Analytics has been a big part of the NFL for many years. These stats and numbers are becoming more accessible to the public, so the arguments among the football community are borderline out of control. Quarterback wins. Running backs don’t matter—pass rush versus coverage. The list goes on, and on.
In October of 2018, ESPN introduced a new metric called “Pass Block Win Rate,” which measures the rate at which linemen can sustain their blocks for 2.5 seconds or longer. Recently, Eric Eager of Pro Football Focus wrote an in-depth article that is worth your time that discusses how pressure and sack rate are more of a function of the quarterback than it is the offensive line. Traditional thinking and most former linemen themselves will scoff at the idea when you mention anything that takes away the value of the offensive line.
This isn’t to completely diminish the offensive line. They matter. They have to, especially pass blocking. This is more about how we reference stats. If you combine PFF’s grades with ESPN’s PBWR, you can get a pretty good idea for who had a dominant offensive line in 2018. Unsurprisingly, the Packers, Browns, Bears, Chiefs, Patriots, and Rams were in the upper echelon.
The simplest way to put it is to imagine every offensive line had the same pass blocking ability. Then imagine every quarterback has the same ability to avoid pressure. In the case of the former, you can still observe differences in pressure rate among teams. Whereas the latter, you’d observe smaller differences.
Every Sunday you’ll hear the announcer say “the offensive line played great today, they didn’t allow a single sack.” It drives me insane. Do you think the Patriots let their starting left tackle walk two years in a row because Tom Brady is the key to avoiding sacks or it’s the offensive line? In 2018, only Andrew Luck had less time to throw the ball than Brady, using PFF’s time to throw stats. If you reference Football Outsiders adjusted sack rate, The Patriots and the Colts were first and second. It’s on the quarterback.
Then there is the opposite end of the spectrum, the Seattle Seahawks. Objectively, Russell Wilson is a great quarterback. Objectively, he runs into quite a bit of sacks. Over and over, you will hear about how bad Seattle’s line is. Both of these can be true.
Enter Jimmy Garoppolo.
Again, referencing the adjusted sack rate, and the 49ers were one of 22nd in 2018. The offense had the ninth-most sacks. PFF credited the quarterbacks being responsible for eight of the 31 sacks. So, in 501 dropbacks, Nick Mullens was responsible for three sacks, while Joe Staley surrendered four in 1,005 snaps.
Garoppolo will need to be decisive in 2019. With a heavy play-action scheme, you’d expect that and his quick release to will be able to keep the 49ers in good situations, and ahead of the chains. We had some fun talking about his interceptions in practice on Wednesday, but Garoppolo’s timing and understanding of the offense should go along way, and ultimately be the reason the Niners are successful. George Kittle said it himself, “the ball is always on time with Jimmy.”
One thing that I will keep an eye on closely this season is how Garoppolo is helping out the offensive line. It can be as simple as throwing the ball away, or as extreme as avoiding a defender and making a play to keep a drive alive. Jimmy G can maneuver around the pocket. His athleticism is underrated. Seeing Garoppolo elevate talent around him for a full-season, including the offensive line, will let us know if the team has their franchise quarterback.