By Cold, Hard Football Facts contributor Jonathan Comey
The Jets shocked many of us on Planet Pigskin when they passed up quarterbacks Matt Leinart and Jay Cutler in favor of tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson with the No. 4 pick in the 2006 draft.
We expected diehard Jets fans to rain down their displeasure from the rafters of Radio City Music Hall. After all, the draft takes place in the heart of Jets country and the team's fans are normally out in full force.
But they didn't. In fact, Gang Green seemed excited by the prospects of an improved offensive line – even though it meant bypassing super-hyped Heisman-winning quarterback Leinart and putting the season once again on the fragile shoulders of Chad Pennington. The Jets then added another offensive lineman, Ohio State center Nick Mangold, later in the round. Still, fans barely raised a peep.
What happened? Shouldn't they have been out for blood? Are Jets fans turning soft?
We don't think so. In fact, we believe Jets fans had studied their Cold, Hard Football Facts and were fully aware that their team had the worst offensive line in football last year.
We know the Jets had the worst offensive line in football, thanks to our newest "Stat That Matters," the Hog Index. (Look for this measure of offensive line play in our Quality Stats section throughout the season.)
Offensive line play isn't easy to figure because linemen don't score touchdowns, throw passes or record tackles, sacks or interceptions. Instead, they eat prodigious amounts of food, sweat like dirty animals and then anonymously attempt to move as a unified group and clear a path through the mountain of humanity that passes for the opposing defense.
How do you put a number on that?
Well, we've done it.
You could certainly argue that the performance of the O-line is the single most important factor in offensive success – more important than Big Name quarterbacks and ballcarriers. Clinton Portis would surely agree. He averaged 5.5 yards a carry each of his two years in Denver. He slipped to 3.8 and 4.3 yards per carry during his last two years in Washington.
Did Portis get slower? Dumber? Did he pick up a debilitating disease from a toilet seat at Reagan International? No. The Broncos had a better offensive line. Period. And as aging-before-our-eyes Brett Favre found last year, if the offensive line isn't doing its job, even John Madden runs out of nice things to say about you.
We defined three major responsibilities for the offensive line:
  • opening holes for the ground game
  • protecting the quarterback
  • dominating time of possession
A team with a good offensive line is going to do all three of those things well.
So we ranked each team in three categories that correspond directly to these responsibilities:
Yards per rush. Any team can hand it off 40 times a game and amass yards, but that doesn't mean the line is opening holes. Yards per carry, however, is a solid indicator of the job an offensive line is doing to clear a path for its ballcarriers.
Total sacks + interceptions. Quarterbacks with poor pass protection are more likely to be sacked. They're also more likely to be forced into making bad passes – passes that result in interceptions. We count both sacks and INTs as a measure of the overall quality of pass protection.
Time of possession. Keeping the offense on the field is like having an extra defensive back in the lineup who goes unnoticed by the refs. Time of possession can be a huge benefit to a team, and it's typically earned up front by the offensive line. Like the talking heads always say, the best defense is a good offense. Hey, even the "pundits" are right once in a while.
We could have included Pro Bowl nominations in the mix, but it's fairly obvious every time Larry Allen goes to Hawaii that the Pro Bowl selection process is shockingly flawed.
Whichever team has the best average ranking in the three categories has the best offensive line. We call it the "Hog Index," because here at Cold, Hard Football Facts, we know a thing or two about pork – and we've always got your back if you need protection.
On to the rankings. Or, as they say at Arkansas games, "whoo, pig, sooo-eeeee!"
INTs + Sacks
Avg. Rank
4.68 (4)
30 (1)
32:37 (1)
Kansas City
4.58 (5)
42 (6t)
32:09 (3)
4.16 (10)
42 (6t)
31:33 (5t)
4.16 (9)
35 (3)
30:52 (10)
San Diego
4.46 (6)
47 (15)
31:34 (4)
4.73 (2)
37 (4)
29:17 (21)
N.Y. Giants
4.71 (3)
45 (11t)
30:26 (15)
3.80 (20)
38 (5)
31:33 (5t)
4.05 (12)
46 (13t)
31:16 (8)
4.79 (1)
52 (17)
29:58 (20)
3.84 (19)
45 (11t)
31:13 (9)
3.44 (29)
44 (10)
30:48 (11)
3.66 (24)
31 (2)
30:22 (16t)
4.27 (8)
42 (6t)
27:25 (30)
4.30 (7)
46 (13t)
28:41 (25)
Tampa Bay
4.00 (14)
55 (18)
30:45 (13)
New Orleans
3.99 (15)
65 (25)
30:32 (14)
3.57 (26)
67 (27)
32:24 (2)
New England
3.41 (30)
43 (9)
30:19 (18)
Green Bay
3.40 (31)
57 (19)
30:48 (11t)
St. Louis
4.04 (13)
70 (30t)
30:14 (19)
3.64 (25)
49 (16)
29:13 (22)
3.78 (22)
63 (23t)
28:00 (29)
3.92 (17)
62 (22)
28:22 (26)
3.16 (32)
66 (26)
31:20 (7)
3.75 (23)
59 (20t)
29:04 (23)
3.55 (27)
63 (23t)
30:22 (16t)
3.79 (21)
59 (20t)
28:07 (28)
4.16 (11)
81 (32)
28:10 (27)
3.85 (18)
70 (30t)
28:46 (24)
San Francisco
3.95 (16)
69 (29)
27:18 (31)
N.Y. Jets
3.45 (28)
68 (28)
26:37 (32)
It comes as no surprise that Denver had the best offensive line in 2005, after the Broncos cruised to a 13-3 record despite playing with no dominant running back, a 35-year-old No. 1 receiver (Rod Smith) and a historically questionable QB (Jake Plummer). Plummer gave the ball away like Halloween candy in Arizona (114 INTs in 6 seasons). He has tossed just 34 INTs in three years playing behind the formidable Denver offensive line.
Denver was No. 1 in time of possession (32:37 per game), No. 1 in QB protection (21 sacks + 8 picks) and No. 4 in yards per carry (4.68). In other words, they were blowing people away.
Yes, the Broncos' offensive line is a freak of nature. It's dominance in the Mike Shanahan Era has been well-documented by the Cold, Hard Football Facts and others. The classic line is that John Elway never won it all until Terrell Davis showed up, but maybe Shanahan deserves more credit.
As for the Jets, the loss of Chad Pennington surely hurt them in 2005, but that didn't account for Curtis Martin's sudden inablitity to get past the line of scrimmage. He averaged a career-low 3.3 yards per carry last season. More likely, it was center Kevin Mawae's 10-week absence due to injury. As a result, the Jets averaged 3.5 yards a carry (28th), allowed 54 sacks + 15 picks (28th) and were dead last in time of possession (26:37).
Their ranking was especially terrible considering the fact that the Jets actually ranked FIRST in offensive line play in 2004 according to our formula. When things go from penthouse to outhouse that fast, drafting for the offensive line makes a lot of sense.