Four Downs: NFC North

Four Downs: NFC North
Four Downs: NFC North
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Sterling Xie

In a series of articles over the next few days, Football Outsiders will be looking division-by-division at the biggest weakness left on each team's roster after free agency and the 2015 NFL draft.

Chicago Bears

Biggest Post-Draft Weakness: Secondary

You can really pick your poison with either cornerback or safety here, and unfortunately the Bears will have to. They have little in the way of surefire foundational pieces at defensive back. In fairness, switching to Vic Fangio's multiple 3-4 scheme requires a multi-year commitment to overhauling the old personnel. Most of the carryovers from last season are misfit toys now (looking at you, Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston), and given the equally pressing turmoil in the offensive passing game, there simply weren't enough resources to fix everything in a single offseason. Chicago chose to address the front seven this year, drafting Eddie Goldman in the second round and pouring their free-agent dollars into Pernell McPhee, Mason Foster, Ray McDonald, and Jarvis Jenkins.

Of course, that means the Bears will bring back virtually the same secondary that spearheaded the 29th-ranked pass defense in 2014, according to Football Outsiders DVOA ratings. Kyle Fuller was a legitimate Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate at the end of September, with three picks in his first three games, but tailed off significantly afterwards. By the end of the year, our charting ranked him as the most targeted cornerback in the league, and his 9.6 adjusted yards allowed per pass ranked 68th out of 77 qualifying corners.

And Fuller is the most promising hope for the unit. Even after letting longtime starter Charles Tillman leave, the Bears still employ four defensive backs older than 30, all them feasible bets to make the final roster. Antrel Rolle and Tim Jennings are firmly in their twilight years and no locks to hang around past this season. Ditto for Ryan Mundy and Alan Ball, who could carve out roles in sub packages. As for youth, nickelback Demontre Hurst came out of our charting with a horrid 13.5 adjusted yards allowed per pass. Brock Vereen received plenty of reps filling in for the perpetually dinged-up Chris Conte, but didn't distinguish himself and will receive competition from fifth-rounder Adrian Amos for the starting free safety spot. Even if you want to chalk up Fuller's second-half struggles to the cocktail variety of injuries through which he played, the 2014 first-rounder might be the only defensive back on the roster worth keeping past 2015.

Notable Undrafted Free Agent Additions: Perhaps with that need in mind, Chicago signed three defensive backs in the post-draft frenzy. UCF corner Jacoby Glenn is the most intriguing of the trio that also includes UCLA safety Anthony Jefferson and Rice corner Bryan Callahan, as Glenn was the co-Defensive Player of the Year in the American Athletic Conference after picking off seven passes. Glenn was one of those unfortunate cases of an underclassman declaring early and going undrafted, but he could still salvage his decision and push someone like Demontre Hurst off the roster. East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden will receive the most pub of Chicago's free-agent signings, but he's also probably competing with David Fales and Pat Devlin for one roster spot behind Jay Cutler and Jimmy Clausen.

Detroit Lions

Biggest Post-Draft Weakness: Defensive Tackle

If you step back, it's pretty remarkable that neither Ndamukong Suh nor Nick Fairley garnered a second contract in the Motor City. The duo anchored a dominant front seven that ranked first in run defense DVOA and adjusted line yards, both by fairly wide margins. With both former first-rounders departed, Detroit loses the core foundation of its roster. Trading for Haloti Ngata was a shrewd short-term decision that only cost the organization fourth- and fifth-round selections, which they figure to recoup through compensatory picks next year.

But Ngata has been on a steady decline from his All-Pro peak, and he's no longer capable of creating the type of ripple effect that elevates an entire unit, much like Suh did. A bigger question is, who plays next to Ngata? Tyrunn Walker, an interesting pass-rusher who has been productive in spurts for the New Orleans Saints, signed a modest one-year, $1.75 million in free agency. Ngata and Walker both arrive from 3-4 systems, something that might augur more hybrid fronts from Teryl Austin's defense, even if Austin still employs four down linemen. C.J. Mosley also remains available in free agency, though a return to Detroit appears unlikely. Mosley was a serviceable starter the second half of the season after Fairley went down with a sprained MCL. Assuming Mosley doesn't return, the defensive tackle rotation currently consists of Ngata, Walker, Caraun Reid, rookie Gabe Wright, and other assorted pieces.

