You're leaving work a bit early on a late Friday afternoon. Out to your car, open the door, turn the key. Click. Click. Click. Crap, dead battery. You run back in to ask Paul for a jump. He agrees, and on your way back down you're trying to remember if the lights were left on. Bonehead, you started flipping switches when it wouldn't start so now you don't remember. Oh well, now you're off on your merry way.
A quick stop to get a haircut and then a stop at the mall to do a little clothes shopping. You've got a hot date later. Her name is Molly Jenson and she's a school teacher from Oregon. Cute, too. Out to your car you go and there it goes again. Click. Click. Click. Well, obviously this isn't going to work. At least you know now so that you don't get embarrassed during your date later. A quick stop at Napa Auto Parts for a new battery - they even install it for you, nice guy that Jerry is. Crisis averted and now you're on your way to get changed for your date. Gotta hurry, though. You live 45 minutes away and then she lives 25 minutes from your house.
Lookin' fresh to death you head out to your car, you get in and BAM! It starts up with no problems. Nice! Up to her door you go. A little hello, howdie do, eventually back outside where you open the car door for her (like the gentleman we know you are). Click. Click. Click. Urgggg.
It wasn't the battery, stupid. Good luck getting Ms. Jenson to practice anatomy with you now.
What Johnny Suave was seeing in that story was a false positive, which wound up having him fix the symptom rather than the root problem. It doesn't really make him stupid, not at all. Football is also full of these false positives. Having problems covering the tight end? Get a new coverage guy. Still having problems? Get a new coverage guy.
Nope, it's not the battery stupid.
Take a team with a bad defensive line, for example. (And I'm choosing that example so that you know it's not us I‘m talking about here. As you know, we were elite in run defense last year and also led the league in sacks.) Ok, so if this team can't get to the quarterback with their front-four then they're forced to use linebackers and safeties to blitz more often than the average bear would. This means less guys in coverage, meaning maybe more tight ends running open and whatnot.
Most of us are going to see the symptoms of the problem - the numbers that indicate coverage deficiencies. We'll in turn assume that the linebackers can't cover. Since the sack numbers as a whole are still fine, the issue that's going to jump out at you is the short-area coverage. If the defensive line is bad enough, then maybe more fans will catch on - but how many people are going to catch this "false positive" if the defensive line is supposed to be really really good?
The Broncos led the league in sacks last year and our run-defense was elite. We've got VonDoom and the Wolfe Pack working in a Del Rio defense. Did I mention 52 sacks? If the tight ends are still getting open then it's because our linebackers can't cover well enough. End of story.
Nope. It's not the battery, stupid.
What's a Wolfe? What's our biggest weakness? How do we stop tight ends from running wild? If you answer these questions the way I do, then you'll probably draft who I draft. Welcome to the Matrix and its interweb of intertwined problems and solutions. In the world of football, things are often more complex than they appear. It's a world where every action has a reaction, and every non-action has a consequence. Every problem has a symptom and sometimes you only see the symptom instead of the problem.
My friends, I'm not going to try to further Jedi mind trick you on this one. From a pass-rush perspective, our defensive line is broken. And I'm not just talking about the interior pressure that everyone knows we need.
Pressure from the front-four? Sheesh, we can't even get pressure from the front-eight - the whole stable of fatties. And yet, this really is an easy problem to miss and dismiss, and it doesn't really make us stupid. For some reason I just really like saying it.... It's not the battery, stupid.
Broken arrow. I say again, broken arrow.
Would it surprise you to know that linebacker Wesley Woodyard had more sacks by himself than 6 of our 8 linemen combined for? Seven of our eight linemen combined for a grand total of 10 sacks. Ouch! Three of our defensive tackles never even got to do a single sack dance. Two of our defensive ends combined for one sack from that position. Hecks, even our defensive backs, just three of them in fact, combined for more sacks than six linemen combined for. It's just not normal.
Thing is, when you have VonDoom and the Wolfe in a Del Rio defense, you can lead the league in sacks even with a DL who couldn't otherwise sack a quarterback if he was rolled inside a jelly doughnut. To achieve that goal, however, you've got to send a lot more blitzers, which in turn creates its own set of problems. And it can trick you into thinking it was the battery instead of the root cause which was actually the alternator - or in this case, it makes you think the problem was with our short-area coverage.
When you've only got about 40% of your sacks coming from the defensive line as a whole, it means you‘re blitzing linebackers and defensive backs to attain the pressures you seek. Which means less guys in coverage and more tight ends catching more balls. It means you don't have enough troops on the back end to put a frat boy in a bracket across the middle of the field.
Ever noticed we don't often see the same problem in the same game? It's the teeter-totter effect. If you focus on shutting down Gronkowski, you can probably do a fairly good job, but the effect is that you can't get pressure on Brady. The guys you would have blitzed him with are now instead focused on the TE, and since the front-four isn't getting pressure on its own, Mr. Uggs is going to pick you apart.
Choose the red pill and you will get more sacks, but then the tight ends and running backs are going to have an easier time going bananas on you. If you choose the blue pill, the only pass rush you're going to get is coming off the edges. One way or another, you're robbing Peter to pay Paul.
