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2017 Offensive Line Continuity Scores

by Vincent Verhei

Two NFL teams in 2017 had significantly more stability along the offensive line than they did in 2016. One of those franchises returned to the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. The other became just the second club in league history to lose 16 games in a season.

Jason McIntyre McKinley developed a metric to measure offensive line continuity back in the early days of FO (when FO Almanac was still Pro Football Prospectus) and we have since gone back and calculated it for every team since 1999. The continuity scores are based on three variables: number of starters used; number of week-to-week changes in starting lineups; and the longest starting streak of any one five-man unit. A team can earn a maximum of 16 points in any one category (one point per game), meaning a team that started the same five linemen in all 16 games would get a perfect score of 48; 37 teams on record have done exactly that. Hypothetically, if a team started five brand new linemen every week of the year, they would get a "perfect" score of -57, though of course nobody has ever come close to that.

Here are the offensive line continuity scores for every team in 2017:

Offensive Line Continuity Scores, 2017
Team Continuity Score Number of Starters Line Changes Longest Stretch 2016 Continuity Score Change
LAR 42 9 1 15 29 13
CLE 39 6 1 9 23 16
TEN 36 6 2 7 33 3
TB 34 8 4 9 32 2
ATL 34 7 4 8 48 -14
BUF 34 7 4 8 32 2
MIA 30 9 4 6 25 5
BAL 30 8 5 6 27 3
CAR 30 7 5 5 27 3
DAL 30 7 5 5 37 -7
SEA 29 8 5 5 28 1
NE 29 8 5 5 38 -9
PHI 28 8 7 6 26 2
SF 28 8 7 6 32 -4
DEN 28 9 5 5 32 -4
CIN 28 9 6 6 38 -10
Team Continuity Score Number of Starters Line Changes Longest Stretch 2016 Continuity Score Change
MIN 27 8 7 5 23 4
NYJ 27 8 7 5 20 7
CHI 27 8 7 5 29 -2
ARI 26 9 6 4 22 4
JAX 26 8 7 4 28 -2
LAC 26 8 7 4 37 -11
OAK 26 8 7 4 31 -5
PIT 26 8 7 4 31 -5
WAS 25 11 7 6 28 -3
KC 24 9 7 3 32 -8
HOU 23 10 7 3 29 -6
NO 23 7 10 3 21 2
GB 21 9 11 4 33 -12
NYG 20 10 10 3 30 -10
IND 20 11 9 3 24 -4
DET 16 12 11 2 30 -14

The Rams actually had a perfect score going into Week 17 and could have been the 38th team to get a perfect score of 48, but then they sat virtually their entire starting offense in a meaningless game against San Francisco at the end of the year. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth, left guard Rodger Saffold, center John Sullivan, and right tackle Rob Havenstein were each sidelined that day. Right guard Jamon Brown did start, and played every offensive snap for Los Angeles, plus three more on special teams. The starting line returned intact the next week against Atlanta, though the Rams still scored only 13 points in a season-ending loss. All five starters will return in 2018; maybe they'll hit 48 this year.

The Rams had a continuity score of just 29 in 2016; their leap to 42 in 2017 was the second-best in the league. The biggest improvement was seen in Cleveland, where the Browns jumped from 23 to 39. Left guard Joel Bitonio, center J.C. Tretter, right guard Kevin Zeitler, and right tackle Shon Coleman each started all 16 games for the Browns. At left tackle, Joe Thomas' 167-game ironman streak finally ended when he was injured in Week 7, but Spencer Drango began his own ironman streak by starting every game after that. It must be noted that all that continuity produced exactly zero wins.

Los Angeles and Cleveland were the only teams last year to improve by double-digits in continuity score, but six teams declined by double-digits. (As we talked about last year, continuity scores across the league have been steadily declining for several seasons.) The biggest declines were seen in Atlanta and Detroit. In the Falcons' case, that's mostly because they had a perfect score of 48 in 2016, so they had nowhere to go but down. The Lions, though, suffered in-season offensive line turmoil the likes of which we've rarely seen. Detroit's continuity score of 16 is the second-worst on record behind the 15 of the 2015 Patriots. A dozen different linemen started for the Lions,the most for any one team since the Rams used 13 linemen in 2007. The Lions had three different starters at left tackle, four at left guard, two at center, four at right guard, and two at right tackle. Yes, that adds up to more than 12, because some players started at multiple positions. Just look at this mess:

