Where Pro Football Focus Explains Their Rationale

The other day, I wrote a post about the offensive line rankings from the folks at Pro Football Focus and their coming to the conclusion that the Vikings had the seventh-best offensive line in the National Football League in 2011. Naturally, I was a bit confused by this, and said as much in the post.

So on Twitter earlier, the folks from PFF asked if I would be interested in a Q&A to allow them to explain their findings, which I thought was a fine idea. A couple of hours later, after I sent them some questions and they got back to me fairly quickly, here is the result of that Q&A.

1) For the benefit of our readers, how exactly do the folks at Pro Football Focus arrive at the different grades for individual offensive linemen?

Pro Football Focus analyzes and grades every player on every snap of every football game played in the NFL season. Those grades are as a result of each lineman being graded on every snap they have played, pass or run blocking. Essentially 0 is the average grade, or what you would expect a player to achieve on any play, and we then grade in 0.5 increments either side of that to a positive or negative of 2. Essentially the grades are a cumulative reflection of every snap that player played during the season.

2) The Minnesota Vikings gave up more sacks than all but four teams in the NFL last season, yet are rated 16th in pass blocking by PFF. Is this somehow a function of the quarterback play the Vikings had in 2011, or is it solely based on the performance of the individual linemen?

There are a couple of reasons behind this. Firstly, how many of those sacks were on the O-line? If the line blocks well, but then the QB spooks for no reason, tries to run from the pocket causing the OT to lose leverage and gets brought down for a sack, should we be blaming the OL for that? By our count, only 28 sacks came from the O-line, which is still not great, but immediately drops the Vikings to a tie for 6th in the league, 10 behind the Rams. Secondly, sacks are only a small portion of pressure allowed. What about knockdowns, hurries etc? The Vikings OL allowed 151 total pressures over the season (sacks, knockdowns and hurries), which is actually 18th in the league, 71 behind the Giants who topped it, and only 53 off the best rated Bills. As we're always telling people, you have to look beyond sack numbers.

3) Outside of center John Sullivan, who I think surprised everybody this season, were there any other players on the Vikings' offensive line that came as a surprise?

I think Steve Hutchinson actually had a far better season than anybody wants to admit. He had looked like his decline was in full force in the past couple of seasons, but this year he was finally back to healthy again, and was able to stem the tide. He was still nowhere near his All-Pro best, but he was once again a pretty good guard, ranking 8th in the NFL by our grades and allowing only 12 total pressures all season long.

4) Did you see anything from offensive tackle Charlie Johnson that leads you to believe, as is the prevailing common wisdom, that he would be better suited to a move inside to guard?

Pretty much everything we saw from Charlie Johnson led us to believe that. Johnson isn't a bad run blocker, and has always been ok at that, but he just doesn't have the athleticism, feet or dexterity to survive out on an island as he has been asked to do for the Colts and now the Vikings. If Minnesota can get themselves a legitimate LT to take that spot then they could potentially get better at two positions in the one move.

5) In your opinion, with the grades that PFF gave the Vikings' offensive line this past season, do you think the Vikings should still be focusing on USC offensive lineman Matt Kalil with their 3rd overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft, or do you think they could be better suited by going in a different direction?

If they're sure Kalil is an elite LT, then grab him. Those guys are too hard to find otherwise - it's why the Vikings gave McKinnie so much slack over the years, because as much of a headache as he was, he was always too good to just say goodbye to because of principles. The Vikings have a lot of holes, and could stand to go in a number of different directions, but the good thing about their draft position is they've got a shot at one of the legitimate blue-chip prospects in the draft, and still get a pick near the top of every round all the way down the draft, and those picks at the top of the second round especially are usually goldmines for top players where they can address another need.

Thanks to the folks at PFF for explaining some of the rationale behind their rankings of the offensive line. If there are things that you folks are still unclear about, leave some questions in the comments and I'll see if I can't pass them along to the folks at PFF and try to get some more answers.

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