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While the Steelers need pass-rushers, everyone else in this division needs more blockers. The Browns in particular face the difficult task of replacing a Hall of Fame left tackle in Joe Thomas.

11 Oct 2006

Every Play Counts: Miami's Offensive Line

by Michael David Smith

For the first four weeks of the season, the Miami Dolphins offensive line was lambasted for its inability to protect Daunte Culpepper. Culpepper got sacked 21 times in four games, and the Dolphins' big off-season acquisition looked like a big mistake. But a funny thing happened when the offensive line had a different quarterback to protect: On Sunday against the New England Patriots, that same line allowed only one sack all day. So which Miami offensive line is the real one?

After watching the line on every play of Sunday's 20-10 loss to the Patriots, it appears that the pass protection problems of the first four games were at least as much about Culpepper's habit of holding onto the ball too long as about the protection he got. But if the pass protection is a bit better than advertised, the run blocking is worse. The Dolphins line will prevent running back Ronnie Brown from showing the talents that made him a top-5 pick last year.

The weakest link on Miami's line is left guard Jeno James, a big guy who is so slow out of his stance that he sometimes doesn't even lay a hand on the player across from him. James has been playing through a knee injury, so it's hard to be too critical of him, but if his knee is so bad that he's beaten before he takes his first step, he shouldn't be on the field.

On a third-and-5 pass by Harrington, James either didn't see that Tedy Bruschi was blitzing or couldn't move fast enough to get close to him. Bruschi had a free shot into the Dolphins backfield, but Harrington got his pass off in a hurry and managed a completion. It was the kind of play on which Culpepper would have been sacked. James struggled in pass protection all day. On the second drive Richard Seymour overpowered him and pressured Harrington into passing before Chris Chambers, running a deep route, could get open.

But James was even worse when run blocking. His worst play of the day was one of the worst plays you'll ever see an offensive lineman make: Not only did he get called for holding, but the player he held still managed to tackle Brown in the backfield. It was second-and-3, and Patriots tackle Vince Wilfork got off the ball so much more quickly than James that he was halfway past him before James even got out of his stance. James responded by tackling Wilfork, but he did such a halfhearted job of it that Wilfork still stopped Brown for a loss of a yard. James needs to learn that if you're going to get called for holding, you should at least prevent the guy you hold from tackling your running back. Even when James did get out of his stance, he struggled with blocking. Patriots lineman Jarvis Green pushed past James and stopped Brown for no gain on a draw play on second-and-18.

With left tackle L.J. Shelton next to James, the Dolphins have one of the worst left sides of any line in the league. Shelton made two bad plays that precipitated Harrington's interception in the second quarter. It's not Shelton's fault that Harrington threw a pick, but the Dolphins' early game plan revolved around picking up a few yards on first and second down to avoid putting Harrington in third-and-long situations. It worked well in the first quarter, and Harrington was having an efficient game, but a Shelton false start turned a third-and-5 into a third-and-10, and that led Harrington to take the chance that became the interception.

On that interception New England only rushed three, but Harrington still felt pressure. Shelton and James double-teamed Jarvis Green, but Green used an arm rip and a twist to get between them and put pressure on Harrington. Ty Warren also got pressure on Harrington, lining up at left end but stunting to the inside, where center Rex Hadnot failed to pick him up. Having five blockers against three rushers and still allowing two of them to pressure the quarterback doesn't say much for the offensive line.

Even when Harrington had time to pass, though, the Patriots defensive line generally outclassed the Dolphins offensive line. Richard Seymour overpowered Shelton on one second-and-10 pass, although Harrington threw on a three-step drop and didn't give Seymour time to get to him. In the second half the Patriots routinely had linebacker Rosevelt Colvin rushing against Shelton, and that matchup just wasn't fair. On a third-and-5 in the third quarter, Shelton tried to block Colvin low, but Colvin just stepped aside, got in Harrington's face, and forced a high, inaccurate pass that fell incomplete. On a third-and-8, Colvin ran past Shelton and hit Harrington as he was throwing, forcing an incompletion.

Later in the quarter, when Ronnie Brown took a handoff on a sweep around the left side, Shelton and James doubled Colvin, but Colvin stood his ground, forcing Brown to the inside, where Vince Wilfork and Tedy Bruschi tackled him. When you've got two linemen blocking a linebacker and they can't move him, you've got a problem.

Center Rex Hadnot was the key to the Dolphins' success (or lack thereof) running up the middle. On a second-and-7 handoff to Brown, Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork dominated Hadnot at the snap, pushing him straight back and forcing Brown to cut to the outside. When Brown has to dodge his own linemen before he reaches the line of scrimmage, it's hard to make anything happen.