In some ways, it's not necessarily a concern if this position is Detroit's biggest personnel hole. Unless the Lions magically conjured J.J. Watt onto their roster, no one in the league was really capable of fully replicating Suh's impact. Rather than throwing too many darts at a fruitless proposition, the cap-strapped Lions resisted the temptation to carry out another massive loan and mortgage their future for Suh. Detroit addressed many of its most pressing 2014 needs in the draft, retooling their interior offensive line, adding an explosive backfield option in Ameer Abdullah, and supplementing the cornerback depth with Alex Carter and Quandre Diggs. With proper development, the Lions might be better off in the long run, but the re-tooling leaves real short-term issues.

Notable Undrafted Free Agent Additions: Georgia Tech safety Isaiah Johnson received by far the largest signing bonus at $12,000, so he's the free agent to watch here. Johnson apparently turned down offers from four other teams, and with starting strong safety James Ihedigbo in a contract spat, the opportunity for playing time could be there immediately. South Dakota State running back Zach Zenner was a deep-sleeper favorite of FO's Matt Waldman, and with the versatility to also play fullback, Zenner could theoretically compete with either Michael Burton or fourth-string halfback George Winn for a roster spot.

Green Bay Packers

Biggest Post-Draft Weakness: Edge Rusher

Truthfully, Green Bay didn't enter the draft with many holes. Most observers highlighted cornerback and inside linebacker as the Packers' two biggest need areas, and Ted Thompson used three of his first four picks on those positions. We're also assuming here that Clay Matthews plays the majority of his snaps at inside linebacker in 2015. Matthews was actually more productive as a pass-rusher when he moved inside, with 9.5 of his 12 sacks last year coming during the final eight games. Moreover, he produced nearly as many combined sacks, hits, and hurries in the second half of the season (20.5) as he did in the first half (23.5), despite dropping into coverage much more frequently. However, there's no guarantee Matthews will continue to produce from a non-traditional rushing spot in 2015, and he'll likely need to remain inside on prime passing downs. It's certainly not out of the question that either third-year man Sam Barrington or rookie fourth-rounder Jake Ryan could emerge as a viable three-down option in 2015, but counting on both seems like a longshot.

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Julius Peppers was still productive last season, generating a league-high 11 disruptions (a stat combining batted passes and incompletions caused by hitting the quarterback), but the 35-year-old alone wasn't able to keep the Packers from experiencing an overall pass-rushing dip. After finishing in the top five in adjusted sack rate each of the past two seasons, the Packers dipped to 14th last year. Apart from Peppers and Matthews, most of Green Bay's pressure came from interior linemen Mike Daniels and Datone Jones, who ranked 75th and 85th, respectively, in total hurries. With nine career sacks, former first-rounder Nick Perry is teetering towards the "bust" label, as evidenced by Green Bay's decision to decline his fifth-year option. Mike Neal is fine as a supplementary contributor, but it's probably not ideal that the Packers have given him 700-plus snaps each of the past two seasons.

It says a lot about Green Bay that an average pass rush profiles as its biggest problem, but if the callow cornerback corps doesn't shake out as expected, this could become a bigger issue than it appears at the moment.

Notable Undrafted Free Agent Additions: The Packers were quite egalitarian in their signing bonus distribution, with 11 of their 16 undrafted rookies receiving either $5,000 or $4,000 in bonus money. Green Bay interestingly brought in five wide receivers, with small-school prospects Adrian Coxson (Stony Brook) and Ricky Collins (Texas A&M-Commerce) returning after taking pre-draft visits. The name that might draw the most intrigue is 6-foot-1 corner Ladarius Gunter, who ran an appalling 4.69-second 40-yard dash at the scouting combine but impressed at the Senior Bowl and was a two-year starter at Miami.

