Lineman Yard Average: Williams, Rinehart Unit’s Best in 2009

ASHBURN, VA - JULY 30:  Washington Redskins offensive tackle Mike Williams (#71) watches drills from the sideline on opening day of training camp July 30, 2009 in Ashburn, Virginia.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

If you’re an avid Hog Heaven reader during the season, you might remember last year when I undertook a project known as “Lineman Yards”, where I used game tape to assign value to offensive lineman on their run blocking abilities.  The team had pretty good numbers through the six games I was able to break down before week-to-week life got in the way, but two things happened at the point where I halted the game tape reviews: Jim Zorn gave up playcalling duties, and the Redskins schedule got much harder.

So, naturally, I couldn’t draw any meaningful conclusions from just six games of data.  At the time, I had 127 runs to look at.  After chewing up a weekend on a massive game tape review bender, I now have 298.  Not all games are included, but my Lineman Yard Average metric now has enough of a sample to draw a meaningful conclusion.

Remember, that this is only a measure of blocking on all running plays.  Screen plays were marked in the analysis, but omitted as not to throw off the totals.  Pass protection was noted — on the rare occasion that it existed — but is not accounted for in lineman yards.

Here are some of the most meaningful conclusions from a season’s worth of work:

  • The Redskins’ best run blocking lineman was Mike Williams.  Yes, that Mike Williams.  Williams averaged 4.18 lineman yards per run vs. a league average of 4.0 and a team average of 3.9.  Williams was also, by far, the most consistent Redskin in run blocking, despite appearing in my scoresheet 4 times at RT and 4 times at RG.  I ran a game-by-game standard deviation score, with the expected standard deviation at 1.5 yards.  The standard deviation of Mike Williams’ run blocking games was under a yard, at 0.98.
  • Only one lineman had a higher LYA score AND a lower standard deviation than Williams: Chris Samuels (4.32, 0.92, respectively).  However, all of Samuels’ runs were from the first four weeks of the season, including the Rams, Lions, and Bucs.  Williams played against significantly better competition.  His sample was more than twice as large as Samuels.
  • Chad Rinehart scored a 4.23 in 48 rushing plays (half of which in the Denver game), but was less consistent than Williams, with a 1.5 yard standard deviation.  Rinehart had the best single game score of any lineman, a 6.75 in six runs against Detroit.  Those six runs also drove up Rinehart’s average considerably.  He scored a combined, very respectable 3.82 in three other games.
  • Of the 3 Redskins lineman who started 16 games, Stephon Heyer had the best score, a 3.83.  He also had the highest standard deviation of any lineman, a 1.7.  Heyer was the only Redskins starting lineman who was actually better in the first six games of the season than in the final ten.  Casey Rabach, Derrick Dockery, Mike Williams, and even Fred Davis did better after Zorn gave up playcalling duties.  Heyer had more games than any other lineman, 6, with an line yard average of 4.0 or better.  Heyer had stinkers against Dallas in Week 16, and New York in Week 1.  His third worst game, according to LYA, came in the team’s best game run blocking, vs. Denver.  Heyer had a 2.58 in that game.
  • Derrick Dockery and Casey Rabach aren’t great run blockers, and don’t particularly show well game to game.  Overall, I’d argue that Rabach does a better job than Dockery does, but perhaps the most amazing thing that lineman yards did in 2009 was show the massive difference between Rabach’s numbers against NFC East opponents New York and Dallas, and against everyone else.  Rabach had 4.20 lineman yards this year in the 10 charted games against non-Cowboys/Giants competition.  That would make him the best run-blocking lineman on the team.  In the 4 games against the Cowboys and the Giants, he somehow managed a get-the-hell-off-my team figure of 1.87.  The 0-4 record (1-7 in the Zorn era) in the last four seasons starts with Casey Rabach’s failure to handle the line of scrimmage.  The record against other teams in that span is 11-13, which is in line with the strong run-blocking but poor pass blocking featured by Rabach on a week-to-week basis.
  • Dockery did not show any sort of an opponent split, but instead, had his best games in the month of November.  By December, Dockery had declined back to levels around where he started the season.  For three of four months, Dockery was a 3.0 yard guy, which would have been the worst on the line by far (Levi Jones excluded).  In the three consecutive games against the Falcons, Broncos, and Cowboys, Dockery was nearly a yard and a half better.
