From the FanPosts. -Chris
As promised, this is the sequel to Part 1 and will hopefully shine a little more light on the future of Larry Johnson and the Chiefs. I'm going to be considering just how much LJ can blame our O-line the last few years, what other backs have been able to do behind statistically-worse trenches as well as try to answer some of the questions presented in the Comments from Part 1. If you missed Part 1, go read it first, some key terms that I'll be using here are explained there and none of this post will make sense without at least partially grasping DYAR, DVOA, etc... There are several new terms as well that are related to the evaluation of the offensive line so it's important that you take a few minutes to make sure you've got it all straight before reading further if you want to avoid being epically confused.
First thing's first: terminology. In the process of evaluating an offensive line's performance is an awkward job, one made even more complicated when trying to massage extra information about what went on in the backfield and how much of a RB's success (or failure) can be attributed to his line and how much to the RB's ability.
In order to do so we've got to create some new stat categories that can give us a more accurate means of assessing the responsibility (in terms of blocking) for each of the 5-7 linemen leading the way on a rush. Things like pulls and WR-blocks are particularly troublesome for our stats but the following terms should help this all make much more sense.
Adjusted Line Yards - All numbers in the ALY category have been normalized so that all Adjusted Line Yards per carry is equal to the average YPC for RBs during the current or most recent season. That puts the "base" or "default" at 4.08 ALY, remember this number!
All other categories are unadjusted. They do, however, still need to be explained because they're not completely conventional statistics either:
RB Yards: literally, what it sounds like; easiest one of the four to remember... because it's nothing but yards from scrimmage for all RBs on the roster (doesn't include WR's or QB's, not even if you're Michael Vick).
Power Success: Percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown. Also includes runs on first-and-goal or second-and-goal from the two-yard line or closer. This is the only statistic on this page that includes quarterbacks.
10+ yard carries: Percentage of a team's rushing yards more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. Represents yardage not reflected in Adjusted Line Yards.
Stuffed: Percentage of runs that result in (on first down) zero or negative gain or (on second through fourth down) less than one-fourth the yards needed for another first down. Since being stuffed is bad, teams are ranked from stuffed least often (#1) to most often (#32).
Alright, now that that's all out of the way, we can get on to the interesting bits. We'll start with ALY and work our way across the chart below.
I included the teams I did for a specific reason. Both Arizona and Pittsburgh made it to the Super Bowl despite numbers on par, if not worse than, KC's for 2008. St. Louis made the list because their 2008 campaign was similarly disastrous in a lot of ways to the one we all witnessed last year from the Chiefs despite having a dominant, game-changing RB in Steven Jackson. The Donkeys and the Pats (neither of those teams could have anything to do with us could they?) are mentioned to show where the top of the league was this year and put it all into a little better perspective.
In 2008, KC rolled out an ALY of 3.99 yards per carry. What that means is that compared to the league average RB ypc, our offensive line was generally responsible for making 3.99 yards of that happen. We could expect this number to rise drastically in the presence of a bulldozer like The Bus or LenDale White who can expect to see fewer carries that make it 10 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage (LOS) but are able to more consistently hammer out short yardage (this typically only holds true when said Bus is the workhorse, getting 20+ carries a game every week).
Moving on, we'll skip over RB Yards because they're largely irrelevant until we look at comparing LT, LJ, Jackson, Charles, Smith, Parker, and Moore later on. For now we'll move straight on to Power Success (PS). If you remember the explanation of PS from earlier, you'll recognize that when trying, from less than 2 yards out, to keep a drive going or score, we've only got a 58% chance of converting. For comparison, in 2006 we posted a whopping 74%, good for 2nd in the league (and also the last time Larry was a legitimate top 40 RB in regards to his overall value to the team).
In 08 the Chiefs somehow managed to be the 3rd most likely team to bust off a run of 10 or more yards. That means that of every 100 rushes, regardless of the back carrying it, ~25 of them will break for a double-digit gain. What this does is skew things like YPC, and yards from scrimmage but helps clarify the ALY. It sounds great to say that 25% of our carries this year ended up going for more than 10 years... right up until you pair that with a 24% Stuff rate. By being 18th in the league (lower numbers are better in this category for offense) here we managed to negate the benefit we should get from LJ's predictability.
Why? Because what the 10+ tells us, when paired with our 3.99 ALY, is that what production we did get on the ground last year, a lot of it was due to our backs being able to get into space and turn on the burners. Larry's inability to catch/block actually hurts us more than I previously thought by convincing DC's they can shove 7, 8, and 9 men down in the box whenever he's in the game. What that does is mean that every rush by #27 is essentially all-or-nothing.
