I spent a good portion of the last couple days going back over all 4 games played so far this year. I was specifically looking at the play of the offensive line. I’m sure all of you know that the line play has been much better recently. I know I did, but I was surprised at how much it had improved. Seriously, it was a lot more than I had expected.
The I’m not just talking about the sacks, though that has been a major improvement. The Seahawks have now gone 3 halves without giving up a sack. And this comes after giving up 14 in the previous 3 halves. That’s some major improvement, though it’s also a bit misleading. In about half of the sacks (8 of 14), Jackson had time to throw the ball. That is why I tend not to use sack numbers to determine how well the line has played.
Instead, there are a couple of other things I look for. The first is how often a TE or back is kept in to help pass protect. Against the Steelers, by my count a back of TE was kept in to block 87% of the time. That’s really high. It also didn’t help all that much, as Jackson was running for his life for most of that game. Of the 6 sacks this season that are entirely the fault of the line, 3 of them were in that game.
Contrast that with this past Sunday against Atlanta. The Seahawks kept a back or TE in to help block on just 42% of their pass plays. That mean that not only didn’t Jackson have more time to throw the ball, but he also had more receivers running routes. This is one of the many things that lead to the drastically increased effectiveness of the passing game.
Another thing I like to look at this pressure that comes up the middle, specifically when defensive tackles push a guard or center straight back into the fact the QB. Even if they don’t end up getting a sack to even putting direct pressure on the QB, those types of play do makes things very difficult for the passing game. If Jackson can’t step into his throws because one of his linemen is in his face, then his accuracy will not be as good. Plus, that kind of penetration makes it easier for defensive lineman to knock down passes.
The worst game in that regard is the game against the 49er. DT Joe Smith drove Carpenter back into Jackson’s face over and over again. Moffitt and Unger were also routinely pushed back. Watching the game again made me much more sympathetic to Jackson’s early season struggles.
Contrast that again to this last game against the Falcons. Unger and Moffitt were quite solid. Only backup LG Paul McQuistan struggled to hold his ground, and it wasn’t like it was on every play. He’s also a backup, and wouldn’t be on the field if not for injury, so I’m really not concerned about him.
The improvement really has been drastic, but lets not get too excited. The Falcon’s haven’t been a great defensive team so far this season. I’ll be much more exciting if the O-line can match last weeks performance against the Giants this Sunday. There is also a long way still to go. I’d like to see that % of plays with extra blockers to drop and 15-20%.
And then there’s the problems in the running game… but that’s a topic for another post.