Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

18 May 2011

Daryl Smith's Year of Defeats

by Aaron Schatz

So, here we are in May. The lockout is still going, and there's nothing to write about for the offseason. So let's go back to last year, shall we? It occured to me that Football Outsiders has a ton of stats sitting around in various spreadsheets, waiting to get attention. Some of them are available on our player pages, and some of them will show up in Football Outsiders Almanac 2011, but I figured it would be fun information to just toss out some top 20s and top 25s and other lists of these various non-standard stats.

The first list I wanted to post was for defenders with the most Defeats. Defeats are defined as any play (tackle, assist, pass defensed, interception, or forced fumble) that does one of three things:

  • 1) causes a turnover
  • 2) causes a loss of yardage
  • 3) stops conversion on third or fourth down

Most of the names at the top of the stat sheet for Defeats are not much of a surprise. You've got your league-leading pass rushers (Justin Tuck, Cameron Wake, DeMarcus Ware). You've got your playmaking linebackers who range all over the field (James Harrison, London Fletcher, Brian Urlacher). You've got your gambling cornerbacks, the guys who often get targeted on third down and sometimes will make the play (DeAngelo Hall, Nate Clements). And you've got Ndamukong Suh, who is sui generis, but he's no surprise, because he's Ndamukong Suh. Suh was tied for seventh with 29 Defeats this year. The only other defensive tackle over 20 Defeats was Kyle Williams, who had 21. To find another defensive tackle with this many Defeats, we have to go back to Warren Sapp in 2000. Ndamukong Suh is special. Not a surprise.

However, the player who is number one for 2010 Defeats is probably a big surprise, and I thought he deserved a little more explanation than just having his name on top of a list. He's Daryl Smith, the strongside linebacker for the Jacksonville Jaguars. This is a bit of a shock for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Daryl Smith is a fairly unknown, anonymous player who takes the field for the NFL's most unknown, anonymous team. That team happened to finish dead last in defensive DVOA last year. You might think that Smith built up big numbers because Jacksonville, as a bad defense, faced a ton of offensive plays -- except that the opposite is true. Jacksonville has 745 plays in the Individual Defensive Stats database, the third-fewest in the league for 2010.

Jacksonville had a lot of trouble making big plays last year, but when somebody was making a big play, more often than not that somebody was Daryl Smith. That was especially true when the Jaguars actually managed to make a stop on third down. Smith didn't have a lot of picks (one), sacks (four), or forced fumbles (one). He built his Defeats total with an uncanny ability to make stops on third down. He got both tackles when the Jaguars stuffed Marion Barber on third-and-goal and then fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line back in Week 8. In Week 13, he had two assists on plays where Chris Johnson was stopped one yard short on third down. Smith also had nine tackles where he stopped a receiver after a completion but before a third-down conversion. For example, in Week 16, he tackled Chris Cooley after a 10-yard gain on third-and-13, and then Anthony Armstrong after a 12-yard gain on another third-and-13.

Although we should celebrate Smith's big year, it was probably a bit of a fluke. Smith had only two other seasons with more than 20 Defeats: 24 in 2006 (when he was playing in the middle, not on the outside) and 27 in 2009. You can actually find that out by going to his Football Outsiders player page. This is a good chance to remind everyone that all kinds of advanced defensive stats, including Defeats, can be found on the Football Outsiders player pages. Everyone gets to see 2008-2010, and Premium subscribers get stats going all the way back to 1997 (soon to be 1996).

Here's a list of all players with at least 25 Defeats in 2010.

Player Team Pos Defeats
52-Da.Smith JAC OLB 35
91-J.Tuck NYG DE 33
91-C.Wake MIA OLB 32
92-J.Harrison PIT OLB 31
94-D.Ware DAL OLB 31
50-J.Anderson CAR OLB 30
94-L.Timmons PIT ILB 29
54-Geno.Hayes TB OLB 29
90-N.Suh DET DT 29
52-C.Greenway MIN OLB 28
55-D.Williams DEN ILB 28
23-D.Hall WAS CB 28
55-L.Briggs CHI OLB 28
59-L.Fletcher WAS ILB 27
54-B.Urlacher CHI MLB 27
99-K.Burnett SD ILB 27
52-C.Matthews GB OLB 27
24-T.Thomas NYG CB 26
92-W.Witherspoon TEN OLB 26
58-T.Cole PHI DE 26
55-S.Tulloch TEN MLB 25
51-P.Lenon ARI ILB 25
22-N.Clements SF CB 25
55-J.Abraham ATL DE 25

No safeties were over 25 last year; Deon Grant of the Giants led safeties with 24 Defeats.

Sometime next week, I'll post expanded lists of Defeats split into Run Defeats and Pass Defeats.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 18 May 2011

34 comments, Last at 27 Jul 2011, 5:34am by z1949g

Comments

1
by JasonK :: Wed, 05/18/2011 - 10:15pm

Deon Grant getting a mention is a bit of a surprise, given that he wasn't technically a starter. But he was also not really a Safety in 2010. His position on the Giants defense last year was basically an unusually light and fast Outside Linebacker. The Giants probably lined up in their "big nickel" personnel, with 4DL, 2LBs, 2CBs, and 3 Safeties, more often than any other grouping. They did this largely because they only had 2 decent linebackers on the team, so whenever they were expecting anything other than a power run, they put Grant out there and lined him up where one of the OLBs otherwise would've been.