But Hadnot's block on Ty Warren was the key to Brown's two-yard touchdown run up the middle. Brown ran directly behind Hadnot, and no Patriots even touched Brown as he went into the end zone. On a first-and-10 when New England was in a 4-3 front, Hadnot pushed Jarvis Green back and made room for Brown to gain seven yards behind him. Hadnot was inconsistent on Sunday, but that's better than the consistently bad play of Shelton and James.

The right side of the Dolphins line is better than the left. On a toss sweep to Brown on the first series, right guard Damion McIntosh and right tackle Vernon Carey both pulled to the outside and did a nice job of leading the way for Brown, although Rodney Harrison hit Brown and forced a fumble.

McIntosh is a longtime tackle just making the transition to guard. Pass protection is very different at tackle than it is at guard, and McIntosh still looks like a work in progress. On the first play of the second drive, Harrington took a three-step drop and threw immediately, but he still barely had time, as McIntosh did a revolving-door block on Patriots end Ty Warren. On the only sack the Dolphins gave up Sunday, Jarvis Green, lined up at tackle, beat both McIntosh and Hadnot to get to Harrington.

Carey, the Dolphins' 2004 first-round pick, is probably the best of the bunch, although Warren gave him problems a few times. On a first-and-10 in the third quarter, Carey blocked no one, apparently not seeing that Warren was rushing to his outside. Warren hit Harrington just as he threw. Two plays later, Warren bull-rushed Carey into the backfield, then jumped up and batted down a Harrington pass. But Carey also had some strong run blocks, and he was the only member of the Dolphins line who regularly reached the second level to take on linebackers.

You can't argue with the past success of Dolphins offensive line coach Hudson Houck, who was the coach of a great Dallas Cowboys line from 1993 to 2001. But this year's line doesn't look well-coached. Houck shouldn't receive too much of the blame, though, as the Dolphins have had bad luck with injuries to linemen this season. Miami drafted tackle Joe Toledo in the fourth round this year and thought he had a good chance to earn a spot in the starting lineup, but he was lost for the season with a preseason knee injury. Seth McKinney, a versatile lineman who can play center or guard and started for the Dolphins the last two years, was placed on injured reserve before the season with a neck injury. Guard Bennie Anderson was signed as a free agent this off-season and started the first two games, but he's out for the season with a triceps injury. With better luck on injuries, Houck might be working with a very different offensive line.

And if Houck had been preparing to have his line protect Harrington instead of Culpepper, that would have changed his pass protection schemes. Now that Harrington is first on Nick Saban's depth chart, the Dolphins line won't have to hold its blocks as long on passing plays. If Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey is smart, the absence of Culpepper will also lead to the absence of the shotgun. Culpepper played much better in his first four games taking snaps from the shotgun than he did under center -- he averaged 6.1 yards per play out of the shotgun, compared to 2.7 yards per play from under center. But Harrington is just the opposite -- he averaged 4.4 yards per play in the shotgun Sunday but 7.6 yards per play under center.

If the Dolphins have decided to go with Harrington for the long term, the simple change of ditching the shotgun will make Harrington more comfortable in the pocket and therefore make the offensive line's job easier. But that still leaves the problem of the run blocking, and that doesn't look like a problem that will change any time soon. Brown has shown flashes of talent, but until he gets a better line in front of him, he's going to have a lot of 17-carry, 39-yard games like Sunday's. Addressing the offensive line seems like the logical top priority for next year's draft. Unfortunately for Dolphins fans, it looks like they'll pick a lot higher than anyone expected.

Each week, Michael David Smith looks at one specific player or one aspect of a team on every single play of the previous game. Standard caveat applies: Yes, one game is not necessarily an indicator of performance over the entire season.

Posted by: Michael David Smith on 11 Oct 2006

60 comments, Last at 24 Oct 2006, 7:13pm by KLR


by BigManChili (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 11:20am

See! This stuff is useful info. That's why I love this website. Great job, guys. No one else (except possibly Jaws) could have delivered that analysis.

by JJcruiser (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 11:23am

Good stuff, especially about Colvin setting the edge (he's taking heat in New England for not getting enough sacks this year).

by NewsToTom (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 11:25am

It sounds like they've benched Kendyl Jacox and convert McIntosh to replace him at RG.

Question (for MDS or anybody else who watched the game): did the Patriots much stunting, aside from the one play mentioned? The Titans seemed to have a lot of success with that, but a large part of that may have been Vanden Bosch against Jacox.

