BGA: Scouting Daniel Muir

Bent , TheJetsBlog.com

Following the injury to Kenrick Ellis on Monday Night, the Jets brought in some cover in the shape of former Colts nose tackle Daniel Muir. With Sione Po’uha’s status still up in the air due to his back injury, it looks likely that Muir will have to split reps with undrafted rookie Damon Harrison and probably Mike DeVito at the nose tackle position. Jets fans might not be all that familiar with Muir, a sixth year veteran, so I’ve been looking at footage to try and determine what he could bring to the table.

Muir was undrafted in 2007 but made the Colts team and progressed to starter, almost winning a Super Bowl ring in 2009, as he started at defensive tackle in Super Bowl XLIV. He therefore has plenty of experience. However, he only played in four games in 2011 and failed to make the Packers roster this preseason.

After the jump, I’ll be reviewing his preseason performances and considering what he could provide the Jets with this year and going forward.

Who is Daniel Muir?

A four year starter at Kent State, the 6-3 Muir was awarded first team all-MAC conference honors in his senior year. Weighing 303 pounds, he showcased some athleticism, running a 4.90 forty at his pro day, but went undrafted in 2007. He is currently listed at 322 pounds. The Packers picked him up and he was the only undrafted rookie to make their roster. He only played in three games, registering eight tackles, and went on to join the Colts from 2008-2010. Over that period, he started 24 games for them, including the Super Bowl in February 2010. He then went on to sign a one-year, $1.85m contract with the Rams in August 2011, but failed to make their opening day roster. Due to injury problems, the Colts brought back Muir for four games in the middle of last year. He was with the Packers in training camp this year, but had lots of competition at the defensive tackle position and wasn’t able to win a roster spot.

Muir is regarded as more of a run stopper than a pass rusher, as he would usually come out of the game on passing downs, so it perhaps doesn’t reflect too well on him that the Colts were 24th, 24th and 25th in the three years where he was getting a lot of playing time there. In 2009, his 52 tackles placed him fifth among all NFL defensive tackles (Kyle Williams led the league with 66 and nobody else had more than 56). However, as a pass rusher, he’s only been credited with half a sack in his NFL career. However, he did get this sack against the Jets in the 2010 wild card game.

Muir played sparingly in his first two seasons, but was a full-time member of the defensive rotation for the Colts in 2009 and 2010. Despite being a productive tackler, he didn’t force any fumbles and only batted down one pass. He also had seven missed tackles over that two year period. Other than his half sack, he had two QB hits and 15 pressures. In 2010, PFF rated him as the worst overall defensive tackle in the entire NFL. In 2009, he was slightly better, but still only 64th out of 87. He also graded out poorly in 2011, finishing 12th worst despite only playing four games, which translates to the worst grades in the NFL again on a per-snap basis. One limitation of these grades in that they don’t necessarily account for whether a player is double-teamed, so that can often skew the rankings, but it’s still a sign that Muir was not all that disruptive and found himself blocked out of a lot of plays. Muir’s ratings were also affected by penalties, of which he has seven in his career, four of which were in 2010 (one holding and three neutral zone infractions).

However, a glimmer of hope exists in the form of this report (hat tio to LIJetsFan) that suggested he had a “terrific” training camp and was only squeezed out due to the Packers’ depth at that spot. I’m therefore going to focus on the footage from his preseason games with the Packers which will hopefully give us the best idea of what he’s capable of providing the Jets with right now.

2012 Preseason

Week One: San Diego

- On an outside run to the left, he managed to keep going downhill towards the run and got off his block to chase the runner down and make a diving tackle as he turned the corner for seven. A good, athletic, play that saved what could have been a bigger gain.
- Struggled to get off a single team block from the opposing center on a run to the outside.
- Beat his man in pass protection, tossing him aside, but he tripped over his teammate, who was cut to the floor, before he could get to the quarterback.
- Got off his block eventually in pass protection to rush up the middle, but the quarterback got rid of the pass before his pressure arrived.
- Was driven out of a play laterally.
- Was driven off the line initially, but managed to leverage his way in the direction of the run to help bottle it up.
- Shed his block to assist on a three yard run, but didn’t get official credit.
- Initially driven off the line, but then shed his block.
- Dropped off and hit the running back to knock the ball incomplete as he read and blew up a screen pass. Good instinctive and athletic play, which drew praise from Jon Gruden.
- Shed his block and hustled across to assist on a run over the left side, but didn’t get official credit.
- Penetrated into the backfield and threw his man (the center) on the floor as the Colts stuffed a run on 3rd and short.

