Traditional statistics and most modern analytics measure how effective a player is without necessarily taking into account assignments or degree of difficulty. While I’ve made passing reference in my game analysis to how often certain players have been double teamed, nobody tracks this, so I’ve been keen to figure out whether the reality matches up to our expectations and my recollection from watching the film.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been charting every defensive snap from the 2013 season to try and get a handle on how often each of the Jets defensive linemen were doubled in order to investigate tendencies based on situation, different teams’ schemes and certain individuals.
I’m still in the process of compiling the numbers, which – as you might expect – are fascinating. We’ll get to the first set of numbers in part two in a few days, but before we get to that stage, I wanted to write about what I’ve learned about teams’ approach to who gets double teamed and how they set up their run blocking schemes and protections.
After the jump, I’m going to talk about the methods I’ve employed in compiling this data, how I’ve treated certain situations and what this data tells us. I’ll also be outlining what the data does not tell us.
When I began this project, my initial intention was simply to add up the total number of double teams so that we could see which players were doubled the most often and in which situations during the season. However, it soon became apparent that this would be inadequate, because there were players who were double-teamed temporarily and there needed to be a way to differentiate between those and full-on double teams.
Here was the system I devised:
I attributed a double team to a player if he was being actively blocked by two players at the end of the play. Anyone who was initially doubled, but not throughout the play, got credit for a “peel” (on running plays) or a “chip” (on passing plays) which I basically used as catch-all terms for anything that slowed their progress without constituting a full double team.
In order to attribute a peel, I determined whether a second blocker impeded the progress of the defensive player. This might be anything from a getting one hand on him on the way to the second level to a temporary double-team where one of the blockers peeled off to the second level. Just waving a hand out in his general direction on the way through would not be sufficient, but if solid contact was made to hold him in place or even move him then that would be a peel. A bump on the way through would also count.
Let’s look at an example:
On this play, Harrison and Richardson would get credit for a “peel”. Although they are both initially doubled, one of the blockers peels off to block a linebacker in each case. Everybody else is single-blocked and nobody is double-teamed at the end of the play, so nobody gets credit for a “double team”. Although Coples gets caught up in traffic, the other blocker he makes contact with is not actively seeking to block him. Had the right guard turned around and left his man to double-team Coples, then he would have been credited with a double-team.
As with a peel, for a player to be credited with a chip on a pass play, their progress needed to be impeded by deliberate contact from an offensive player. It’s important that the offensive player needed to be actively trying to make a block. If the contact was incidental, because a blocker got driven into someone, or even if the defensive player deliberately initiated the contact that would not constitute a chip or a double, unless the blocker reacted to that and started making an effort to block them.
This is a simple example of a pass play. Everyone on this play is single blocked, but Wilkerson does get a shove from the left tackle, impeding his progress. While this is only a one-handed shove with a minor effect, I would still credit him with a “chip” on this play.
Let’s now look at a more complicated pass play.
On this play (which was actually from 2012 so not included in the study), Wilkerson is initially doubled. However, #74 ends up impeding the path of DeVito who has deliberately rushed at an angle in order to free up Ellis. Ellis is chipped by #55 who ends up chasing him to the quarterback. McIntyre's interior rush is single blocked and any contact with a second blocker is incidental because the player is not actively trying to block him. Ultimately, Wilkerson would get credit for a "chip" because he is not being doubled as the ball is thrown. DeVito would be credited with a double, even though he has initiated that contact himself, because the blocker has made an effort to impede his progress. Had the blocker stayed on Wilkerson then the contact from DeVito would have been incidental. Finally, although Ellis is chipped, he would not get credit for a chip because there is no second blocker making an effort to block him. In order to get credit for a chip or a peel, you must be blocked by two different players.
There were plenty of special situations, which needed to be treated consistently. In the event of a stunt, if the offensive linemen simply swapped men without any contact, nobody would be credited with a chip. However, if a player was contacted prior to the stunt by one blocker and then picked up by the other, that would be a chip because their initial progress was impeded. If a player was chipped but then left unblocked, that does not constitute a chip. However, if they were chipped twice and then left unblocked that would constitute one chip. Finally, on some occasions a would-be pass rusher occupied more than one blocker but never made contact because they deliberately made no effort to rush the passer. On these occasions, I credited the pass rusher with a chip for the extra blocker(s) as long as they did not react by going to block someone else instead before the pass was thrown.
A player can be chipped twice on one play, as long as you're chipped by two different players before (or while) being blocked by a third. You could also even be chipped and doubled on the same play. On the rare occasions where there was a triple team, the player would get credit for two double-teams. However, this only happened a handful of times all season, because if a player was being triple blocked, one or two of the blockers would usually break off from the triple team to try and pick up someone else. In that instance the defensive player would only get credit for a chip and a double-team (or two chips if two blockers broke away). In some situations, teams used moving pockets which would often result in three guys blocking two pass rushers almost in unison. Where there was no obvious double-team, each player would get credit for a chip here. Also, if someone that was double teaming a player stayed on that player, but clearly tried to impede the progress of another player at the same time, the initial double would still count and that could still constitute a chip. Similarly, if an offensive player chipped someone but then ended up blocking them anyway, that would not count as a chip.
