Measuring the reliability of the OL

It is normal to measure how a product will operate or begin to fail if only for warranty purposes. After all, a product that does not work as it should will not sell very well or cause the manufacturer to spend lots of money on recalls or both.

Chrysler almost went bankrupt in the 80’s. At that time it was common for cars to have warranties for THREE years. They changed their warranties for FIVE years and started to sell a lot more cars. They changed their corporate fortunes significantly for another quarter century.

The most common and easiest way to measure the reliability of a product is to grade all its components and then multiply the individual components together. To capture a phrase from another company in a different industry Papa John – better ingredients equals better pizzas.

Yet, because the factors are multiplied together, their individual effect on each other is magnified. For example let us have a product with 5 components – say an OL.

Let us assume that the components are pretty good – let’s give them each an individual score of 90%. That sounds pretty good INDIVIDUALLY but their effects together can be devastating.

.9 x .9 x .9 x .9 x. 9 = .54049. This is failing as a UNIT.

If we upped each of their individual grades to .95 which is an A+

.95 x .95 x .95 x .95 x .95 = .7737808 for the unit, which translates as a C+. Think about that everyone individually has to be an A+ and the unit still is only average.

We have to get everyone to have an A++ score of 98% to get the entire unit a grade of A

.98 x .98 x .98 x .98 x .98 = .9039207 unit scores

For an OL to operate as a UNIT, then all their individuals have to have near perfect games. Their mistakes individually are among the most visible in the league. When an OL loses a block and the QB is sacked everyone knows. It is obvious who is off-sides, flinches, or misses the snap count. Everyone knows your name as their names are announced to the world for holding penalty.

For an offense with 50 plays that means that each player on the OL can only mess up one play each. Yet if they each mess up on different plays, that is 5 plays that are blown.

In a game of inches, a single play could be determinative. The most telling is that if only Dez had his hand a few inches differently, the team would be in the playoffs. I am sure that others can point out specific plays that made or broke the season.

Not every play is life or death. We get another chance on 2nd down and then 3rd down. Yet the probability of success decreases with each down. Woe to the team that has a player screw up negating an otherwise perfect play – the TD called back is the worst example.

For that reason, OL guys can be considered terrible even for average performance. Their impression is vivid and that sticks with the public. Costa and Bernie have gotten such reputations as terrible. Livings is clumped as bad even as he was at the 80th percentile of all guards.

Remember a single play by one individual can be devastating for a game and ultimately a season. Would you like your reputation to be so graded?


Teams will have injuries, but a team can only guess how many and at what position. Rosters should be built to have reasonable backups across the team.

Backups are supposed to be able to fill in for starters for brief periods of time. Yet they are backups for a reason. It is safe to say that their individual ratings will be lower than the starters. The backups to the backups are even lower. And given the limit to the number of players on a roster at any one time, choices have to be made.

Then throw in the salary caps and teams often do not have the full complement of backups. We were literally signing players off the street last year. On the OL we brought back Dockery as he understood his role on the team. Yet any game with Dockery meant that better options were not available.

We had major injuries to our starter and primary backup at center. We played most of the season with a THIRD STRING center.

Cook did credibly well INDIVIDUALLY. Yet his effect on the rest of the UNIT was noticeable. Free had 6 of his 15 penalties and Smith had 6 of his 11 penalties in the first three games. As the unit worked together, the timing, communication, and coordination improved. The RATE of penalties dropped significantly.

Further it is expected that players will improve over time. The initial reports note the biggest problems and then they are corrected. Nobody starts out in life as a full blown adult. It takes time.

Smith played LT for the first time in his NFL career. His first three games were TERRIBLE, but by the end of the season he was playing at a high rate.

Bernadeau has played in the NFL for several seasons. Yet this year, Bernadeau playing center for the first time in a NFL game and his scores at center were also terrible.

It is safe to say that Smith and Bernie and others should NOT be graded simply on their initial games.

Further, one can develop players over time. We have slowly inserted Parnell in more games. He also started his first games at LT and did credibly well. Yet let us remember the game that he started at LT.

That game Livings had his worst game of the season as he was between a backup project LT and a 4th string emergency center in Bernie. Dockery was the RG replacing Bernie. The D Coordinator feasted on the interior of the OL. Parnell did ok, but Free did even better at RT.

Vicious and Virtuous Cycles

The D will try to attack the weakest link. The OL has to work together to minimize that. One can use the FB or TE to help block if you have an individual weakness. Yet that is hard with TWO or more weak links.

This past year we were constantly shuffling players around and trying to work around weak points. This year we need to have players healthy and working together.

We have often talked about the vicious cycle. A player is injured so we bring in a backup who is less talented. Then we change the scheme to help cover that weak point and in doing so take away the strength of other players. Reiterate several times each time degrading the unit.

Yet that works in reverse too. We can have the virtuous cycle. We have one additional stronger guy in Frederick. We should start out the season with a number one starter healthy and ready to play. Even if you thought Cook was decent [and I do] he was the third string. Frederick will have some growing pains, as most rookies do on the OL, but he will improve as the season goes on.

Further, many have criticized Costa [the starter the last two years]. He too had growing pains but many only remember his initial games. He improved dramatically as his second season went on and came back last year better. The coaches did not make any moves anticipating that center would be improved with Costa and Kowalski back. Only with their injuries did the team trade for Cook. We were adapting all season long.

Having Frederick means that one position is solid, but it also means that we have much better depth at guard. There will be a strong battle among the Costa, Kowalski and Cook to be the primary backup. One or more will then shift to compete at guard. This is in addition to the returning starters in Livings and Bernadeau and two young guys in Arkin and Leary. The entire interior of the OL should be stronger, healthier and more competitive this year.

Smith will be solid at LT. We still need to determine what will happen at RT. That has been chronicled everywhere else. Yet let’s take a worst case and say RT is not upgraded. That means that the OL only has ONE issue instead of multiple ones. The reliability of the OL should be greatly enhanced.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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