BGA Weekly – Mike DeVito: Nose Tackle?

During the offseason, I’ll be looking back at certain aspects of the Jets’ season by analyzing data compiled from all nineteen games, rather than watching film. I will be tackling as many diverse topics as possible, but welcome your suggestions or requests in the comments.

This week, I’m going to take an in-depth look at Mike DeVito and how he performed at nose tackle during the season.

I’m going to look at how often and in which situations the Jets used him in that role last season and examine how successful he was, as well as how the defense performed when he was in that position. This will allow me to consider whether this is something that the Jets are likely to persevere with or if it was an experiment which recent moves would have you believe may be abandoned. More after the jump.

Once again, this article has used data exclusively provided to us from the guys at PFF. Our thanks, as ever, go out to them.

The Concept of DeVito at Nose Tackle

When the Jets acquired Kris Jenkins in 2008, he had such a huge impact that many fans and analysts came to the conclusion that this was the type of player you had to have in your lineup if you wanted to run a 3-4 system. New England had Vince Wilfork, Pittsburgh had Casey Hampton and now the Jets had Kris Jenkins, their own 350 pound behemoth with surprising agility for a man his size. Clearly the previous starter, DeWayne Robertson – generously listed at 317 pounds – and Jenkins’ backup, Sione Pouha – who had reportedly slimmed down from 330 pounds to 310 in 2007, were ill-suited to that role, so the Jets had been forced to try and find ways to compensate for that.

When Rex Ryan arrived, he implemented his hybrid scheme and it took a while for everyone to appreciate the difference between that scheme and the one Mangini’s defense used to run. People saw Haloti Ngata on the Ravens roster and assumed their scheme was a 3-4 with Ngata playing the Jenkins role. Not so. In fact, when the Ravens do/did run with a 3-4 look, Ngata was more often than not lined up as a defensive end. (For example, in 2010, with the Ravens still running a version of Rex Ryan’s defense, he had 202 snaps as a DE and 169 as a NT when the Ravens were in a 3-4, including just two snaps at nose tackle in the opener against the Jets).

In 2009, the Jets went with a variety of different defensive fronts and did start off by using Jenkins mostly as the nose tackle position when they went to a 3-4 look, presumably to ease the transition from the previous year. However, they actually ran more four man fronts than three man fronts and, when they did go 3-4, they did experiment with him at DE, something which I expect they would have done more of as the season progressed. Jenkins’ injury early in the sixth game obviously forced the Jets’ hand somewhat and they overcame his loss by using even more four man fronts and by getting Sione Pouha and Howard Green to play nose tackle.

Jenkins’ 2010 season only lasted five snaps, but on the first play of the year, Pouha was at nose tackle and Jenkins was at DE, perhaps an early indication of their intentions for the coming season. The play ended with a Pouha fumble recovery after a strip-sack by an unblocked Bryan Thomas. On that basis, I think it’s likely that they were going to move towards the Ravens blueprint and use Jenkins as a DE for the majority of the time.

When Ngata plays at DE for the Ravens, they use Kelly Gregg at nose tackle. Gregg is a less athletic and much smaller player, listed at 6-feet tall and 310-320 pounds, depending where you look. When I spoke to two of the analysts from PFF after the Jets opening day loss to the Ravens, they both remarked that DeVito’s build and skill set reminded them of Gregg and that they expected Ryan to eventually try to use him in the same way. DeVito is three inches taller than Gregg, but a similar size. Although he’s listed at 305 or 310 pounds, he obviously has the frame to add weight and may already have done so, because the Jets don’t often update their official weight listings. He definitely seems much bigger than he did when he first entered the league at 298.

The concept makes sense. If two of your linemen are good at holding up at the point of attack, then putting the more dynamic of the two on the outside where they can shoot a gap puts them in position to make more impact plays. When that player is also huge, it also enables them to use their size to overpower a lineman. Especially in passing situations, the nose tackle is often double teamed and doesn’t get much of a chance to affect the play directly, so you might as well use a lineman that isn’t likely to pressure the quarterback anyway and instead let your more dominant player put additional pressure on the exterior of the line. Pass rushing from the nose tackle position is a thankless task that requires no nonsense, relentless effort, so it’s a role that could be ideal for a Kelly Gregg or Mike DeVito type.

After my discussion with the guys from PFF, I was interested to see whether the Jets experimented with this during the season. Of course, they had to re-think on the fly again with Jenkins suffering yet another season ending injury, but this was still something they toyed with, especially late in the year.

