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 course of this series, I’ve gone into detail about the process of tracking double teams, shared the numbers for each of the Jets linemen in run defense and when rushing the passer and added some extra context by comparing the numbers for Muhammad Wilkerson and the nose tackles with previous seasons and other players around the league. We’ll put up links to all these posts tomorrow.
After the jump, we’re going to wrap up with a quick look at Quinton Coples and what his double team numbers tell us about where he might be on the learning curve as he transitions into a more perimeter-based role.
If you’ve been following this series closely, you’ll know that we’ve established that the number of double teams a player typically sees is a function of where he lines up. That’s why we’ve tried where possible to ensure we compare like with like. It makes little sense to compare an edge rusher with a nose tackle, because the nose tackle is always likely to see more initial double team attention.
Taking that a step further, when you look at pass rushing, this is impacted not necessarily by where the player lines up, but rather how they rush the passer. If someone lines up on the outside, but regularly stunts behind the defensive tackle or otherwise makes an inside move, then this is obviously going to lead to more double teams, purely because that’s where potential help is.
This is important for Coples, because although he lines up on the outside, he often rushes inside. We shouldn’t be comparing him with speed rushers because that’s not how he was employed. Many have taken to criticizing him for this, with a belief out there that Coples isn’t capable of being an edge rusher, but this is classic Rex Ryan; using a player to the best of his abilities.
Whether he continues to be used in that way or the reported weight loss is going to lead to him being primarily used as more of an outside rusher remains to be seen and is a discussion for another day.
In summary, we do need to be careful who we compare him with, not just in this project but also generally when comparing his production to that of other edge rushers.
What we’ve determined so far
Remember, in 2013, Coples averaged 21 doubles and 14 chips per 100 pass rush snaps. That’s well short of, for example, Wilkerson (30/33) but to emphasize how little edge rushers draw double team attention, Calvin Pace was doubled just seven times and chipped six times per 100 pass rush snaps. Part of this is due to the fact that Coples rushes inside rather than all of it being attributable to him being more dangerous or disruptive than Pace.
Double teaming elite edge rushers
While there isn’t any data out there for double teams, I was able to find a good representative sample of what might constitute a high level of double team attention for an elite edge rusher. In 2010, Clay Matthews was tearing it up off the edge, but when the Packers faced the Giants, a more focused approach towards stopping him led Packers OLB coach Kevin Greene to say this:
If you really look at this game and see how many double- and triple- teams that are going his way, it really is unbelievable.
So this is pretty perfect in terms of a good sample. I charted the game and, despite the fact the Matthews played every snap, he was doubled just three times and chipped 13 times as a pass rusher. That’s a lot, but Coples was doubled or chipped more than 16 times in four of his first seven games. Of course, before the bye, he was playing on the inside a bit more. After the bye, he may not have exceeded that number, but he did get doubled at least three times in every game.
As you can see, this doesn’t provide for a good comparison with someone who isn’t also primarily an outside speed rusher in the same vein as Matthews. As an interesting aside, the Packers have taken to lining Matthews up at middle linebacker on passing downs in recent years, further emphasizing the shift in importance to interior pressure. I would imagine his double team numbers in the last few years far outweigh what we saw in 2010.
So who is a good comparison?
We’re looking for a productive pass rusher, who lines up on the outside, but rushes on the interior causing them to draw double teams. We’ve already looked at one candidate in the previous installment. Chris Long, in games against Atlanta, Carolina and Tampa Bay drew doubles at a rate of 23 per 100 snaps and chips at a rate of 29 per 100 snaps.
We can see that these are, as we might expect given the fact that Long is more established in that role, superior to Coples’ averages of 21 doubles and 14 peels. However, if we specifically look at Coples’ numbers against those same opponents, this rises to 25 doubles and 19 peels which reflects better on him. This is not ideal though, because Coples missed the Tampa Bay game so we end up with a pretty small sample of 68 pass rush snaps for Coples and 84 for Long.
