Given the fact that the line was a train wreck last night, I feel weird posting this today, but last week I talked about how the Oline was improving. In that article I noted that the pass protection was similar to recent years. Some readers questioned whether Manning was checking down more. I said that I doubted it, but it was difficult to prove.
Enter Advanced NFL Stats. They've posted numbers about how often quarterbacks look to throw deep, going back to 2006. This data tells us what percentage of passes are over 15 yards in the air. Now, we can finally answer the question whether or not Manning has time to throw. Note: This table often includes QBs with very few throws, so the ranking doesn't always mean much.
Manning Looking Long (% of total passes over 15 yards in the air)
So Manning is throwing deep a little less often than in 2006. Roughly 2 out of every 100 throws that used to be deep, now aren't. That's one deep ball a game difference from 2006 (when he had Harrison and Wayne together). However, compared with the last two seasons (which was the argument I was making...the line had improved over the last two seasons), Manning is throwing deep just as often. The difference between 20.8% and 20.1% is about two deep passes difference...over the course of the entire season to date. In other words, Manning has the time to throw long at least as often as he did in the previous two seasons.
Advanced NFL stats has also ranked offensive lines based on how many plays opposing defenses have made, since in essence their job is to prevent the making of plays. Indy's line comes out on top of the list. As the site points out, quarterbacks and running backs greatly influence these numbers, but they do help to inform things a little.
After all that theorizing and number crunching, I can still wrap my head around that result: The Bears offensive line has played bad enough to cost their team a 19% chance of winning each game.
On the other side of the ledger are the Colts. Their offensive line has a -0.19 -WPA, which is 0.19 better than league-average. We can estimate that the Colts line helps their team win to a tune of +0.19 WPA per game (with more than a little help from their QB).
Now, my warning here is that last night, you might not have seen how badly the line played statistically, but we all watched it. Manning was harassed and hit. Too often backs were swarmed under in the back field. There wasn't much time to look long, and on the one true bomb of the night (to Gonzo), Manning was on the move out of the pocket because of pressure. I'm not claiming Indy has the best offensive line in football, no matter what the numbers say. All of our eyes say differently.
However, they are better at run blocking than they were at any point in the past two years, and now these numbers help to complete the picture that they are pass blocking to the same level as in past seasons.