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Bill Kollar's defensive lines look promising for Broncos

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Bill Kollar is a bad mamajama - anybody who can wrestle a bear is. Has that level of "badassery" been transferred to the guys playing for him on the DL?

@Broncos

Bill Kollar has had a long career in the NFL as a defensive line coach.

Atlanta Falcons (1990–2000)
St. Louis Rams (2001–2005)
Buffalo Bills (2006–2008)
Houston Texans (2009–2014)

He generally has gotten the most out of his talent. Some of the DL groups that he had to work with were bereft of talent (others had top draft picks). Bill Kollar challenges his players to excel and calls them out when they don't. His style is much closer to Alex Gibbs than it is to John Fox.

"Bill is loud," says defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, "but he's got a great knack for getting on people, getting them to go harder, but for them to like him. Normally a guy that's as loud as he is, that hollers at you, you think 'Wow.' They know it's in their best interest when he gets on them. Everybody coaches different ways, and I think his style is really good. It fits well with those guys."

So what does he have to work with for 2015? Right now our roster shows six players listed as "DE"s and four players listed as "NT"s denverbroncos.com

Note that Shane Ray is listed at OLB and not DE on the roster.

# Player Pos Hgt Wgt Age Exp College
91 Anunike, Kenny DE 6-5 260 25 2 Duke
97 Jackson, Malik DE 6-5 293 25 4 Tennessee
90 Smith, Antonio DE 6-3 290 33 12 Oklahoma State
96 Walker, Vance DE 6-2 305 28 7 Georgia Tech
70 Watson, Josh DE 6-4 290 25 R Clemson
95 Wolfe, Derek DE 6-5 285 25 4 Cincinnati
76 Austin Jr., Marvin NT 6-2 312 26 5 North Carolina
98 Kilgo, Darius NT 6-3 319 23 R Maryland
93 Ndulue, Chuka NT 6-3 289 23 R Oklahoma
92 Williams, Sylvester NT 6-2 313 26 3 North Carolina

I'm guessing that we keep six or seven of the 10 guys listed above. I have highlighted the six that I think will make the roster. If Antonio Smith is not indicted, I think he will make the roster over Anunike. Darius Kilgo could be that 7th guy although, being a 6th round pick, we might try and stash him on the practice squad for a year (red-shirt him, if you will).

Stopping the run

Mailk Jackson tackles Giovanni Bernard

Mailk Jackson tackles Giovanni Bernard (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Before we can evaluate Kollar's DLs we have to answer a question: How do you measure the performance of a defensive line, particularly separating it from the performance of the LBs and DBs? Football Outsiders attempts to do this by looking at two situations in the running game where the DL is determinant in success or failure the vast majority of the time - power running situations (3rd or 4th down with 2 or fewer yards needed to gain) and "stuffs" (run stops for 0 or negative yards). A defense that is good in both will have a good defensive line. Generally an elite DL will be at or near the top in both stats. Football outsiders also looks at 2nd level yards and open field yards allowed, but those tend to be more of a function of the LBs and DBs in the running game than the DL. We'll also look at more "mundane" stats such as rushing yards allowed, average yards per carry allowed (ypc) and rushing TDs allowed. See below (NFL rank shown):

Year Team Yds Allowed YPC TD* Power Stuffs
2014 HOU 10 10 3 17 18
2013 HOU 23 22 14 6 10
2012 HOU 7 9 1 11 4
2011 HOU 4 11 5 25 15
2010 HOU 13 11 28 15 19
2009 HOU 10T 17 25 8 8
2008 BUF 22 21 26 15 8
2007 BUF 25 28 26 2 7
2006 BUF 28 29 22 22 29
2005 STL 28 32 32 30 9
2004 STL 29 25 19 30 11
2003 STL 20 29 5 4 7
2002 STL 14 13 19 6 12
2001 STL 3 11 18 13 9

*All TD allowed rankings are a tie for that place

"Everybody coaches different ways, and I think his style is really good. It fits well with those guys." - Wade Phillips

