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Are the coaches overusing Von Miller and Bradley Chubb?

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Can we blame the lack of “production” on the lack of rest?

Denver Broncos v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images

The Broncos defense has been the least impactful defense in the league through three games. I define a defensive impact play as a QB hit, a sack, a tackle-for-loss, or a forced turnover.

Right now the Broncos are dead last with 13, and it’s not even close. Even the woeful tanking Dolphins have 19 defensive impact plays through three games.

Team Def Impact Plays
New England Patriots 59
Carolina Panthers 58
Green Bay Packers 56
Minnesota Vikings 56
Baltimore Ravens 55
Jacksonville Jaguars 55
Chicago Bears 53
Houston Texans 50
San Francisco 49ers 50
Cleveland Browns 49
New York Jets 47
Pittsburgh Steelers 47
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 46
New Orleans Saints 45
Buffalo Bills 43
Indianapolis Colts 42
Detroit Lions 41
Arizona Cardinals 39
Atlanta Falcons 39
Tennessee Titans 39
Cincinnati Bengals 38
Los Angeles Rams 37
Kansas City Chiefs 33
New York Giants 33
Philadelphia Eagles 33
Dallas Cowboys 32
Los Angeles Chargers 31
Oakland Raiders 30
Washington R. Potatoes 29
Seattle Seahawks 28
Miami Dolphins 19
Denver Broncos 13

The Broncos currently have three QB hits through three games - all by Bradley Chubb. There are 35 individual players with more than the Broncos have as a team. Why? Let’s look for answers.

One possible explanation is that we have played three QBs that are difficult to hit and or sack. Unfortunately that is not the reality. Despite each having played against the Broncos in 2019, the Raiders, Bears and Packers are 19th, 20th and 22nd in the league in terms of allowed sack rate (1st means lowest sack rate - currently Dallas).

That means that the other two opponents of the Raiders, Bears and Packers have been able to sack Derek Carr, Mitch Trubisky and Aaron Rodgers at a fairly high rate since we did not any of the three QBs.

Another possible explanation for the lack of defensive impact plays is this theory that our defensive players are tired from being overworked in training camp and the continued heavy use our both Bradley Chubb (currently at 95.9% of the defensive snaps) and Von Miller (94.8%).

We’ll dig into this shortly, but first I want to point out that while Miller and Chubb are two of our best individual players, they are not the entire defense.

Laying the blame for the lack of TEAM defensive impact plays solely on them overlooks the fact that on any given defensive play there are nine other guys who could be making a tackle behind the line of scrimmage, or pressuring the QB and reading a route and picking the ball off. (It could be argued that I need to include passes defended in the defensive impact plays, but we can discuss that in the comments).

By and large, no one of the defense has stepped up and made plays through our first three game.

Even in the one team defensive impact stat where DEN is not last, TFL, the Broncos are 27th. The ten TFL only ranks DEN ahead of KC, SEA (both at 9), NYG (7), DAL and MIA (both at 4).

So let’s talk about this overwork/overuse theory. Here’s where I first noticed it

Now, I can’t speak to how hard Vic Fangio drove the team during training camp, nor do I have any data to compare it to other NFL coaches’ approaches to training camp. What I can evaluate is whether or not other NFL players who are edge rushers have gotten used as much as Miller and Chubb have been used in the first three games and whether or not that hurts pass rushing effectiveness.

So to answer this question I am going to look at the top 50 or so edge defenders in the NFL and see how much they are used and if those who are playing 90-plus percent of the defensive snaps can still be elite pass rushers. This, of course will not answer any question about residual tiredness that may have carried over from an overly strenuous training camp as the gentlemen above postulates, but it will provide to data to frame the discussion.

So to start, let’s look at the percentage of defensive snaps that Von Miller has received throughout his career. Pro-football-reference.com will be used for this data collection and their data only goes back to 2012 so I can’t see how much Miller played as a rookie. Miller’s career low utilization came in the 2015 season - 76.2 percent while his career high came in 2012, 89.9 percent. Overall Miller has appeared in 82.9 percent of the Broncos defensive snaps (for his career - keeping in mind he only played in 9 games in 2013 because of injury and that was facotered in here).

Bradley Chubb played 844 defensive snaps in 2018 (oddly that was the exact same number as Von in 2018), which was 78.4 percent of our defensive snaps last season. So both Chubb and Von are being used more heavily this year than they have before in their NFL careers.

This may not continue if their backups develop to the point of being better able to fill their shoes while they get a little rest during games. Last season we had Shaq Barrett backing up Miller. Shaq is currently leading the league in sacks with 8.0 and he is second in the league with 8 QB hits. We also had first round bust OLB, Shane Ray, backing up Bradley Chubb, and while Ray was terrible last season, he was at least going to be given plenty of chances to show his ineptness because he was a former first-round draft pick.

So we’ve established that both Von and Chubb are being used more than they have in the past, but how do they compare with other edge defenders in the league so far this year (data from NFLGSIS.com). Unfortunately I can’t find a free site that shows QB pressures. PFF does, but I don’t have the money to get a membership to see behind their paywall anymore.