Minnesota Vikings

Biggest Post-Draft Weakness: Left Guard

Is Rick Spielman slowly building a powerhouse? The Vikings' past three drafts have received rave reviews from draftniks, and apart from Matt Kalil and Cordarrelle Patterson, the returns have largely been encouraging. Quarterback is the most important position, of course, and Teddy Bridgewater's rookie season suggested that he was clearly the top passer in an otherwise shaky 2014 class. With the Adrian Peterson saga looking like it will end with the former MVP begrudgingly wearing purple, the Vikings have the core of a legitimately exciting contender in place.

However, protecting Bridgewater was an issue for Minnesota, which ranked 27th in adjusted sack rate. Much of that stemmed from Kalil's struggles and season-ending injuries to Brandon Fusco and Phil Loadholt, but all three will be back and presumably starting in 2015. Depending on how Kalil bounces back after offseason surgeries on both knees, the Vikings' biggest hole along the offensive line may actually be at left guard, where four-year starter Charlie Johnson was released in the offseason. Johnson has largely earned apathy for subpar play, and while you'd like to do better than him in the long run, the 31-year-old was one of the few Minnesota linemen who was both consistently available and passable. Last season, our game charters marked Johnson down for a blown block once every 62.4 snaps, fourth-best among Minnesota linemen and a general middle-of-the-pack rate among all offensive linemen. Veteran journeyman Joe Berger was slightly better at 72 snaps per blown block at right guard, and could compete with 2014 fifth-rounder David Yankey for Johnson's old spot.

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The left guard battle belies a general lack of interior line depth as a whole. Minnesota did extract nice value from a pair of tackles in the draft, nabbing T.J. Clemmings in the fourth round and Tyrus Thompson in the sixth. However, the loser of the Berger-Yankey battle is probably the top interior backup, along with rookie seventh-rounder Austin Shepherd. For a team that ended last season rolling out the likes of Vladimir Ducasse and Mike Harris, it might have been a wiser idea to slightly overinvest in the offensive line to provide maximum insurance for Bridgewater's development.

Notable Undrafted Free Agent Additions: Virginia safety Anthony Harris seemed like one of the more intriguing options in a woeful class, but a knee injury coupled with his wiry frame (6-foot-1, 183 pounds) ended up pushing him out of the draft entirely. Harris was one of three undrafted free agents who received $10,000 signing bonuses from Minnesota, along with Old Dominion quarterback Anthony Heinicke and Notre Dame receiver DaVaris Daniels. Harris and Heinicke also had their base salaries guaranteed for 2015. The former could compete with Robert Blanton and friends for the starting safety spot next to Harrison Smith, while Heinicke should be the third quarterback if Minnesota decides to keep one behind Bridgewater and Shaun Hill.

Comments

32 comments, Last at 26 May 2015, 11:40pm

#1 by zlionsfan // May 22, 2015 - 2:43pm

I'm not sure you led off the Lions article the way you meant to. It isn't remarkable that the Lions didn't re-sign either DT: in fact, you explain exactly why they didn't farther down. The cap problem was getting worse and worse as the Lions renegotiated with Stafford and Megatron - at some point, they needed to ratchet spending down, particularly given the lack of results with the players they had. (Detroit rarely competed with the top NFC teams even with those players, largely due to the lack of depth that Millen left; had they kept paying gigantic sums to a handful of players, that depth would have been even more of a problem.)

Besides, the Lions had a pretty solid DL rotation last year. Suh and Fairley were major contributors, but they weren't the only ones. Something that's a little more surprising is that most of that rotation is gone ... but again, they only had so much money to spend. Until the cap increases substantially, the Lions will be trapped under Stafford's contract: too much money for a QB of that caliber, too few quality QBs on the market to risk letting him go to try to get a better replacement.

