Enter the House of (Lavonte) David
I keep meaning to write about this in the DVOA commentary one of these weeks, and I kept forgetting, so let's throw this up as something extra for the weekend.
Guess what? While nobody was looking, the Tampa Bay front seven secretly became one-dimensionally awesome.
Let's be clear, the Bucs aren't scaring passers any time soon. They rank 31st in Adjusted Sack Rate, ahead of only Jacksonville. But it has become extremely difficult to run on them. The Bucs go into the last week of the season with 2.92 Adjusted Line Yards allowed per carry. That's the best figure in the NFL by more than half a yard. Unless they give up a lot of runs on Sunday -- against an Atlanta team that doesn't run well and might be resting people, so good luck with that -- the Bucs will go down in our records as only the fourth defense since 1995 with an ALY below 3.0. The only front sevens that did more to prevent consistent run gains?
- The 2006 Vikings, with the Williams Wall (2.67)
- The 1998 Chargers, wasting all of Rodney Harrison and Junior Seau's talents (2.78)
- The 2000 Ravens, generally considered the best run defense in modern NFL history (2.89)
That's pretty incredible company for a defense featuring... um... who plays for this team again? Well, Lavonte David might be the Defensive Rookie of the Year (he gets to compete with Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner, Casey Hayward, and I'm sure I forgot somebody). David is third in the league with 18 run Defeats, which combines fumbles forced, tackles for loss, and tackles to prevent a third-down or fourth-down run from converting. He's behind only DeMeco Ryans at 19 and "Can we stop this silliness about Von Miller or Aldon Smith as DPOY" at 22.
Who else... well, Ndamukong Suh may have been the better prospect when they were drafted, and he may still be the better pass rusher, but Gerald McCoy has turned into a run-stopping juggernaut. We know they have Ronde Barber and first-round pick Mark Barron at safety, but now we've left the front seven, who are the guys mostly responsible for ALY.
The rest of these starters are really a bunch of guys you have never heard of. The starting tackle next to McCoy is 2009 third-round pick Roy Miller out of Texas. The starting defensive ends are veteran Michael Bennett and one-time SackSEER sleeper-turned-Eagles castoff Daniel Te'o-Nesheim. The other starting linebackers are Mason Foster, a third-round pick last year, and Quincy Black, a steady guy but never a star. He went on IR in November, replaced by Adam Hayward, who's been hanging around as a Bucs backup for six years. I assume you haven't heard of him either.
The Bucs also lead the league stuffing runners for no gain or a loss 34 percent of the time. That's only tenth historically, but it's by far the best figure this year. Detroit -- maybe Suh can stop the run too? -- is second at 27 percent.
Anyway, let's congratulate these mostly unknown players on doing at least part of their job really, really well. Unfortunately, in the modern NFL, the other part of the job -- "getting to the quarterback" -- is the more important part.
By the way, three of the top 10 figures in defensive ALY are the Ravens from 1998 to 2000. You really, really couldn't run on those guys.