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Is the Buccaneers offensive line better, or is it a mirage?

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers sent three Pro Bowl offensive players to Hawai'i for the 2015 season: LG Logan Mankins, rookie QB Jameis Winston, and RB Doug Martin.  Winston threw 4,042 yards, 22 passing touchdowns, 6 rushing touchdowns, and 15 interceptions. Martin finished second overall in rushing and owner of the most yards after contact. Football Outsiders, a site I love to use as a resource, has the run blocking ranked 9th overall and pass blocking 14th overall.

Do the Bucs need to be concerned about the offensive line after 2015?

In 2014, using Football Outsiders, the Bucs' run blocking rank was 32nd and pass blocking was 29th.  Making that huge jump in the rankings may make the casual fan believe that Tampa's offensive line was not only fixed, but dominant. Football Outsiders has a lot of other stats included along with the run blocking rank, which is measured by Adjusted Line Yards, that helps to paint a more in-depth picture of the production of the offensive line.

Here is an excerpt, from Football Outsiders, to help describe who drives run blocking stat:

A team with a high ranking in Adjusting Line Yards [Run Blocking Rank] but a low ranking in Open Field Yards [Open Field Rank] is heavily dependent on its offensive line to make the running game work.  A team with a low ranking in Adjusted Line Yards [Run Blocking Rank] but a high ranking in Open Field Yards is heavily dependent on its running back breaking long runs to make the running game work.

However, it is important to understand that these ratings only somewhat separate the offensive line from the running backs.  A team with a very good running back with appear higher no matter how bad their line, and a team with a great line with(sic) appear lower if the running back is terrible.

Simplified:

Run Blocking Rank greater than Open Field Rank = Offensive Line made Running back look better.

Run Blocking Rank less than Open Field Rank = Running back made Offensive Line look better.

In Equation form:

Open Field Rank - Run Block Rank = "+ differential"

This means the OL made the RB look better.

Open Field Rank - Run Block Rank =  "-  differential"

This means the RB made the OL look better.

TB Bucs
OL Ranking, 2015
Season Run Block Rank RB Yards Power Success Stuffed Stuffed Rank 2nd level (5 - 10 yds) Rank Open Field (10+ yds) Rank Open Field Rank - Run Block Rank
2015 9 4.86 71% 20% 13 13 1 -8
http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/ol

The RB Yards average of 4.86 yards is the best in the league from the Football Outsiders chart. This information should inform you there is a discrepancy in Run Block ranking of ninth overall because the Bucs are the owners of the best RB yards average. The best RB Yards should boast the best Run Block ranking, yet it is not. But when you factor in the Stuffed percentage, or the number of times the running back was stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage, and the yards gained of 10 or more yards, then one can see why the Run Block rank was lower than first overall.

Doug Martin had the most 20+ yard runs in the league with 14, which would factor into the Open Field Ranking. Martin also led the league in yards per carry after contact with 3.15 yards. That would factor in avoiding adding any extra statistics for the stuffed ranking.

Now let us focus upon that Stuffed Ranking of 13th overall. That puts the offensive line around the middle of the pack. If both Martin and Sims were not Dougernaut or elusive enough, respectively, then how much worse would that Stuffed percentage and Stuffed Ranking be for the offensive line?

Finding Patterns in Run Block to RB relationship for the Bucs

TB Bucs
OL Ranking, 2012 - 2015
Season Run Block Rank RB Yards Power Success Stuffed Stuffed Rank 2nd level (5 - 10 yds) Rank Open Field (10+ yds) Rank Open Field Rank - Run Block Rank
2011 22 3.96 65% 21% 26 13 19 -3
2012 13 4.50 60% 20% 22 15 5 -8
2013 27 4.00 59% 21% 22 16 13 -14
2014 32 3.73 69% 23% 32 25 13 -19
2015 9 4.86 71% 20% 13 13 1 -8
http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/ol

For the past five years, the Bucs have had better running backs than offensive line. That is three different head coaches for the past five years: 2011 Raheem Morris, 2012-2013 Greg Schiano, and 2014-2015 Lovie Smith. In 2012, the Run Block Rank improved drastically. It was the same year Doug Martin was drafted and went to the Pro Bowl. Similarly, in 2015 we see the same improvement and Doug Martin in the Pro Bowl. When Doug is not healthy, the offensive line's effectiveness is gone and the stuffed ranking continues to drop.

TB Bucs
OL Stats and Ranking from Football Outsiders, 2012 - 2015
Run Blocking Pass Blocking
Season Run Block Rank RB Yards Power Success Stuffed Stuffed Rank 2nd level (5 - 10 yds) Rank Open Field (10+ yds) Rank Rank Sacks Adj. Sack Rate
2012 13 4.50 60% 20% 22 15 5 6 26 4.80%
2013 27 4.00 59% 21% 22 16 13 21 47 7.70%
2014 32 3.73 69% 23% 32 25 13 29 52 9.40%
2015 9 4.86 71% 20% 13 13 1 14 27 5.80%
http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/ol

So does a good run game help out the passing game? The chart above appears like there is a connection.  Let us look at Koetter's years at Atlanta to find any correlation.

Dirk Koetter
OL Rankings, 2012 to 2015
Run Blocking Pass Blocking
Season Team Run Block Rank RB Yards Power Success Stuffed Stuffed Rank 2nd level (5 - 10 yds) Rank Open Field (10+ yds) Rank Rank Sacks Adj. Sack Rate
2012 Atl 24 3.69 39% 23% 27 26 21 8 28 5.10%
2013 Atl 24 3.91 63% 21% 25 25 14 7 44 5.90%
2014 Atl 14 3.98 67% 21% 20 24 17 11 31 5.10%
2015 TB 9 4.86 71% 20% 13 13 1 14 27 5.80%
http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/ol

Apparently, Koetter is very good at having a good pass blocking group despite a weaker run blocking production. In 2014, Koetter lost five starting Offensive Linemen in Atlanta, but they produced better that what Tampa had in 2015.

In short, the Bucs need a running back to make the run blocking unit look better and the pass blocking corps, while better than previous two Tampa seasons, was still the weakest production out of Koetter's past four years as offensive coordinator at both Atlanta and Tampa Bay. Should the Bucs and Martin part ways as well as we do not continue to improve the offensive line, then the run blocking production might resemble that of 2013 and 2014. The silver lining is at least Koetter has history that can protect his quarterback.