2019 Defeats

Pittsburgh Steelers ER T.J. Watt
Pittsburgh Steelers ER T.J. Watt
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

For a few years now, the title of NFL's Best Watt Brother has been difficult to defend. J.J., the eldest Watt, set a high bar when he was drafted 11th overall in 2011. For the next five years, while his younger brothers were toiling in the high school and college ranks, J.J. ripped the league to shreds, leading all players with 74.5 sacks and winning three Defensive Player of the Year awards. In 2016, however, a back injury limited him to just three games; his brother Derek, then a sixth-round rookie for the Chargers, appeared in all 16 games as a fullback and took the BWB crown by default. Derek only held it for one year, however, losing it to T.J., who started 15 games as a rookie for Pittsburgh in 2017 while J.J. again missed significant time due to injury. 2018 was the only season when all three Watts played 16 games, and J.J. was again the best thanks in part to a league-leading seven forced fumbles. In 2019, however, while J.J. spent half the season in the trainer's room, T.J. took hold as the best player in the family -- and as one of the best defenders in pro football.

Our look back at 2019 data continues today with a look at defeats, one of our favorite stats for defensive players. We have lots of statistics to measure quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, even kickers, but our numbers for individual defensive players are a lot more limited. Defeats are one way to account for defenders who make frequent appearances on highlight reels. As a reminder, a defender is credited with a defeat any time he makes one of the following plays:

  • A tackle that results in a loss of yardage, including sacks.
  • Any play that results in a turnover, including tipped passes which are then intercepted.
  • Any tackle or tipped pass that leads to a stop on third or fourth down.

And, as you have probably figured out by now, your leader in defeats for 2019 was Trent Jordan Watt, edge rusher for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Most Defeats, All Defenders, 2019

Player Team Pos Pass Dft Rush Dft Total Dft
T.J. Watt PIT ER 22 14 36
Jordan Hicks ARI LB 16 15 31
Lavonte David TB LB 19 11 30
Shaquil Barrett TB ER 24 5 29
Jamie Collins NE LB 17 12 29
Joey Bosa LAC ER 14 14 28
Darius Leonard IND LB 23 5 28
Jaylon Smith DAL LB 14 13 27
Aaron Donald LAR DL 15 11 26
Markus Golden NYG ER 14 12 26
Cameron Heyward PIT DL 15 11 26
Danielle Hunter MIN ER 15 10 25
Za'Darius Smith GB ER 16 9 25
Bud Dupree PIT ER 11 14 25
Dante Fowler LAR ER 14 11 25
Carlos Dunlap CIN ER 14 11 25
Grady Jarrett ATL DL 8 17 25
Budda Baker ARI SAF 13 12 25
Chandler Jones ARI ER 20 4 24
Jamal Adams NYJ SAF 13 11 24
Rashaan Evans TEN LB 8 16 24
Joe Schobert CLE LB 17 7 24
Tremaine Edmunds BUF LB 12 12 24
Haason Reddick ARI LB 13 11 24
K.J. Wright SEA LB 14 10 24

Watt wasn't limited to pass-rushing in 2019. His 36 total defeats break down like so:

  • 17 sack plays (including 12 full sacks and five half-sacks -- Watt's official sack total of 14.5 was tied for fourth);
  • 10 tackles for loss on running plays;
  • three tackles that produced a third-/fourth-down stop;
  • two forced fumbles on running plays that gained yardage (Watt's total of eight forced fumbles were tied with Arizona's Chandler Jones for most in the league);
  • two interceptions;
  • one pass defensed on third/fourth down;
  • and one tackle for a loss on a completed pass.

As such, despite leading the league in total defeats, Watt was "only" third in defeats against the pass and fourth in defeats against the run. The leader in the former category was Tampa Bay edge rusher Shaquil Barrett, who had only 14.0 sacks in five seasons with the Broncos but broke out with a league-best 19.5 sacks in his first season in pewter. Those sacks produced the bulk of Barrett's 24 pass defeats. (He also intercepted one pass, tipped another interception to a teammate, and made two third-down stops on completed passes.) Another NFC South player, Atlanta defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, led the league with 17 run defeats -- 11 tackles for loss, five third-down stops, and one forced fumble on a run that gained yardage.

