Low Expectations for Demetress Bell

Demetrius Bell

I’m a big believer in the market economics of the NFL. If 32 NFL teams pass on a player until the sixth round, he doesn’t have a particularly high chance of success. It’s the same with free agents who don’t receive serious interest on the market.

Derek Landri, who re-signed with the Eagles yesterday, would be in the latter category. He was a productive back-up with the team last year, but even after perhaps his best season as a pro, no other team offered him a long term deal — and the Eagles weren’t anxious to get him back either. He seems to still have an uphill battle to make the roster, especially if the team jumps in with a first round defensive tackle.

The same thought process leads me to question Demetress Bell’s value as well. Bell shopped himself around quite a lot, visiting a handful of different cities in order to seek a long term deal. But he was never offered one, even by the suddenly desperate Eagles.

Technically, Bell’s contract is 5 years, $35 million, but everyone knows he’s not coming back after 2012. The $8.5 million roster bonus in 2013 makes that a foregone conclusion. What does it say about Bell that in the modern NFL where left tackles are one of the top two or three most important positions on the field, he couldn’t find one team to give him a legitimate multi-year deal? Is he really any better than King Dunlap?

On the other hand, he was undoubtedly the best player the Eagles could get when they learned that Jason Peters was lost for the year. That has to count for something. And over the last two seasons, he’s been as good or better than Todd Herremans according to Pro Football Focus’s pass blocking efficiency statistic:

Tackles Pass Blocking Efficiency

Maybe Bell will play up to his potential this season, or even exceed his past performance now that he has Howard Mudd as a guru. Maybe he’ll manage to stay healthy the whole year. Or maybe he’ll give the Eagles exactly what they paid for, a questionable veteran on a relatively meager deal.

Impossible to say for sure, but I’m not really looking forward to finding out the answer.

Photo from Getty.

Watch and Judge All 24 Sacks of Michael Vick

Jimmy Kempski does an amazing job in this post, culling the video for all sacks Michael Vick took in 2011. More than anything, the Eagles quarterback doesn’t come out looking too good. Many of the sacks are poor decisions by Vick, and a number of the others look suspiciously like poor blitz recognition and protection adjustments at the line of scrimmage.

The one thing that is worth keeping in mind is these are only 24 plays, and by definition are likely to show the worst mistakes. There isn’t a companion video that shows how many times Vick escaped pressure in his face and turned it into a positive gain.

I’m also not sure I follow Jimmy’s logic at the end, where he notes poor right tackle play from Winston Justice in 2010 as a reason to keep Todd Herremans on that side. But all in all, really informative and interesting.

On the Inaccuracy of SackSEER

Jimmy Kempski:

I think just about any knowledgeable football fan that is familiar with Football Outsiders is generally very complimentary of the work they do (as they should be), but SackSEER has its fans and detractors. The model was formed from data collected prior to the 2010 season and was first introduced in 2010. Therefore, the the model pre-2010 is understandably extremely successful. Its fans point to the pre-2010 success. Its detractors feel that predicting a player’s future in the NFL based on a couple jumps and a few passes through some cones at the Combine is a little ridiculous. It also is a pure data model that ignores things like watching game tape.

Jimmy rightly points out the utter failure this model has been in the last two years, although I’d make two additional points. First, in defense of SackSEER, don’t read the projections as predictions, but rather the most likely general range based on past precedent. For example, to knock the model for projecting “only” 36.4 sacks in his first five years for Von Miller is silly. It argued that he would be good and he is. Jerry Hughes, on the other hand…

That said, any model that leans too heavily on something as luck-dominated as sack totals is going to have trouble. I wonder if a better SackSEER could be constructed based on total pressure (sacks, hits, hurries).

Michael Vick: Under Pressure

Michael Vick Scramble

I don’t think anyone (with the possible exception of Andy Reid) was shocked when Juan Castillo didn’t work out on defense. But nearly everyone was surprised at just how far Michael Vick regressed from his star season in 2010.