DeVito’s Reps at Nose Tackle

As the season began, the Jets were giving DeVito some reps at nose tackle, as they presumably had also been doing in 2009. He would only get the occasional rep there and never had more than four snaps at nose tackle in a game until the final week of the regular season. In the first two games, DeVito saw action at nose tackle in passing situations, with the likes of Shaun Ellis, Bryan Thomas and Jason Taylor at DE alongside him, taking the reps that were no doubt originally intended for Kris Jenkins and perhaps Ropati Pitoitua.

Over the next few games, DeVito’s reps at nose tackle mainly came on first and second down, as they would try and give their opponents a different look, perhaps by swapping him with Pouha in an effort to make the offense think that a pass rush would come from Pouha’s side. Admittedly some of his NT reps came because the Jets were setting up for a four man front, but the offense snapped the ball before the rush linebacker got into position on the line.

When Trevor Pryce arrived in week six, the Jets started using him as the nose tackle in virtually all obvious passing situations – with Shaun Ellis being the one to spell him more often than not. At this point, DeVito’s NT reps on passing downs effectively dried up, but he was still getting the occasional rep there, either due to a swap with Pouha as mentioned above, or sometimes with the second unit alongside Vernon Gholston.

Entering Week 17, it seemed like the experiment had more or less been abandoned, as DeVito had seen action at nose tackle on just 27 snaps in 15 games. However, with the Jets looking to revitalize their struggling pass rush and having been afforded the luxury of a meaningless last game of the season, they rested Sione Pouha and gave DeVito his first real extended look at nose tackle. The immediate results were so good that they used him in that role again in the first two playoff games. However, for the AFC Title Game, they activated Martin Tevaseu and therefore he was only in at nose tackle for one play. My job now is to determine whether this is something they are likely to revisit next year, especially in light of the recent draft pickups.

DeVito’s NT Reps – By The Numbers

Here’s a breakdown of how often DeVito was used as a nose tackle last season:

Total reps – 692
Total reps at NT – 55 (8%)
Percentage NT reps when in a two or three man front – 17%
Percentage of reps at NT from Week 17-19 – 29%
Percentage of reps when in a two or three man front (splits) – Weeks 1-16 (10%), Week 17 (100%), Week 18 (80%), Week 19 (33%), Week 20 (5%)

Team Success With DeVito at Nose Tackle

I went back and looked at what happened on each of the 55 snaps where DeVito was in the game at nose tackle during the 2010 season. On those 55 snaps, the Jets actually performed remarkably well. If the defense performs this well with DeVito in that role, then perhaps that’s a good argument for using him more there. In some cases, the play might have failed because the offense was confused by the fact that he lined up there – and presumably this meant there was a more dynamic player lined up in DeVito’s DE position.

Of course it’s a small sample size and there’s no guarantee that more reps at nose tackle for DeVito wouldn’t have led to diminishing returns. However, you certainly can’t say that the offense was able to capitalize on his comparative lack of size or experience at the position. Here’s how they fared:

- 55 plays, 103 yards, two turnovers
– Rushing: 28 carries, 43 yards, one lost fumble
– Passing: 9-for-24, 60 yards, one interception, one sack

In terms of the rushing, that does actually include five examples of a quarterback taking a knee at the end of a game or half. It also includes one fumbled snap. However, even if you exclude these six plays, you still end up with an average of less than 2.4 yards per carry with DeVito playing nose tackle. That includes just two plays that gained over five yards and none over ten yards. Not including the kneel downs, there were four plays that went for a loss.

The passing numbers are particularly poor. That would translate to a QB rating of just 28.5. The one sack – by Jason Taylor – was actually for zero yards, so the net yards passing was still 60.

There were also two plays where DeVito lined up at nose tackle and the offense committed a false start penalty, which are not included in the 55 snaps detailed above. If you wanted to include these in his contribution, that would make 93 yards in 57 plays where he lined up at nose tackle, just 1.6 yards per snap.

Individual Success for DeVito at Nose Tackle

In order to evaluate DeVito’s individual contribution, we can refer to some of PFF’s analysis to look at where they felt he had a direct positive or negative impact on the outcome of a play.

