Is this year's offensive line as bad at pass protection as last year's?
That, my friends, is a serious question that should be pondered at this point because there is data coming through that suggests the offensive line the Miami Dolphins have been putting on the field at times this season has been just as bad blocking for quarterback Ryan Tannehill as last year's terrible unit.
Obviously, the statistic everyone knows as if by rote is that last year the Dolphins allowed an NFL leading 58 sacks. And advocates of the 2014 line would say sacks this year are down. The Dolphins have allowed 34 sacks this year and that suggests significant improvement, so end of discussion.
Let's look beyond the raw numbers.
This year's 34 sacks projects to 41 sacks allowed for the season. And yes, that is still way fewer sacks allowed. But now you have to understand why.
The fact of the matter is this year the Dolphins are allowing fewer sacks because, unlike last year, they have decided to throw fewer deep passes of 20 yards or more and almost none lately. Last year, even as the line was struggling, offensive coordinator Mike Sherman tried to continue running as much of his offense as possible and that included way more deep throws per game than what Bill Lazor is trying, which is almost none.
The numbers do not lie. Lazor's offense this season has attempted 33 passes of 20-plus yards -- an average of 2.5 per game. Sherman's offense last season attempted 58 passes of 20-plus yards -- an average of 3.6 per game
So the Dolphins are allowing exactly one less sack per game this year at a time they are trying about one less deep pass per game.
I don't think that is coincidental.
ProFootballFocus.com measures a QBs time in the pocket in their signature stats. In 2013 Tannehill had an average of 3.80 seconds from the time he got the ball until he was sacked. This year he has had an average of 3.22 seconds from the time he takes the snap to the time he takes a sack hit.
So last year's awful line was actually giving Tannehill more time to throw.
The resulting strategy is the reason last year the Dolphins were 22nd in the NFL in yards per pass attempt and this year they are 28th in yards per pass attempt. The actual difference between last year (6.74 yards per pass attempt) and this year (6.6) is nominal. But when you factor that most teams have had their YPPA go up due to the focus by officials on rules that prohibit contact beyond five yards, it is sobering that Miami's stat has gone down.
And the inability to block up front to get those passes completed downfield is the reason for the decline as the only difference from a year ago to this year is a change in strategy -- a strategy forged to help the offensive line.
Understand that none of this looks at run blocking. I think it is fair to say this line is run-blocking much better than last year's line.
But unfortunately for the Dolphins, they don't run enough to take significant advantage of that improvement and the NFL happens to be a passing league. So the focus is on this line's struggles protecting Tannehill.
It definitely is so after a game in which the Dolphins allowed six sacks.
Anyway, the folks at ProFootballFocus.com sent me their initial grades and views on the Dolphins loss to the Ravens. I added some of my own, as always.
The entire offensive line struggled (all graded -1.4 or lower), but the right side had the most trouble with Dallas Thomas and Mike Pouncey each allowing 5 pressures. The fact Thomas gave up so much pressure isn't a surprise. The fact Pouncey did is an eye-opener.
Let's face it, Pouncey played better at center the past couple of years than he has at right guard this year.
Brian Hartline wasn’t hampered by the knee he tweaked against the Jets. He played the second-most WR snaps and caught a TD pass: Mike Wallace played 51 of 63 snaps, Hartline played 46 of 63 snaps, Jarvis Landry played 42 of 63 snaps, Brandon Gibson played 25 of 63 snaps, and Rishard Matthews played 13 of 63 snaps.
Lamar Miller obviously had the most running back snaps with 37. He was followed by Daniel Thomas (14 snaps) and Damien Williams, who played a third-down role and had 12 snaps.
Tight end Charles Clay returned after missing two weeks with an ankle injury. He started, but Dion Sims wound up with more snaps, 44-31.
The Dolphins attempted only one pass attempt of 20-plus yards on Sunday. Ryan Tannehill went 4-of-7 for 70 yards in the 10-to-19-yard range.
And so what is the problem? Again, the offensive line does not afford Tannehill any time. And because that is true, the Dolphins have simply lost confidence in calling plays that require them to hold their blocks for any extended period of time.
There were 22 drop-backs in which Tannehill was under pressure. He took the six sacks and was 10-for-16 for 114 yards on the other drop-backs. So Tannehill can still complete passes under duress. But he cannot complete passes while under a mass of defensive linemen bodies.
Lamar Miller had success early running on the edges. Behind left tackle Ja'Wuan James and outward he had four carries for 25 yards. He carried only one behind right end for 11 yards.
Tannehill was able to take advantage of rookie C.J. Mosley in coverage, targeting receivers against him 14 times. They came up with 11 catches for 108 yards.
Despite being picked on this season, the Dolphins were only able to target Lardarius Webb in coverage once. That was a serious flaw in the Miami game plan or an oversight in the in-game play-calling. Webb struggled and the Dolphins failed to take advantage of a cornerback who has struggled all year.
The Dolphins allowed 183 rushing yards only a few days after giving up 277 rushing yards to the New York Jets. The only Dolphins defender who played well on run defense for the second straight week was defensive end Derrick Shelby (+2.2). He had three stops on 18 run snaps.
Philip Wheeler played his second-highest snap percentage of the season, and highest since Week 4 as the Ravens used two-TE and two-back personnel on the majority of the snaps he played.
Linebacker Jelani Jenkins played the first 43 snaps, but he sat out the final 22 snaps with a foot injury.
You remember that earlier paragraph about the Dolphins failing to target Webb? The Ravens did not commit the same mistake in failing to go after Dolphins cornerback R.J. Stanford.
Stanford was picked on mercilessly in coverage. He had an interception in the end zone so that was good. But he also allowed nine completions on 11 passes against him for 91 yards. He also got lost in the wash while chasing Steve Smith across the formation to give up a TD pass.
Wheeler was a liability in coverage also. He gave up two 20-plus-yard plays in coverage and 3-for-3 for 53 yards overall. On one of those long completions, Wheeler actually had decent coverage and could have limited the damage but he missed the tackle and gave up 12 more yards after the receiver shed his tackle attempt.
The Dolphins sent a blitz on 14 Joe Flacco dropbacks. So they recognized they weren't getting to him with a four-man rush and tried something else. Flacco threw his interception (by Stanford) on one of those blitzes. But besides that play, Flacco completed 9-of-13 for 70 yards and a score against the Miami blitz.