The big problem Vick had was simply turnovers. After posting zero interceptions through his first eight games the previous season, Vick was picked off 14 times in 13 games in 2011. That’s not nearly good enough if the Eagles want to rebound and make a run into the playoffs next year.

So let’s go a little deeper to try to understand some of Vick’s interception woes, using some stats from Pro Football Focus. Today I want to split Vick’s plays into two categories: regular and under pressure.

Let’s look at his non-pressured stats first. When not threatened by sacks or hits, Vick completed 69 percent of his passes, good enough for 8th-best among the 24 quarterbacks who took at least 50 percent of their team’s offensive snaps. That completion rate jumps to 76 percent and 6th-best when you don’t count drops against him.

As to interceptions, Vick was slightly below average, but not by much. He was 15th out of 24, with an interception rate of 2.5 percent. For reference, Eli Manning was 14th with 2.4 percent, and Drew Brees was 11th with 2.1 percent.

Overall, Vick showed room for improvement, but no big problems when he wasn’t pressured. When he had defenders in his face, however, Vick’s performance was more of a mixed bag.

On one hand, he had the 5th-highest touchdown rate and the 2nd-lowest sack rate among those 24 quarterbacks. With only 11.6 percent of all pressured dropbacks turned into sacks, Vick’s famed elusiveness served him well avoiding a big loss.

However, Vick completed only 42 percent his passes under pressure, which ranks 18th. Worse, 4.9 percent of his passes were intercepted, beating only Matt Hasselbeck, Tarvaris Jackson, Rex Grossman, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. (Matt Ryan scored about average, at 3.5 percent, while Andy Dalton, Aaron Rodgers, and Sam Bradford were blemish-free.)

There are two takeaways from this information. One is relatively straightforward: Vick needs to handle the pressure better, even take a few more sacks rather than expose himself to interceptions. The rookie Dalton, who threw zero interceptions under pressure, also threw the ball away in those situations more than anyone else in the league. Vick could learn something from that example.

But the second takeaway is more nuanced. For the last two seasons, Vick has been under pressure more than nearly any other quarterback. Last year he ranked first overall with pressure in 39.8 percent of his dropbacks. In 2010 he was second, with 41.8 percent.

Given the improvement along the offensive line year-over-year, it’s likely that this has more to do with Vick than his blockers. Football Outsiders sack timing stats show that more than half of his sacks take longer than three seconds, which partially can be attributed to avoiding defenders, but also results from his tendency to hold on to the ball too long.

Vick is a playmaker when he scrambles around — his touchdown rate is actually higher with pressure than without. But avoiding sacks and trying to score big also led him to turn the ball over far too much.

Perhaps Reid and Marty Mornhinweg should focus on teaching Vick to avoid more of those situations by making pre-snap reads and quick decisions about where to go with the football. If DeSean Jackson returns, there will still be plenty of opportunities to create big plays, even without dancing around in backfield. If he doesn’t become more consistent and less turnover-prone, Vick will continue to be a liablity going forward.

Photo from Getty.

Rewind: Notes on the Eagles-Cowboys Game

Michael Vick Eagles Cowboys Shotgun

One of the unheralded stories of 2011 is the regression of Michael Vick. After borrowing Superman’s cape last season, Vick returned to mere mortal status once again. Just as a simple measurement, in 2010 he had quarterback passer rating above 90 in 10 out of his 12 games. This year, he’s only had 5 out of 12.

However, things seem to be picking back up for Vick as he and the coaches are potentially finding some answers for him. He’s had back-to-back 100+ QB rating games for the first time this season over the last two weeks.

I charted all of Vick’s passes this week and noticed that he’s hardly ever doing three step drops from under center anymore. In fact, I counted only two of those, and both went for incompletions.