Muir played 35 snaps with the third unit, first getting into the game in the second quarter. While he was only officially credited with one tackle, his contribution helped the Packers hold San Diego to 68 yards on 29 carries. He was often double teamed in pass protection, failing to generate any kind of push, but did manage to get off some blocks to cause a bit of disruption.

Week Two: Cleveland

- Was driven out of a play, but it only went for a short gain.
- Got a decent push on a bullrush.
- Was driven off the line, but again the run only went for a short gain.
- Shot a gap into the backfield, got cut to the floor, got back up immediately to grab the runner from behind as he hit the hole and haul him down (although he didn’t get official credit). Great athleticism as he stuffed the run for a short gain.
- Drew a holding penalty.
- Was driven off the line initially, but span off the block to get into the backfield. However, it was too late as the runner had already hit the hole.
- Held his ground at the point of attack and got off the block to get a piece of the runner for three.
- Was driven off the line in a short yardage situation.
- Got into the backfield and stuffed a run for no gain. Good quickness shown on this play.
- Was blocked to the ground on one play.
- Got into the backfield to late to stop the runner, but chased him down as he bounced outside and assisted on a tackle for a short gain.

Muir was in on 31 snaps, recording three tackles. Most of these were in the second half, but he did see some second quarter action, notably in goal line situations. There were several examples of him getting penetration and also of him getting driven off the line, but he usually was able to recover and none of these tended to go for big plays. He again flashed some athleticism, but didn’t make any kind of contribution as a pass rusher.

Week Three: Cincinnati

- Driven off the line by a single team block from Bengals starter Clint Boling.
- Got a good push on a bull rush.
- Nearly jumped offsides twice, but managed to recover.
- Lined up at DE and got good penetration as he shot a gap.

According to NFL.com, he was only in on 13 snaps and recorded zero tackles. However, I’m sure he was in on more plays than that and when he was, he had a reasonable impact. He did see some third quarter action against starters.

Week Four: Kansas City

- Got penetration into the backfield, but there was nobody to clean up behind him, so the runner still got to the second level easily.
- Able to get across and cut off the runner’s path on 3rd and three, but allowed him to fall forward for a five yard gain as he made the tackle. Gave up crucial yards after contact on this play.
- Assisted on a tackle for a short gain, as he shed a block and the run came right at him.
- Good penetration, as he redirected the runner to the outside, where he was stopped for a loss.
- Made a tackle for a short gain on another run basically right at him.
- Driven off the line by a double team, but was still able to leverage himself into the path of the run.
- Shot a gap into the backfield, but there was nobody behind him to clean up and the runner made a big gain.
- Shed his block and made a tackle for a short gain on another run right at him.
- Was driven off the line, but recovered to get back in on the tackle, although he didn’t get official credit.
- Collapsed the pocket as the quarterback stepped up to avoid a rush off the edge, leading to a red zone interception.
- Used a duck-under move to beat his man and pressured the quarterback for the first time all preseason.
- Shed his block and got in on the tackle as the Chiefs made a short yardage conversion, but didn’t get official credit.
- Beat his man to the outside in pass protection, drawing a holding penalty as he forced the quarterback to step up.
- Didn’t get off his block, but got a piece of the runner on his way past to bring him down for five.
- Again shed his block to get in on a tackle, but didn’t get official credit.
- Chased the QB out to the sideline and forced him to throw the ball away.
- Got good penetration and this time the run was stuffed behind him.
- Was driven well out of a play.
- Was drive back off the line.
- Was forced to the inside on a running play.

With BJ Raji injured on the first snap, Muir basically played the whole game (53 snaps) only coming out in passing situations. The Packers won easily, although the Chiefs did rush for almost 250 yards at 5.6 yards per carry. They did get some decent yardage from draw plays against the pass defense though, so Muir wasn’t entirely responsible. He was credited with five tackles. In this game, he actually made some contributions as a pass rusher, but it was clear he was worn down by the end.

Conclusions

Let’s summarize my observations into categories:

Position

With the Colts in a 4-3 system, Muir played almost exclusively as one of two defensive tackles on the inside. While he did get some DE and NT reps, these situations amounted to less than two per game over the four years he played there. With the Packers now running 3-4, Muir was almost exclusively used at nose tackle, although he did play some DE as well. One observation is that he often lined up a yard back off the line of scrimmage. If you read BGA Extra this week, you may recall I got a question asking me why Kenrick Ellis does that.