Is there a better comparison though? I’m going to propose we compare Coples with Cameron Jordan.
But wait, I hear you say, wouldn’t Jordan – who is listed as a 3-4 defensive end – make a much better comparison for Muhammad Wilkerson, especially considering pro bowl voters selected Jordan but not Wilkerson to go to Honolulu this year?
You’d think so, wouldn’t you? Actually, though, Jordan lines up on the outside a lot more than Wilkerson does and so we wouldn’t expect him to get as many double teams as Wilkerson does on the inside. Jordan does rush inside a lot though, so he’s an ideal comparison for Coples.
We’ve got a much bigger sample size this time too. Jordan faced Atlanta twice, Carolina twice and the other three AFC East teams so I’ve charted data for seven games and 283 pass rush snaps.
In these games, Jordan was doubled 18 times and chipped 21 times per 100 snaps. Coples averages were 21 and 14, but against these opponents, while the chip rate was the same, his double team rate rose to 26. That also means that his total doubles plus chips (40) was superior to Jordan’s (39).
All this tells us at the moment is that Coples did receive similar levels of attention to Jordan during last season. Of course Jordan was much more productive than he was. However, could the way the Saints use Jordan actually be something we should be looking out for with Coples? Jordan, like Coples has fluctated between about 275 and 295 since entering the league and is currently listed at 287 – a much closer comparison to Coples than the 315-pound Wilkerson.
Also, Jordan’s role has changed a couple of times and he had a breakout year in his third season with 12.5 sacks after having had just nine in his first two seasons. This is the kind of breakout the Jets are hoping for from Coples if he can stay healthy. I’m sure the Ryan brothers have been pooling ideas in terms of how to get production from their first round picks and hopefully Rex will benefit here from some of Rob’s experiences.
You can also see how Jordan wouldn’t have been a good comparison for Wilkerson, because once again Wilkerson saw a lot more doubles (30) and chips (33) per 100 snaps by virtue of being inside, but it does add a layer of context to the wisdom of Jordan getting a pro bowl berth on the basis of his superior sack and pressure numbers and Wilkerson not getting one although his production was under more difficult circumstances.
As we can see from this sample and the earlier (smaller) sample on Long, Coples’ double team numbers actually stack up pretty well with these guys. However, he isn’t chipped as often. That’s perhaps telling in that it shows where teams are making a concerted effort to try and take a guy like Jordan or Long out of the game, whereas with Coples, they’re having to adjust and react to pick him up and prevent him generating pressure.
Coples is by no means the finished article yet as a pass rusher. However, he did show some promising production over the second half of the year, which coincided with the fact he wasn’t being double teamed as much. For all the criticisms he was generating for his lack of production over the first half of the year, part of which has been attributed to his injury and also his change in role, it also had plenty to do with the fact he was drawing double team attention at a rate comparable to and in some cases more than some of the best pass rushers in the NFL.
For the Jets, this is good news, because it’s further evidence of the way teams will have to allocate extra resources to stopping guys like Coples and Wilkerson next year, which means that either they’ll be contributing on the stat sheet or occupying blockers to free up someone else or take away an offensive option.
As noted, it doesn’t seem to be a fair comparison to look at Coples’ numbers in comparison with other 3-4 outside linebackers around the league, unless they rush the interior a lot in the same manner he does. However, the comparisons with Long and Jordan did prove informative.
It’s tempting to look at Jordan’s progression from year two to three and hope for the same things from Coples. However, while a similar level of production might be within the realms of possibility, it shouldn’t be understated how much of a beast Jordan is and how it might be unrealistic to expect that kind of jump. It’s certainly something for him to aspire to though and a good example of someone with a similar athletic profile and skill-set doing damage off the edge.
I hope you enjoyed this series. I learned a lot and hopefully you did too. As noted we’ll put up links to all six parts tomorrow.