After talking to some analysts who’ve been in contact with NFL linemen about how they handle double teams and what they’re trying to achieve, they agreed that my approach aligns closely to what they would expect teams to do if they were compiling similar information. The point was made that I could have differentiated between a one-handed momentary chip like the one on Wilkerson in the second clip above and a more substantial two-handed temporary double-team like the one on Wilkerson in the third clip. Nevertheless, the data produced should still be pretty informative.
What I learned about double teams
There are a lot of different ways an offensive line will set itself up, which vary from play to play and are affected by scheme, situation and personnel. When we get into the data, we’ll see that there are some major differences from team-to-team and even from the first meeting between two teams to the next.
It seems apparent that double teams are not always dictated by the offense as you might think. The way the defense lines up will often force the defense to single-block a dangerous player. For example, you might see the Jets leave a cornerback with no safety coverage, but the safety comes into the box to cover, which enables one of the inside linebackers to blitz, which engages a would-be double-team blocker on one of the interior pass rushers. Also, the Jets defense will shift just prior to the snap, often putting one of their defensive tackles opposite the “A” or “B” gap so that this player can try and shoot that gap and potentially occupy both blockers, at least temporarily.
The most amazing thing is how often a pass rusher makes no effort to take the shortest route to the quarterback and instead appears to deliberately draw blockers out of position to create space for someone else. You’ll often see an outside rusher run extra wide to spread out the pocket or an interior lineman making his initial burst laterally rather than straight ahead, as DeVito did in the third gif above. Also, it was not uncommon for a rusher to appear like they gave up trying to rush, when in reality the fact that they backed off prevented them from driving their blockers into the path of imminent pressure off the edge.
One thing that’s obvious is that the defensive tackles are doubled initially a lot more often than the ends. That makes sense because obviously those are the closest players to the ball, so you would often want to ensure that right up the middle is not the path of least resistance. With a defense like the Jets where they have versatile players lining up all over the front seven, this suggests that a lot of the time the players who are initially doubled are dictated by how the team lines up moreso than who those players are. However, where the players’ talent comes in is more in terms of who ends up getting doubled.
In many cases, a tackle will be doubled initially to slow down that immediate burst and allow the quarterback to drop back unencumbered (whether that be to throw or to hand off) but this will be a token double and then they will either peel off to the second level or drop off to double the rush off the edge. You’ll also see more offensive linemen forced to stay on the double team if the defensive player is starting to get penetration or collapse the pocket. Finally, you’ll see offensive linemen having to leave their initial man to rescue someone else who is about to be beaten one-on-one. In that regard, the importance of someone who gets credit for a double team is generally reflected by the fact they have contributed by being disruptive.
There is not necessarily always a double team (or chip/peel) on every play. Sometimes linemen head straight for the second level or sometimes the Jets would send extra players and everyone would end up single-blocked. In zone blocking, particularly on stretch plays, the blockers are on the move, so while peels are not uncommon, you rarely get a double team unless it’s on the backside.
As noted earlier on, most basic statistics, analytics and analysis do not account for how often a player is double teamed. However, they are taken into account to some extent by Pro Football Focus, insofar as they would not typically grade down a player who was double teamed out of the play on a running down and would generally give a higher grade to anyone who beat a double. Is that enough though?
What the data will tell us
Once I’ve finished compiling the raw data, I’ll be able to provide you with a total figure for double teams and chips on pass plays and double teams and peels on running plays for each of the Jets linemen.
What this will tell us includes the following:
– How often each player was doubled with reference to one another, taking into account position.
– How often a double team on each player constituted a full double team, again with reference to one another.
– How the frequency that players were double-teamed developed over the course of the season.
– How certain teams’ approach differed from one another.
What the data will not tell us
This initial data will not be definitive. However, it will give us the raw data to do some further investigation.
– If a player was double-teamed a lot this doesn’t necessarily prove that they should have received better consideration for Pro Bowl or similar honors. (To determine that would require a comparison to see how often some of the other elite players were doubled, perhaps in terms of common opponents).
– If a player was double-teamed a lot this doesn’t necessarily mean their role was more difficult than it was last year. (To determine that would require a comparison with similar data from last year).
– If a player was double-teamed a lot this doesn’t necessarily mean that was any more or less than a former Jets player. (To determine that would require a comparison with similar data for that player in a prior year).
Naturally those additional studies will be conducted in some of the later installments of this series. I also intend to look at it from the other side of the ball, in terms of which offensive linemen for the Jets were employed in single blocking or in double teams.
In Part 2 of the Double Team Project, in a few days, we’ll be looking at the numbers for double teams on pass plays and what we can glean from these.