Deploying our Depleted Defense

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Of the many failings put on display by our beloved team the last time we saw them take the field, the failure to stop the opponent on 3rd down was fairly dramatic. Seattle converted 7 of 12. The 7 conversions were on these distances - 9, 7, 4, 5, 4 (PI), 7 and 2. That's 3 of conversions on 3rd and long (7 or more needed) all of which came on scoring drives by the opponent. Generally, the ability of a team to stop opponents on 3rd down is a combination of pressure (mostly) and coverage. The Broncos did a poor job of pressuring Wilson in the super bowl. So let's look at the regular season and see how and where we were able to get pressure keeping in mind that we were losing defensive players right and left as the season wore on.

I did a post before the debacle in the swamp showing who got our QB pressures, but one piece that was missing was the rate at which our guys got pressure on the QB when they were sent. For DTs and DEs this was easy since they were rarely NOT rushing the passer when the other team was throwing the ball. For LBs and DBs it was a lot harder to tell. I went back and tabulated all of the snap count data from Bronco Mike's posts throughout the season to show who was sent after the passer and how often. I then calculated a % pressure value - (QB pressures/times they rushed the passer). The numbers were interesting. I have broken them down by position. QB pressures = sacks + QB hurries

Player Pos Snaps Run Rush Coverage QB Pressures % pressure
Bailey CB 193 59 3 131 0 0.0%
Carter CB 268 56 2 210 2 100.0%
DRC CB 793 281 1 511 0 0.0%
Harris CB 1059 390 39 628 2 5.1%
Jammer CB 218 65 0 153 0
Webster CB 491 145 6 340 1 16.7%

When rarely used CB blitzes and when we did it was Harris almost exclusively. Chris was sent after the QB 39 times and generated pressure twice. Oddly enough, while we only sent Carter twice, both times he was credited with a pressure on the QB- probably because it was so unexpected. All told we faced 654 drop-backs in 2013 and only sent CBs to blitz 51 times (7.8% of all drop-backs). DRC was only sent after the QB once and Jammer was never sent on a blitz.

Player Pos Snaps Run Rush Coverage QB Pressures % pressure
Adams S 693 232 21 440 1 4.8%
Bolden S 206 73 14 119 1.5 10.7%
Bruton S 146 22 9 115 1 11.1%
Huff S 27 5 4 18 0 0.0%
Ihenacho S 790 279 31 480 2 6.5%
Moore S 673 228 3 442 0 0.0%

We sent our safeties slightly more often than we sent our corners. We blitzed with our safeties 82 times (12.5% of drop-backs) with Duke getting sent the most. While Duke get the most pressure from our safeties, he was not that effective when he was sent. Because he had more than double the combined snaps of Bruton and Bolden, we can see that they were used more frequently on blitzes when they were in on defense. Because Huff only played in one game (one half really - week 17 second half), I wouldn't read too much into his numbers. Much like DRC for the CBs, Moore was almost never sent after the QB.

Player Pos Snaps Run Rush Coverage QB Pressures % pressure
Irving LB 223 97 21 105 2 9.5%
Johnson LB 9 7 0 2 0
Lenon LB 239 125 10 104 1 10.0%
Marhsall LB 15 0 0 15 0
Miller LB 551 221 252 78 9 3.6%
Trevathan LB 962 367 88 507 8 9.1%
Woodyard LB 766 268 55 448 6.5 11.8%

Here is where it gets interesting. Teams with great defenses can generally generate pressure by rushing only 4 (SEA did it with 3 against us a couple of times. Outside of Von (who is really a defensive end), we only sent our LBs 174 times on 654 passing plays - (26.6%). As you can see from his split, it is rare for Von to drop into coverage on passing plays (23.6% of the time on passing plays he dropped into coverage). In terms of effectiveness, Von was not very good, but the caveat there is that was getting double teamed almost every time he rushed the passer. Danny T only blitzed on about 1 out of every 6 passing plays, but he had the most blitzes of our "coverage" LBs. If you exclude the two LBs who never blitzed, all of our LBs we about equally effective at generating pressure - roughly 10% of the time when they blitzed with Woody having the best rate. Woody only blitzed on 10.9% of the passing plays where he was on defense while Danny T rushed the passer on 14.7% of his pass D snaps and Nate Irving on 16.7% of his.

Now onto the guys who are rushing the passer on almost every passing play. Our DTs seemingly were better this year than in 2012 when they were pretty much non-entities in terms of pass rush.

Player Pos Snaps Run Rush Coverage QB Pressures % pressure
Fua DT 10 7 3 0 0 0.0%
Jackson DT 601 200 388 13 9 2.3%
Knighton DT 605 273 317 16 9 2.8%
Unrein DT 359 169 184 3 2 1.1%
Vickerson DT 401 163 235 5 4 1.7%
Williams DT 304 131 172 1 6 3.5%

While rare, we did occasionally drop one of our DTs into coverage (Pot Roast had a pick). 38 out of 654 pass plays say us drop a DT into coverage (5.8%). Williams was the most effective at generating pressure with 3.5% of his pass rushes resulting in pressure. Knighton was second and Jackson third. Mitch Unrein showed that he is still just a run stuffer (and part-time FB), with only 2 pressures in 184 pass rush attempts. While the number for DTs don't look great, I guarantee you that if you were to tabulate the numbers for our DTs from 2012, the numbers above would be amazing in comparison. Our DTs (not including Wolfe here) had 2.0 sacks in the 2012 regular season - total. Note that I have lumped Malik in with the DTs not with the DEs.

Now onto the guys who get the glory from the sacks because they play the position that gets the most sacks in the modern NFL, DE (OLB in a 3-4).

Passing Play
Player Pos Snaps Run Rush Coverage QB Pressures % pressure
Ayers DE 514 162 334 18 14.5 4.3%
Mincey DE 59 21 37 1 2 5.4%
Phillips DE 748 255 449 47 18 4.0%
Robinson DE 21 2 18 1 1 5.6%
Wolfe DE 564 187 368 9 10 2.7%

We should probably take Mincey's numbers with a grain of salt since they were in such a small sample (and one of his sacks he was completely unblocked). Robinson was cut not long after he generated his lone pressure (on Romo on the play where Danny T got the decisive pick). On a percentage basis, Ayers was actually slightly more effective at getting pressure than Phillips. I was surprised to see that Ayers was in on more than twice as many passing plays as running plays. Wolfe was the least effective of the DEs, although without breaking down the film further it's hard to know how many of his 368 pass rush snaps came from the DT spot and how many came from the DE spot. If you were to put Von in with the DE (as he plays on many downs), he was actually less effective at rushing the passer (3.6%) than Ayers and Phillips (don't taze me Broh). I guess we could chalk this up to rustiness or added bulk on Von's part. He didn't appear to be as disruptive this year when he was in as he was in 2012, but I was hoping that my eyes were deceiving me. Apparently they were not (although I would love to see his data from 2012 or 2011).

Looking forward to the 2014 season, it is possible that Von Miller will be at full speed by game 1. It's possible that we resign Shaun Phillips. It's possible that Q. Smith develops into a stud pass rushing DE. It's possible that Malik Jackson and Sly Williams become dominant forces on the defensive line (pro-bowl caliber). It's possible that Laurantee McCray turns into the next great CFA signing for our team (becomes an effective pass rusher). That is a lot of what-if's. When healthy this defense has the potential to be one of the best in the league (2012 is evidence of that). Player health and player development will determine if we return to the level that our D reached in 2012 or regress from the D that showed up most of the season in 2013.

This is a Fan-Created Comment on The opinion here is not necessarily shared by the editorial staff of MHR

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