The Best Pass Blocking Line in Football (only not)

Hey Colts fans…

did you know that the Colts have the best pass blocking line in football? 

Reading that, 500 people just went Mama Cass on their ham sandwich.

A new statistical index just published claims exactly that very thing.

The index uses several stats to try and divine the quality of Oline play. The problem is that while some of them reveal SOMETHING about Oline play, most of them are indicators of quarterback play.

The New York Life Protection Index is calculated using a proprietary formula, the fundamentals are comprised of the length of a team’s pass attempts combined with penalties by offensive linemen, sacks allowed and quarterback hurries and knockdowns.

So the formula is YPA, sacks, hurries, knockdowns and penalties.  Two of those, YPA and sacks have something to do with the lines, but as we’ve demonstrated repeatedly, they say a lot more about the quarterback.  By this formula, the Colts have the best pass blocking line in football…by a lot.

Those of us who have watched the Colts line this year, know that this simply isn’t true.  I have argued loudly and repeatedly that the line is not nearly as bad as people think.  While it’s a horrid run blocking unit (one thing numbers and eyes can agree on!), it’s basically a mediocre pass blocking line, and certainly not much worse at pass blocking than it was in the past two years.  However, not even I will go so far as to declare them an elite unit at quarterback protection.

Measuring line play is tricky.  A great quarterback like Manning can perform magic with even a shaky line.  When we try to use stats to talk about pass blocking, we are not on solid ground.  Hurries and QB hits are certainly useful data, but sacks are notoriously deceiving.  It’s simply hard to grade someone whose job is to PREVENT something from happening.  Think about it, just because the QB gets a pass off, doesn’t mean the left tackle did his job.  Ultimately, we have to combine numbers with a ‘scouts eye’.  It’s not enough to just use your eyes.  Bad line play WILL show up somewhere on the stat sheet.  Part of the struggle for fans is that we don’t watch every line in the NFL.  We see Peyton Manning get hit, and it makes us mad.  We have no context for knowing whether he gets hit more or less often than other quarterbacks unless we look at numbers.

My impression of the Protection Index is that it is a noble but misguided attempt at grabbing the holy grail.  While it does suggest the Colts’ line isn’t the pass blocking disaster that some fans mistakenly think it is, what it really shows is that Peyton Manning is an incredible quarterback.

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