2
by TheSlinger :: Thu, 05/19/2011 - 2:43am

This is no surprise to Jaguar fans. He's absolutely one of the top 4-3 LBs in the game but since he plays in Jacksonville and doesn't put up the gawdy stats that 3-4 LBs do he doesn't get noticed.

3
by BlueLou (not verified) :: Thu, 05/19/2011 - 3:18am

Justin Tuck's ranking is no surprise to Giants' fans. He is that good, and even better than the # implies because on 3rd or 4th and short to convert, teams would far more often run at Umenyiora and away from Tuck.

6
by Independent George :: Thu, 05/19/2011 - 7:33am

I also noticed Tuck mastering Strahan's old signature move of reading a screen pass, then dropping immediately into the flat and either breaking up the pass or drilling the receiver in the backfield.

4
by Trolika (not verified) :: Thu, 05/19/2011 - 4:31am

I don't think it's a fluke, 27 defeats in 2009, 35 last year, as you said, he played in the middle before, so he had to adjust to his new role. And as the Slinger says, Daryl Smith is no surprise to Jags fans. I think we have an outstanding candidate for the "underrated" title.

11
by sundown (not verified) :: Thu, 05/19/2011 - 11:28am

Yeah, I didn't follow the fluke comment, either. They seem to be falling into standard fan thinking that since the guy's largely unknown, he can't really be all that good. It's also rather funny they'd create this great measurement and then be so quick to attribute the results to flukishness.

12
by Aaron Schatz :: Thu, 05/19/2011 - 12:12pm

Maybe "fluke" is the wrong word. Does "likely career high" sound better?

As for the question about whether Smith had an abnormally high percentage of his team's Defeats, I wouldn't call it abnormal, but it does lead the league. In each year, there are 1-3 players with over 20 percent of their team's Defeats. This year, Smith had 23 percent. Demarcus Ware had 21 percent, the only other player at 20 percent or higher.

In 2009, Smith had 18 percent of his team's Defeats, which was second in the league behind Brian Cushing (22 percent).

In 2008, the two guys with over 20 percent were Ware and Terrell Suggs. I'm too lazy to go back further right now.

As for Smith "learning" the OLB position, that's not really the case. OLB is his natural position since college. He was stuck playing MLB in 2006 because of injuries to Mike Peterson.

But yes, he does deserve the "underrated" title. Just perhaps not "most underrated."

17
by Theo :: Thu, 05/19/2011 - 2:14pm

Yes, I'd say that if a guy leads the league in a stat category it's most probably a "career high". And if he's at the top in the league for multiple seasons, then it's obviously not a fluke.

5
by rfh1001 :: Thu, 05/19/2011 - 4:50am

My first though was: bet London Fletcher is on this list somewhere.

7
by mrh :: Thu, 05/19/2011 - 9:15am

Do a team's total defeats correlate well with team defense DVOA? It would seem so unless the D was so bad it wasn't getting to 3rd down very much. Does Smith have an abnormally high % of his team's total defeats?

20
by Vincent Verhei :: Thu, 05/19/2011 - 2:48pm

Top five teams in Defeats (with DVOA and rank)

TEAM, DEFEATS, DVOA, RANK
TEN, 238, -4.0%, 8th
CAR, 221, 1.8%, 16th
CHI, 214, -7.7%, 6th
NYG, 213, -8.0%, 3rd
OAK, 209, 1.5%, 15th

Bottom five teams in Defeats:

TEAM, DEFEATS, DVOA, RANK
CLE, 173, 4.1%, 17th
KC, 173, 6.1%, 21st
BAL, 171 -7.9%, 4th
DAL, 167, 10.1%, 28th
DEN, 161, 19.6%, 30th

Yes, Baltimore does stand out there. And it's not because their defense was never on the field -- they faced 1,007 snaps, almost exactly the league average of 1,009. It appears the strength of their defense is preventing big plays, not making them.

8
by tuluse :: Thu, 05/19/2011 - 9:16am

I am mildly surprised Julius Peppers didn't make the list. He must have had a bunch of tackles for 1 and 2 yard gains and just missed getting the defeat.

15
by Chip :: Thu, 05/19/2011 - 1:00pm

Agreed. He always seemed to be crashing down to stop the run. Absolutely amazing to see what he single-handily added to that defense.

Not a surprise with Urlacher & Briggs. What a tandem.

19
by Vincent Verhei :: Thu, 05/19/2011 - 2:34pm

Peppers had 23 Defeats, so he just missed the list.

18
by countertorque :: Thu, 05/19/2011 - 2:31pm

I think Success Rate is the best stat for tracking that.

9
by BucNasty :: Thu, 05/19/2011 - 9:37am

It always seemed to me that Geno Hayes had a bit of knack for slicing through the line and making plays in the backfield. Good to see the stats backing that up.