As you can see, the leaderboards here are dominated by edge rushers and off-ball linebackers. We can let some stars shine more brightly by filtering the leaders by position, starting with interior defensive linemen.

Most Defeats, Interior Linemen, 2019

Player Team Pass Dft Rush Dft Total Dft
Aaron Donald LAR 15 11 26
Cameron Heyward PIT 15 11 26
Grady Jarrett ATL 8 17 25
DeForest Buckner SF 9 8 17
Dalvin Tomlinson NYG 4 13 17
Jordan Phillips BUF 12 4 16
Chris Jones KC 10 6 16
Jonathan Allen WAS 9 7 16
Kenny Clark GB 9 6 15
Fletcher Cox PHI 7 8 15
Johnathan Hankins OAK 2 12 14
Matt Ioannidis WAS 9 4 13
Adam Butler NE 10 3 13
Geno Atkins CIN 5 8 13
Ndamukong Suh TB 7 6 13
Kyle Phillips NYJ 4 9 13
Derek Wolfe DEN 7 5 12
Shelby Harris DEN 7 5 12
Larry Ogunjobi CLE 5 7 12
Ed Oliver BUF 7 5 12
Javon Hargrave PIT 4 8 12
Sheldon Richardson CLE 7 5 12
Michael Brockers LAR 5 7 12
Leonard Williams NYJ/NYG 4 8 12
Includes 4-3 defensive tackles and all 3-4 linemen.

Most observers would tell you that two-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald was, in fact, the best defensive player in the NFL, and few on our staff would argue. If any interior lineman could challenge the L.A. Rams star, however, it was Pittsburgh's Cameron Heyward, who has routinely racked up sacks, tackles for loss, and Pro Bowl berths himself. In 2019, they were dead-even in defeats -- both had 15 against the pass, 11 against the run, and 26 total. Both played in all 16 games, but Donald finished with about 50 more snaps on defense. So if you want to award the crown to Heyward on defeats-per-snap efficiency basis, have at it.

No interior lineman had more pass defeats than Donald or Heyward, and as mentioned, Atlanta's Grady Jarrett led all linemen (and other defenders) in run defeats. There's a bit of a drop-off after those three, with DeForest Buckner and Dalvin Tomlinson tied for fourth place with 17 defeats apiece. Buckner should be a huge upgrade for his new team in Indianapolis -- last season, Colts interior linemen combined for only 18 defeats.

Most Defeats, Edge Rushers, 2019

Player Team Pass Dft Rush Dft Total Dft
T.J. Watt PIT 22 14 36
Shaquil Barrett TB 24 5 29
Joey Bosa LAC 14 14 28
Markus Golden NYG 14 12 26
Danielle Hunter MIN 15 10 25
Za'Darius Smith GB 16 9 25
Bud Dupree PIT 11 14 25
Dante Fowler LAR 14 11 25
Carlos Dunlap CIN 14 11 25
Chandler Jones ARI 20 4 24
Maxx Crosby OAK 11 12 23
Brandon Graham PHI 12 11 23
Whitney Mercilus HOU 13 10 23
Cameron Jordan NO 19 3 22
Arik Armstead SF 17 5 22
Matt Judon BAL 14 8 22
Calais Campbell JAX 8 13 21
Shaq Lawson BUF 10 11 21
Justin Houston IND 13 7 20
Nick Bosa SF 12 8 20
Preston Smith GB 17 2 19
Harold Landry TEN 10 9 19
Von Miller DEN 11 8 19
Yannick Ngakoue JAX 12 7 19
Frank Clark KC 13 6 19
Melvin Ingram LAC 11 8 19
Includes 4-3 defensive ends and 3-4 outside linebackers.

