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. Most recently, I started to share the data in respect of those plays when the Jets were defending the run. We’ve since to make comparisons with other players around the league to start making some viable conclusions, looking at nose tackles in part four and, today, Muhammad Wilkerson.
After the jump, we’re going to try and put Wilkerson’s 2013 season into context, by comparing his numbers to those of some similar players and also by looking back at the numbers for 2012.
One key factor we’ve established from the research so far is that the extent to which a defensive player attracts double team attention is in large part a function of where he lines up. We’ve established that interior linemen typically get double teamed a lot more than anyone who lines up outside of the tackle box. Many of those double teams might just be initial double teams to slow the primary burst, then breaking off to block someone else. For that reason, it’s important to identify the extent to which these players see a full double team. For details of how the data has been compiled and the criteria for a double team or a temporary chip/peel, re-read part one which is linked above in the second paragraph.
This is especially important for Wilkerson, since he plays both on the interior and on the outside. This is something that also affects his chances of getting a pro bowl berth each year because by the time you’ve accounted for JJ Watt and the elite pass rushing ends and space stuffing tackles around the league, you end up running out of room for a guy like Wilkerson, even though you could argue he had a better season than most of those selected.
Here’s what we’ve managed to determine so far regarding Wilkerson. First, we established that a higher percentage of his double teams on running plays were “full” double teams than those of his linemates (38% compared to 33% for Sheldon Richardson and 28% for Damon Harrison). His rate of double teams per 100 snaps was also higher (15 for Wilkerson, 14 for Harrison, 13 for Richardson). However, the fact he lined up on the inside less than Richardson and Harrison meant that they were peeled more often than he was on a per-snap basis. It wasn’t far off though, which is impressive given that Wilkerson was lined up either as a 4-3 DE or otherwise outside the tackle on 51% of all running plays, whereas Richardson was outside on just 13% of all running plays and Harrison was constantly inside.
In terms of the passing game, he was outside on 34% of all passing downs. Despite this, he was still doubled and chipped more than both Richardson and Harrison over the course of the season, both in terms of cumulative and per-snap totals.
The important numbers for comparison with the rest of the numbers in his article are that he was doubled 15 times and peeled 24 times per 100 run snaps and doubled 30 times and peeled 33 times per 100 pass rush snaps.
Comparison with 2012
The first thing I wanted to address was the fact that Wilkerson’s run stopping production was down on last season. He totalled 46 run stops in 455 run snaps in 2012 but just 26 in 417 run snaps in 2013. During the season, I’d been rationalizing this by saying that this was a result of him seeing more double teams. However, was that accurate or was my perception wrong?
I charted every snap of every game in 2012 and determined that Wilkerson was double teamed just six times per 100 run snaps. Clearly there was a major increase in 2013 as he saw over twice as many double teams. He was peeled 31 times a game, which is more than in 2012 but even so, he was either peeled or doubled 39 times per 100 snaps in 2013 but only 37 times in 2012, with a much smaller percentage of those 37 being full double teams (16% compared with 38% in 2013).
We can therefore conclude that Wilkerson’s run stopping production was indeed adversely affected by him having to deal with more double teams in 2013.
In terms of pass rushing production, he did improve slightly on his 2012 production on a per-snap basis, despite the fact he played 164 more pass rush snaps. He was actually double teamed slightly less in 2012, but he was chipped a lot more often (43 times per 100 snaps, as opposed to 33 times per 100 snaps in 2013).
To rationalize why this was, you need to account for the fact that the other personnel around him offered a lot more from a pass rushing perspective. Also, he lined up inside a lot more in 2012 than he did in 2013. (He was a 4-3 end on 168 pass plays in 2013 but only 58 in 2012). Taking that into account, it’s actually even more surprising that the amount of double team attention he saw in the running game was so much lower and also the fact he still dealt with more “full” doubles in 2013 suggests that the degree of difficulty was at least comparable, if not harder, so his slight increase in production is a positive sign.
Watt a player
My intention at this point was to look at JJ Watt – the gold standard for 3-4 defensive ends – to try and establish some numbers on him. Not, as you might think, for direct comparison, but to set a benchmark for what you might expect to be an expected maximum for double team attention. However, as it turns out, the numbers aren’t actually that far off.
