The popular perception among fans, media pundits and TV analyst – and it’s one that I shared – is that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive line at the beginning of the 2009 season was a strength of the team. However, they under preformed as a unit throughout the season, struggling mightily as the season wore on after moving away from a man-to-man blocking scheme to a zone read blocking team, then back to the man-to-man scheme.
To check just how they compared to the rest of the league, I went to Pro Football Focus, a newer stats site that’s still very much off most people’s radar screen. I’m honestly not sure how they manage this without a cast of thousands behind the scenes, but the site purports to grade every single player in the league on every single play. It’s a mind-boggling undertaking of an exercise, and if Peter King of SportsIllustrated.com can pimp their site through his Monday Morning Quarterback column to the masses, then it’s worth looking into further.
Based on Pro Football Focus’ stats, here’s how each of the teams starting five ranked. Left tackle Donald Penn ranked 62nd out of the 77 tackles they graded. Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood ranked 75th out of 77, left guard Jeremy Zuttah ranked 69th out of the 84 guards ranked, right guard Davin Joseph ranked 68th out of the 84 guards ranked, and center Jeff Faine was ranked 30th out of the 34 centers they graded.
I have to say, I’m not totally convinced about all their findings / ratings. I will diffidently need to see more to be convinced as to the validity and accuracy of their ratings. But I want to start bringing their information into the conversation here, at Bucs Central, at least as another type of checks and balance system against real-time perception.
Anyway, here’s their grading for the Bucs starting offensive line. Just looking at their data, it doesn’t really look like there’s a discernible good / bad pattern, so I took the pass and run blocking ratings and threw them into an excel spreadsheet to create a chart and added some trend lines that might help us see more clearly, how each player performed and give us a greater look at the peaks and valleys each linemen went through as the season unfolded:
Many pundits and fans, feel Penn was by far the teams best offensive lineman. But based on the stats from Pro Football Focus. Penn took a dramatic nose dive around game eight of the regular season and was all over the map in terms of run and pass blocking.
It was evident in the games, that Zuttah struggled as the season wore on to get any push in the running game, but based on the stats he was gradually taking steps in pass protection.
The highest paid center in the game didn’t fair any better then any one individual on the line. But one would expect a much better performance from the veteran.
Joseph, who is regarded as a mauler by many, was actually a better pass protector the run blocker in ’09.
Trueblood is the most crucified lineman on the team, whether most of it’s warranted or not, is not the question at hand. Most of the hatred towards Trueblood stems from his ill timed false starts and boneheaded after the whistle extra curricular actives. Add in the fact he seemingly doesn’t have the footwork to keep speed rusher out of the backfield and it’s easy to see why he’s been a target of fans. But based on the stats he is actually far and away the most consistent lineman the team has.
While the findings are based solely on stats from a secondary source, if accurate the best way to describe the unit as a whole is inconsistent and mediocre at best.