Does Offensive Line Matter: Part 2

In a recent Deep Dive, we looked into the effect of Offensive Line. The testing was pretty thorough on the passing side and showed how important a good line is for giving you more time in the passing game. However, the testing didn't show much of an effect on the running game, but it's quite possibly due to one minor problem: I'm an idiot.

There were two issues with the rushing testing:

  1. The sample size was too small
  2. I only ran up the middle

Number 2 is the most glaring Madden-related oversight since, well...since two weeks ago when EA released a game that actually lets you know whether your opponent is running or passing. Consider this post our version of a game patch. Here's what I did in Round 2:

Setting Up the Test

I used the custom rosters from Part 1 with updates to the following attributes for the Offensive Line:

  • Strength
  • Awareness
  • Pass Block
  • Run Block
  • Impact Block

Each lineman had 70, 80, 90, or 99 in each of the above traits. I used the Eagles, so for example, there'd be one roster where Jason Peters and crew each had 70 STR, 70, AWR, 70 PBK, 70 RBK, and 70 IBK. I didn't change any of their other traits.

All practice mode plays were run against the Houston Texans in All-Pro calling Cover 3 Sky. I wanted to play against a team that has a solid line along with one elite player to see how he handled each tier of OL. 

All told, I logged 1,040 rushing attempts from Ryan Mathews behind the various offensive lines. I snapped the ball, let the CPU do all of the running, logged how many yards he got, then cried when I realized how I was using my time. I'm all out of tears, so let's dive into the numbers!

The best blocking Ryan Mathews will have all season

The best blocking Ryan Mathews will have all season

Running, Running as Fast as We Can

This time I tried to get a wide variety of running plays: HB Dive, Inside Zone, HB Toss (strong side), HB Toss (weak side), Stretch (strong side), Stretch (weak side), and HB Draw. I did 40 carries for each play against each different tier of Offensive Line. I feel confident this time around that every type of run was covered, and I feel confident in my findings regarding offensive line. And as my mother used to tell me growing up: confidence is all that matters and I love you no matter what the girls at school say. 

First, let's combine every type of run and see how well our running back did behind each offensive line. 

Percentage of Carries Resulting in Yards Gained

If you are thinking, "Hey, Dan, you dummy, your data entry is atrocious. You accidentally entered the same data for every level of offensive line," first of all, that's rude. Second, you are actually kind of right. It's hard to tell based on the total yards how good the offensive line actually was. Here are the actual numbers for those of you who hate pretty graphs:

<0 yds 3+ yds 5+ yds 8+ yds 10+ yds
70 19% 67% 52% 28% 22%
80 13% 70% 57% 31% 22%
90 12% 71% 55% 32% 21%
99 15% 68% 53% 33% 22%

There are slight increases in a couple of categories and random jumps in others, but the 99 everything offensive line performs pretty much the same as the 70 everything line, and this is with 260 carries for each. Based on these numbers, offensive line doesn't seem to matter at all for running the ball. But perhaps this isn't the case if we break out the numbers by formation or by play or even by direction? Let's see.

By Formation

I ran plays out of three different formation types: Single Back, Shotgun, and I-Form. As you can see below, there is seemingly no difference for single back runs, and the shotgun and I-Form runs both follow a similar pattern: A bump from 70 to 80, then a dip back down for 90 and 99.  Here are the yards per carry in each formation from each OL tier and then the yardage breakdown for each group as well.

70 80 90 99 OVR
Single Back 8.8 8.9 9.0 8.7 8.9
Gun 5.3 6.3 5.8 5.6 5.7
I-Form 2.8 4.3 3.7 3.9 3.7

Single Back

<0 yds 3+ yds 5+ yds 8+ yds 10+ yds
70 11% 83% 75% 51% 43%
80 12% 84% 73% 48% 39%
90 12% 83% 78% 56% 41%
99 13% 79% 74% 53% 40%

Gun

<0 yds 3+ yds 5+ yds 8+ yds 10+ yds
70 17% 67% 53% 20% 8%
80 5% 77% 62% 30% 13%
90 2% 83% 65% 22% 8%
99 15% 77% 57% 28% 12%

I-Form

<0 yds 3+ yds 5+ yds 8+ yds 10+ yds
70 28% 50% 27% 10% 9%
80 19% 52% 37% 14% 11%
90 19% 52% 25% 15% 9%
99 17% 51% 31% 17% 10%

There is really no difference in the Single Back runs, and the 99 line looks like it's actually the worst of the group, getting stuffed behind the line more and picking up big gains less often.

Shotgun looks the most promising as you can see a huge chunk of carries getting dropped for negative yards for the 70 line, and numbers improving as the lines get better...until...the 99 line comes in and wets the bed. Again.

