BGA: The Double Team Project – Part 3 (Run defense)

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.

In part one of this series, I set out my methodology for charting every snap from the 2013 season and went through some of the things I learned from undertaking this task. In part two, I started to share the data in respect of those plays when the Jets were rushing the passer.

After the jump, we move on to part three, which shows how often each of the Jets defensive linemen were double teamed, including a differentiation between permanent and temporary double teams. I’ll also be seeking to identify trends and differences between how each player was handled or between the approaches taken by each team. Finally, I’ll outline what this data tells us and what additional research would be needed to answer some of the questions that the data alone cannot answer.

Double Teams

The following is a list of how many times each player was double teamed. For a more detailed definition of a double team, refer to part one, but essentially this includes anyone who was being blocked by two players as the runner broke to the second level or was tackled.

Wilkerson – 61
Richardson – 47
Harrison – 39
Ellis – 31
Coples – 15
Douzable – 12
Pace – 4
Others – 6 (McIntyre 4, Barnes 2)

Note: I did not chart double teams for inside linebackers or defensive backs, but these were rare…probably less than 10 in total for the whole season.

What this tells us

Immediately from the numbers, we can see that double teams are again more common for those players lining up on the interior. Once again, it’s no surprise to see Wilkerson double teamed more than anyone else, but he did also play more run snaps than any other linemen, so we will need to look at percentages again later on to get the full picture.

Peels

As explained in more detail in part one, a peel is used as a catch-all term for any situation where a defensive player is blocked by two offensive players, but one of those is just temporarily. The second offensive player must deliberately impede the defensive player’s progress. You can be peeled twice on one play or by a third player on a play where you were doubled. This would usually take the form of an initial double team where one of the blockers breaks off to block someone at the second level. I did not differentiate between full-on doubles where a lineman sealed the defensive player before peeling off and plays where the second offensive lineman just made contact to impede the defensive player on his way through, but that could be something that could produce interesting data from a more detailed study.

Wilkerson – 100
Harrison – 99
Richardson – 97
Ellis – 29
Coples – 22
Douzable – 17
Pace – 7
Others – 5 (McIntyre 3, Barnes 2)

What this tells us

It’s very interesting to see how closely grouped the top three are. This is, of course, again affected by how many run snaps each of them played. As with the pass protection, you can usually expect an initial double on one of the players lined up on the inside. In fact, they would have to set up their initial blocks in a similar fashion on all plays because otherwise it would be too easy for the defense to differentiate between run and pass plays and would reduce the effectiveness of play-action and draw plays. That’s unless you wanted to develop a tendency and then break that in search of a big play, of course.

Ratios

Let’s now consider the ratio of doubles-to-peels. Moreso than in pass protection, this can be dictated by the offense. However, there may have been situations where a double team blocker was unable to peel off because the defensive player had gained traction and was able to penetrate.

Ellis – 1.07
Douzable – 0.70
Coples – 0.68
Wilkerson – 0.61
Pace – 0.57
Richardson – 0.48
Harrison – 0.39

What this tells us

Once again, we see Ellis and, to a lesser extent, Douzable dominating this list. As we said in part two, this might be because those two players come into the game fresh and therefore are more likely to require more attention from opposition blockers. The difference between Harrison and Ellis here is quite telling. It does seem like Ellis, while he perhaps isn’t as disruptive as Harrison in terms of breaking into the backfield to make plays or as statistically productive, commands a double team a lot more often.

As you would expect, it seems like Wilkerson would be the guy they would try to take out of the play with a full-double out of all the starters. That would be a mixture of the team planning to double team him and his penetration causing a double team to have to stay on him, which keeps blockers off the linebackers at the second level.

Percentages

Now let’s consider how often a player was either doubled or peeled with reference to their run defense snaps. These are normalized to total peels and doubles per 100 pass rush attempts.

Ellis – 50
Harrison – 49
Richardson – 40
Wilkerson – 39
Douzable – 28
Coples – 11
Pace – 3

What this tells us

Clearly we can see that double teams on running plays are less common than on passing plays. One reason for this is that passing plays often see multiple linemen having to switch assignments whereas there isn’t really time for that to happen on most running plays. The only slow-developing running plays tend to be stretch/zone plays where double teams are rarer anyway because everyone is on the move so most of the linemen don’t lock onto their blocks at the snap.

Here’s where it might be surprising to note that Wilkerson had a higher percentage of run plays where he was single blocked than Richardson, Harrison and Ellis (albeit only just in the case of Richardson). I have two theories on why this might be the case. The first is that, as we’ve already seen, double teams on running plays are less common when you line up on the outside and Wilkerson did line up outside more than those three players on running plays. The numbers are that he was either a defensive end on a four man front or otherwise lined up outside the offensive tackle on 51% of all running plays. Harrison and Ellis never lined up on the outside and Richardson only did it on 13% of all running plays.

The other observation I had on Wilkerson was that those teams that did limit the damage he did in the running game, notably in three of his least productive games against the Bucs, Bengals and Saints, seemed to make an effort to run away from him. In the case of the Bengals and Saints, this allowed then to double team him less but still prevent him from disrupting too many runs. This could be likened to the Darrelle Revis situation, where teams in 2010 targeted him a lot less and his interception numbers went down, but his impact on the game was still apparent. How often he lined up on one side and they ran the other way is something I will be interested to chart in more detail at some point.