Edge Rusher Team Def Snap % through 3 gms 2019 QB hits + sacks thru 3 games 2019
Shaquil Barrett Buccaneers 84.5% 16.0
Myles Garrett Browns 82.2% 14.0
Matt Judon Ravens 81.6% 12.0
Preston Smith Packers 90.9% 11.5
Za'Darius Smith Packers 86.1% 10.0
Whitney Mercilus Texans 93.7% 9.0
Markus Golden Giants 80.5% 9.0
Calais Campbell Jaguars 76.9% 9.0
J.J. Watt Texans 94.7% 8.0
Devon Kennard Lions 90.8% 8.0
Everson Griffen Vikings 82.3% 8.0
Danielle Hunter Vikings 81.8% 8.0
Brian Burns Panthers 65.9% 8.0
Clay Matthews Rams 63.5% 8.0
Mario Addison Panthers 65.9% 7.5
Cameron Wake Titans 27.2% 7.5
Chandler Jones Cardinals 94.6% 7.0
T.J. Watt Steelers 88.1% 7.0
Demarcus Lawrence Cowboys 63.3% 6.5
Cameron Jordan Saints 93.9% 6.0
Khalil Mack Bears 84.6% 6.0
Josh Allen Jaguars 77.4% 6.0
Joey Bosa Chargers 85.2% 5.5
Dante Fowler, Jr. Rams 84.3% 5.0
Ryan Kerrigan Potatoes 78.5% 5.0
Leonard Floyd Bears 78.3% 5.0
Nick Bosa 49ers 56.0% 5.0
Michael Bennett Patriots 45.0% 5.0
Bud Dupree Steelers 92.5% 4.0
Melvin Ingram Chargers 90.2% 4.0
Carlos Dunlap Bengals 85.4% 4.0
Justin Houston Colts 77.0% 4.0
Terrell Suggs Cardinals 71.9% 4.0
Dee Ford 49ers 41.9% 4.0
Jerry Hughes Bills 62.5% 3.5
Bradley Chubb Broncos 95.9% 3.0
Clelin Ferrell Raiders 77.0% 3.0
Trey Flowers Lions 62.4% 3.0
Solomon Thomas 49ers 60.0% 3.0
Dont'a Hightower Patriots 65.6% 2.5
Olivier Vernon Browns 85.3% 2.0
Frank Clark Chiefs 80.2% 2.0
Brandon Graham Eagles 78.4% 2.0
Montez Sweat Potatoes 68.4% 2.0
Jadeveon Clowney Seahawks 64.0% 2.0
Robert Quinn Cowboys 62.5% 2.0
Rashan Gary Packers 22.0% 2.0
Kyle Van Noy Patriots 81.4% 1.5
Von Miller Broncos 94.8% 0.0
Jabaal Sheard Colts 77.7% 0.0
Alex Okafor Chiefs 72.8% 0.0
Trent Murphy Bills 67.0% 0.0
Ezekiel Ansah Seahawks 32.8% 0.0

There are some other edge defenders who are getting used almost as much as Miller and Chubb. J.J. Watt is playing 94.7 percent of the defensive snaps. Chandler Jones is playing 94.6%. Cameron Jordan is playing 93.9 percent. Whitney Mercilus is playing 93.7 percent. All of them have at least six combined QB hits + sacks. So that kind of shoots down the argument that overplaying edge defenders leads to an ability to rush the passer effectively.

It’s a small sample size (three games), but it is interesting to note that the, of the five players in double digits (QB hits + sacks), four out of five are playing in the low to mid 80% of the defensive snaps. This would suggest that there might be a sweet spot in terms of rest and utilization of edge defenders. So let’s take a look at a full season, 2018, to see if this trend plays out.

I looked at every player that had 20 or more QB hits in 2018. There were 28 of them. I sorted by combined sacks + QB hits and then looked at the snap percentage in 2018 for all 28. Eight of those 28 are defensive tackles, but if you average the snap percentage for the 20 edge defenders on the list you get 78 percent. Defensive tackles are generally classed as interior defenders and not edge defenders, hence their exclusion from this average of top edge defenders from 2018.

Player Sack QH QBH + sacks 2018 def Snap%
Aaron Donald 20.5 41 61.5 90.4%
Fletcher Cox 10.5 34 44.5 80.0%
Yannick Ngakoue 9.5 33 42.5 74.8%
Michael Bennett 9.0 30 39.0 69.0%
Dee Ford 13.0 29 42.0 86.8%
Myles Garrett 13.5 29 42.5 86.0%
Chris Jones 15.5 29 44.5 65.6%
Frank Clark 13.0 27 40.0 73.5%
Von Miller 14.5 26 40.5 78.4%
J.J. Watt 16.0 25 41.0 90.1%
Za'Darius Smith 8.5 25 33.5 66.7%
Jarran Reed 10.5 24 34.5 78.0%
Demarcus Lawrence 10.5 23 33.5 71.7%
Calais Campbell 10.5 22 32.5 79.7%
T.J. Watt 13.0 21 34.0 88.1%
Bradley Chubb 12.0 21 33.0 78.4%
Cameron Jordan 12.0 21 33.0 85.7%
Jadeveon Clowney 9.0 21 30.0 89.3%
Carlos Dunlap 8.0 21 29.0 74.3%
Olivier Vernon 7.0 21 28.0 86.1%
Gerald McCoy 6.0 21 27.0 80.2%
DeForest Buckner 12.0 20 32.0 79.4%
Jason Pierre-Paul 12.5 20 32.5 91.7%
Trey Flowers 7.5 20 27.5 75.5%
Stephon Tuitt 5.5 20 25.5 75.5%
Matt Judon 7.0 20 27.0 65.0%
Leonard Williams 5.0 20 25.0 77.3%
Chris Long 6.5 20 26.5 48.2%

So this analysis from 2018 would seem to suggest that to keep your edge defenders effective as pass rushers, you should let them rest one out of every five snaps.

Poll

Are Von Miller and Bradley Chubb being used too much?

This poll is closed

  • 33%
    Yes, absolutely
    (178 votes)
  • 43%
    Yes - if their utilization continues to be this high
    (229 votes)
  • 23%
    No - you gotta ride your best horses if you want to win the race
    (125 votes)
532 votes total Vote Now