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Offensive line skewed teams versus Offensive skill skewed teams

Posted by Jason Lisk on July 22, 2010

In the comments to Doug's post about the Miami Heat, Patrick W had this to say:

If this South Beach Team had its 11-12 All Pros strictly manning the offensive and defensive lines and had minimum salaried personnel at all the other spots I might change my mind about its likelihood for success, because I believe most battles are won or lost in the trenches. But even so, it takes an O-line a couple years to gell as a unit and hit its stride.

Of course, no team has ever been constructed that had its nine best players on the lines, with replacement level talent everywhere else. Still, this got me thinking. What happens when teams are skewed toward either the skill positions or the lines? For now, I'm going to set aside the defense and focus on offense. This is because of the 3-4 versus 4-3 conundrum. (Do I count outside linebackers in a 3-4 as linemen or not?) So today, I'm just going to look at starters on offense.

I took all teams between 1978 and 2002, and found the career AV totals for the six starters in the offensive skill unit (including the QB), and compared it to the career AV totals for the five starters on the offensive line. I then calculated the total career AV percentage of the skill players divided by the career AV total for the entire offense.

Here were the top ten "line heavy" teams, each with greater than 60% of the career value in the offensive line:

year team wins pts scored skill AV line AV skill pct off AV def AV
1980 ram 11 424 126.6 316.0 0.286 442.6 736.4
1997 nor 6 237 113.3 258.3 0.305 371.6 514.0
1998 sdg 5 241 96.2 209.5 0.315 305.7 629.5
1985 clt 5 320 140.8 266.4 0.346 407.2 388.9
1983 oti 2 288 167.9 314.6 0.348 482.5 380.6
1978 ram 12 316 186.1 324.2 0.365 510.3 743.8
2000 chi 5 216 140.0 239.7 0.369 379.7 565.7
2000 mia 11 323 153.0 255.3 0.375 408.3 703.1
1999 rav 8 324 138.7 229.3 0.377 367.9 756.6
1979 ram 9 323 192.9 318.4 0.377 511.2 720.9

And here are the top ten "skill heavy" teams:

year team wins pts scored skill AV line AV skill pct off AV def AV
1996 clt 9 317 437.8 138.2 0.760 576.0 442.0
2002 sdg 8 333 349.2 117.0 0.749 466.2 593.7
1995 crd 4 275 341.5 114.3 0.749 455.7 591.5
1987 phi 7 337 285.5 96.9 0.747 382.4 662.5
2002 nyg 10 320 366.4 133.8 0.733 500.2 506.4
1996 car 12 367 277.9 103.5 0.729 381.4 652.6
1987 rai 5 301 360.5 139.5 0.721 500.0 693.4
1998 was 6 319 293.1 114.8 0.719 407.9 544.9
1986 phi 5.5 256 253.3 100.0 0.717 353.3 499.4
2001 sdg 5 332 323.0 132.9 0.708 455.9 461.0

The "line heavy" teams had an offensive total career AV average of 418.7, and a defensive career AV of 613.9 (1032.6 career total for starters). The "skill heavy" teams had an offensive total career AV average of 447.9, and a defensive career AV of 564.7 (1012.6 career total for starters). These extreme groups are pretty similar, with the skill heavy being a little better overall offensively, and the line heavy being better defensively and slightly overall. Both groups, by the way, are below average offensively (the average offense over this time period had a total career AV of 542.9), which makes sense as one of the groups had to be filled with some replacement level starters in order to skew the numbers toward the other unit. Overall, the skill heavy averaged 7.2 wins and 316 points per season, while the line heavy teams averaged 7.4 wins and 301 points.

I don't see any difference between those groups to suggest that you would actually want all your best players bunched at the lines versus either spread out or in the skill positions. I tried to look at this other ways, such as looking at the raw difference in career AV, rather than percentages. That just produced a list that looked very similar on the offensive line heavy side, but an offensive skill heavy list that basically consisted of the San Fransisco 49ers with Montana/Young plus Rice, Craig/Watters, and others, and the recent versions of the Peyton Manning Colts. I don't think the 49ers were hurt by their best players being skill positions.

This entry was posted on Thursday, July 22nd, 2010 at 4:50 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.