Good piece, MDS, thanks.

by FizzMan (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 11:27am

I'm sorry, BigManChill, but we may have to revoke your posting privileges for failing to say, "First!"

by Mannie Fresh (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 11:38am

was it Sports Illustrated that picked them as Super Bowl favorites? I can see why they picked them...A "new and improved" Culpepper, Ronnie Brown considered as a strong all-downs back, Chris Chambers becoming into a star at the receiver position...what they forgot is that you need an offensive line in order to getting any of those going...

by Kal (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 11:44am

What I'm still confused about is how this team regressed so badly from last year. The only starter they seem to have lost was McKinney, who wasn't even an established lineman. Otherwise, they're playing 4 of 5 that they did last year. They're playing through injuries, true, but I'm kinda surprised that they're just that bad.

by Sean (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 11:50am

I suspect the run blocking will be magically improved this weekend. Just about anyone who looks at the tape can figure out how to run on the Jets. Just line up with three tight ends, get a hat on a hat and iso the bubble between Kimo von Oelhoffen and Dewayne Robertson.

by James, London (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 12:02pm

Excellent stuff. Correct me if I'm wrong but didn't McIntosh play LT for the 'Fins last year? If Shelton is as terrible as advertised, why not switch McIntosh back to LT? Was he really worse than Shelton?

by Michael David Smith :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 12:15pm

This piece was just focused on the o-line, but since Kal asked, I have a few thoughts on the team generally:
--Ricky Williams was a better player last year than he got credit for, and losing him was a bigger loss than most people realized. (When I saw Saban at the combine, which was right when the reports were surfacing about Williams' suspension, he seemed really distressed when discussing it.)
--The pass defense is a mess. They brought in Renaldo Hill as the starting free safety and he's not playing well. (Not sure why first-round pick Jason Allen isn't starting.) I was always a Zach Thomas fan, but at this point he's just a liability against the pass -- tight ends go over the middle and he simply can't keep up with them.
--Something is wrong with both kicker Olindo Mare and punter Donnie Jones. I'm not qualified to analyze kicking mechanics, so I have no idea what the problem is, but they've both really declined this year.

by noah of the ark (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 12:20pm

Funny thing, but two years ago, the line was the worst in the league (IMO), until Hadnot replaced whomever at guard (Jim Bates' first move). Then they showed a lot of improvement. The starting 5? MacIntosh, James, Mckinney, Hadnot and St. Clair.
So it just might be that the injury to the average Mckinney and the hole at RG hurts much more than it appears (as Shelton is just as "good" as MacIntosh the LT was, and Carey is an improvement over St. Clair).

Still, the awful play we've seen this year simply seems too much, even accounting for Culpepper. Hey, at least now they can move the ball...

by andrew (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 1:05pm

I think Harrington has more experience playing behind a porous offensive line than Culpepper does.

by jim's apple pie (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 1:09pm

My memories of MacIntosh from his Chargers days were that he was an above average run blocker but really stuggled in pass protection due to slow feet. When playing LT, he just had too much trouble with those fast (and even not so fast) edge rushers. I still remember the Chiefs game in '03 when he gave up three sacks to Vonnie freakin' Holliday. I think moving him to guard was probably a good idea, but only if you have somebody better to replace him at LT. It doesn't sound like Shelton is better.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 1:52pm

Culpepper was really spoiled during most of his tenure in Minnesota, and not just because of the receivers. The vast majority of the time he had well above-average protection, and the high sack totals were the product of his scanning the field forever. Unfortunately (and surprisingly for me), he has so far shown himself to be immune to coaching.

It seemed so obvious to me that his greatest weakness as a quarterback was his indecisiveness, and that Saban and Co. would have had this conversation with him prior to completing the trade, thus gaining Culpepper's buy-in to work on the issue, that by now there would have been improvement in this regard. Nope, that hasn't been the case, and unless Culpepper gains some humility and makes an effort to change, or he magically gets connected with an excellent offensive line, the future doesn't look too bright.

This benching might spur Culpepper to get a whiff of reality, and thus try to effect some changes. Tice benched him for most of a game back in 2002, and it had a positive effect, so it may work this time as well. If Harrington plays acceptably behind this offensive line, however, Saban will be hesitant to change back, especially if they win a few games, so maybe Culpepper ends up having to make another career change in another NFL city. The Dolphins aren't going to carry Culpepper's salary to have Daunte carry a clipboard, and I don't think the Dolphins would suffer a gigantic cap hit by moving or cutting him. It'll all depend on how Harrington plays, but, of course, that means, based on past performance, that Culpepper will be starting again before the end of the year.

by BD (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 1:54pm

"If Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey is smart..."

This was the funniest thing I've seen in a long time. Speaking as a fan of a team formerly coached by Mularkey, I can verify indeed that he is not smart (see: Halfback pass on the goalline). Have fun with that, Miami!

