One of the difficulties of evaluating a team’s rushing attack is trying to separate how much responsibility the running back, the offensive line, and other factors all deserve in a team’s failures or successes.
That has led to a dispute at times this offseason between the average Colts fan (who look at Frank Gore’s 1,000 yard season and think he was good) and those who look at advanced metrics (who suggest that Gore was not that good based on those metrics).
Pro Football Focus recently tweeted out a very interesting metric that contributes to that discussion: the Colts were one of just three teams to generate more than half of their rushing yards before contact, and in fact they led the league in that area.
Only 3 offensive lines created more than half their team's rushing yards before contact: Colts, Bills, and Titans pic.twitter.com/t563DD7Lom— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) June 14, 2017
So in a general sense, the Colts’ offensive line was responsible for over half of the Colts’ rushing yards this year. Sure, there were probably times where Gore took the right hole and that gained him a couple extra yards before contact, but the general sense is that the Colts’ line did their job. And here’s what’s particularly interesting: the Bills ranked first in the NFL in rushing yards last year and the Titans ranked third. The Colts? 23rd. So two of these three teams were among the league’s best rushing attacks, but the Colts were below-average despite having the highest percentage of yardage generated before contact.
This seems to suggest that the Colts were actually pretty good at run blocking last year, and that’s the same thing that Football Outsiders’ metrics seemed to hint at too. According to their numbers, the Colts led the NFL with the lowest percentage of runs stuffed (13%), were first in adjusted line yards up the middle (4.95), and were tied for third in adjusted line yards period (4.33). The adjusted line yards are an attempt to measure how much an offensive line contributed in the area of run blocking. On the flip side, they noted that the Colts ranked 26th in running back yards (3.81) and dead last in open field yards (0.26). In their explanation of these stats, they wrote: “A team with a high ranking in Adjusted Line Yards but a low ranking in Open Field Yards is heavily dependent on its offensive line to make the running game work.”
So here’s all of that put together in summation: no matter what you think of Frank Gore at this point in his career, it seems that the Colts’ offensive line was actually quite good at run blocking last year and played a huge role in any success the team did have in that area. That’s the primary reason Colts fans can have confidence in their offensive line moving forward, as even though the pass protection still needs quite a bit of work, the run protection seems to be coming together very nicely.