For this exercise, I looked at common opponents between the Texans and Jets. As previously noted, it’s better to use common opponents than a full season sample because otherwise you might get misleading results if one player has more teams with a tendency to double team more often on their schedule. Also, it’s less time consuming so allows us to look at more players in the same timescale.
The common opponents were Tennessee (x 2), Oakland, Baltimore and New England against whom Watt played 158 run snaps and 167 pass snaps. Wilkerson played 136 run snaps and 194 pass snaps against the same opposition.
Watt was double teamed 13 times per 100 run snaps and 32 times per 100 pass snaps, which are very similar to Wilkerson’s overall averages. However, against these opponents, Wilkerson actually was doubled 18 times per 100 run snaps and 35 times per 100 pass snaps – more than Watt in each case! Peels in the running game were a different story, as Watt was peeled almost twice as often per 100 snaps (40-21). However, in terms of chips in the passing game, Wilkerson again saw more attention per 100 snaps (40-26). For all the talk about the double teams Watt has to deal with, it does seem that Wilkerson has it just as rough at times.
How is this even possible? It’s not because Watt lined up outside more, despite the fact the Texans have started moving him to a 4-3 DE position on some passing downs. Watt was a 4-3 DE or otherwise outside the tackle on 30% of all pass rush snaps (less than Wilkerson’s 34%).
Instead, I would suggest this comes down to teams seeking to take Watt out of the game by running away from him. Rather than attack him with a double team that he’ll probably blow up anyway, they will look to employ blockers elsewhere and run away from Watt’s side where possible. It’s the defensive line equivalent of taking a Darrelle Revis out of the game by never throwing to that side. It might make your offense more predictable, but at least you’ve got a fighting chance of a successful play. Of course, this is something that happens to Wilkerson at times too, though (and probably to some other elite players).
Let’s now consider Wilkerson against some of the players he finds himself being compared to around the league. As noted, it’s important to weigh up who makes for a sensible comparison based on their role. For example, we already have some data from the previous instalment of this series from some of the top defensive tackles in the league. Based on the fact that Wilkerson plays on the outside a lot more often than these guys, we would anticipate he won’t be double teamed as much as some of these.
Brandon Mebane faced five common opponents in 2013 (Carolina, Tennessee, Atlanta, Tampa Bay and New Orleans twice). In those games, he was doubled 15 times and peeled 31 times in 92 snaps (equivalent to 16 doubles and 34 peels per 100 snaps).
Geno Atkins, whose season ended prematurely due to injury, faced five common opponents (Pittsburgh, Cleveland, New England, Buffalo and Miami) against whom he was doubled eight times and peeled 29 times in 78 snaps (equivalent to 10 doubles and 37 peels per 100 snaps).
Ndamukong Suh played 101 run snaps against a total of five common opponents (Tampa and the AFC North). In those games he was doubled 10 times and peeled 44 times.
In each case, we see a much higher rate of peels when compared with Wilkerson’s average per 100 snaps (24). However, only Mebane saw more double teams per 100 snaps than Wilkerson (15). In terms of Wilkerson’s results specifically against these opponents, he was doubled 17 times and peeled 29 times per 100 run snaps against the group Mebane faced, doubled 13 times and peeled 24 times per 100 run snaps against the group Atkins faced and doubled 16 times and peeled 23 times per 100 run snaps against Suh’s common opponents.
Overall, we see that Wilkerson was doubled teamed more often than all three of these players, although he received a lot fewer temporary double teams. Again, that’s exactly what we’d expect given the fact that he didn’t play inside as often as they did.
To further test this, I’ve selected three players to compare Wilkerson with. This time, there are three teams that each of the three players along with Wilkerson faced once last season, so we will be using a three game common opponents sample for all four of them. The three opponents were Carolina, Tampa Bay and Atlanta against whom Wilkerson managed to average 19 double teams and 29 peels per 100 snaps, higher than his averages of 15 and 24 respectively.
The three players I’ve chosen to compare him with are all great players that fell just short of getting into the pro bowl last year (and over the past few seasons, in fact). In that respect, they’re viewed as being on the same level or thereabouts as Wilkerson. One of these plays mostly inside, one plays mostly outside and the other plays a mixture, enabling us to further demonstrate the part a player’s role plays in how much double team attention they get.