I would not count on Mularkey to avoid the shotgun to increase Harrington's efficiency. But it would be interesting to see some follow-up data on this issue.

by sicksock (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 2:04pm

It's all about the plant foot. I'm not sure if Mare's numbers are off by too much (7-11, but 7-9 under 50 yards), but the playing field has more to do with accuracy than people realize. Dolphins stadium for the early part of the season is also a baseball diamond and last weeks game in NE might as well have been (probably due to the soccer being played there). Watching one of his missed kicks, it was clear that his plant foot slipped foward by atleast 2 inches. No kicker in this league will make a kick when that's allowed to happen (Vinatieri probably practiced on it like this, which explained his success there).

It would be interesting to compare Mare's early season numbers, when his field is duel use, to his numbers when the field is entierly for football.

by Andy (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 2:07pm

FO, thanks for this informative analysis. I don't live in Miami, and when watching games from a sportsbar (no Directv for me) I don't get to really see who on the o-line is playing crappy and who is holding his own.

Its amazing how the Sun-Sentinel or the Herald have NEVER even come close to writing an article (in print or online) this in-depth.

Thanks again!

by Noble (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 3:04pm

14: Don't give him too much grief. He coached the offense that brought you Tommy "Gun" Maddox and his 3400 yards of passing. Mularkey does have a habit of calling bizarre gadget plays, but I think that comes from coaching in Pittsburgh.

by PackerNation (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 3:34pm

This was a very nice article to read. I greatly enjoyed the analysis.

by CA (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 3:36pm

After watching the line on every play of Sunday’s 20-10 loss to the Patriots, it appears that the pass protection problems of the first four games were at least as much about Culpepper’s habit of holding onto the ball too long as about the protection he got.

I made this suggestion in a post after the article about Harrington replacing Culpepper, but I think it's even more appropriate here: In a footnote in The Blind Side, a person who does statistical analysis of football, whose name I forget, states that the amount of time that a QB holds the ball after the snap before attempting a pass is one of the most important passing stats in football, but it usually goes unmeasured. Inspired by that statement, I suggest that Football Outsiders consider measuring the length of time that quarterbacks hold onto the ball before passing (or scrambling or being sacked), and see how that correlates to sacks, passing statistics, offensive line performance, turnovers, even injuries, etc. Perhaps this could be part of the game charting project next year. I know it's probably a lot to ask for somebody to be clicking a stopwatch on every snap, so maybe you could look at just a sample. Okay, so it may not be worth the effort, but I think it could provide some valuable data for judging QB, offensive line, and even receiver performance.

by Bobman (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 3:55pm

Neat suggestion. Don't know if we'd be able to measure QB quality, pass pro, the D penetration, or bad/good coverage, but it would help give an overall picture of the effectiveness of the passing game.

I can picture a few scenarios: 1) drop back, scan the field but everybody's covered, so finally dump off to RB for 5 yard gain. That's actually a good play, since the OL did it's job, the WRs were not available, the QB didn't panic, and they made a positive. Who does it meaure specifically? Not sure, but overall, it's a positive sign (unless the WRs are never open!) Scenario 2) snap, drop back, instant pass for good or bad because the DL got penetration. That's good for the QB, but bad for the OL. #3) snap, drop back, instantly throw it away. Hmmm, this one is tougher to call--did the OL fall apart, was there a big blitz and QB unable to spot a guy in time? Was it a good "throw away" or a panicked one? Many more possibilities, of course. If I were a coach I'd certainly assign a flunky to do this, because I THINK it has merit. Not 100% sure what the outcome would be, though, aside from FO surmising "QB X has held on to the ball longer than any other QB on average, therefore he has great pass pro despite the sack total". or "QB X has held on to the ball longer than any other QB on average, but has only completed 50% of his passes and has a rating of 75. Therefore he he sucks or has the worst receivers on the NFL."

by Harry (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 4:01pm

#15 - But Dolphins Stadium is a baseball stadium every year, why doesn't Mare work on this aspect of his game? In fact in 2003 Mare whiffed a kick from about 2nd base that would have beat the Pats in OT. If any kicker in the league should learn to kick off dirt, it should be Orlando.

by Michael David Smith :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 4:05pm

CA, the guy mentioned in the footnote in The Blind Side is Ben Alamar. He's a co-author of Pro Football Prospectus.

by admin :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 4:16pm

To specify, Ben is the person who helped improve adjusted line yards and develop the win projection system. He's working on a system to analyze coaching strategy (calling run vs. pass, not just the usual "go for it on fourth" stuff) for next year's book. As far as timing the quarterbacks, the problem is that a) it adds a lot of extra time to the charting process, and b) stopwatch timing is the one of the most variable measurements in existence. Getting 40 volunteers to all use the stopwatch in the exact same way would be impossible.