  • Levi Jones wasn’t very good.  He and Randy Thomas (2 games) were equally ineffective run blockers, but Jones in particular was really overmatched against better pass rushers.  He did help to stabilize the line by providing something that looked like an NFL performance at a premium position (Dockery’s production took off as soon as Jones was inserted), but despite being the most apt left tackle on the 2009 Redskins, he’s no longer a left tackle in the NFL.  The nicest thing I can say: that he was a better LT than Jason Campbell’s current blindside protector with the Raiders, Mario Henderson.
  • Will Montgomery had some games that LYA really liked.  He had a sparkling 5.36 against the Chiefs, and a fairly impressive 4.69 against the Eagles the next week.  Subjectively, I thought he was embarassing, and the final five runs of the second Cowboys game featured Montgomery doing some of the worst blocking related activities ever recorded by a television camera.  Using his back as a weapon, and such.  He and Rabach managed to provide the worst pass protection of any C and RG tandem, I’ve ever encountered.
  • Mike Sellers had a 5.17 YLA in the first six games of the season.  He had a 2.78 YLA in the final ten games.  Here, in my opinion is the difference: YLA is biased towards fullbacks.  It’s really easy to chart a fullback at the point of attack if the hole is opened wide by the lineman first.  But if the blocking up front struggles, the play is usually ending by the time the fullback gets to the hole. This could be a bias in my method, that favors all lead blockers.  Both changes that happened after the seasons’ sixth week, the playcalling, and Portis’ season ending concussion, took the Redskins out of the I-formation, and into a lot more singleback sets.  Sellers, many times, played the tight end in these sets, with Cooley out.  He was a much worse blocker there than as a fullback, plus didn’t have the advantage of being a lead blocker in LYA.  Also: A 35 year old Sellers probably got worse as the season went on.  Just not that pronounced.
  • I thought Fred Davis did a really good job at run blocking, frequently handling opposing defensive ends and was a big difference in the improvement in the rushing attack after the bye week.  Davis can also handle defensive ends one on one in pass protection, which could be a very important skill with Chris Cooley coming back healthy.  LYA, though, thinks he had just two above average games: Week 1 vs. New York and Justin Tuck (3 plays), and Week 13 vs. the Saints and Charles Grant (7 plays).  Obviously, Tuck is a much tougher assignment than Grant.  Beyond that, he didn’t score very well, finishing with a 3.25 score — though I feel that the tough assignments are primarily responsible for the discrepancy.  Anyone that wins the one v one battle with DeMarcus Ware in both blocking and receiving is okay in my book.
  • Chris Cooley was not as good.  He had one good blocking game (vs. Bucs), but being ragdolled against the Lions, that calls for more effort.  Cooley had a good blocking season in 2008, though, so hopefully, this is just a five game issue that could have corrected if he didn’t get injured.
  • Todd Yoder was an awful blocker, with the exception of a single game against the Raiders, where he might have been the most dominant force anywhere on the field.  Yoder played that game at fullback in place of an injured Mike Sellers.  Line yard bias aside, Yoder did his best work in that game on the goal line, where he was typically a horrendous blocker.  Yoder led both Quinton Ganther TD runs in the fourth quarter, and on the second, he basically opened a hole to the end zone in a pile by himself.
  • Lorenzo Alexander continued to be a poor offensive player.  He’s such a talented defensive player, that he can remain one of the most versatile players in the league without ever appearing in an offensive huddle again.
  • Devin Thomas was used in the second half of the season as an in-line blocker at times, usually with excellent success.  He’d win most blocking battles with linebackers, if you can get him to line up in the right place.  He’s not a heady blocker downfield, as Malcolm Kelly is much smarter and understands blocking angles a lot better downfield.  But Thomas is a very comfortable player in the box, which surprised me.
So what does this all mean?  Well, it means that the Redskins are undergoing a downgrade in run blocking with Mike Williams missing the year with blood clots.  Artis Hicks has been a very poor pass blocker in the past.  Mike Williams is a poor pass blocker as well, so I figured that with Hicks stepping in for Williams would represent an upgrade in run blocking.  This is not so much the case though, as I can now see why the Redskins gave Williams a contract that exceeded the value of Hicks’ by more than a million dollars per season: even if we assume that Hicks can be a league average run blocker in this scheme, Williams is between a third and half a yard more valuable per play.  The good news is that the Redskins can always play Chad Rinehart, who is a good pass protector and a very good run blocker as a RG.  Rinehart’s biggest weakness is as a screen blocker; he’s just pathetic in open space trying to find someone to block when it’s not defined pre-snap.  That could be a function of inexperience, or a legitimate player flaw.

