Buccaneers: Testing Koetter’s Claim about the Offensive Line

TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 31: Head coach Dirk Koetter of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looks on from the sidelines during the first quarter of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints on December 31, 2017 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 31: Head coach Dirk Koetter of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looks on from the sidelines during the first quarter of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints on December 31, 2017 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images) /

Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter made a statement about his offensive line after the conclusion of the 2017 NFL Season. It caught many by surprise.

We touched on this on an episode of the PewterCast, and took a deeper look into the comments about the Buccaneers offensive line. Here are my findings.

Scoffed.  Derided.  Tsk’ed.  LOL’ed.

These are just some of the responses many fans had when they heard Dirk Koetter utter praise for the 2017 offensive line unit for the Buccaneers and even proclaimed them to be in the top half of the league in O-Lines.

Even a casual watcher could see the number times when they couldn’t hold their blocks sending Jameis Winston running for his life and think, “Boy, they aren’t very good, are they?”

The debate about Doug Martin‘s sub-par performance dragged on simply because there was always the excuse, “Well, the o-line isn’t blocking well, that’s why Martin isn’t running well.”  And it was hard to argue.

Let’s not even get started on the amount of completely blown assignments from the veteran guards, consisting of big time free agent JR Sweezy, who was supposed to bring a nastiness to this line that has been missing since Logan Mankins.  Not to mention whatever the heck with going on in the left guard spot with Evan Smith, no wait, Kevin Pamphile, no wait, Evan Smith, no wait, Kevin Pamphile, no wait….well, you get the idea.

Sure.  OK.  Demar Dotson was having a really good year on the right side until injury shunted him to IR.  Over on the left side, favorite whipping boy of Bucs fans, Donovan Smith gave his critics plenty of fodder, even landing him at number 25 in a field of 45 Left Tackles in 2017 that were ranked by bleacherreport.com.  They had this to say about him,

"Smith showed dominant flashes but rarely put it together on consecutive plays. There were times when he looked like he could one of the best in the league—then two plays later, one wonders where it went.  I have been hard on Donovan Smith in the past because I wanted more out of him, but his 2017 film shows he is working on his consistency."

In short, in 2017, the offensive line play was self-describing, offensive.  Yet, Head Coach Dirk Koetter had the gaul to look into a room and say,

"I know our O-Line is heavily criticized.  I think our o line is in the upper half of the league.  And I don’t know where the line is cause I can’t rank them all.  But when I’m looking at tape of other teams, I see some bad offensive line play.  Part of that is injuries…I think our Oline hung in there pretty good."

Putting the offensive line to the test.

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It’s easy to hear the words, “our o-line is in the upper half of the league”, and criticize Koetter for saying it after the season we just witnessed, but it does beg the question from any free thinking human, “Where exactly did our offensive line rank in the league?”

While this may seem easy to look up, there are several challenges to get a proper ranking of offensive lines.  Even Koetter himself said he didn’t know where the line would be.
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First, there’s the problem of objective data.  What are you going to use as objective data to rank offensive lines around the league?  Are you going to rank them according to sacks and QB pressures?  Are you going to rank them based on how many yards the ball was ran? Or perhaps some other statistic?

The obvious problem with that is that other players are involved.  The offensive line could be doing it’s job perfectly, but a bad play from a quarterback, wide receiver, or running back could reflect badly on them.  And vice versa.  Outstanding plays from those other positions can cover up a lot of poor offensive line play.  If only there was some way to mitigate those other factors and just focus on what the line actually did, play by play.

Second, there’s the problem of 256.  That’s how many games someone would have to watch to be able to accurately record the data from all 32 offensive lines playing 16 games each.  Not many people have that kind of time or gumption to do that.  If only there was someone who actually did that.  And then put the data out there people to review

Thankfully there is someone who does that.

Fortunately, there is an answer to both of these problems.  Is it a full proof, 100% way of ranking offensive lines around the league?  No.  It has its gaps.  But it is pretty darn good.  FootballOutsiders.com does keep track of what each line around the league is doing all year long and has some come up with a formula for mitigating both outstanding play and sub-par play from other positions to be able to actually look at the contribution of the offensive line to each team.  They call it their Adjusted Line Yards and Adjusted Line Sacks.  Basically it takes what happened on each play, and says regardless of what else happened, did the line do their job?

So, what happened with the Bucs offensive line?

As of January 1, 2018, when the final snaps of the 2017 season had finished, their season chart was complete.  So where did the Bucs offensive line rank in comparison to the rest of the league?

Sixteenth.  Sixteenth out of 32 teams.  Sixteenth in run blocking.  Sixteenth in pass protection.  Sixteenth, which to the dismay of many Bucs fans, squarely places the 2017 Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive line in the Top Half of the League.  Even if just barely.

An interesting sidenote, a blurb on their page admitting that their own system of calculating rank may be a bit skewed actually helps Koetter’s case.

"However, it is important to understand that these ratings only somewhat separate the offensive line from the running backs. A team with a very good running back will appear higher no matter how bad their line, and a team with a great line with appear lower if the running back is terrible."

Which also means that if you consider that the Buccaneers did not have very good running back play for most of the year, the offensive line could be actually ranked HIGHER than sixteenth.

Next: FA Possibilities From Divisional Round Losers

So What Does It All Mean?

In short, not much.  The truth is that both Bucs fans and Coach Koetter were right.  The offensive line play this year wasn’t very good at all.  Some might even say “atrocious” and could make a good case for it.  However, Coach Koetter was also right in that the Bucs offensive line was in the top half of the league.

But what does it really mean to be number 16 out of 32?  It means Bucs fans are not unreasonable to expect to see some changes heading into the 2018 season.  It means at best, they were mediocre. And mediocre does not win championships.

"Check out Brent discussing this and more on The PewterCast!"