Points: 0

#2 by Will Allen // May 22, 2015 - 4:13pm

Yeah, the only thing worse than a guy who just can't play, like The Ponderous One, is a guy you have to pay (because the alternative may well be The Ponderous One, or, shudder, something worse) like he can really, really, play, but falls pretty well short of that. The concern for the Lions is that Johnson turns 30 this year, and it would be unprecedented to see some real decline in a HOF wide receiver at age 30, and if that were to happen before Stafford works out his kinks, well, the kinks may not get worked out.

I think Stafford still has a decent chance to minimize some bad habits, however, and if he does so, he easily could become a top 10 qb or better.

Points: 0

#7 by JoeyHarringtonsPiano // May 22, 2015 - 5:42pm

Similar to the discussion thread about the Tannenhill contract extension, 20-something quarterbacks who demonstrate at least competence will continue to command big contracts even if they fall far short of greatness. Teams simply cannot gamble with the possible alternatives. I've pretty much given up on Stafford being great (would have happened already). I'll settle for him improving to consistently above-average.

As for Johnson, I think it will be his health that breaks down before his ability does (the first signs started showing the past two seasons with all the games he's missed). If Golden Tate continues his excellent play (he really carried the offense while Johnson was sidelined), it will mitigate the loss somewhat.

Points: 0

#4 by jchavlik // May 22, 2015 - 4:27pm

It will be interesting to see how the Lions defense changes with the losses up the middle. I think they made the right call on letting Suh and Fairley walk, but it will be a painful loss. Detroit won 5 games last year by less than a TD. It'll take some more help from the offensive side of the ball to keep them in the playoffs.

Points: 0

#6 by JoeyHarringtonsPiano // May 22, 2015 - 5:33pm

The Lions have to hope Ziggy Ansah continues his trajectory of improvement to make the leap from very good to elite, which would partially offset the loss of Suh (losing Fairley can be overcome...the run defense was still great when Fairley was either injured or unmotivated).

Otherwise, they have, across the board, a very respectable back 7, which is the first time in years they can say that. The LB corps is very good, as are the safeties. At CB, Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis were awesome in 2014. The nickel spot and overall depth is the weakness in the secondary (as is Mathis' age and the impending cliff his ability will fall off of soon). However, Teryl Austin has a pretty good track record coaching up DB's, so hopefully some of the recent draft picks will step up there.

I have faith in Austin's coaching/scheme ability that he'll be able to somewhat compensate for the loss of Suh, and the defense will only regress from a top 3 unit to a top 10-15 unit. But, as you point out, unless the offense improves, they're headed for a 7 or 8 win season.

Points: 0

#3 by Will Allen // May 22, 2015 - 4:18pm

So much for the Vikings depends of Kalil's issues of the past two years being injury related (I really think he had back issues as wel as knee problems), and those issues having been fixed. I wish I could be more confident of that, but he did seem to get better in the 2nd half of last year.

Points: 0

#5 by jchavlik // May 22, 2015 - 5:16pm

I like what MN did taking flyers on Clemmings, Thompson, and Shepherd. Let's hope these guys pan out better than a few other recent drafted OLine guys. DeGeare, Love, Baca, and Bond haven't worked out, Kalil's been bad. Fusco has been the only success story in the last 5 drafts.

Points: 0

#8 by Will Allen // May 22, 2015 - 6:37pm

I've rarely seen a guy go from an outstanding rookie season to over the falls in years 2 and 3, absent very obvious (as in missing games) injury issues. That's why Kalil is such a weird case. The best case scenario was that he really is a gamer, and kept himself in the lineup despite being vey hobbled, and now he'll be mostly healthy. I wouldn't wager a lot on that prospect, however.

Points: 0

#9 by jtr // May 22, 2015 - 7:11pm

From the (limited) footage I saw of Kalil this recent year, he looked like he couldn't move at all, which of course causes pass pro problems for a tackle. The fact that it generally looked like a physical problem rather than a mental/technique problem gives me some optimism that he can return to at least competence. But then again, it is certainly not trivial to bounce back from issues in both knees and maybe the back.

Points: 0

#10 by jmaron // May 22, 2015 - 10:00pm

I read an article that looked at Kalil's performance over the three years. Once they took into account the level of opposition he faced using Pro Football Focus player rating it made the seasons appear very similar in performance. In short, the level of competition Kalil faced year 1 was inferior to what he faced in year two and even more so than year 3.