Here we really see the gap between T.J. Watt and his peers open up. Watt finished second among edge rushers behind Barrett in pass defeats, but no edge rusher had more run defeats. Two other edge rushers did tie him at 14. One was Joey Bosa of the Chargers, who may have lost some press to his brother Nick in San Francisco (Joey & Nick Bosa vs. any two Watt brothers would be a hella fun tag team match), but remains the more productive player. The other was Watt's teammate in Pittsburgh, Bud Dupree. Between Watt, Heyward, and Dupree, that's three Steelers we've mentioned by name in less than a thousand words, and that's not even including Javon Hargrave, who was among the top 20 interior linemen. This is going to be a theme as this column unfolds.

Rounding out the top five we have Markus Golden, who rebounded nicely with the Giants after some injury-filled seasons with the Cardinals, and Danielle Hunter of the Vikings.

Most Defeats, Linebackers, 2019

Player Team Pass Dft Rush Dft Total Dft
Jordan Hicks ARI 16 15 31
Lavonte David TB 19 11 30
Jamie Collins NE 17 12 29
Darius Leonard IND 23 5 28
Jaylon Smith DAL 14 13 27
Rashaan Evans TEN 8 16 24
Joe Schobert CLE 17 7 24
Tremaine Edmunds BUF 12 12 24
Haason Reddick ARI 13 11 24
K.J. Wright SEA 14 10 24
Demario Davis NO 17 6 23
Matt Milano BUF 15 8 23
De'Vondre Campbell ATL 12 10 22
A.J. Johnson DEN 12 10 22
Deion Jones ATL 9 13 22
Bobby Wagner SEA 12 9 21
Jerome Baker MIA 10 11 21
Eric Kendricks MIN 14 7 21
Blake Martinez GB 10 10 20
James Burgess NYJ 10 10 20
Luke Kuechly CAR 11 9 20
Includes 3-4 inside linebackers and all 4-3 linebackers.

While everyone's talking about what Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray did for Arizona's offense last season, let's not overlook how Jordan Hicks blossomed in Vance Joseph's defense. Hicks' 150 tackles were nearly 60 more than he had ever made in a season before, and his 11 tackles for loss nearly matched the 12 he had in his first four seasons with the Cardinals. Eleven of Hicks' defeats were third-/fourth-down stops, including one tackle on a Lamar Jackson run that gained 19 yards on third-and-20. But he also made an impact in the passing game with three interceptions and 1.5 sacks. That may not sound like much, but only six other players pulled that off last season. Five of those seven players qualified for at least one of the tables in this story, including third-place linebacker Jamie Collins and fourth-place Darius Leonard.

Speaking of Leonard, he led all linebackers with 23 pass defeats: eight third-/fourth-down stops (seven tackles, one pass defensed), six sack plays, five interceptions, three tackles for loss on completions, and one forced fumble on a completion. The leader in run defeats was Tennessee's Rashaan Evans with 16 (10 tackles for loss, six third-/fourth-down stops). This is bleak news for running backs in the AFC South this season.

We've mentioned five different linebackers so far but we overlooked Lavonte David, who finished just one defeat short of Hicks for the positional lead. Then again, David should be used to being overlooked by now. He finished third in the league with 30 defeats, the sixth time he has hit 30 in eight NFL seasons, and yet his career average dropped to 33.6 after last season. David was drafted in 2012, just like Luke Kuechly and Bobby Wagner. Since then, however, David has been awarded with just one Pro Bowl berth and one first-team All-Pro nod; Kuechly has seven and five, while Wagner has six and five, respectively. When it comes to highlight plays, however, David dominates them both, particularly when it comes to fumbles and making tackles in the backfield.

Lavonte David vs. Luke Kuechly vs. Bobby Wagner
Player Team G Tackles Sacks INT FF FR TFL Pass Dfts Run Dfts Total Dfts Pro Bowls All-Pro
Lavonte David TB 121 1,008 22.5 11 21 14 116 143 126 269 1 1
Luke Kuechly CAR 118 1,092 12.5 18 7 9 75 121 104 225 7 5
Bobby Wagner SEA 119 1,075 19.5 10 5 9 58 85 86 171 6 5

Sorry Pittsburgh, but no Steelers qualified for the leaderboards here. (Devin Bush was closest with 18.) Fear not! We'll get back to you soon.

