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05 Apr 2017

Offensive Line Continuity Scores 2016

by Vincent Verhei

Is the quality of offensive line play declining in the NFL? That's a subjective question, one that's hard to answer numerically.

Are offensive linemen shuffling in and out of the starting lineup more frequently now than they were at the turn of the century? That's an objective question, one with a crystal-clear answer: Hell, yes,

Jason McIntyre 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.

Only one team got a perfect score in 2016, and that team had the league's best offense and nearly won the Super Bowl. Atlanta's starting quintet of Jake Matthews, Andy Levitre, Alex Mack, Chris Chester, and Ryan Schraeder started all 16 regular-season games. Their perfect score doesn't even count that they each started all three playoff games as well.

No other offensive line had a perfect lineup in 2016. In fact, nobody else came close. The next-highest scores belonged to New England (perhaps not coincidentally, Atlanta's Super Bowl opponent) and Cincinnati, who were tied for second at 38. It was the first year since 1999 that only one team had a continuity score of 40 or more, and the fourth year in a row the number of such teams has gone down. Meanwhile, seven teams had continuity scores of 25 or less. That's fewer than the nine such teams in 2015, but still more than any other year on record. The average team's continuity score in 2016 was 29.8 -- the first time on record the average score has dropped below 30, and the third straight year the average score has dropped.

NFL Offensive Line Continuity, 1999-2016
Year Teams Avg. Cont. Score 40 or higher 25 or lower
1999 31 33.4 1 0
2000 31 35.5 10 4
2001 31 34.7 5 3
2002 32 31.8 3 4
2003 32 34.5 10 5
2004 32 33.3 5 2
2005 32 34.8 9 3
2006 32 32.9 5 2
2007 32 34.8 9 3
2008 32 34.4 7 3
2009 32 31.5 2 4
2010 32 32.5 5 6
2011 32 32.8 5 5
2012 32 32.5 7 6
2013 32 33.4 6 4
2014 32 30.7 3 6
2015 32 30.3 2 9
2016 32 29.8 1 7

Given the league-wide slipping of offensive line continuity, what New England did in 2016 was pretty special. As mentioned, they were tied for second in continuity score, but that's underselling their stability by the end of the season. Nate Solder, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, and Marcus Cannon started each of the Patriots' final 14 games, including the playoffs. That's even more impressive considering what the team had done the year before. New England's 2015 continuity score of 2015 was just 15, the lowest we have ever measured. The Patriots' 23-point improvement from one year to the next was the biggest on record, and it came in a year when league-wide continuity continued to fall.

Cincinnati, the team that tied New England for second place, got 16 starts each from Andrew Whitworth, Russell Bodine, and Kevin Zeitler, plus 14 from Clint Boling and 12 from Cedric Ogbuehi. We'll see how they cope in 2017 with Whitworth joining the Rams and Zeitler leaving for Cleveland in free agency. Tied for fourth at 37 were the Cowboys and Chargers. Like Cincinnati, the Cowboys will have to deal with some talent drain, as Ronald Leary (12 starts last season) signed with Denver and Doug Free (16 starts) retired. A healthy La'el Collins would certainly help -- the second-year guard played only three games last season. As for the Chargers, they got 16 starts apiece from Orlando Franklin, Matt Slauson, D.J. Fluker, and Joe Barksdale, but Fluker and 12-game starter King Dunlap won't be joining the team in Los Angeles -- Fluker now plays for the Giants, while Dunlap is presently unsigned.

At the other end of the spectrum we find the New York Jets, whose continuity score of 20 is among the five worst we have ever found. The quarterbacks, as usual, got all the attention for New York's struggles, but let's not overlook that tackles Ryan Clady and Breno Giacomini and center Nick Mangold combined for only 20 starts, and were never all on the field together.

The Jets are followed closely by the Saints at 21, though in this case that's probably over-rating the instability of the line in New Orleans. Center Max Unger, right guard Jahri Evans, and right tackle Zach Strief missed just one start between them. Left tackle Terron Armstead, though, started only seven games, and the Saints never quite figured out what they wanted to do in his absence. Senio Kelemete started two games at left tackle and seven at left guard, while Andrus Peat started seven games at left tackle and eight more at left guard. That includes six games where Peat was at tackle and Kelemete was at guard, and two games where they switched spots. Moving guys from the bench to the field and back probably didn't help things in New Orleans, but at least it was usually the same two guys going back and forth and not a never-ending parade of new faces.

Our bottom five is rounded out by Arizona, Minnesota, and Cleveland. The Cardinals started five different players at right guard alone in 2016 (insert joke about Cleveland quarterbacks or Spinal Tap drummers here), and it's very unclear who will be playing there this fall. Speaking of Cleveland, there is a reason the Browns gave Kevin Zeitler and J.C. Tretter a combined $29.5 million in free agency. As for Minnesota, they were the anti-New England. The only team to post a perfect continuity score in 2015, they dropped 25 points (tied with the 2014 Bears for the biggest decline in our files) in 2016. Injuries to starting tackles Matt Kalil and Andre Smith left Minnesota scrambling to fill holes all year, with T.J. Clemmings starting at both tackle spots, Jeremiah Sirles starting at both right tackle and left guard, and Joe Berger starting at center plus both guard spots. (Let's not forget that Minnesota's perfect continuity score in 2015 does not mean they had perfect health. Starters Phil Loadholt and John Sullivan went down for the year in the preseason, with backups Mike Harris and Clemmings going the whole season in their places.

The following table shows offensive line continuity numbers for all 32 teams in 2016. As the supply of offensive line continuity around the league goes down, it's value goes up. Exactly half the NFL's teams had a continuity score of 30 or higher, and nine of those teams made the playoffs. However, only three of the 16 teams with continuity scores worse than 30 qualified for the postseason.