For comparison’s sake, when he was NOT a nose tackle, DeVito had 72 positively graded plays and 41 negatively graded plays. To summarize:

When playing DE or as a 4-3 DT:
Neutral plays (no positive or negative grade) – 82%
Positively graded plays – 11%
Negatively graded plays – 6%
Percentage of graded plays – Positive 64% and Negative 36%
Rate of positive plays – One every nine plays
Rate of negative plays – One every 16 plays

In the 55 snaps he took at nose tackle, it turns out that he was even more influential. One theory is that the opposition may have tried to attack him, but if that’s true, they didn’t have a lot of success:

When playing NT:
Neutral plays (no positive or negative grade) – 82%
Positively graded plays – 13%
Negatively graded plays – 4%
Percentage of graded plays – Positive 73% and Negative 27%
Rate of positive plays – One every seven plays
Rate of negative plays – One every 18 plays

I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t break down those positively and negatively graded plays…

Mike DeVito: Breakdown of Graded Plays at NT

- Week Two v NE, Early 4th quarter, 2nd and 10: DeVito beats Dan Koppen to make the tackle for a short gain to force 3rd and 7.

- Week Six at Denver, Early 2nd quarter, 1st and 10: JD Walton gets the better of DeVito on first down, as the run goes for five, but on the very next play, DeVito gets the better of Walton and the run is blown up for a one yard loss to force 3rd and 6.

- Week 13 at NE, Mid 3rd quarter, 1st and 10: DeVito beats Dan Koppen and the play gets stuffed for a gain of just one.

- Week 17 v Buffalo, First play of the game: DeVito beats Eric Wood and assists on a tackle for a three yard gain.

- Week 17 v Buffalo, Late 1st quarter, 1st and 10: DeVito gets sealed off to the inside and the run goes for a gain of four.

- Week 17 v Buffalo, Mid 2nd quarter, 1st and 10: Guard Chad Rinehart blocks down on DeVito, but he sheds the block and stops the run for a one yard gain.

- Week 17 v Buffalo, Late 3rd quarter, 2nd and 7: DeVito beats Eric Wood’s block, but then misses the tackle. As a result, he gets both a positive and a negative grade cancelling each other out on the play, which went for a gain of five.

- Week 18 at Indianapolis, Mid 2nd quarter, 2nd and 2: DeVito sheds Jeff Saturday’s block and stuffs the run himself for a gain of one.

- Week 18 at Indianapolis, Mid 3nd quarter, 3rd and 1: DeVito gets tremendous penetration against Saturday and the run gets stuffed for a one yard loss.

There were certainly some positive signs in there, especially the two clutch plays against the Colts.

Conclusions

Based on his performance last year, the Jets certainly didn’t miss a beat whenever they used DeVito at nose tackle. In fact, the numbers tend to suggest that he should get a more extended look. If that frees up guys like Trevor Pryce or Shaun Ellis to go after the quarterback, then this could be one way of making the pass rush more productive, which it certainly was in the Bills and Patriots games in January.

Of course, Trevor Pryce and Shaun Ellis may not both be with the team next year and it’s looking increasingly unlikely that Kris Jenkins will be either. However, the Jets will be looking to add Ropati Pitoitua and Martin Tevaseu back to the rotation, have spoken highly of their hopes for the likes of Marcus Dixon and Jarron Gilbert at various points and, of course, drafted Muhammed Wilkerson and Kenrick Ellis to further bolster their depth on the line.

Even with the players leaving, these additions to the fold might tend to suggest that there won’t be too many “spare” nose tackle reps available for a guy like DeVito, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t contribute from the nose tackle position here and there. Against certain teams, or when the Jets want to give their opponent a different look, this will still be something DeVito can do. As of right now, we cannot be too sure about how much the two rookies will play and the Jets will probably be trying to keep Sione Pouha’s reps lower than last year, due to the fact he wore down with a back issue as the season drew to a close.

Once the Jets get a sense of how Kenrick Ellis is going to fit in, they will be able to evaluate whether he is mobile enough to perhaps line up as a defensive end on passing downs. Some of the film on him would appear to suggest that this might be an option they pursue. Pouha has also played DE at times, so the fact that the Jets now have three different options at nose tackle doesn’t necessarily preclude DeVito from being used in that role as he was last year.

Although he is primarily a run stopper, the fact DeVito was successful in this role last year speaks to his obvious versatility, which is why he is an ideal player for Rex Ryan’s scheme. The Jets have loaded up on defensive line depth, with several players who could be considered unknown quantities figuring to be in the mix for playing time in the 2011 season. As he has now developed into a trusted veteran, Rex can rely on Mike DeVito to perform well, whichever role they put him in.

As always, I invite you to submit your suggestions for a future BGA article in the comments.