Most Defeats, Safeties, 2019

Player Team Pass Dft Rush Dft Total Dft
Budda Baker ARI 13 12 25
Jamal Adams NYJ 13 11 24
Taylor Rapp LAR 13 10 23
Justin Simmons DEN 16 5 21
Harrison Smith MIN 14 5 19
Landon Collins WAS 7 11 18
Jordan Poyer BUF 10 8 18
Malcolm Jenkins PHI 13 4 17
Vonn Bell NO 8 9 17
Jordan Whitehead TB 9 8 17
Shawn Williams CIN 10 6 16
Eric Weddle LAR 11 5 16
Ricardo Allen ATL 10 6 16
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson NO 13 3 16
Kenny Vaccaro TEN 13 2 15
Bradley McDougald SEA 12 3 15
Terrell Edmunds PIT 6 9 15
Kevin Byard TEN 13 2 15
Jabrill Peppers NYG 8 7 15
Kareem Jackson DEN 11 4 15
Minkah Fitzpatrick MIA/PIT 11 4 15

Surprise! In three NFL seasons, Arizona's Budda Baker has yet to record an interception, and he managed only half a sack in 2019. Yet somehow, he led all safeties with 25 defeats. He did it by making tackles -- a lot of tackles, 147 in all, including an NFL-high 104 solo stops. Those tackles helped him make a dozen run defeats (11 tackles for loss, one third-/fourth-down stop), most among safeties. He also made 13 pass defeats (eight tackles for third-/fourth-down stops, two more third-/fourth-down stops on passes defensed, one sack play, one forced fumble, and one tipped pass that was intercepted by a teammate).

Jamal Adams of the Jets and Taylor Rapp of the Rams matched Baker with 13 pass defeats. They fell behind him in run defeats, but they still joined Baker as the only safeties to hit double digits in both categories. (Baker and Rapp, by the way, were teammates at the University of Washington in 2016 when the Huskies went 12-2, led the Pac-12 in scoring defense, and reached the College Football Playoff.)

Denver's Justin Simmons led all safeties with 16 pass defeats. He made 11 stops on third and fourth down (six tackles, five passes defensed) and produced five interceptions (four of his own and one he tipped to a teammate).

Oh! And there are two Pittsburgh safeties on this list: Terrell Edmunds and Minkah Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick, if you're wondering, made all 15 defeats in his 14 games with the Steelers following his trade out of Miami.

Most Defeats, Cornerbacks, 2019

Player Team Pass Dft Rush Dft Total Dft
Logan Ryan TEN 17 6 23
Tre'Davious White BUF 20 2 22
Stephon Gilmore NE 21 1 22
Joe Haden PIT 14 5 19
Byron Murphy ARI 14 2 16
Nickell Robey-Coleman LAR 13 3 16
Jourdan Lewis DAL 15 0 15
Kenny Moore IND 11 4 15
Mike Hilton PIT 11 4 15
Kevin King GB 13 2 15
Marlon Humphrey BAL 11 4 15
Marcus Peters LAR/BAL 12 3 15
Nik Needham MIA 14 0 14
K'Waun Williams SF 12 2 14
Carlton Davis TB 10 4 14
Jaire Alexander GB 12 2 14
Jonathan Jones NE 10 4 14
Quinton Dunbar WAS 14 0 14
Janoris Jenkins NO/NYG 13 0 13
Marshon Lattimore NO 12 1 13
Justin Coleman DET 12 1 13
Jason McCourty NE 11 2 13

Defeats aren't always a useful metric for cornerbacks; the top players are usually nickelbacks who are on the field enough to make a bunch of tackles near the line of scrimmage. New England's Stephon Gilmore, the Defensive Player of the Year, led all corners with 21 pass defeats (a dozen stops on third-/fourth-down between tackles and tipped passes; a half-dozen interceptions of his own and two other passes tipped to teammates; and one forced fumble). He was tied in total defeats with Buffalo's Tre'Davious White, who joined Gilmore on the first-team All-Pro team.