Looking at the data you see that Kalil very rarely played well against strong competition in any of the three years. What's scary is that the level of competition he will face this year based on last years PFF ratings is the toughest yet.

here's the article

http://www.dailynorseman.com/2015/4/20/8459923/taking-a-look-at-matt-kalil

Points: 0

#11 by Karl Cuba // May 24, 2015 - 10:30am

Vic Fangio's defenses with the 49ers played their safeties away from the line of scrimmage more than nearly any other team. This made life easier for the defensive backs, as the corners had cover from the safeties and the safeties were less likely to be exposed in man coverage or have to play the deep middle. Of course this relied on the front seven being able to stuff the run with only the D-line and linebackers and that's probably why they took Goldman and signed quite a few other linemen.

So the secondary might be less exposed than it looks but the problem they could have is with their inside linebackers. I'm not sure that any of the candidates for playing time there would have even made the niners' roster last year, which could undermine the ability to stop the run without safety help. If that is the case and they are forced to bring a safety up into the box then the secondary could get torched.

Points: 0

#12 by jtr // May 24, 2015 - 11:49am

Niners were also benefiting from better DLine play against the run than the Bears are going to have. You can keep your safeties back all day when Justin Smith manages to collapse the entire opposing OLine (http://www.footballoutsiders.com/images/Muth/Muth91814-4.gif).

I don't quite get it when a coach like Fangio is brought in as a savior of a defense. Under him, the Niners mostly just ran 2-man with great personnel. It's pretty clear that he's not been doing anything fancy to make this team work, just having awesome players run a simple scheme. It reminds me of Spagnolo with the Saints and Rams--all he had really been doing in New York was chilling in a cover 2 shell and letting his killer front four go to work. Once he went somewhere without a top-5 pass rush, he got badly exposed. Seems to me that it would make more sense to either go get a coordinator that will bring something unique (a Ryan-style blitzer perhaps) or just stick with the Tampa 2 you've been trying to build. The scheme hasn't been the problem, the personnel has, and now you're going to further set back a defensive rebuild when half your guys don't fit the new 3-4.

Points: 0

#19 by Thomas_beardown // May 25, 2015 - 10:06am

"stick with the Tampa 2 you've been trying to build."

Well they built a great Tampa 2 defense, then built a great cover 1/3 defense, and then Urlacher retired, others got old and no new blood worth anything was added. There is no reason to treat this defense as anything but building from scratch. In which case you should just take a person you think has a good defensive mind and is able to teach players well.

Points: 0

#20 by herewegobrowni… // May 25, 2015 - 2:12pm

Looks like Fangio might want to cut ties with the Ray McDonald reclamation experiment already, as well.

Points: 0

#13 by OSS117 // May 24, 2015 - 2:57pm

IMO, the Lions Run D was the least appreciated/reported story of 2014. It was historically amazing. The numbers have been matched or bettered by other defenses over the years. But what was remarkable about the Lions achievement was they did it while leading the league in subpackage usage. They spent 75.9% of their snaps in nickel. Only 5 other teams were above 70% subpackages. Next closest to Detroit was GB at 74.3%. Detroit's base D gave up 2.67 YPC. Their nickel gave up just 3.23 ypc. Meaning their nickel D was still far and away the best run defense in the league last year.

By way of contrast, the NYJs were a respectable 6th in the league in YPC, surrendering 3.79 yards per carry, and 5th in rushing yards per game at 93.1. But they did it by leading the league in Base D snaps at 62.2%, to just 37.8% subpacks. They committed more beef to stopping the run, by a wide margin, than anyone else in the league (Phi was next closest at 56.6%). Their Base D gave up 3.45 ypc, while their subpacks gave up 5.23 ypc. Their YPC in base and nickel were no better than Minnesota's. And not much better than Cleveland's.

Baltimore and Seattle's Run D was very good last year, in base and in packs. But still nobody comes close to what Detroit did. And neither came close to spending as much time in subpackages as Detroit did.