So we need to spend our golden ticket on a defensive tackle and we all good, right? Well, it depends on how you answer that question from earlier. What's a Wolfe?
In his Senior season in the Big East, Defensive Tackle Derek Wolfe had 70 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, a pass breakup and a partridge in a pear tree. He flew under the radar for whatever reason but those stats are absolutely eye popping.
He was our first pick in last year's draft and started all 16 games at LDE for us. But I'm here to tell you that it wasn't by design. The plan for Wolfe, as Foxy Bear stated right from the beginning, was to fatten him up. This guy stands 6'5 and has plenty of room to add additional muscle to make him more dominant on the inside. Not all things go according to plan, however.
Robert Ayers can't get to the quarterback, so Jason Hunter took Robert's starting role at defensive end right out of the gate. Then Hunter was lost for the year during the offseason, at which time the plan for Derek Wolfe got tossed on its ear. Derek was asked to play defensive end as a result of Hunter's injury, and since you really don't want a 315 pound DE in a 4-3 defense, the plan to add weight was put on hold.
So again then, what's a Wolfe? Well regardless of what he was last year, he's a defensive tackle going forward. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
In his first year as a pro, Derek Wolfe was in for an enormous amount of snaps, splitting time between DE and DT. He gobbled up six sacks in that first year - I'm told about half from each position. That's a fantastic number considering that interior linemen generally have some of the toughest transitions to the NFL level. Defensive Tackles in college face off against guys who were generally not good enough to be offensive tackles in college, whereas in the NFL they're often facing off against ex-tackles. Make sense? In other words, the jump in talent these guys are facing is extreme, and it often makes the transition slower and tougher.
BJ Raji, as example, had just one sack in his first year. Nick Fairley had one sack in his first year. Even Marcel Dareus and JJ Watt had less sacks in their first year than the Wolfe had in his first year. Now a few of Wolfe's sacks came from the outside, which sort of makes this like comparing 6 apples to 3 red apples and 3 green apples, but it's close enough to get the point across. And I'm not trying to say Derek Wolfe is on the level of Ndamukong Suh anyway. I'm just pointing out that he had an incredibly productive year and that it's only going to get better.
Average defensive tackles don't come into this league and notch six sacks as a rookie while learning two different positions. For him to start every game and be on the field basically every down, well what he accomplished is really something.
Derek Wolfe will be our starting defensive tackle for the 2013 season. He is our upgrade in the middle. Now you can draft another defensive tackle if you like, but for me, it won't be happening in the first-round because I think the Wolfe and Big Vick have the interior starter positions covered. Behind them, however, nobody is safe. And behind Elvis at DE, nobody is safe there either.
The greatest impact that can be made to the defense, in this guy's opinion, is by drafting a dominant, well-rounded LDE in the first-round of the upcoming draft. I consider this to be an extreme minority opinion, given that I've not seen a single mock draft from the media or here at MHR that has us going in that same direction. But I ain't scared.
The guy I want needs to be well-rounded and not just a sack-artist - because we already have one of those. This guy needs to be what Robert Ayers was supposed to be back in 2009. We're looking for a strong-side defensive end, so he shouldn't be projected to weigh under 270 pounds at the NFL level. He needs to be adept at setting the edge and defending the run. We don't need this guy to lead the league in sacks, we just need him to give us like 7 per year and a bunch of pressures. I say again: well-rounded is what we're looking for. We need a guy that can beat Right Tackles off the edge but also lay the wood to running backs.
Ironically enough, I actually argued against making defensive end a priority last year. But last year we had different needs. My opinions change as the facts change, and so for this year I argue that this is where we would get the most impact. I believe that by adding a DE and by moving Wolfe inside we'll immediately be immensely better at getting pressure from our front-four. By doing this and by using DJ Williams to upgrade the MLB position, I believe it will also combine to make us much better in coverage against the tight ends and backs. Now the key here is that I've only used one draft pick to make these upgrades, which is important because I think our budget for outside free agents this year is going to smaller than in any year in recent history.
It's also worth mentioning that defensive ends are much more expensive to pay for than a defensive tackle. So when you have a fairly equal option presenting itself, it's more prudent to draft the DE and to add the DT through free agency. Another issue worth mentioning is that Elvis Dumervil's contract could become a problem in the near future. While that doesn't mean it's time to even discuss his departure, it still might be time to start developing a backup plan.
For what it's worth, DT Sammy Lee Hill and DE William Hayes are the two free agents I'll be watching closest this offseason. And again, most of our defensive linemen should be afraid. A few of them will be replaced, even if it's not likely to be with high-profile guys.
In summation, by letting Wolfe wreck havoc from the inside and by adding a dominant LDE from the draft into our base packages, we can force the tight end to stay home in pass protection more often. And even in lesser instances they'll be forced to chip away, giving the tight end a slower release off the line. With VonDoom and the Wolfe Pack already in place, a dominant new LDE could actually force teams into max-protect mode with just 4-5 rushers coming at them. This would represent a major upgrade. Pressure from the front-four means more guys in coverage, more turnovers and less of us getting Graham'd.
Ladies and gentlemen, with the 28th pick of the 2013 NFL Draft, Rodney Adams selects...
DE Alex Okafor, Texas. 6'5, 261 pounds.