Both Gilmore and White, however, finished behind Tennessee's Logan Ryan in total defeats. Ryan was one of the busiest players in the league last year -- he was in the top 10 among cornerbacks in targets in pass coverage and second with 39 tackles on running plays. It's those running plays that put Ryan over the top -- he led all corners with six run defeats (four tackles for loss, two third-/fourth-down stops).

And yes, there are Steelers on the list -- Joe Haden and Mike Hilton both made the top 10. That's eight Pittsburgh players who made the top 20 at their respective positions. With that kind of star power, you might expect the Steelers to lead the league in defeats as a team. And you would be right -- kind of.

Defeats, All Teams, 2019

Team Pass Dft Rush Dft Total Dft
BUF 138 65 203
PIT 127 76 203
TB 130 71 201
MIN 130 59 189
ARI 106 80 186
NYJ 100 85 185
SF 122 63 185
DEN 117 62 179
PHI 111 67 178
LAR 117 58 175
NO 127 47 174
NYG 103 69 172
NE 129 42 171
WAS 113 55 168
DAL 100 64 164
TEN 111 52 163
ATL 90 72 162
KC 117 44 161
CAR 115 43 158
CLE 102 55 157
IND 109 46 155
BAL 105 47 152
JAX 96 51 147
GB 107 39 146
SEA 97 49 146
CIN 84 60 144
OAK 81 63 144
CHI 98 44 142
HOU 97 44 141
LAC 89 49 138
MIA 87 39 126
DET 84 40 124

The Steelers made 203 total defeats, tied with the Buffalo Bills for most in the league. The Bills were especially effective against the pass, where they led the NFL with 138 pass defeats. The only Buffalo defender to come up in conversation so far has been Tre'Davious White, but defensive linemen Jordan Phillips and Ed Oliver; edge rusher Shaq Lawson; linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano; and safety Jordan Poyer each made the leaderboards at their positions too. (The Rams also had seven players in the leaderboards, but still barely made the top 10 in team totals.)

No defense had more run defeats than the Jets, who had 85. We have barely talked about the Jets so far, but safety Jamal Adams (11 run defeats), linebacker James Burgess (10), and defensive lineman Kyle Phillips (nine) were their leaders against the run. They might have had more names rank higher as individuals if their front seven hadn't been ravaged by injuries.

In last place, we have the Oakland Raiders with 81 pass defeats; the Green Bay Packers and Miami Dolphins tied with 39 run defeats; and the Detroit Lions with 124 total defeats. The Raiders attempted to solve their problems by drafting one defensive back (Damon Arnette) and signing three more (Prince Amukamara, Jeff Heath, and Damarious Randall). The Dolphins used free agency to add three pass-rushers (Kyle Van Noy, Shaq Lawson, and Emmanuel Ogbah) and cornerback Byron Jones; they also drafted another corner, Noah Igbinoghene, in the first round. Meanwhile, the Packers attempted to solve their defensive problems by drafting a quarterback in the first round, and the Lions traded their top cornerback to the Eagles. Because the NFC North is crazy.


22 comments, Last at 28 Jul 2020, 2:38pm

2 Regarding David vs Kuechly…

Regarding David vs Kuechly and Wagner -- one way to gather defeats is suicidal aggression, just Leroy Jenkinsing forward in pursuit of a stop for loss or a big hit at the price of abandoning all pretense of positional responsibility. Given TB's tepid at best defensive reputation, and complete nadir in 2017 and 2018, was some of that in play, or was David just left as only sane man in the land of the mad?

Basically, was he the only good guy on a bad defense, or was the defense in part bad because he was recklessly hunting defeats and just getting murdered by counters and play-action?