Points: 0

#14 by chemical burn // May 24, 2015 - 3:19pm

I think the main, maybe the only reason, it doesn't get more hype is that stopping the run has become an almost irrelevant part of the modern game. The two other team you mention, the Eagles and the Jets, both had failed to make the playoffs and in the car of Philly, their misguided commitment to stopping the run was large part of why they missed the post-season (hint: letting Dez Bryant run free in over-matched secondary in order to clamp down on DeMarco Murray is not a great idea.)

In the modern game, stopping the run almost doesn't matter - there's a level on which you DON'T want to dare teams to throw, you DON'T want them to give up on running the ball. You want them to waste first down by coming out and trying to get 3.5 yards on a running play. The less the other team passes, the better - I think that's why you see a lot of teams with reasonable pass defenses and bad run defenses (Cincinnati, Green Bay, Carolina, even Indy) making it to the post-season and the opposite (good run D, terrible pass D) not really being true and in fact a lot of those teams picking at the top of the draft (Philly, NYJ, Tampa Bay, Washington, St. Louis.)

Detroit, Arizona and Baltimore are sorta the outliers in that regard, although their pass defenses weren't bad just worse than their run d's (and Philly's pass/run d splits being similar to Baltimore and them being the closest of those teams to making the playoffs being relevant, I think.)

Those numbers you outline are pretty amazing, though - I'm curious how they stack up to other historically great run D's, like those impenetrable Vikings defenses with the Williams wall...

Points: 0

#15 by OSS117 // May 24, 2015 - 5:02pm

I agree, it's not a bad strategy. If that's what it is. There are several teams that seemed to bait teams to run. Intuitively you'd expect the amount of time a team spends in base versus packs to be roughly in balance with the amount of time opposing teams run or pass on them. That's kinda why these defenses exist. For situational match-ups. But there were a number of teams that were way out of balance to that end, and seemingly content to do so. And a closer look at their pass defense while in their Base D might suggest why.

If you listened to all the talking heads leading up to the draft, you might be convinced the Browns needed to fix their league worst Run D. And might also think Shelton was a match made in heaven. But their Base D gave up a respectable 3.73ypc. It was their Run D in nickel that sucked, giving up 5.11 ypc. But Cleveland chose to spend 64% of their time in subpacks, in spite of teams only passing on them 55% of the time. They weren't concerned with being deficient against the run. All they had to do was tweak their ratios, playing more base, and almost by magic their Run D would improve. But they didn't. Maybe because their Pass D in Base was giving up 7.24 ypa compared to the 5.25 ypa their subpacks were surrendering thru the air.

Perhaps they felt it was better to play nickel a little bit more in traditional run situations because it's better to bait teams to run against their 5.11 ypc nickel, than pass against their 7.24 ypa base. If their ratios were more in line with run/pass ratios it wouldn't amount to but a couple/few hundred yards overall on a season. But situationally, in theory, being out of balance like that could be the difference in a couple dozen stalled drives. Potentially.

Not sure why they still ended up drafting the inert Shelton anyways. If they want to fix their Run D they need to fix their subpacks, not their base. Shelton is very athletic, very strong, and very large. But he is also very immobile. That describes the dying breed of base-only space eaters, not the Poe/Ngata type all-downers. Shelton did play a ton of snaps in college, but I don't see him helping them much in nickel. Those guys need to be mobile, not just big. Could be wrong, but it is Cleveland afterall. Perhaps Pettine was scared to clue Farmer to gameday strategy via a text memo.

