/center/right is 19/14/20 respectively. That would mean our center is actually the highest ranked side for 1st downs, though it's probably because most teams go up the middle on short firsts anyway. What were the respective ranks last year? 14/2/15. That's right bro-brahs. We were second in the league in total first downs via central rush. Methinks we declined. The actual number of 1st downs (left/middle, right) were 33/28/30 in 2009 and 36/57/36 in 2010. Yeah that's right. 57.
And on the subject of long runs, let's take a look at the 10 yards + category. In 2009, we were ranked 14/7/19 (again that's left/right/center) in plays of 10 yards or more. This year? 21/34/21. Yeesh. The actual amounts of those plays were 21/16/16. Pretty even. In 2010 those total amounts were 12/7/15 --- a big decline on the left and the middle.
What's The Point of All This?
Well...the accepted theory is that our middle line performance has worsened. Do the numbers contradict majority opinion? No and yes. Rush Pwr asserts without a shadow of a doubt that our line is all-around very good...
...but only in situations of 2 yards or less. In other words, when the going isn't too tough, we get going ---and we're among the best in the league at it. But as soon as the yardage gets longer, the numbers tell a different story. What is the fundamental difference between a rushing play with a longer distance to goal and a shorter distance? Strategy. A running play that has to go a long way requires good play-calling. All of the blocks must be well executed. The timing has to be there.
I'm not saying that strategy goes to out the window in 2 yard situations but a line is certainly more dependent on brute strength when the objective is in sight. If we're one of the most efficient short-yardage rushing teams, it means our line is generally bigger and stronger than the other guys. If we can't execute on longer plays, the blame lies more on the coordination.
Good thing Dan Henning is gone, right? Who's his replacement again...oh yeah, that guy from Cleveland that everyone is defecating on. I wonder how good his last team was at rushing---
2nd in left side Pwr (We were first)
15th in center Pwr
3rd in right Pwr.
Not too shabby, considering he has only one franchise blocker. Wonder what he can do with the best Pwr team in the league...Let's look at some more numbers.
Total first down ranks? 20/27/6. We were 19/14/20. A downgrade.
Total plays of 10+? The rankings are pretty awful. Something like 28/28/25. But ours? Also awful. 31/24/21.
Browns YPC? Ranked 19th. Ours? Ranked 29th.
Browns total yardage? Ranked 20th. We're 21st.
Sacks? They're 15th. We're 12th.
Rushing TDs? They're 12th. We're 30th (hurts to type that)
AND WHAT AM I TRYING TO SAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY?.
Remember my initial basic parameters for a good offensive line? Total yards, YPC, Rushing TDs, and Sacks.
Guess what? The Browns outranked us in all but sacks..we had two less. This is DESPITE the fact that they are terrible. This is DESPITE the fact that we got more first downs. This is DESPITE the fact that we are the more efficient short yardage team. This is DESPITE the fact that we were equally bad at rushing plays of 10+ yards. THIS IS ME WITH A FEVER. AND THIS IS EMPIRICAL PROOF THAT OUR NEW OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR WILL NOT BE BAD FOR THIS TEAM'S RUNNING GAME.
All hail Toasterr.