Chicago Bears: How Much Difference Does An Offensive Line Make?

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 10: Cody Whitehair
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 10: Cody Whitehair /

The saying goes, “Your offense only goes as far as your Offensive Line lets it”, but is that really still accurate in today’s NFL?

The line above, or some variation of it, is repeated so often that it has become a cliché, even in spite or rankings and statistics.  In fact it has been repeated so often that almost everyone believes it, exclusively and without question.  But facts are stubborn things and very few things in life are written in stone.  To every rule there is an exception and even this rule has its cracks.

When you look for the top Offensive Lines of 2017 you get many different answers. For the sake of this article I looked to seven different sites that ranked offensive lines.  I then did a comparative analysis of where each line ranked vs. where each offense finished in 2017.  This should show if having a top offensive line means specifically that you’ll have a great offense.

(Offensive Line Ranking : 2017 Offensive Ranking):

Raiders – 1.5 : 23

Bills – Tied 2 : 28

Browns – Tied 2 : 32

Cowboys – Tied 2 : 14

Eagles – Tied 2 : 1

Panthers – Tied 2 : 12

Patriots – Tied 2 : 2

Saints – Tied 2 : 4

Titans – 3 : 21

Rams – 3.5 : 3

Lions – 4 : 9

Ravens – 4 : 10

Steelers – 4.5 : 5

Chargers – 5 : 14

Redskins – 5 : 17

It turns out that having a well ranked offensive line does not directly mean that you’ll have a top offense. The list became far more inaccurate the further down the rankings I went so I decided to cut out any team who came in ranked over 5 on average.  I wanted only those offensive lines ranked within the top five.

Next I ran a comparative analysis of the skill position rankings of each of the above teams. Here are those rankings

(Skill Position Composite : 2017 Offensive Ranking):

Patriots – 3 : 2

Steelers – 5.5 ; 5

Cowboys – 7.5 : 14

Chargers – Tied 11 : 14

Eagles – Tied 11 : 1

Saints – Tied 11 : 4

Bills – 12.5 : 28

Titans – 15 : 21

Raiders – 16.5 : 23

Ravens – 17.5 : 10

Panthers – Tied 18 : 12

Redskins – Tied 18 : 17

Lions – 22.5 : 9

Rams – 23.5 : 3

Browns – 25.5 : 32

The list was still very inaccurate, but this allowed me to separate those whose line is good and whose skill positions are not and then to look at both parts together. I compared those to the overall offensive rankings for 2017.  When looking at the average of the line and skill positions together, you end up with the following rankings:

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(Overall : 2017 Offensive Ranking)

Patriots – 2.5 : 2

Cowboys – 4.75 : 14

Steelers – 5 : 5

Eagles – Tied 6.5 : 1

Saints – Tied 6.5 : 4

Bills – 7.25 : 28

Chargers – 8 : 14

Raiders – Tied 9 : 23

Titans – Tied 9 : 21

Panthers – 10 : 12

Ravens – 10.75 : 10

Redskins – 11.5 : 17

Lions – 13.25 : 9

Rams – 13.5 : 3

Browns – 13.75 : 32

This list was much more accurate, and nothing in these rankings jumps out at you as inherently wrong, but right off the bat there were some statistical anomalies, so they have to explained.

The Anomalies:

Buffalo had the biggest gap between its rankings and its performance. Their overall offense ranked it at 7.25, but it ended up being the 28th ranked offense in the league.  The Bill made the playoffs on the strength of their defense but even a strong offensive line couldn’t make the difference for an offense that struggled with consistency from its skill players.

The Browns had the second biggest gap of all of the teams with their lne coming in a 2 and their skill positions coming in a 25.5. This averaged to 13.75 however, yet, they ranked dead last at 32 in offense as a team.  Clearly their offensive line couldn’t possibly overcome the abysmal play of their skill players including rookie quarterback Deshone Kizer and his 53% completion rate with 22 interceptions.  They ended up giving up 38 sacks but their pre-season and early season rankings make you wonder how many of those were on them vs. on Kaiser.

The Raiders and Titans both underperformed their rankings as well with an overall score of 9 and yet having the 23rd and 21st offenses respectively.  The Cowboys likewise had issues with a 4.75 overall ranking yet only being able to produce the 14th best offense.

In fact, only the Rams really over performed their ranking. They were thought to have the 13.5 best offense overall by the rankings, and yet they had the 3rd highest ranked offense in the league this year.

Without The Anomalies:

But when you remove those anomalies, you begin to see a bit of a clearer picture. Here is what you see when you compare the overall ranking to the actual offensive ranking:

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Patriots – 2.5 : 2

Steelers – 5 : 5

Eagles – 6.5 : 1

Saints – 6.5 : 4

Chargers – 8 : 14

Panthers – 10 : 12

Ravens – 10.75 : 10

Redskins – 11.5 : 17

Lions – 13.25 : 9

These numbers begin to paint the picture that perhaps an offensive line by itself does not make an offense.  Furthermore, what it shows is that the best teams have a balance of both the offensive line and skill players.  The more complete your offense is all around, the higher your ranking.

That’s not to say that an offensive line doesn’t matter because that would be an unbelievably absurd statement.  Yet the statistics show that the goal should be to have both a good line and good skill positions, but then again, this should fall into the category of, “Duh.”

But What About The Line?

So where does the idea come from that a dominant offensive line can lift your offense and carry poorer skill players to better success? Most of all, from that old cliché we mentioned at the beginning of the article.

Just like a wide receiver can’t stop a blitzing linebacker, an offensive lineman can’t help him catch the ball. If your line gives the quarterback all day and he throws perfect passes, yet the receiver drops it repeatedly, it doesn’t really do you any good.  Just like a receiver getting open while the quarterback is getting sacked doesn’t either.

Teams That Show That Balance is the True Measure

I won’t count the Browns, because they only ranked in the top five on two out of seven sites, and the rest were like a roller coaster, but after removing them, you still have a number of teams whose offensive line rankings don’t really come close to their overall offense.

(Offensive Line : 2017 Offensive Ranking)

Raiders – 1.5 : 23

Cowboys – 2 : 14

Titans – 3 : 21

Chargers – 5 : 14

Panthers – 2 : 12


In the end, the key thing for any offense to attempt to achieve is balance. You don’t win by being one dimensional in today’s NFL.  Just like an 80% rushing attack no longer wins through clock grinding, a team who has invested all of its draft picks and dollars into its line at the expense of the other positions won’t find success either.

Balance is the key, in fact, one could say that balance is King. Balance on each side of the ball, balance between the offense and defense, and balance on the roster.  Teams without balance generally don’t win, and those that win, and win consistently, have balance.  It may take time to achieve, after all neither Rome nor Foxboro were built in a day, but balance should always be the goal while lifting the overall skill of the entire team.

Question for the Reader:

So as the Bears look forward to the 2018 off-season, the question for you, dear reader, is how do we bring balance to the roster? How do we make our weakest link stronger so that the team as a whole improves?  Can we do so without sacrificing our strengths?  I look forward to hearing your thoughts on it in the comments section.

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