Pass rush

Clearly Muir isn’t known as a pass rusher, hasn’t put up good numbers and usually comes out of the game in passing situations. He did show some flashes in the last game, but a lot of the time he was posing no threat whatsoever. This isn’t a major problem, because on passing downs the Jets could employ someone like Wilkerson, DeVito or Coples at the nose tackle position, or even put two of those guys on the interior of a four man line with two hybrid linebackers (Maybin, Pace, McIntyre) outside them.

Moves

Muir usually seems to use brute strength to get off blocks, which often means he gets off the block too late to disrupt a play. However, I did see some quickness from him, shooting gaps and avoiding pass blockers. Also, he attempted to use a spin move at times.

Standing his ground

The main observation I had about Muir, is that he would usually play his opponent to a tie. By that I mean that he might get driven off the line, but if he did, he would either be able to hold his ground initially or he’d eventually get off the block and recover, so although they might be able to surge forward for a few yards, there was rarely a huge hole opened up. Similarly, when he did manage to get off a block or into the backfield, it usually wasn’t immediately because it would only be on his counter move that Muir could get free. So this means he didn’t blow up too many plays, but was able to get in on a lot of plays that were restricted to short gains. Further evidence of this comes from the fact that if Muir was taken out of a play, it often didn’t go for a big gain, whereas there were some plays where he got into the backfield, only for the runner to still have room in behind him.

Goal line

Goal line defense is definitely one position where the Jets will need to use Muir, unless the Colts never end up in that situation. On the plays I saw, Muir generally did a good job of getting penetration, although this often didn’t prevent the runner from scoring.

Playbook

Obviously one hurdle is the fact that Muir won’t know the playbook yet, which could be a problem, especially with the way the Jets have been struggling with their run fits. However, he’s been with a few different teams and has played in both 4-3 and 3-4 systems, so that could stand him in good stead. I’d imagine that they can give him (and Harrison, who let’s not forget has next to no NFL experience) some simple assignments predicated on them just driving their man forward and reacting to the play. They could also use him (and Harrison) as the nose tackle on some of those passing situations in order to keep DeVito fresh, since that assignment amounts to taking on a double team, getting a surge if you can and there’s no real downside because if you don’t generate any pressure, you weren’t really expected to anyway.

Instincts

On one outstanding play that I highlighted above, Muir made a great read to blow up a screen pass. His experience will no doubt give him the edge over Harrison in this area. Having said that, there were some examples in his Colts days of him making peculiar reads and taking himself totally out of a play by running away from the action. Also, it could be that some of the plays where he shot a gap and the play gained yardage might have been his fault because he was required to maintain his gap on those plays. That may be more ill-discipline than poor instincts though and is probably not uncommon when you have guys trying to make a roster by getting noticed.

Batting passes

In his entire NFL career, Muir has only batted down one pass and it’s not difficult to see why. He often doesn’t get any surge in the passing game which means he’s well off the line of scrimmage. However, I did see him at least attempting to drop off into passing lanes where he wasn’t getting anywhere with his pass rush.

Athleticism

Based on the preseason footage, Muir has impressive athleticism for a man his size. Chasing down plays when you’re such a big man is always impressive to watch and the play where he was cut to the ground but got back up again to make the stop was great. He therefore doesn’t compare with a slow-as-molasses Howard Green type and obviously he is a lot smaller than Harrison and Ellis. It will be interesting to see if he can hold his ground at the point of attack against his former teammates on the Colts line.

Motor

Muir played over 1,000 snaps during 2009 and 2010, so clearly is a guy who can handle a lot of playing time. We saw signs of this in preseason, especially in the last game. Playing 53 snaps is not something the Jets would usually expect out of their starting defensive tackles, let alone a rotational player, so it’s impressive enough that he managed to handle that workload. As you can see from the analysis, he was getting handled at the end of the game, though, as it was clear he was tapped.

Demeanor

Muir seems like a popular guy, quite energetic and got fired up after some big plays. I didn’t see any examples of him complaining to the officials or getting chippy with an opponent.

Overall

Muir has established himself as a rotational level player in this league. Even when he was starting, the fact he was struggling, suggests he would have been better off in a straightforward role. For the Jets, his experience is very valuable and they absolutely need bodies at defensive tackle this week – even if Po’uha can unexpectedly go. It will be interesting to compare his performance (and Harrison’s) with that of Martin Tevaseu, who has been doing reasonably well in a backup role with the Colts.

If Ellis and Po’uha can get healthy again, you wonder how long Muir will actually be here. Even if he sees more action than and outplays Harrison, I’d imagine that the Jets would prefer to keep Harrison in light of his potential, especially since if they let Muir go but then need him again later in the year, he could be still available. For Sunday, though, he’ll almost certainly be needed at some point and will hopefully be fired up to prove himself against his former team.