The majority of pass calls (20 of 36) involved Vick in shotgun, and half of those added five step drops on top of the pre-snap depth. Whether his height factors in to this I can’t say, but he’s clearly more comfortable and effective in shotgun, and generally as far back from the line of scrimmage as possible. The added depth gives him more time to find deep receivers and also more space to scramble if necessary.

* * *

Danny Watkins is awful. I want to really emphasize this point. After watching him fairly closely the whole game, it’s clear that he didn’t deserve to be on the field.

At least half a dozen times, Watkins single-handedly let his defender get by him (often instantaneously) to get pressure on Vick or a backfield tackle on LeSean McCoy. It was Kyle DeVan, Stacey Andrews, Winston Justice-against-the-Giants bad.

Tommy Lawlor wrote of Watkins, “Solid game. Got driven back in pass pro a time or two, but did stick with the blocks.”

I wish that were the case. In reality, Watkins needs to make a big leap in the offseason to be even an average NFL starter.

* * *

Speaking of below replacement level starters, Jamar Chaney was almost as bad.

If you run straight up the middle and fail to block the middle linebacker against 31 teams in the NFL, it must be a tackle for a loss more often than not. Against the Eagles, it’s a nine yard gain. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the run defense frequently looks like it only has 10 players out there.

Chaney demonstrates no ability to get off blocks. But more importantly, even when unblocked he’s indecisive and slow. You can tell that he’s athletic enough to run with most tight ends, but in run defense he never charges the line. At best he’s a speed bump 3 yards into the run, but most of the time he doesn’t even provide that.

* * *

  • Just to prove I’m not always negative, let me say some good things about Casey Matthews. He looked, frankly, great this week. Speedy, instinctive, good in space, and quick to take on tight ends and running backs out of the backfield. I’d actually like to see him get some of Chaney’s snaps in the base defense next week.

  • Clay Harbor was instrumental as a blocker on the back-to-back end-arounds to DeSean Jackson. Set the edge with a hard block on Sean Lee the first time, then faked a block on Ware, shouldered Lee, and got up to the third level on Jackson’s second try. That said, there’s no reason Harbor should be one-on-one with DeMarcus Ware in pass protection. That led to a sack.

  • Brent Celek, on the other hand, continues to show me nothing but poor run blocking. But every week they add another brilliant tight end screen to the playbook, and he’s great at that.

  • Brandon Hughes got some significant looks as the dime corner, especially when Nnamdi Asomugha came inside to cover Jason Witten. Hughes was beaten once each by Dez Bryant and Miles Austin, two good receivers, both times he was targeted.

Photo from Getty.

By the Numbers: Unsatisfying Victory

Eli Manning Eagles Sack

I’ve never been less enthused about an Eagles win in the Meadowlands. Hope that doesn’t harsh your mellow, but this terrible season and the race-to-the-bottom game last night didn’t really cheer me up.

Let’s look at the numbers:

0 = Giants red zone opportunities. How do you solve a massive red zone defense problem? Don’t let the Giants inside the 20!

3 = Interceptions by Vince Young. The Eagles backup was alternatively efficient and mistake-prone. He helped convert more than half of the Eagles third down opportunities and threw for two touchdowns in a game where the Giants largely contained LeSean McCoy. When Young is on his game, you wonder why he isn’t an All-Pro. But those turnovers, yikes.

12 = Passes targeted at Riley Cooper. Sunday night was our first extended look at Cooper and Young looked to him early and often. DeSean Jackson had a rebound day, but after him, Cooper was clearly Young’s favorite target. The largest wideout the Eagles have by far, Cooper could fill a fade-catching niche for the offense. But I’m not convinced after one game. It would be nice to see him get more snaps as the season conintues so we can evaluate his receiving skills going forward.

128 = Receiving yards by Victor Cruz. I hoped that Nnamdi Asomugha would redeem himself against the Giants and Cruz, showing that his early season troubles were mostly the result of learning a new system and trying to fit into Juan Castillo’s questionable coverages. Then we all saw that touchdown catch by Cruz, where Asomugha completely lost him in the end zone. $60 million? Not even close to worth it right now.

