Quantifying the Bengals' pass protection

CINCINNATI -- A case could be made that through three ballgames the Cincinnati Bengals have the best offensive line in the NFL.

The sole basis of that case?

It's the fact the Bengals' line still has yet to let quarterback Andy Dalton get sacked. No other team in the league can make that claim about their quarterback.

In order to understand how good the Bengals' offensive line has been, though, you have to also know how good Dalton and his pass catchers and route runners have been early this season, too.

Strangely enough, as good as the Bengals have been at preventing sacks, they actually aren't the best in the league at completely controlling the line of scrimmage.

That honor goes to the San Diego Chargers.

Using statistics from ESPN Stats & Information, the Bengals actually rank ninth in the league in pass-protection percentage, with a 52.1 percent protection rate. In addition to trailing the stat-leading Chargers, they're behind the Ravens and Titans, two teams the Bengals' own defense got to for a combined five sacks in games earlier this season.

How does one explain that phenomenon? How is it possible for teams that have allowed multiple sacks to have a better pass-protection percentage than a team that hasn't allowed a sack? Because this particular statistic takes into account the percentage of plays the offense controls the line of scrimmage on pass plays, scrambles included. How do you measure how a unit controls the line of scrimmage? You factor in hurries, pressures, hits and blitzes.

When you consider how often the Bengals have been under pressure in these three games, you realize they can't be perfect controlling the line of scrimmage. Blitzes will get through.

Even if they are, the beauty of them as far as Dalton is concerned is that they aren't having an effect. He's performing better against the blitz through three games this year than he did at this point last season.

Per Stats & Information, Dalton was blitzed on 43 dropbacks through three games last year as opposed to 28 so far this season. Sure, the pressure is less overall, but he's also passing fewer times on average than he did last year as the Bengals emphasize the run more this season.

Under that pressure at the start of last season, Dalton was 28-for-40 passing with 286 yards, two touchdowns, an interception and a 73.2 QBR. He also was sacked three times. So far this season against the blitz, Dalton is 18-for-28 passing with 330 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions and an 87.4 QBR. He also, of course, hasn't been sacked.

We highlight those numbers to show that for as well as the line has blocked, Dalton has been helping himself by making better decisions under pressure and getting the ball quickly to his receivers, who are catching it in space for big gains. Dalton's 76-yard touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu in Week 2 came with a blitz. He also was pressured by a strong front-line rush on the 77-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green in Week 1.

While the Bengals may rank ninth in pass-protection percentage, they are first in the opponent coverage sack statistic and the opponent coverage pressure statistic. The first stat tracks the average number of sacks that can be credited to tight downfield coverage. The second stat tracks the average number of pressures that can be credited to tight downfield coverage.

Cincinnati, of course, has a 0.0 average in the coverage sack stat. But it has allowed an average of 1.2 pressures per game that can be attributed to receivers not being able to get open. That's the lowest average in the league.

So again, when you think about the Bengals' ability to keep Dalton sack-free, credit the offensive line for good play. But also remember Dalton and his receivers have a hand in that, too.