Actually, Ben sent me a link to something he just wrote, to post on Extra Points, so I'll do that when I get home from the satellite studio where I do the ESPN thing (4:10 today, not 3:40, for those who want to watch).

by JJcruiser (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 4:36pm

My theory on the Dolphins overhype:

Everyone placed way too much stock in last year's six game season ending winning streak. They were terrible two years ago, and the improvements last year were just not as strong as SI (for example) thought. Note:

First win: Oakland 33-21
Second: Buffalo 24-23
Third: San Diego 23-21
Fourth: Jets 24-20
Fifth: Tennessee 24-10
Sixth: Patriots 28-26

What can you glean from this? It should be (and should have been to SI et al) obvious: the Dolphins had a ridiculously easy last six games. The only good teams they played in there were the Chargers and the Patriots. That the Chargers lost that game at home when they were fighting for playoff life is surprising (though not shocking since it was Marty), but that Miami barely beat four other cellar-dwellers (alright, they beat the Titans soundly) is hardly cause for celebration. And, of course, they did not beat the Patriots, they beat the Patriots playing like it was the fourth preseason game. Even then, career-backup Matt Cassel was within a two-point conversion of tying that game.

So everyone assumed they were great because they squeeked by a few bad teams. I'm not saying they should not get credit for the wins, I'm just saying they weren't dominating efforts and there was only one playoff team in the bunch, and that one they only beat because the key starters were not playing.

So everyone set the bar too high for Miami this year. They had a tough couple O-line losses and thought Houck could fix all ills (he can't, obviously). Culpepper was probably a bad decision, but maybe that should be evaluated in three years, not three games. And the defense is aging. Not much more complicated than that, in my opinion.

by cjfarls (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 4:46pm

Can I just say again how much I appreciate this site. Great article (as always) and insight from the FO guys, and intelligent conversation in the comments. Thanks again.

by johonny (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 4:59pm

I agree that the Mike Mularkey factor has to be considered. I'm hoping he follows the current NFL tradition of getting hire to a head coaching position no matter how successful his stint in Miami works out. I think it's worth noting the Dolphins are at this point getting nothing from last years draft class. You have to wonder if last years hot finish intimidated Saban into not starting his rookies. Last years low expectations seemed to encourage Saban to get his young guys out there early and often.

by Scott de B. (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 5:00pm

So everyone set the bar too high for Miami this year.

Not everyone. Some of us thought Miami wasn't that good.

by Theo (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 5:03pm

Are there any studies about the time an o-line plays toghether and how good it is?

If not, I got research this weekend.

by Randy S (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 5:18pm

24 - I thought the Miami hype had a lot to do with their schedule as well. If you break it down preseason, it's easy to think the Fins were a lock for 10 wins (Houston, Tennessee, the NFC North, the Jets and Bills twice, Indy in Week 17, etc). Combined with last season's win streak and bringing in Culpepper, I can understand how someone would just pencil them in as good.

by Richard (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 5:24pm

Would you need a stopwatch? Why not simply go by the game clock?

by MJK (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 5:31pm

Not everyone was expecting big things from Miami. I saw them play in Week 17 against the Pats 3rd stringers last year (I was at the game) and I've been saying since day one this season that they would not be that good. Their defense looked old then, it's older now, and Culpepper's style of play doesn't mesh well with the Dolphins' offensive philosophy.

I almost went out on a limb and boldly predicted the Jets would be decent this year, but then I chickened out because of the first year coach thing.

by JJcruiser (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 5:38pm

Re 27 and 31:

When I say "everyone" I am referring to mainstream professional football writers. Everyone I read on ESPN, SI, etc., predicted AT LEAST better than their 8-8 2005 season, if not the Superbowl. Clearly some intelligent fans were not so optimistic.

by sicksock (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 5:41pm

#21 - I agree, if anyone should know how to kick from dirt, it should be him. But doing some quick addition, it looks like either he hasn't, or just can't. In the month of Sept since 2001, when the field is duel use, he's 8-15 at home and 12-13 away.

Math and I have never really gotten along very well, but those numbers tell me the dirt plays some kind of factor. Just my $0.02.

by The MOOSE (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 5:49pm

I think part of what got Miami's bar set high was that people love to make predictions. Every year there is a fair amount of turnover for division winners but it is often very difficult to figure out which ones will be won by incumbents and which by challengers. In the AFC South it was the Colts at the top with only one possible challenger, the Jags. In the North it was to be the Bengals or Steelers, and here the Ravens come from nowhere. In the East, people were tired of New England, saw the losses of Vinatieri, McGinest, and Givens and were ready to annoint a new division winner. Who is more natural to pick than the team that came in second and finished the season on a 6-game winning streak? It's easy to make excuses as to why the Dolphins had a chance.

In the end, a lot of it comes down to sports writers trying to look like they know what they're talking about when what they predict actually happens.

by admin :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 5:56pm

I picked the Dolphins to win a wild card because I thought they would be an average team with a very easy schedule. It turns out that they are a very bad team with a very easy schedule, but picking them to make the playoffs doesn't necessarily mean you thought they were great.