10
by Jim C. (not verified) :: Thu, 05/19/2011 - 10:00am

It's interesting that Baltimore (#4 in defensive DVOA) has nobody on this list.

13
by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 05/19/2011 - 12:25pm

I was sure Patrick Willis would have been on this list but he only had 24 defeats in 14 games, just off the bottom of the list.

14
by ChicagoRaider :: Thu, 05/19/2011 - 1:00pm

Next to Smith, Kirk Morrison seems to have dropped a lot of defeats while Smith went up. Were the high tackles and defeats an artifact of playing for the Raiders?

16
by Reader Martin (not verified) :: Thu, 05/19/2011 - 1:03pm

I would be interested to see defeats as a percentage of plays (perhaps with a minimum of 100). It might shed light on the effectiveness of 3rd down specialists as well as properly rank guys like Willis who missed a couple of games but were otherwise effective.

21
by notque_deeproute (not verified) :: Thu, 05/19/2011 - 3:26pm

Excellent stuff. I need to add defeats as a stat in http://deeproute.com so I can track along with you.

I'll work on that this week.

22
by Theo :: Thu, 05/19/2011 - 9:26pm

Why isn't stopping someone short of getting 50% to a first down on first or second down a Defeat?

23
by Kibbles :: Thu, 05/19/2011 - 9:39pm

Because then the "defeats" stat would be identical to the "success rate" stat.

Edit: besides, is "defeat" really the right word for giving up 3 yards on 1st and 10? Sure, it's a slightly positive play for the defense, but would any observer watch that and say "wow, the defense sure defeated the offense there"?

24
by Theo :: Thu, 05/19/2011 - 10:29pm

Ok, so why would a 'defeat' on defense be different than a 'success' at offense?
And giving up 3 at 1st and 10? Sounds pretty good. I'd like to see the averages, but my guess is the average first down goes further than 3 yards.
The average run is about 4. QB completion is 60% for what, 10 yards.

30
by Whatev :: Fri, 05/20/2011 - 7:02pm

I think they're calling that a "stop." The goal of labelling something a "defeat" seems to be to identify drive-ending plays, although technically negative plays and failed third-down conversions don't HAVE to end drives.

25
by Intropy :: Thu, 05/19/2011 - 11:58pm

Are the defeats figures available on the site anywhere? I'm curious to see team aggregate defeat numbers.

26
by langsty :: Fri, 05/20/2011 - 2:40am

I've been telling people for a few years now that Smith is one of the best 4-3 outside linebackers in the league. I think I might have nominated him for most underrated defender once too.

27
by Michael LaRocca (not verified) :: Fri, 05/20/2011 - 9:32am

This has nothing to do with the text of this post, but those gray pants in the photo sure look stupid. Paul Allen can't afford to print in color?

28
by Drunkmonkey :: Fri, 05/20/2011 - 11:39am

Gray pants?

29
by dbostedo :: Fri, 05/20/2011 - 12:11pm

Are you talking about the uniform on Smith in the picture? Smith is on the Jaguars. Paul Allen owns the Seahawks. I think there's some confusion here.

31
by Tanner (not verified) :: Sat, 05/21/2011 - 1:24am

Top five teams in Defeats (with DVOA and rank)

TEAM, DEFEATS, DVOA, RANK
TEN, 238, -4.0%, 8th
CAR, 221, 1.8%, 16th
CHI, 214, -7.7%, 6th
NYG, 213, -8.0%, 3rd
OAK, 209, 1.5%, 15th

Bottom five teams in Defeats:

TEAM, DEFEATS, DVOA, RANK
CLE, 173, 4.1%, 17th
KC, 173, 6.1%, 21st
BAL, 171 -7.9%, 4th
DAL, 167, 10.1%, 28th
DEN, 161, 19.6%, 30th

Just want to point out that the top 4 teams in defeats were 4-3 teams, and the 5th team was the Raiders, who I believe run a 4-3/3-4 hybrid. On the flip side, the bottom 5 teams all primarily ran 3-4s. This is strange to me because I when I think of 3-4 defenses I think of an attacking, blitzing style built to make defensive plays like "defeats", while I picture the 4-3 as the more conservative defensive scheme (for example, the tampa-2) designed to stop big plays.

So, is the way I perceive defensive schemes a myth or is there some other explanation? Maybe the data likes 4-3 teams better because they have more 3rd down opportunities to make stops? Or am I making a big deal about nothing and this was just how this year played out and other years had 3-4 teams on top?

32
by ASmitty :: Sat, 05/21/2011 - 10:35am

If I were to speculate off the top of my head, I would guess that perhaps 4-3 teams pick up more defeats in the run game than 3-4 defenses. The difference between a one yard loss and no yard gain isn't much in practical terms, but it's the difference between a defeat and no defeat, and I would think 4-3 teams would get more such run stuffs in the backfield.

In any case, it doesn't seem too relevant when a team like the Ravens has few defeats, and a team like the Panthers has a ton.

33
by tuluse :: Sun, 05/22/2011 - 11:03pm

I was going to post something like this. 1 gap 4-3 teams are trying to shoot gaps and get the running back in the backfield, while 3-4 2 gap defenses are doing more read and react.

34
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