BGA Nano: Unbalanced Line

While this isn’t comprehensive enough to be considered as a full BGA, I’ve done some research on how successful the Jets were when they lined up in formations with an unbalanced line last season.

I’m going to look for patterns in terms of whether they performed better going left or right, or depending on the personnel they decided to use. Read on after the jump.

Introduction

Something the Jets often employ on offense is an unbalanced line. This entails one of the tackles moving to the opposite side of the line, so that there are three linemen to one side of the Center and one to the other side, rather than the conventional two either side. A tight end usually lines up next to the guard on the weak side, effectively operating as a tackle – although he would be an eligible receiver in the event of a pass. This is hardly new – the Jets in fact used one at times in Superbowl III.

In 2010, the Jets mainly used an unbalanced line in two situations. One was when they were in a Seminole formation – although they weren’t always in an unbalanced line when they employed this formation. The other was in short yardage. However, they did sometimes line up with an unbalanced line on conventional downs as well.

Usage Rate

You may have noticed the Jets doing this on several occasions throughout the season, perhaps because the announcers referenced it while they were lining up, or during a replay. However, you might be surprised at just how often formations with an unbalanced line were used.

In fact, the Jets lined up that way 56 times in the regular season and another eight in the postseason. There was only one game where they did not use any unbalanced line formations.

Personnel

Ben Hartsock was on the field for 43 of the 64 unbalanced line plays (40 as an effective weakside tackle, three as an extra TE), so it will be interesting to see who replaces him when they go to an unbalanced line in 2011.

When Hartsock wasn’t involved, they used Keller as the effective tackle a couple of times, Rob Turner a handful of times and Matthew Mulligan the rest of the time, although nearly all of his unbalanced line reps were in Week 17 against the Bills.

Wayne Hunter was used as an extra TE a couple of times, but that will obviously no longer be an option now that he is slated to start. I would imagine that we will see Turner and Mulligan’s roles increase, although it might be an opportunity to get Vladimir Ducasse some low-complexity reps, just as they did with Matt Slauson in 2009.

Statistics

Overall, in the regular season, the Jets gained 5.3 yards per play when they went to an unbalanced line, although they did have some penalties. If you factor in penalty yardage, that drops to 4.3 yards per play.

However, if you separate out the Seminole and non-Seminole plays, you can see that they gained 6.7 yards per play from the Seminole and only 2.9 yards per play on conventional unbalanced line plays with Sanchez under center. As noted above, though, these were often short yardage plays and they did have a 32% first down rate on non-Seminole plays, but only a 27% first down rate on Seminole plays.

When they went strong right (ie Ferguson moves over to the right side), they averaged 4.5 yards per play, but when they went strong left, they averaged 6.2 yards per play. However, these numbers were affected by some long runs from the Seminole formation. On non-Seminole runs, they averaged 3.0 yards when they went strong left and 2.9 when they went strong right.

They started the season making good use of these formations, but after the bye week, they had a disaster against the Packers, as the four unbalanced line formation plays were a false start on Damien Woody, a lost fumble by Brad Smith, an eight yard loss following another fumble (caused by an unblocked lineman) and a play stuffed for no gain. They didn’t use any unbalanced lines in the following game against Detroit, but then gradually brought them back and used them to good effect in the win over the Steelers.

In the postseason, the unbalanced line was not particularly successful, gaining them eight yards on eight carries, with no first downs.

Woody v Hunter

Although Woody played much more than Hunter in 2010, the sample sizes for unbalanced line plays with both of them in are similar enough (31:25 during the regular season, 4:4 during the playoffs) to merit comparison.

In every other possible metric, Woody completely outshines Hunter for run blocking. However, when the Jets used an unbalanced line, they actually had more success with Hunter than they did with Woody. With Woody in the line-up, they averaged 4.6 yards per play when they employed an unbalanced line, but when Hunter replaced him, they averaged 6.2 yards. Granted, this was partly because Hunter was on the field in the final regular season game where Brad Smith broke off some long runs from the Seminole formation, but that isn’t the only reason because on non-Seminole runs with an unbalanced line, the Jets averaged 4.6 yards per play with Hunter in and only 2.3 yards per play with Woody in.

The best explanation for this is that Hunter, who already has plenty of experience as an extra tight end, has a skill-set better suited to being on the outside where he might be required to display mobility or block in space. If that’s a fair assumption, then using an unbalanced line more often might be one way the Jets can overcome the loss of Woody by tailoring their running game to Hunter’s strengths (superior athleticism, inferior strength).

That’s the last of BGA for this offseason. I’ll be putting together a summary post of all the BGA Weekly articles I’ve done over the Summer later on tonight. Preseason BGA will be back on Tuesday or Wednesday.