I-Form runs feel about the same as the Single Back group, with the only difference being the running back getting stopped before the line of scrimmage almost 1/3 of the time with the 70 OL, but it performs admirably when the back picks up positive yards.

"Don't come any closer!"

"Don't come any closer!"

By Play

Breaking the runs down by formation type didn't show much, and it's hard to feel good about good offensive linemen when breaking it down by play type. HB Toss to the weak side, HB dives, and HB draws seem to show the biggest difference, but the only thing that really stands out from this data is how good the Stretch run is (but if you've played even a single game online, you probably know that already). EA claimed they toned down the stretch in their latest update, but I still picked up 11 1/2 yards per carry with a 70 OVR offensive line without even touching the sticks. 

70 80 90 99 OVR
HB Dive 8.9 8.4 7.8 9.9 8.8
Inside Zone 6.5 7.6 8.2 7.0 7.3
HB Toss Strong 3.5 5.8 2.4 3.2 3.7
HB Toss Weak 1.2 1.8 1.3 3.0 1.8
Stretch Strong 11.6 13.3 11.3 11.1 11.8
Stretch Weak 5.8 4.9 7.5 5.8 6.0
HB Draw 3.9 4.9 6.1 5.1 5.0

There were times going through the data where I got excited. I would think: "Here we go! The numbers are forming a pattern! EA Developers didn't completely drop the ball on offensive line!" And then I played with the 99 line and crashed back to reality. The HB Draw sample is a perfect example of this:

<0 yds 3+ yds 5+ yds 8+ yds 10+ yds
70 HB Draw 25% 53% 48% 13% 3%
80 HB Draw 8% 68% 60% 25% 10%
90 HB Draw 3% 80% 73% 28% 8%
99 HB Draw 23% 65% 58% 25% 10%

As the offensive line gets better, the running back picks up more yards. A novel concept! And then, behind an offensive line with 99 strength, 99 awareness, and 99 run block, the numbers come crashing back down to mediocrity. This is a common theme across this testing: The best possible offensive line almost always under-performs. Why is this? Are they too good? Is their AI too advanced so they are switching assignments before a guy is blocked completely out of the play? Or does the rating just not matter?

Just to reiterate how good the Stretch run is, take a look at the chart below. Picking up 5+ yards 96% of the time! Picking up 8+ yards 68% of the time! Picking up 10+ yards half of the time! Another sentence with an exclamation point!

<0 yds 3+ yds 5+ yds 8+ yds 10+ yds 15+ yds 20+ yds
70 3% 98% 98% 65% 50% 33% 10%
80 3% 98% 95% 78% 55% 38% 25%
90 3% 98% 98% 65% 48% 35% 10%
99 5% 93% 93% 63% 43% 30% 15%
JJ Watt likes the smell of his shoulder pad.

JJ Watt likes the smell of his shoulder pad.

Inside / Outside

Sigh. I'm starting to think I'm going insane. OL seems to affect inside runs, but the 99 line performs worse than the 80 line, and the worst offensive line performs the best for outside runs. 

70 80 90 99 OVR
Inside 5.9 6.6 7.3 6.8 6.7
Outside 5.5 6.4 5.6 5.8 5.8

Inside Runs

<0 yds 3+ yds 5+ yds 8+ yds 10+ yds
70 16% 63% 48% 27% 17%
80 5% 76% 62% 30% 20%
90 3% 81% 64% 31% 20%
99 11% 78% 59% 35% 19%

Outside Runs

<0 yds 3+ yds 5+ yds 8+ yds 10+ yds
70 21% 69% 54% 29% 25%
80 18% 66% 53% 31% 24%
90 18% 65% 49% 33% 22%
99 18% 61% 50% 33% 24%

Does Offensive Line Matter for Rushing the Ball?

Maybe? Sometimes? Possibly? Probably not? There are a lot of data sets here where you could argue that it's not great for you to have the worst possible starting offensive line because your runs will get stuffed behind the line more often and you generally won't pick up as many yards. But there are just as many that make the ratings appear irrelevant. Here are the final totals for each tier:

Att Yds Avg TD
70 260 1477 5.68 9
80 260 1692 6.51 15
90 260 1621 6.23 11
99 260 1601 6.16 10

The conclusion from Part 1 was that a good offensive line definitely matters for the passing game, and that kind of matters in the running game. The numbers here didn't really change that conclusion much. It looks like you're better off not playing scrubs from free agency, but I wouldn't recommend you spend any time trying to develop your offensive line's run blocking. (Not like that's possible anyway considering how absurdly expensive run blocking is this year. But we'll save that for another deep dive.)

Dan Chancellor

Orlando, Florida

I created Deep Dive Gaming as an excuse to post more charts about the games I love to play. I live in Florida with my wife, son, and a random assortment of cats.