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Do the Jets have the worst offensive line in football?

New York Jets v Washington Redskins Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Anybody who has followed the Jets throughout this season knows that the offensive line has been a humongous detriment to the team. It is a unit that has not been prioritized in the draft for a very long time. The effect of that neglect shows in the form of an old and injury-plagued group that has rotated through countless ineffective lineups.

The offensive line’s ineptitude shows up clearly to anybody watching the games on TV or in person. That has been supported by some of the general numbers that are related to the offensive line. The Jets are 29th in rush offense DVOA despite having Le’Veon Bell playing at a quality level. They have allowed the league’s second-highest sack rate at 11.5 percent, a mark that is on track to be the worst in franchise history.

While the Jets offensive line has clearly been a liability, it feels like most fanbases view their team’s offensive line as an issue. Very few teams in the league have a group of five guys up front that they truly feel great about.

There seems to be an imbalance in the trenches right now, as the league is much more ripe with talent on the defensive side of the line than the offensive side. How many teams have an absolutely terrible defensive line? Not many. How many teams have an absolutely terrible offensive line? Plenty of teams see that unit as their primary concern.

So, I was curious to see where the much-maligned Jets offensive front ranks across the league.

I decided to pull together a multitude of offensive line metrics to get an estimation of how each team’s offensive line has performed this season.

Here are the metrics I used:

  • Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards per carry and adjusted sack rate (both metrics are found and explained here)
  • Pro Football Focus’ team pass blocking and run blocking grades
  • Yards before contact per carry
  • Pressure rate allowed and average time to throw

Teams were scored from zero to 10 in each category. The worst team in each area received a zero, the best team received a 10, and the other 30 teams were scored relative to those two based on their performance in that given metric.

This ranking is nothing scientific or exact, as none of these metrics come close to capturing the true performance level of an offensive line. There is far too much going on in the trenches that we simply do not have the data to account for at the present time. Without going back and analyzing every play with the human eye to figure out how much credit the line actually deserves, it is difficult to assign proper responsibility to individual linemen or entire offensive lines for the result of each play. These metrics do their best, but there are a lot of important actions on every play (both positive and negative) that are left unaccounted for by the numbers.

Even though it is far from perfect, the list presents an interesting take on where each offensive line stands. None of these metrics may be a reliable way to evaluate an offensive line entirely on their own, but when brought together, the picture becomes a bit clearer. If every metric says a team’s line is excellent, that is most likely the case. The same goes if every metric says a team’s line is bad.

Here are the results:

The Jets got an impressively accurate result, landing at 31st overall and also at 31st in both the pass and run facets. They scored slightly ahead of the tanking Miami Dolphins but miles behind any other team in the league. The gap between the Jets and the 30th-ranked Bengals is about equal to the gap between the 18th-ranked Texans and 4th-ranked Colts.

Here is where the Jets checked in across the board:

  • Pressure rate allowed and time to throw: 32nd (32nd in pressure rate, 43.3 percent, and 13th in average time from snap to pass, 2.6 seconds) ⁠— There is a strong correlation leaguewide between pressure rate and average time to throw. Teams that allow little pressure are expected to have a quick release time, and vice versa. The more time the ball spends in the quarterback’s hands, the more likely pressure occurs on that play. Since the Jets allowed the highest pressure rate, they would be expected to have the most time to throw. The Jets’ ranking of 13th in average time to throw, despite allowing the highest pressure rate, is brutal, landing them at the bottom of this category. ⁠— Score: 0.0
  • Yards before contact per carry: 32nd (1.1) The primary reason for Le’Veon Bell’s lack of production in spite of his solid evasiveness throughout the season. Score: 0.0
  • Pass block grade: 28th (58.0) I would probably rank the Jets lower, but this is a somewhat fair spot for the Jets in the pass blocking phase. Kelvin Beachum, Alex Lewis, and Chuma Edoga have had some strong stretches in pass protection, although the latter two have been struggling mightily over the past few games after hot starts. Score: 3.6
  • Run block grade: 25th (52.2) ⁠— The Jets should probably be last here, as run blocking has been the most consistently atrocious facet of the team. Nobody on offense has looked close to average as a run blocker, and that extends to the tight end position. I don’t see anybody who has been decent enough to pull the Jets up from 32nd here. Still, they deservedly score well below average. — Score: 2.9
  • Adjusted line yards per carry: 29th (3.61) ⁠— A high amount of runs for fewer than five yards lands the Jets low in this Football Outsiders stat. — Score: 1.7
  • Adjusted sack rate: 31st (11.1%) ⁠— The Jets’ real sack rate of 11.5 percent does not change much when adjusted for opponent quality and other situational factors. Luke Falk and Trevor Siemian make the Jets look substantially worse here, as they took an incredibly bad sack rate of 18.9 percent. Sam Darnold has been much better mitigating the pressure, taking a more feasible, but still poor rate of 8.6 percent. — Score: 1.4

Some takeaways:

  • The 8-2 Seahawks are the only team with a winning record in the bottom-10 ⁠— showcasing a huge reason why Russell Wilson’s MVP resumé is so strong. Wilson leads the NFL in passer rating, QBR, and touchdown passes behind that line, while throwing just two picks. Truly incredible. That insane production in spite of the situation, coupled with Seattle’s position as the only winning team with a bottom-10 line, makes Wilson’s MVP case perhaps the strongest in the league. Lamar Jackson, who has been spectacular in his own right, has had the luxury of playing with the second-ranked line on this list. Worth considering when having this debate.
  • Every one of the top 14 teams on this list have a .500 record or better, and I do not think this is an example of correlation failing to equal causation. There seems to be a real, strong relationship between winning and offensive line quality.

One stat that correlates with winning despite not directly causing it is total rushing yards. Teams that often hold leads late in games will run the ball more frequently to drain the clock, stacking rushing yards. Thus, winning teams reach the top of the rush yardage leaderboard, even if they do not actually have a high quality running game.

For example, 9-1 San Francisco is second in rushing yards per game, but their run game is not nearly as effective as that ranking suggests. They are currently placed 21st in rush offense DVOA and 23rd in rush offense EPA. The 49ers rank highly in rushing yards because they win, rather than the other way around. This is a scenario where correlation with winning does not equal causation.

I do not think that relationship exists with this list. Here, we are looking at data that attempts to evaluate the performance of one position while weeding out the effects of teammates and game scenarios. A line can score either positively or negatively in these metrics on a play that ends up having the opposite result for the team. Generally, they are not being credited or knocked for things out of their control.

On a list designed to rank solely the quality of offensive line play, the top tier is dominated by contenders. It just goes to show that offensive line performance truly is an extremely crucial part of winning football games ⁠— perhaps the most important factor.

Your offensive line plays well, and you compete. Plain and simple.

Hopefully that thought is the core of Joe Douglas’ philosophy as he builds the New York Jets.