It means it’s tough to pick the Redskins to beat the Cowboys if Jay Ratliff is healthy for the game and Casey Rabach starts it.  No doubt that Mike Shanahan would give him more help than Jim Zorn did, but playing the Cowboys with Rabach is more or less the equivalent of playing a game with a guy in the Redskin backfield.  Rabach was not the Redskins biggest weakness last year.  Left tackle was a bigger weakness the final twelve games, and right tackle was a bigger weakness when Heyer was at left tackle, and right guard was a freaking revolving door (though, of mostly competent players).  But against the Redskins’ two biggest rivals, and apologies to the Eagles, Rabach would have been more valuable if left at home.

Other players on the line were acceptable against the Cowboys.  The Redskins averaged three and two LYPC respectively in those games, but got 4.0+ LY performances from Rinehart and Dockery in Week 11, and from Levi Jones in Week 16, and also got 3.5 LY performances from Mike Sellers and Stephon Heyer in Week 11 and Mike Williams in Week 16.  So even though the Cowboys more or less controlled the Redskins running game last year, they got at least one out of two respectable blocking performances from every position except C and TE.

The Redskins were done in by the blocking of their right side against the Giants in Week 1, but the blocking on the left side was pretty good.  Mike Williams had a very good game against the Giants in the Monday Night Massacre, Will Robinson had the second best figure with a below average 3.3.  I thought the Redskins offensive line played very well against the Eagles all year, with the exception of one poor block by Will Montgomery that lead to a batted ball pick six.  I thought if the skill position players had shown up with any intent of playing to win the game, the Redskins would have headed into the bye week salvaging a 3-4 record.  The Eagles were not good in that game, but the Redskins wasted a good OL performance by rushing for 3.26 yards per carry and committing two turnovers (admittedly one of which was on the OL), because of lazy blocking by the receivers and TEs for Clinton Portis, and lazy route running for Jason Campbell.

Appendix

A) The best Redskin rushing games in 2009 were:

  1. vs Broncos (4.64)
  2. vs Rams (4.21)
  3. vs Bucs (4.16)
  4. vs Eagles (3.95)
  5. vs Saints (3.83)
  6. at Raiders (3.76)
  7. at Panthers (3.65)
  8. vs Chiefs (3.56)
  9. at Lions (3.51)
This was a much better blocking team at home than on the road.  Jason Campbell, however, was a much better passer on the road than at home, which supports my opinion that Campbell struggled primarily due to cumulative pressure on him (i.e. not trusting his OL to block), than direct pressure, i.e. in his face when he throws.
B) Redskins OL LYA totals, for 2009 season (minimum 10 charted runs) [primary 5 starters in boldface]:
  1. Chris Samuels 4.32
  2. Chad Rinehart 4.23
  3. Mike Williams 4.18
  4. Mike Sellers 3.96
  5. Will Montgomery 3.84
  6. Stephon Heyer 3.83
  7. Todd Yoder 3.81
  8. Casey Rabach 3.70
  9. Derrick Dockery 3.57
  10. Levi Jones 3.35
  11. Chris Cooley 3.35
  12. Fred Davis 3.25
Editors note: The LYA metric is an adapted variation of Adjusted Line Yards at Football Outsiders, and is calculated using similar baselines.  Credit to be given where it is due: this work would be impossible without prior research done by those much smarter than myself.
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