Re: 28, someone actually worked on this in August but it didn't read quite right, so we were going to tweak it and go with it in next year's book. The team projection system does have a variable that improves the offensive DVOA projection based on total team tenure of the five linemen, adjusted for major free agent signings like Bentley.

by NewsToTom (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 6:04pm

Re #30
Because a pass on a play snapped at 10:31 and thrown at 10:28 could be thrown anywhere from 2.2 to 3.9 seconds after the ball was snapped. That's not a formula to get good data and without good data, you're subject to GIGO. If you've never tried timing things like how fast a QB throws the ball after a snap, how long it takes to get a punt off, or the hangtime of a punt or kickoff, I recommend you do it. Better, do it three times for the same play and see what kind of variance you get. Even better, have someone else do it in a different room and compare timing and check the variance with them.

by Jake (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 6:07pm

Good detailing of how the lineman suck, but I could do with fewer unsupported claims and comparisons.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 6:15pm

The Dolphins situation makes me wonder if, when evaluating a team's potential, if offensive line play is still being insufficiently weighted, perhaps because the quality of pass protection in particular is so dang hard to quantify accurately. The roadblocks to time measurement in regards to pass protection that Aaron mentions are very real and very, very, problematic, but for the life of me I don't know how you go about adequately evaluating and comparing the quality of pass protection between different teams without the use of time measurement. Why do I get the feeling that if Bill Polian went off his meds one week, and traded Manning I for Drew Bledsoe, the Dallas offensive line would improve by about a magnitude, while the Indy line would sink into the Marianas Trench?

by John (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 6:19pm

They will be a better team with Harrington, but if they quit early when it is clear that they are going to miss the playoffs, it won't be visible to the media.

Harrington was a very solid QB in college, with a fast release. He was taught to never take sacks, and he always gets the ball out quick. But put him on a crappy Lions team, and he starts to break down, although he did keep them in a lot of competitive games against teams like the Vikings.

I hate Miami, but I really think that Harrington will prove to be the best QB they have had in a while. You could see that the Pats had players in his face a lot in the first half, when he completed a lot of passes in a row. But he was firing the ball out quicker than ANY lineman could get to him.

It got a little uglier as the game went on, but Harrington is clearly capable of playing QB, and this is more than the Dolphins have had in a while. Luckily for me, it is too late for them this year.

by johnt (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 6:56pm

38: I agree, partially. I think QBs with really fast releases can hide crappy O-lines by backing off defenses like Manning does. Indy's o-line is way overrated, and when they actually have to face the same things other o-lines do (i.e. blitzes) you get some "problems with protection", but Manning's ability to torch blitzes on a fast drop keeps it from happening much.

But for the other 85% of QBs in the league I think a crappy o-line is a crappy o-line. Yes, Bledsoe holds the ball too often sometimes, but more often he does a 3 step drop and there's an unblocked defender jacking him.

by Andrew (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 7:48pm

This Dolphins team reminds me of last years Vikings. Overhyped by the media, start badly, stop playing Culpepper and improve.

by Jed (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 8:15pm

Here is an idea on how to time it, although I don't have TiVo or a DVD recorder, so I'm not 100% sure how this would work.

1) Record the game on TiVo and burn it to a DVD.

2) Learn how many frames (or still pictures) are in one second of action. 6? 8? I don't know.

3) Pause the DVD before the snap and count the number of frames from the snap to the time the quarterback releases the ball, punt goes off, etc.

4) Do the math of steps 2 & 3.

It wouldn't solve the amount of time factor, but would be pretty accurate to a .0X or .1X figure depending on how many frames per second the TiVo or DVD would record.

by andrew (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 11:28pm

41 - except the Vikings faced the hardest part of their schedule when Culpepper was in there, and then "improved" versus inferior competiton. The only decent teams they defeated were the Bears in a meaningless game, and the Giants when they got three returns for touchdowns.

This year, Culpepper was in for the easiest part of Miami's schedule, and now they face stiffer competition without him.

by andrew (not verified) :: Wed, 10/11/2006 - 11:42pm

42 - standard NTSC (what we have in the US) TV has roughly 30 frames per second. Its actually slightly less, 29.97, click on my name if you want more info on that. In effect you "don't count" 2 frames every minute.

I don't think that is going to mess overly with the accuracy of calculations on something as short as a quarterback drop, though.

If you've got HDTV, and are using an HD-DVR, its the same if its 1080i (NBC, CBS), and double that for 720p (ABC, ESPN, I guess 59.94 fps.