The way we can see that from these numbers is by looking at our ALY in the context of that 4.08 number we talked about earlier. The fact that there is a -0.9 (the negative part is important) difference shows us that our RBs deserve just over half the credit for their performances last year, the rest was dependent on the blocking of our line. An easier way to remember this is that higher ALY's mean more Line responsibility than RB and vice versa, the smaller the difference between base (4.08) and your ALY, the more evenly distributed the responsibility for rush yards/TDs. Now, factor in that 25% of our carries were 10+ yards, for which the Oline gets no credit, and our abysmal showing in Offensive Efficiency (OE) comes into focus.
DVOA takes every single play during the NFL season and compares each one to a league-average baseline based on situation. DVOA measures not just yardage, but yardage towards a first down: five yards on third-and-4 are worth more than five yards on first-and-10 and much more than five yards on third-and-12. Red zone plays are worth more than other plays. Performance is also adjusted for the quality of the opponent. DVOA is a percentage, so a team with a DVOA of 10.0% is 10 percent better than the average team, and a quarterback with a DVOA of -20.0% is 20 percent worse than the average quarterback.
The above chart shows us that despite some of the misleading stats we talked about earlier, last year was worse than we thought for the offense. According to these numbers every time we handed the ball off last year we were seeing results that were an average of 5.2% worse, on a play-by-play scale, than the league baseline.
Now that the pertinent facts are on the table, what does the big picture look like? Well let's look at it this way, STL's offense was far worse than the Arrowspread in 2008. Despite that, though, Steven Jackson was still able to blow LJ out of the water in just about every category possible (DYAR is +100, DVOA is +10%, and EYds were nearly twice LJ's 500). The argument that Larry would still put up a Star season or two if he had our 2005 Oline is further decimated by the play of Pittsburgh and Arizona this past year. Both offensive lines performed worse than ours did in ALY (they get less credit for the run game as a result) and both used rookies extensively as well.
Mewelde Moore, playing behind an O-line with an identical ALY of 3.99 and only a 15% 10+ rating (compared to KC's 25%), was able to finish the season sitting awfully pretty at 6th place in both DVOA (14.3%) and SR (51%) as well as 14th in DYAR (135). Same amount of effective blocking from the O-line as KC, and 60% fewer double-digit gashes, all done by an unproven 4th rounder from Tulane that hadn't done much other than return kicks for the Vikings since entering the league in 2004. Willie Parker and Edge produced very similar numbers (I already addressed Hightower briefly in Part 1, posting his FO stats) to each other both sitting at 28 and 29 respectively in DYAR with James' 0.0% DVOA besting Parker by 12 places. While Parker dealt with a nagging injury much of last year, Edge is the better comparison of the two and even still, his season-record for attempts is 360, far shy of LJ's 416 (James has almost double LJ's career attempts though).
As confusing as all of this is (there's just too much information to really understand all of it even after spending hours-on-end analyzing the data sets) the bigger picture is coming into focus. What it all boils down to is that other RB's in the league over the last few years (I don't feel like quoting the entirety of FO's website so you'll have to do a little research on your own if you don't want to take my word for it) have been able to consistently produce at a much higher level than Larry has been able to regardless of their team's overall offensive showing. Less blocking from linemen (reflected by ALY's) and fewer 10+ gains means that someone like Moore or Tim Hightower (who put up numbers ridiculously close to LJ's.... oh, and he got drafted in the 5th round of 2008 from Richmond of all places) were starting out behind the 8-ball and at least matched LJ's production, if not blowing it out of the water as Moore did.
Ditching LJ sooner than later is what I'd recommend. He's become more of a liability than an asset to our offense since 2006 and doesn't show any sign of returning to form in the future. He's not value-less to the league, but the statistics make a damn strong argument for his being value-less to the Chiefs. Drafting someone like Javarris Williams, whom the Chiefs have shown interest in and has posted one of the best Speed Scores among RB's in this draft (which, history shows, is surprisingly accurate at predicting NFL success), in the mid-rounds would more than likely be ample compensation for losing LJ and would give us a Steamroller that's bigger than Kolby and almost as fast, compared to body weight, as Jamaal.
Hopefully these two posts have clarified how our offense, specifically the run game, functioned last year. I'm considering writing another article similar to this from the defensive side of things and see if I can get a better idea of where we fell down in 08 and what we did right. Any other topic suggestions (or specific questions about our defense you'd like to see me try and find an answer to in the next installment... within reason of course) or input is most certainly welcome. If you notice any errors or things I accidentally forgot, post it in the comments section and I'll either reply there or edit the article straight-up.
It's going to be a long holiday weekend so the analysis of 2008's D could very well be up by Sunday night, just don't hold me to it.