Alabama Football: 2018 need to strengthen the Offensive Line

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 08: Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa
ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 08: Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa /

Outside of quarterback, no Alabama football position group caused as much concern in 2017 as the offensive line. Let’s review their 2017 performance and prospects for improved performance in 2018.

Third-down offensive efficiency was not a strength for Alabama football in 2017. Jalen Hurts and the offensive line took almost all the blame. Last season, the Tide converted only 40.5 percent of third-downs, ranking the Tide at No. 62 among 128 FBS, teams.

Third-down efficiency has been a concern going back to the 2015 season. The three-year average 2015-2017 was 41.55 percent. Comparing that average to another three year period that also included two national championship seasons, the Tide’s efficiency is down. In 2011-2013, the third-down efficiency average was 47.3 percent. A drop of almost six percent is significant.

Fortunately, the Alabama football program maintained its history of superb, defensive third-down efficiency. In 2011-2014, Alabama football opponents only converted 30.4 percent of third-down opportunities. In the 2015-2017, the same stat was 31.3 percent conversion.

A preliminary conclusion

A quick preliminary conclusion is the Tide’s defenses have consistently performed, while the offenses have dipped. For the purpose of this discussion, let’s consider how much of the offensive slippage can be attributed to offensive line play. is an excellent source for stats. Their offensive line stats are second to none. Let’s look at the results for the 2017 Crimson Tide offensive line. In three key measurements of offensive line performance based on rushing plays, the Tide finished, No. 3, No. 4 and No. 16 in the FBS.

  • Yards-per-carry on standard downs (1st down, 2nd-and-7 or fewer, 3rd-and-4 or fewer, 4th-and-4 or fewer.) – 3.53-yard average; No. 3 in the FBS
  • Opportunity rate (the percentage of carries that gain at least five yards.) – 45.8 percent; No. 4 in the FBS.

The next category the Tide graded lower but still performed well.

  • Power Success rate (percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown.) – 77.1 percent; No. 16 in the FBS.

The next two stats are as poor as the above three were good. Each applies to offensive line, pass protection.

  • Standard downs sack rate (standard downs, pass attempts.) No. 122 in the FBS.
  • Passing downs sack rate (passing downs, pass attempts.) No. 107 in the FBS.

Stats can illuminate and confuse. The sack rates, for example, measure pass blocking but they do not measure receivers failing to get open or a QB holding the ball too long. With Nick Saban’s style of game management, sacks are to be avoided but they are preferred over ill-advised throws leading to interceptions. Therefore, not all sacks can be blamed on poor pass protection.

From a team perspective, the 2018 sack rates need considerable improvement. Is a more decisive QB enough or does the offensive line also need to be better holding off pass rushers? The answer is probably both.

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Having to replace Brad Bozeman, the Tide offensive line will change in 2018. Don’t be surprised if it changes at two or even three positions.