Its been awhile since I worked in the field, I don't know if DVDs use drop-frame. I know some DVD players are progressive scan, meaning they don't interlace (like normal tv and 1080i), so they might be 60fps (or 59.94 if they use dropframe).

by brucem (not verified) :: Thu, 10/12/2006 - 1:12am

So, digitize / frame capture the highest frame rate video available, count frames between first ball movement (or player movement, should be insignificant) to ball in flight out of QB hand. done.

by Jake (not verified) :: Thu, 10/12/2006 - 3:04am

I was just thinking about recording the time from snap to pass and you guys beat me to it. Cool.

by Elvin (not verified) :: Thu, 10/12/2006 - 4:55am

Culpepper has never been a good decision maker. In minnesota he had Moss, and a good O-Line to bail him out. His ability to scramble used to help him out also. Now that his knee, and hence his mobility are not what they used to be he is looking like a third stringer.

by Zug Zug (not verified) :: Thu, 10/12/2006 - 6:37am

Question about timing the QB's holding of the ball:

Maybe this only makes sense to me, Im fairly new to trying to understand the game through statistics (thank you for providing more objective data guys!). Wouldnt just counting the number of steps in the qbs drop give you a similar measurement (and much easier to track). It could be broken down into say, 3 step, 5 step, aaron brooks, etc. This may be useful over the course of a season, not a single game. Say QB 1 takes a 5 step drop on average over the course of the season, sacks are low, completion percentage about 60%. This could be the work of the QB or the O line, with greater emphasis being placed on the O line for number of steps in the drops (fewer steps correlating to the necessity to throw faster to avoid pressure) and could give data on QB ability (if an average of 5 step drop, what is completion percentage, adjusted for opponent and your own WRs). I hope Im somewhat clear, if I dont have to work this Sunday Ill try giving it a shot with 2 teams, see what I come up with. Any suggestions, criticisms, witticisims, let me know!

by Fnor (not verified) :: Thu, 10/12/2006 - 10:39am

#48: That's a nifty idea. The problem with using drops to analyze this sort of thing are:
1) They are heavily influenced by the playbook as well as the playcalling, and therefore are not entirely a product of the QB.
2) There is a problem with 0-step drops (either the "smoke" plays or shotgun), because they have the same "drop," but at different spots behind the line of scrimmage.
3) Prevalent use of the shotgun renders timing analysis rather useless, because often the only movement a QB makes in that formation is forward.

It's a cool idea to try to measure it, however. Perhaps a better way to analyze this would be a pairing of "max distance behind LOS" coupled with "Time of possession," the amount of time after the snap the QB holds on to the ball. At least in my experience, QBs who are either bad with pressure or bad with reads will keep moving backwards as the play progresses. Maybe also note whether or not the play eventually became a throw-away or a dumpoff, because those would indicate good coverage, prolonging the amount of time the QB would keep the ball.

Also: Dabu!

by Bryan (not verified) :: Thu, 10/12/2006 - 11:05am

This is only based on the Pats game I assume, because after paying close attention to the Dolphins offensive line all year, James was only poor until the past week or so, instead of awful. The weak link before that was Bennie Anderson/Kendyl Jacox/Damion McIntosh, and LJ Shelton was struggling.

That said, I've been impressed with hadnot and Carey. They have two pretty solid pieces, at least. Hadnot needs tow work on his communication skills, but he's been pretty dominant at times. Shelton has looked really good at times, but at others, he looks like an idiot. He sometimes falls for the simplest of D-Moves-the inside swm, a simple spin, and others.

by MJK (not verified) :: Thu, 10/12/2006 - 12:25pm

"3 step, 5 step, aaron brooks, etc."


Could the 'Pats-Phins game be said to be a matchup of the "Hads" versus the "Hadnot's"?

(As in "had previously been a good team versus.... well, never mind. Sorry, that was horrible).

by Jim Kiick (not verified) :: Thu, 10/12/2006 - 1:27pm

I think Pepper has to take the blame for a lot of the sacks he took. You will see Joey perform without the sacks and might wonder what we were talking about later. Sure there was a problem at RG and it is and excellent article though look at the whole picture.

by Trogdor (not verified) :: Thu, 10/12/2006 - 4:20pm

Does Culpepper have a history of Rob Johnson-type sack rates? Or is this something new for him, possibly a post-injury problem?

While they gave up fewer sacks, it still sounds like their protection is a mess. What can Miami do to further improve pass protection? Should they keep backs and tight ends in more to help?

I mostly just skimmed the comments, but the name in #48 just cracked me up.

by johonny (not verified) :: Thu, 10/12/2006 - 7:01pm

Daunte has taken on average 2.9 sacks per game compare to 5 per game this season. The question is, if Daunte wasn't healthy enough to start the season why did it take 4 weeks for the coaching staff to figure it out?

by CaffeineMan (not verified) :: Thu, 10/12/2006 - 8:09pm

The question is, if Daunte wasn’t healthy enough to start the season why did it take 4 weeks for the coaching staff to figure it out?