Detroit Lions Starting Offensive Linemen, 2017
Week LT LG C RG RT
1 73-G.Robinson 60-G.Glasgow 64-T.Swanson 76-T.Lang 71-R.Wagner
2 73-G.Robinson 60-G.Glasgow 64-T.Swanson 76-T.Lang 71-R.Wagner
3 73-G.Robinson 67-Z.Kerin 60-G.Glasgow 76-T.Lang 71-R.Wagner
4 73-G.Robinson 60-G.Glasgow 64-T.Swanson 76-T.Lang 71-R.Wagner
5 73-G.Robinson 60-G.Glasgow 64-T.Swanson 76-T.Lang 71-R.Wagner
6 73-G.Robinson 60-G.Glasgow 64-T.Swanson 77-E.Cleary 71-R.Wagner
7 -- -- -- -- --
8 72-B.Mihalik 60-G.Glasgow 64-T.Swanson 76-T.Lang 71-R.Wagner
9 72-B.Mihalik 60-G.Glasgow 64-T.Swanson 76-T.Lang 71-R.Wagner
10 68-T.Decker 60-G.Glasgow 64-T.Swanson 70-C.Robinson 71-R.Wagner
11 68-T.Decker 60-G.Glasgow 64-T.Swanson 76-T.Lang 71-R.Wagner
12 68-T.Decker 60-G.Glasgow 64-T.Swanson 76-T.Lang 71-R.Wagner
13 68-T.Decker 70-C.Robinson 60-G.Glasgow 76-T.Lang 71-R.Wagner
14 68-T.Decker 60-G.Glasgow 64-T.Swanson 76-T.Lang 70-C.Robinson
15 68-T.Decker 66-J.Dahl 60-G.Glasgow 76-T.Lang 70-C.Robinson
16 68-T.Decker 66-J.Dahl 60-G.Glasgow 62-D.Barclay 70-C.Robinson
17 68-T.Decker 66-J.Dahl 60-G.Glasgow 76-T.Lang 71-R.Wagner

The final team worth discussing today is the Saints, who used a fairly typical number of starters (nine), but shuffled them all over the place so frequently they had 10 changes in the starting lineup; only Detroit and Green Bay had more. Ryan Ramczyk started at both tackle spots. Andrus Peat started at left tackle and left guard. Senio Kelemete started at left guard, right guard, and right tackle. This is most intriguing because it's a pattern in New Orleans. Two years ago, the Saints had 11 line changes, but only used seven starters. It appears that Sean Payton's strategy of offensive line management is get his five best available blockers all on the field, then figure out where to play them (and he often changes his mind about that), rather than slot guys in one position or one side and leave them there.

Comments

5 comments, Last at 10 Apr 2018, 10:07am

1 Re: 2017 Offensive Line Continuity Scores

by Pat // Apr 04, 2018 - 2:50pm

That decline in continuity scores is really getting interesting, especially because it's such a simple measure. And it looks like the decline's accelerating, too. From 1999 to 2013 scores were dropping around ~0.1/year. Since then it's more like ~0.9/year.

Last year was the first year the average similarity score dropped below 30 (to 29.8) - this year it dropped almost 2 more points, to 27.9.

So weird.

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2 Re: 2017 Offensive Line Continuity Scores

by ChrisS // Apr 05, 2018 - 11:48am

Yeah it i strange. Is it caused by more injuries or more teams moving around the OL pieces as New Orleans is described as doing? The latter seems more plausible as I don't believe injury rates are materially increasing. Or it could be crappier OL talent as a whole resulting in players being cut and replaced at a higher rate.

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3 Re: 2017 Offensive Line Continuity Scores

by ssereb // Apr 05, 2018 - 6:05pm

I think it's the quality of the OL talent. I've definitely read/heard quotes from coordinators and line coaches saying that the linemen coming out of college right now just don't have the fundamentals down and need a lot of coaching just to be playable. A lot of them attribute it to the prevalence of spread schemes in college and reduced practice time in both college and the pros.

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4 Re: 2017 Offensive Line Continuity Scores

by Mountain Time ---- formerly Ninjalectual // Apr 08, 2018 - 7:19pm

Washington's season illustrates a weakness of this metric. They had a small number of different starters, but if you count different in-game combos, I think they had worse continuity than anyone. I read somewhere they played something like 50 different combos, but I couldn't track down the source in 50 seconds of googling.

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5 Re: 2017 Offensive Line Continuity Scores

by jtr // Apr 10, 2018 - 10:07am

I think continuity score is only based on the starting 5 for each game, so in-game shuffling (which obviously would be needed to reach 50 combos) doesn't count toward it. Besides, Washington was one of only 5 teams to use double-digit starters, so coming in the bottom 10 in continuity makes sense.

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