Sunday, April 06, 2008

In the Trenches update

I should be posting the Trenches results from the five week-three games later today. Starting with week four, all games will be reviewed with what could be called Blocker Rating 2.0. I hadn't realized how close my "Simple Blocker Rating" was to the system used by NFL teams until I read a couple of recent articles at by former NFL lineman Ross Tucker. The way I'm rating the linemen now, however, is closer to the "Quality Rating" system I mentioned in an earlier post, which I believe will lead to even more accurate ratings. I'm considering referring to my stat from week four on as Blocker Effectiveness Rating. Not only would that differentiate it a bit from the rating used in the first three weeks, but it would emphasize that the rating system is privileging effectiveness over technique (Dr. Z talks about technique quite a bit when discussing his linemen ratings though he's never forthcoming with his exact "forumla.")

The first of Tucker's two insightful articles mentioned above is on his perceived lack of differences between elite and average linemen (hat tip: FO). On a related note, his other article ranks the offensive line positions by difficulty (hat tip: FO commenter mm). I believe Tucker overstates the amount of help given to right tackles as opposed to left tackles. In the brief time I was tracking double teams, left tackles did receive help on more plays than right tackles, but it wasn't a significant difference. As I have kept an eye on the situation in reviewing games since, I haven't noticed anything to change my mind. If anyone knows of any stats on this, please clue me in.

As I've alluded to in previous posts, centers and left guards definitely are involved in more double teams than anyone else on the line, often they're working together. Tucker definitely knows what he's talking about, but again I think he's overstating the issue to help make his case (and it is a tough case to rank the interior line positions by difficulty, since the differences in duties on any given play are so nuanced). The fact that the centers are double teaming on most plays can be a bit deceptive. Typically the center (or whichever other lineman he's working with) has to release from the double team and get to the second level. The ability to do this effectively is one of the main things that separates elite centers (e.g., Tom Nalen) from the rest. My rating system will ding the center if he is ineffective at either level. In pass protection, the center is seldom one-on-one, but on most passing plays it's he, more than anyone else, who must keep his head on the proverbial swivel. The best centers flow to where they're needed: out of the corner of their eye, they notice one of their guards (or, sometimes, one of the tackles) getting beat, and they shoot over there to help out, even if it's sometimes just to give the defensive linemen an all-important shove, thereby extending the play for the extra second it needs to have a chance.

If I was a GM divvying up my salary amongst the linemen from highest to lowest paid, my priorities would mirror Tucker's list pretty closely. I'd go left tackle, right tackle, then one of the guards (I'm not ready, yet, to take a stand on the left guard/right guard argument), center, then the other guard.

In his first article, Tucker brings up the issue of how many plays per game an elite lineman actually affects as opposed to an average lineman. He says "about one to two plays per game." My initial reaction was that it would be more like five to ten plays per game, but it's probably about five and not so high as ten. Anyway, Tucker has prompted me to run the averages by position earlier than I had expected to and I hope to look at those later today and see what they can tell us regarding effectiveness on a plays per game basis.

Although I disagreed with some of his points, Tucker's article is really great and has me more confident than ever concerning the efficacy of my rating system. I'm also thrilled that I decided to "try it out" on the 2007 Replay games because I've been able to iron out some of the wrinkles. I'm sure that when 2008 comes around and I have complete games to review and rate line play, I'll have a really good and consistent system to do that with. The only thing that can stop this project is the very really prospect of not having enough time to focus on it. We'll see what happens.

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