10 = Official quarterback hits on Eli Manning. The Eagles defensive line looked energized after a few down weeks. The Giants have one of the worst run blocking lines in the NFL, so it was good to see Jim Washburn’s group shut that down. But the pressure on Manning was a nice bonus.

50 = Receiving yards left on the table by DeSean Jackson due to a taunting penalty. I don’t really know where to start with Jackson. The taunting penalty seemed unfair considering its dead-ball-foul nature, but ultimately it’s DeSean’s responsibility. And after he missed last week’s game, you’d think he’d play with some maturity and humility. I guess not. At this point I am increasingly sure that he won’t be in Philadelphia next season.

Photo from Getty.

Measuring the Jim Washburn Effect

Trent Cole Mike Patterson Cullen Jenkins Sack

Yesterday, I detailed how Jim Washburn’s coaching resurrected Jason Babin’s career and turned him into a sack machine. But what about other players? How is Washburn and the wide nine formation treating veteran Eagles defensive linemen?

That’s the question I set out to answer, using Pro Football Focus’s great stats. Below is a table calculated based on snap counts and pressure data compiled in 2010 and 2011 for Eagles linemen who have played in both Washburn’s system and Sean McDermott’s.

Jim Washburn Philadelphia Eagles DLThe first column shows change (Δ) in frequency of pass rushes per snap the player is in the game. There are some interesting trends there alone.

Mike Patterson used to be a largely first and second down defensive tackle, but he’s now getting the chance to rush the passer more. The opposite appears to be true for Trevor Laws. Meanwhile, Washburn has smartly eliminated Trent Cole’s occasional coverage responsibilities in 2010.

So, once these players are going for the quarterback, how are they doing? There are clearly some winners and some losers.

Patterson, Cole, and Darryl Tapp are all way up in total pressure per rush (sacks, hits, pressures). Antonio Dixon was too, before his season-ending injury. Juqua Parker seemed like he’d be a good fit for Washburn’s scheme, especially because Babin’s addition would keep him fresh. But that hasn’t happened at all. As for Laws, the numbers don’t match up with my anecdotal memory of his solid performance.

Overall, it’s clear that Washburn and the addition of successful free agents is having a big, positive effect on the Eagles pass rushers. You probably already knew that, but now at least you have the stats to back it up.

Photo from Getty.

Jason Babin, From Scrap Yard to Sack Yards

Jason Babin Eagles Sack Celebration

Jason Babin is just a hair off the pace to tie Reggie White’s record for most single-season sacks (21) as an Eagle. That’s crazy, especially because it was less than two years ago that the career journeyman was kicked to the street by the same Eagles team he now stars on.

I would say that the 31-year-old’s career was revived in Tennessee, but that would be inaccurate. “Revived” suggests that he returned to a former glory, one that never existed. At age 30, Babin signed a one year deal with the Titans. It was his fifth team in six seasons. After the Texans drafted him in the 1st round and immediately slotted him into the lineup, Babin only started 10 games over the next five years.

And then came Jim Washburn. Below are the sacks per pass rush and total pressure (sacks + hits + pressures) per pass rush stats, courtesy of Pro Football Focus:

Jason Babin Stats

What a huge jump from 2009 to 2010. Babin got pressure and sacks 50 percent more in the wide nine formation than he did the previous season in Sean McDermott’s more typical 4-3 scheme. And that’s despite more playing time on run downs.

I was worried that Babin’s 2010 performance was a fluke, but his numbers have only gone up since returning to Philadelphia. His overall pressure per rush figure is similar, but he’s actually getting more sacks — another 50 percent bump. Maybe that’s luck, but maybe not. Considering his only two games without sacks came while Trent Cole was injured, it isn’t much of a leap to suggest that his opportunities are increasing with a fellow Pro Bowler coming at the quarterback.

Photo from Getty.