You really think it's such a binary thing? I thought the most plausible sounding explanation was that Culpepper had recovered to the point of having average (or slightly below) mobility, but not his previous above average mobility. I think they put him in because they figured he could adapt and deal with a rush in a different way: get rid of the ball sooner rather than scrambling.

by Zug Zug (not verified) :: Fri, 10/13/2006 - 12:16am

Re 48: thanks for insight, I was thinking about the problem of the shotgun too. I guess it would be a more accurate rating for the line if the shotgun is prevalant, especially if the QB is still pressured. As for the playcalling effect, I would think it would be minimized because if you have a decent QB he should have similar success numbers no matter the drop. If their is a tendency to do better on 5 step drop plays over 3 step, you could say this is because the O line is doing their job well, and the QB has time to pass. If QB is not doing noticably better when he has time, this would be attributable to QB weakness. If there is more success on 3 step drops, it could be assumed this is because the pressure is on and the O line cant hold long enough for a 5 step drop. I think Ill treat shotguns as a seperate entity for now, but I want to actually try this on a few teams to see if I get anything meaningful, otherwise Im just speculating.

PS: Loctar.

by johonny (not verified) :: Fri, 10/13/2006 - 12:26pm

Binary? I think they had time to watch those preseason games, him in practice and 4 season games. I think the coaching staff took a looooooong time to make up their mind that Daunte wasn't ready yet. Which is odd since the talk when they went out and got Joey is he was most likely going to start the season until Daunte was ready. The fact the Dolphins started Daunte despite the fact he clearly wasn't right, tells me the coaching staff probably isn't overly in love with Joey.

by CaffeineMan (not verified) :: Fri, 10/13/2006 - 2:49pm

I think they decided Culpepper was "healthy enough". The binary comment was because it seemed like you were referring to only two possibilities: "healthy" or "not healthy." I think there's a spectrum and they thought Culpepper was healthy enough to be effective and that he'd adapt to his restricted mobility. Didn't seem like that bad of a risk to me, but it didn't work out.

by Oswlek (not verified) :: Fri, 10/13/2006 - 4:59pm

This seems as good a time as any to repost what I wrote in the AFC O/U thread:

Miami is the quintassential example of a team that had a few breaks to give it a better record than you would expect, and then people using that improper baseline for the following year’s projections.

(Previous examples of this include 04 Bills, 04 Falcons, 03 Dallas and 01 Pats)

That was a 6-10 team last year that caught a few lucky breaks. Just a cursary glance at their “remarkable� run to end the season shows the following:

* Against SD, even though they had the advantage of knowing every line call (SD’s coaches decided not to change them for this game even though Miami had the ex-OL coach) they barely pulled it out.

* Buffalo blew a 23-3 3rd quarter lead because they started coasting too early.

* Brooks Bollinger had this line at Miami!

28/42 327 2 0

The Jets had a 1st and 5 on the 14 with just over a minute to go in a game decided by 4 points. Another skate against a bad team.

* And the Pats nearly won playing scond and third stringers for 3 quarters. This included a QB that hadn’t played 3 full quarters since high school, a practice squad WR playing CB, etc.

I see Miami being an improved team, but taking a step backwards recordwise. I will be shocked if they win more than 8 games.

The Jets, on the other hand, are going to win at least 7 games. They were just the opposite in that their record was pushed down due to outside circumstances. Oddly enough, the recent team that they are most similar to is Miami in 2004. And, just as I was surprised at how many people didn’t realize that Miami would certainly win at least 6-7 games just by having a normal camp in 05, the same holds true for the NYJ. As long as they don’t lose Pennington again, they are definitely not a 4-5 win team.

Oh, and even though NE has many more questions than usual, it would take a series of injuries even worse than last year for them to win less than 11 games with their schedule. Take the over."

[Awaits the cries of adulation and the maidens bowing at my feet.]

by KLR (not verified) :: Tue, 10/24/2006 - 7:13pm

Man I'm glad I stumbled across this site. The work you do here is fabulous!

I'm afraid the Culpepper acquisition was a mistake (we knew he had trouble reading defenses and small hands for fumbles) and Saban should have spent the mula on Brees.

As it stands now, the Fins need *so* many players to fill all the gaps. I think Joey Harrington has some potential but I think I would pick up a QB in the draft (unless Cleo is coming along...).

I hate to say it but it may be high time to trade some of our "premier" players for more draft picks at the end of the year.

The only ones I would not put on the trading block would be Harrington, Ronnie Brown (the guy can get it done), Derek Hagan (I think he can be something special) and Channing Crowder on defense. Everyone else is either in their prime or expendable, imo.