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Breaking Down the Offensive Line

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One of the great things to come out of this year so far has been the giant improvement of the offensive line. A lot of people questioned the moves made along the OL. Some people weren't sure Vernon Carey could handle the left tackle spot. Others didn't like starting a rookie center. And most really didn't like having Chris Liwienski as the starting left guard. However, just by watching the games, we've all seen how this line has vastly improved. Since it's the bye week, though, I figured now would be a good time to use some statistics to see just how good this unit has been and how much improved they really are compared to last year.

To do this, I'm going to use some stats brought to us by Football Outsiders. The one key stat they use to statistically analyze the offensive line is something called Adjusted Line Yards (ALY). Here's an explanation of how they calculate the stat. We are also going to talk about something called the "stuffed percentage," which is explained on that same page and is basically the percentage of runs that result in no yards ot negative yards relative to the game situation. The other stat we'll discuss is "power success" and is also explained on that same page. Power success, in a nutshell, is how successful a team is on 3rd and 4th down with 2 or fewer yards to go. Here are the statistical breakdowns:

Year ALY Rank Power Rank Stuffed Rank sacks/gm
2006 4.20 20 70% 9 26% 28 2.56
2007 4.80 5 81% 4 18% 3 1.75

You can see marked improvement in every category. What I'm really impressed with here is the power success and the stuffed percentage. Having an 81% power success rate means that this team is able to convert on 3rd and shorts often, allowing drives to continue. The stuffed percentage decrease is also very key. A high stuffed percentage means the team is putting themselves in a lot of 2nd or 3rd and long situations, which are exactly the kind of plays this offense is really not ready to consistently face yet.

Next, let's look to see who the Dolphins like to run behind the most and how successful the team has been running the ball through different gaps:

LE LT Mid/Guard RT RE
% of runs 11% 18% 60% 8% 3%
ALY 3.84 5.99 4.84 4.63 0.32
Rank 23 2 2 15 32

First, to clarify, the "ends" are the runs which go well outside the tackles, such as sweeps, tosses, and stretches. The mid/guard category are all runs that are up behind either of the 3 interior lineman (center and two guards).

You see that the Dolphins definitely prefer running from the middle to the left. This chart also shows that running behind Vernon Carey has been most successful for the Dolphins and that only 1 team has run with more success behind their left tackle. That's certainly encouraging considering all the questions that surrounded Carey entering the season. The other thing that jumps out is how well the Dolphins have done running up the middle behind rookie center Samson Satele and their two guards. This is just further proof that the Satele pick was a great one and that he's really got a chance to become an elite center in the near future.

Lastly, let's take a look at this unit's penalties and sacks allowed:

Carey Liwienski Satele Hadnot Shelton
penalties 2 for 10yds 3 for 15yds 2 for 15yds 2 for 17yds 1 for 10yds
sacks allowed 2 1 0 1 4

First, I know only 8 sacks are accounted for of their 14 allowed. The other 6 were sacks that couldn't be attributed to any one lineman due to a blitz or a doublt-team or something along those lines.

So we see that Shelton continues to be a bit of an issue at right tackle. It's not too surprising considering how big (and slow) he is and how quick defensive ends are becoming in today's NFL. Generally, though, the team's top pass rusher lines up over the offensive line's left tackle. Considering that, Carey has done a surprisingly good job in pass protection. Not surprisingly, Samson Satele has also done a very good job in pass protection. I say that's not a surprise because that was basically all he did in Hawaii playing in that pass-happy offense. So that makes it that much more encouraging to see Satele excel in run blocking. All in all, only having 1.25 penalties per game come courtesy of the offensive line isn't too bad, though I'd like to see that number come down as close to 0 as possible.

So now the question is who gets the credit for this improvement? Sure, Hudson Houck gets some of it, but he was also here when this line was playing terribly. I suppose Randy Mueller gets some credit for drafting Satele, who I really believe is a future pro-bowler and will be a cornerstone of this offensive line for years to come. In fact, he might be the first offensive lineman's jersey I decide to buy. Anyways, the other person that gets credit is Cam Cameron. Some of you want to kill him for some of the things he's done, and that's fine, but make sure you give him partial credit for this. It was him and Houck who decided to move Carey to LT, Shelton to RT, and Hadnot to RG (making room for Samson).

Thoughts below...