Offensive Line Continuity Scores, 2016
Team Continuity Score Number of Starters Line Changes Longest Stretch 2015 Continuity Score Change
ATL 48 5 0 16 36 12
NE 38 7 3 11 15 23
CIN 38 8 3 12 36 2
SD 37 6 4 10 22 15
DAL 37 9 3 12 34 3
TEN 33 7 3 6 24 9
GB 33 8 4 8 28 5
KC 32 8 5 8 22 10
TB 32 9 5 9 25 7
BUF 32 7 4 6 26 6
DEN 32 6 4 5 32 0
SF 32 9 4 8 35 -3
OAK 31 7 7 8 33 -2
PIT 31 7 5 6 39 -8
DET 30 7 5 5 26 4
NYG 30 8 6 7 28 2
Team Continuity Score Number of Starters Line Changes Longest Stretch 2015 Continuity Score Change
HOU 29 7 7 6 24 5
LARM 29 7 6 5 25 4
CHI 29 8 6 6 26 3
SEA 28 8 5 4 30 -2
WAS 28 9 5 5 34 -6
JAC 28 9 7 7 41 -13
BAL 27 9 7 6 25 2
CAR 27 9 6 5 34 -7
PHI 26 8 8 5 34 -8
MIA 25 10 7 5 33 -8
IND 24 9 8 4 26 -2
CLE 23 10 8 4 35 -12
MIN 23 9 8 3 48 -25
ARI 22 10 8 3 32 -10
NO 21 7 11 2 25 -4
NYJ 20 10 11 4 35 -15

Posted by: Vincent Verhei on 05 Apr 2017

12 comments, Last at 11 Apr 2017, 9:33pm by Bobman

Comments

1
by jtr :: Wed, 04/05/2017 - 2:18pm

The Jets had problems on the offensive line? You don't say.

http://www.buzzchomp.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/BrycePettyPancake.jp...

4
by mehllageman56 :: Wed, 04/05/2017 - 2:46pm

I should send that link to Josh McCown, so he can retire safely and the Jets can get their 6 million dollars back. Granted, stats like this change from year to year, but the draft is really weak on offensive tackles this year. They might get a solid center, but the tackles are still going to be a problem.

5
by jtr :: Wed, 04/05/2017 - 2:59pm

What really gets me about that picture is that the offensive tackles aren't even in the frame. They got beat so bad that they're YARDS away from the guys they're supposed to be blocking.
And McCown certainly hasn't had much of a preservation instinct lately, following up two years on the Browns with a season as the prospective starter for a Jets team that just won 5 games. The man really needed to find a cushy backup job to ease himself into retirement this year, even if it meant only making $3M instead of $6M this year.

10
by mehllageman56 :: Thu, 04/06/2017 - 5:50pm

Yeah, the Jets should have signed Kaepernick because he could at least run for his life fairly well. By the way, the reason the tackles weren't in the photo was that the center snapped the ball early. Everyone on the offensive line was beat badly on that play. And the Jets cut Mangold, and will be starting Wesley Johnson this year. Wesley Johnson, the guy who snapped the ball early on that play.

2
by ammek :: Wed, 04/05/2017 - 2:21pm

Interesting as always.

It would be really useful to see Adjusted Games Lost by the offensive line in tandem with these numbers. That would help separate out the teams who chopped and changed through necessity from those that were scratching about for a formula to avoid getting their quarterback killed.

3
by mehllageman56 :: Wed, 04/05/2017 - 2:44pm

Then there are the teams, like the Jets, who accomplished both.

6
by Vincent Verhei :: Wed, 04/05/2017 - 3:09pm

AGL is coming soon!

7
by Raiderfan :: Wed, 04/05/2017 - 3:42pm

What I find Impressive about NE in this regard is not what they did this year, but that they made it to the AFCCG in 2015 (and came close to winning it) with a score of 15.
Obviously, Belicheck cheated.

8
by serutan :: Wed, 04/05/2017 - 3:52pm

Nah, more like none of the players wanted Darth Hoodie to walk up to them and
say "You have failed me for the last time."
______
Was wr

12
by Bobman :: Tue, 04/11/2017 - 9:33pm

I find your lack of sustainable health... disturbing.

Okay, now this Colts fan is just getting pissed off. My 15-year checklist: Better coach? Check. Better organization/strategy? Check. Better players? I'm not always sold on that, at ANY position except for Randy Moss in 2007. Better OL health? Lordy Jesus, check.

Kudos to the Pats' training staff. Somehow BB's effectiveness has rubbed off on you.

9
by Will Allen :: Wed, 04/05/2017 - 6:03pm

I think the Vikings continuity score (if taken as a proxy for health) is overstated, as bad as it was, because Mike Harris (who actually started every game in 2015, contrary to what you seem to be saying) was thought to be their likely starter at rg in 2016 as late as July, and never saw the field. In 2015, they had an overstated continuity (if taken as a proxy for health) as well,because, as you note, Loadholdt and Sullivan went down in August. Joe Berger replaced Sullivan in 2015, and,as you note, Clemmings replaced Loadholdt. I'm surprised that they have not yet announced Clemmings' move to guard. He has no ability to operate in space, through two seasons.

When a team can't count on either tackle to stave off disaster, if asked, for even a few plays, to execute a pass blocking assignment unassisted, there really is nothing left for an o-coordinator to do. Ya' can't help out both guys and run an NFL offense.

11
by Aaron Schatz :: Sat, 04/08/2017 - 1:46pm

Right. It's an obvious (and probably unavoidable) weakness of OL continuity score that it doesn't do anything to measure changes in the offensive line between training camp and Week 1.