Once again, while it’s apparent that while double teams on players who line up outside are less common, Quinton Coples received a lot more attention than anyone else. However, as we noted in part two, he did line up on the inside some of the time during the first half of the season. Again, looking at his first and last seven games of the year, we’d expect to see a decrease over the second half of the year. However, that was not the case, as he was doubled seven times and peeled five times in the first seven games, but doubled eight times and peeled 17 times in the last seven (when he lined up inside just once on a running play). That perhaps shows that he was more and more influential in the running game as the season went on, especially since he was able to improve upon his statistical production. He did play more run snaps (128 in the first seven and 197 in the second seven), but that’s just further evidence that his contributions were appreciated.

Other trends

Again on the subject of Coples and Wilkerson, it’s interesting to note that while Coples was out for the first two games, Wilkerson was doubled 13 times and peeled 14 times, well ahead of his averages for the year as a whole (7.6 doubles and 12.5 peels per two games). Coples’ return definitely meant teams had to pick their poison more in the running game and perhaps allowed the Jets to line Wilkerson up in positions where he could draw less attention. There was an immediate positive effect as he was only doubled 11 times and peeled 10 times in the next three games. Those first two games were two of Wilkerson’s least productive of the season in the running game, but his production picked up immediately once Coples returned, perhaps underlining his importance.

Something else I was definitely interested to look into was how often Damon Harrison was doubled and how this developed as the season progressed. Early on in the season, I noted that Harrison made most of his plays when someone else (usually Wilkerson) was doubled and that eventually teams were going to have to start doubling him more often, which would lead to other players becoming more productive. Did this happen? Absolutely. In the first half of the season he was doubled 17 times and peeled 34 times. In the second half, he was doubled 22 times and peeled 65 times. If teams are forced to double Harrison that often throughout next season, that could create opportunities for the likes of Richardson and Wilkerson to become even more productive in the running game.

Richardson also saw an increase over the second half of the season, albeit not quite on the same level as Harrison. Wilkerson saw a slight reduction in double teams, but an increase in peels. Ellis was double teamed less but peeled a lot more in the second half of the season.

I’m also looking for interesting differences between the approach that teams took and one of the most interesting was Baltimore who never double teamed Harrison, but did peel him 12 times. Another was Miami, who made a total of 17 full double team blocks in the first meeting between the teams, but only two in the second meeting. They did have fewer carries (36 to 22) but that’s still a surprising reduction.

Finally, the Steelers responded to the fact that the Jets put Ellis and Harrison together in the starting line-up by paying extra attention to them whenever they ran the ball. On 15 run snaps, Harrison was only single blocked three times. He was doubled three times and peeled nine. As for Ellis, he was also only single blocked on three of his 13 run snaps. On the other ten, he was doubled eight times and peeled twice.

(Note: For more on some of the surprising numbers when Ellis and Harrison played together, refer back to my recent article.)

Conclusions

Once again, this doesn’t tell us how the treatment of these players corresponds to what we’d tend to see on a league-wide basis. While it’s apparent that the amount of double teams a player see has more correlation to where he lines up than who he is, we can still see from the comparisons of these Jets players that the superior players do get more attention, especially in terms of full-on double teams.

Some of the trends identified within this article bode really well for the upcoming season. If this group can remain healthy again, there’s a good chance they’ll emulate or even exceed their 2013 performance as one of the top run defenses in the NFL throughout the season.

The series is far from over, because now we have the baseline data, this enables us to start making comparisons between the players on the Jets defensive line and those on other teams or from previous seasons. Part four will see the first of these comparisons investigated.




10 comments
David Aron
David Aron

Could teams be keying on DE Wilkerson's alignment to audible a run? I would like to see the promised charting of the run direction on the snaps where Wilkerson set up wide.

I always felt that the LB Coples stuff of the 4 & 1 end around vs NO was a watershed moment, both for the player and for opposing O play calling.

NYCPEinGermany
NYCPEinGermany

Super job, thanks. 


Will you get into the success rates of individual players when they were doubled and peeled, i.e., how often they beat a double or a peel and how their overall effectiveness varied from plays where they were single blocked to those where they were doubled or peeled?


Would be really cool to know what percentage of the plays where Wilk, Cope or Rich were doubled or peeled they were still able to contribute to the stop. Of course, one of your main points is that even if they didn't directly contribute, they may have greatly affected the play by occupying two blockers for all or part of the play, but to see how often they directly beat a double or peel would be interesting.

a57se
a57se

Wasn't this material in Part 2?

harold
harold

This one was best one yet, keep em coming

levi
levi

I know I sound like a broken record but I really look forward to the next one. I want to see comparisons.

Bent
Bent moderator

@David Aron Yeah, I basically talked myself into charting that at some point.  Maybe not as part of this series, but while it's over as a standalone.

Bent
Bent moderator

@NYCPEinGermany Unfortunately that's beyond the scope of what I wanted to cover here.  Their production was what it was and the PFF grades account for doubles that they would have beaten by assigning better grades to such plays (and similarly accounts for players blocked out of a play by a double team by not grading them down on such plays).


What this tells us is how difficult it was for them to attain that production and how their play benefited others.


Broadly speaking, for a player to beat a double on a running play and still make a play (or more likely just stand their ground) was a lot more common than on passing plays.  Harrison made a lot of plays after having been peeled, but as you'd expect it was Wilkerson who made the most plays when doubled, whether that was in the running game or when pass rushing.


As noted this is something which PFF hope to start doing, perhaps next year.

Bent
Bent moderator

@a57se Part two measured doubles when pass rushing, part three is the same but for running plays.