I did not go back further (to his days coaching the Falcons DL) because I wanted to focus on this century. I define elite as being top 5 in a stat. Since 2001 Kollar's DLs have only had nine instances where they were elite at some facet of stopping the run. Four of those nine instances are when his DLs were elite at preventing rushing TDs - 2014, 2012, 2011 and 2003. Conversely his DLs have had many years where they were horrible at stopping rushing TDs. In fact, from 2005 to 2010 his DLs ranked 22nd or worse at stopping rushing TDs. His DLs have only been elite twice this century at stopping "power" situation runs (2007 and 2003). His only unit that was elite at getting stuffs was the 2012 Texans, but his DLs are generally good at getting stuffs. If we average these ranks we get this (rounded):

Rushing yards allowed - 17th

YPC Allowed - 18th

Rushing TDs allowed - 17th

Power - 15th

Stuffs - 12th

Going by those numbers alone, Kollar's defensive lines this century have been average or slightly above average against the run. Overall, the picture that the data paints is not a pretty one; Kollar's DLs are normally ok, but often bad, against the run. So what about against the pass?

Stopping the pass

Derek Wolfe sacks T*m Brady

Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

While stopping the pass and getting sacks are not solely the responsibility of the DL (particularly in the 3-4 where the OLB are the main sack generators) sacks and QB hurries or hits are the way that the DL contributes to stopping the pass. Generally if you have a dominant DL, the opposing QB rating (OQBR) will be near the top of the league (unless your LBs and DBs are horrible in coverage).

Year Team Sack% NFL Rank OQBR NFL Rank
2014 HOU 6.2% 24 80.4 4
2013 HOU 6.7% 18 93.9 23
2012 HOU 7.3% 6 80.0 10
2011 HOU 8.4% 3 69.0 2
2010 HOU 6.3% 17 100.5 32
2009 HOU 6.0% 20 83.2 14
2008 BUF 4.7% 28 83.2 17
2007 BUF 4.7% 31 81.1 15
2006 BUF 8.1% 6 82.5 19
2005 STL 7.6% 10 89.8 28
2004 STL 7.0% 16 91.6 26
2003 STL 7.6% 5 73.3 10
2002 STL 8.1% 7 86.0 24
2001 STL 7.9% 10 69.9 6

Staying with a top 5 ranking as being elite, Kollar's DL have only been elite at rushing the passer twice this century (sack% is sacks/total dropbacks) - 2003 and 2011. The 2012 Texans were close to being elite as were the 2002 Rams. In terms of opposing QB rating, Kollar didn't have a DL that could get to elite levels until he got J.J. Watt, although the 2001 Rams were close. If we average the sack% ranking we get 14th and OQBR we get 16th. Similar to stopping the run, Kollar's DLs are generally average with a few horrible and a few elite seasons sprinkled in.

Looking toward the 2015 season

Gone are Terrence Knighton, Quanterus Smith and Mitch Unrein, but we return a lot of the DL talent from last season and we have added some talent through free agency and the draft. The DL for the Broncos last season ranked like this

Rushing Yards Allowed - 2nd

YPC allowed - 3rd

Rushing TDs allowed - 10 (tied)

Power - 7th

Stuffs - 7th

Sack% -  23rd

OQBR - 8th

Other than sack%, there really isn't that much room for improvement. I would guess that the majority of our sacks next season will come from the OLBs (Von Miller, Demarcus Ware and Shane Ray) similar to last season. In 2014 we had 41 sacks and 24 came from Miller and Ware. No other Bronco had more than 3 sacks last season (Mailk Jackson). Houston was supposed have an elite DL last season with Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Ryan Pickett (all 1st round draft picks taken a 11, 1, and 29 respectively). Clowney's injury meant that they had to start 4th round pick Jaret Crick at the other DE. Their DL results were above average, but not elite, but some of that could be attributed to their OLBs who were average at best last season (Whitney Mercilus and Brooks Reed combined for 8 sacks). In terms of talent our putative starters on the DL are significantly less talented than Watt-Pickett-Clowney (Jackson-Williams-Wolfe), but our starting OLBs are significantly more talented than Mercilus and Reed.