First up is Chris Long. This isn’t an ideal comparison right now, as Wilkerson probably has 40 pounds on Long. However, Long is a renowned run stuffer and a productive pass rusher who does use an interior rush quite a lot. When he first entered the league there were some who felt Long might project to a 3-4 defensive end role. Since he has settled into being a 4-3 end, we would expect him to be doubled a lot less than Wilkerson.
Sure enough, against these opponents, he was doubled just eight times and peeled just 20 times per 100 snaps. What was interesting about Long was the fact that he had been outspoken about the fact that his grades on some analytical sites didn’t necessarily reflect his performance, so I was wondering if maybe getting double teamed a lot was part of his reasoning behind that. However, while this doesn’t appear to be the case, watching the film reveals how outstanding he is at setting the edge. While keeping contain and taking away an exterior running lane by driving your man upfield certainly won’t show up on a stat sheet, it would get picked up by statistical analysis sites, but probably only to the extent that had an obvious direct effect on the direction of the run. Long is consistently outstanding at this, though, and I’d imagine those are the sort of contributions his coaches appreciate more than the analysts.
Next up is Calais Campbell, who lines up inside a lot more often than Wilkerson does. We might therefore expect him to get double teamed more than Wilkerson. Campbell does sometimes rush from outside the tackle, but also gets reps as a pass rushing nose. The majority of his reps on running plays are as a 3-4 defensive end opposite or inside the tackle though.
Against these opponents, Campbell was doubled nine times and peeled 27 times per 100 snaps, surprisingly not that much more than Long. I don’t mean to denigrate Campbell, who is a great player, by producing these numbers, but it does shed light on how much more attention Wilkerson was dealing with if you’re going to compare their production. By the way, Campbell recently signed for $55m over five years.
Right in between is Michael Bennett, who plays both as a 4-3 end and as a 4-3 tackle in Seattle. Bennett signed for $28.5m over four years, but that’s a reflection of the fact he doesn’t play as many snaps as Campbell (or Wilkerson, for that matter). Bennett was doubled just seven times and peeled 23 times per 100 snaps in the games against these opponents.
On this basis, we can see that Wilkerson has to deal with a lot more attention than all of these guys in the running game. We can also reflect that maybe the number of double teams Long deals with is quite a lot for someone who plays exclusively on the outside after all, although there continues to be a correlation between how often a player is peeled and how often they play on the inside.
The results based on these samples are very surprising, but will the same thing happen when we look at pass rushing? Wilkerson was doubled 28 times and chipped 27 times per 100 snaps against this group of teams. On this occasion, that’s slight below his averages for the year as a whole.
How do the others compare? Well, Long was doubled 23 times and chipped 29 times per 100 pass rush snaps. That’s less attention than Wilkerson, but we’d expect this given the fact Long plays exclusively outside. Campbell was doubled 24 times and chipped 41 times. Again, fewer doubles than Wilkerson but more chips, which again we expect as a function of the fact he plays inside. Bennett was doubled 27 times and chipped 35 times. Once again, that’s slightly less double teams than Wilkerson and more chips, which is likely a function of the fact that when Bennett does play inside, it tends to be on passing downs more often than running downs.
Essentially though, while Wilkerson’s double team rate is slightly better than all three you can say that the amount of attention he gets as a pass rush is comparable to each of these players, unlike in the running game where it was significantly higher.
Wilkerson made waves with his 10.5 sacks last season, but I still see him as the key cog in this team’s upper echelon run defense. While the double team numbers in the passing game are generally slightly better than or comparable to those of his peers, when you look at the numbers in the running game it becomes clear just how often Wilkerson required more than one blocker to take him out of a play and whoever you compare his numbers with it reflects really well on him.
My view before I started this project was that Wilkerson was as disruptive as ever in the running game in 2013 and these results back that up. I first noticed him starting to become really disruptive in the passing game in the middle of the 2012 season, so while his statistical production may not have reflected that until 2013, that jump didn’t come out of nowhere.
The other takeaway from this installment is that this is further evidence to strengthen Wilkerson’s case that he should have been a pro bowler last year (or that the all-pro voters were smart to recognize him as a second-teamer).
In the final part of this series, which I’ll aim to get out to you before the players report for camp, I’ll be taking a quick look at Quinton Coples to see how the attention he dealt with compared to some of his peers in terms of the pass rush.