4 I'm not sure

I don't have any stats to say for sure, but my impression as a Saints fan is that he was the only good guy on a bad defense. IIRC, their secondary was especially horrid--but I also believe that they have only had 2 guys get 10+ sacks in a year for about 10 years--Barrett last year, and Pierre-Paul a couple of years ago. David couldn't do everything.

10 Perhaps what we have is only half the story (and stats)

In reply to by Joseph

Wagner is a sure HOFer.  He looks poorly in a comparison of the three because he maintains gap discipline.  I bet if you looked at a measure of how many times he failed his gap, you'd find he doesn't get out of position very often, if at all.  Not as disruptive, but not a liability either.

I think comparing both sides of that coin will give stat geeks a better picture of the quality of a LBer especially.

11 Well there are stats

In reply to by Joseph

There are stats—something called DVOA says they were the fifth best Defense in football last year, and third in weighted DVOA.  And the stat @6 in the comments says they were top five on a per snap basis.  
And given how many snaps they had to play with a turnover machine at QB, I think their Defense was pretty impressive.

Of course, DVOA also says they were dead last the previous year.

15 None of those refer to L. David directly

1. I was referring to the horrible Bucs defenses of 2017 & 2018, not the good defense of last year.

2. The stats I was referring to in my original post had to do with L. David particularly. While we have some regular stats to measure defense with, and some advanced stats to measure certain defenders with (pass rush win rate, targets against), we don't have a stat to measure "gap filled" or "zone covered." Especially considering the pass defense of the 2017 and 2018 Bucs had the reputation of "there were be multiple receivers open--pick your favorite."

3. Another poster (comment #10?) referred to Bobby Wagner as a HOFer. Now, I don't have an opinion either way--but it sure is easier to look like a HOFer when you have other HOF-level players around you (Sherman, E. Thomas, etc.). See the Steel Curtain defenders.

5 Given how effective…

Given how effective Baltimore's defense was last season, is their low number of defeats as a team and their lack of players on the leaderboards just a function of an offense that dominated time of possession?

6 The Ravens did have the…

The Ravens did have the least defensive plays in the league last season. But Buffalo was 25th, and Pittsburgh was 14th, so it's not like the top teams all had the most opportunity. I wonder what the actual correlation is...

Here's defeats/defensive play...

BUF … 0.2061

PIT … 0.1971

TB … 0.1873

PHI … 0.1841

SF … 0.1824

NE … 0.1804

MIN … 0.1795

DEN … 0.1785

NYJ … 0.1784

NO … 0.1742

ARI … 0.1722

LAR … 0.1657

BAL … 0.165

ATL … 0.1645

NYG … 0.1621

DAL … 0.1616

IND … 0.1572

WAS … 0.1557

CLE … 0.1548

KC … 0.1544

TEN … 0.1544

CAR … 0.1516

SEA … 0.1508

OAK … 0.1495

LAC … 0.1495

JAX … 0.1471

GB … 0.1463

CHI … 0.1396

CIN … 0.1393

HOU … 0.1382

MIA … 0.1197

DET … 0.1133

20 Thanks for running those…

Thanks for running those numbers. That definitely aligns more with what I saw on the field, i.e. a defense with only a few players who consistently got in the backfield, that mostly won by being disciplined in coverage and sticking to its scheme.

18 2017 draft

The Packers were on the clock. TJ Watt was still available. I was highfiving my kids, I could not believe he fell to us. Then they traded the pick for what turned out to be Kevin King and Vince Biegel. 

19 So...

GB had 13 defeats from non King, Jaire, Preston, Zadarius, Blake, and Clark defenders? 5 pass, 8 run. They bring all but Blake back (understandable, salary cap is real) but it is weird that all they did was throw Kamal Martin at it (and a couple 7th rounders). What a shame they decided to take a 2 down RB right before Willie Gay Jr. 


21 The Bills run a nickel…

The Bills run a nickel defense around 80% of the time, rarely blitz (and virtually never big-blitz) and don't really generate a ton of QB pressure yet still lead the league in defeats and defeats-per-play.  That is definitely something.

Whatever Sean McDermott is doing is certainly working