There are also examples of playoff teams who for no known reason/strategy/theory were out of balance the other way. Spending more time in their Base D instead of packs. Seemingly more concerned with stopping a run not forthcoming. Or dissuade teams from trying to run. Pittsburgh was one of only 7 teams that spent more time in Base than Packs. Even tho there was very little difference in their Run D, base 4.21ypc v 4.44 ypc in packs. Spending more time in Base with that little difference, you'd think they were trying to entice teams to throw on their Base D. If so, mission accomplished. Team passed on them 61% of the time, 4th highest percentage in the league. Only their Base Pass D sucked mightily, surrendering 8.22 ypa (2nd worst in NFL), while their nickel gave up 6.5 ypa (22nd). Not great, but still a much better alternative than making stopping the run high priority. By being so concerned (out of balance) with stopping the run by using more Base they encouraged teams to throw more against their crappy pass D while in Base. Even tho their 3rd down D was good, they were bad about getting off the field. Gave up a ton of 1st downs, and were bad in Yd/drive, pts/drive, and punts/drive. It was getting them to 3rd down that was the problem. And I have to think spending so much time getting passed on in Base had something to do with that.

Wouldn't know any of this if you listened to the local beaters, who are convinced the Steelers spend far more time in nickel than base now, and their nickel run D among their greatest problems. As much as I liked LeBeau, he took an odd amount of pride in their Run D rankings, which in many recent years, was an illusion. Much like the Jets last year. They weren't any better at it. They were just more committed. For whatever reason.

Points: 0

#16 by chemical burn // May 24, 2015 - 8:40pm

That's really freakin' fascinating - I'd love to read an entire article on it actually. The nickel defense has become so crucial recently that the #3/slot CB gets treated as almost important as a starter, but you don't hear much about the flip side of it, the run defense component. Your talk about the weird commitment definitely applies to the Eagles where I spent a lot of the year saying to myself, "please forget about the run and get Fletcher and Williams some help back there! They CANNOT play man-press." Nate Allen's general incompetence is a large part of the issue, but their love of decrepit DeMeco Ryans (useless in coverage) combined with Cole/Graham as the OLB paired up alongside him definitely made their proficiency at stopping the run if not an illusion, at least a pyrrhic victory.

They seem to have mirrored the jets' strategy of dealing with their bad secondary by giving up on it.

Points: 0

#21 by mehllageman56 // May 25, 2015 - 2:48pm

The thing about the Jets situation, is that they were behind most of the time because they had a bad offense. So teams will run on them more often. They also had a decent pass rush, so why possibly turn the ball over on a sack when you can try to to run the clock. It's not like Geno will beat you (and generally, he didn't).
I did not realize the numbers for the nickel run defense were that bad; perhaps Leonard Williams will help with that. As far as the Jets not paying attention to or giving help to the secondary, well, that's kind of one guy's fault, and he's gone now. They certainly spent resources on the secondary before Idzik got there. They certainly didn't give up on their bad secondary this offseason: signing Revis and Cromartie should help.

Points: 0

#23 by theslothook // May 25, 2015 - 5:47pm

I was hoping this would be a season to judge the effectiveness or RR. However, much like the 49ers situation, the year to year change in personnel is so significant that you really can't judge at all. That said, I am a huge RR supporter, under the provision that he has no say in matters related to offense.

The jets defensively in the latter years were all about d line and that was it. Their linebackers were weak in coverage. Their secondary was a disaster fire. They've gone forever and a day without a true edge rusher(something inconceivable in the modern Nfl). And yet somehow, his defenses were always at minimum respectable. I am really amazed at the job RR did and its one of the reasons I debated with Chase stuart over and over about this. One of the few coaches I truly believe makes a team better through scheme and coaching. A list that basically includes RR, Sean Payton, And bellichick at this point. (probably Kelly and Shanny too - though you get much more baggage with them).

RR's downfall was having the misfortune of drafting two poor qbs - a similar misfortune a ton of teams share. Chuck Pagano has a job and leslie frazer doesn't precisely because one had the incredible acumen and skill to draft Andrew Luck and the other got Ponder.

Points: 0

#26 by OSS117 // May 25, 2015 - 9:06pm

I don't think that's entirely it. I'm sure situation/score does factor into it. As a fair number of the base heavy teams had losing records. And a fair number of winning teams were subpack heavy. But there were teams like Oak who also spent over 70% of their snaps in nickel/dime. They were the bizarro-Steelers. Made no sense, because their base run D was exceptional and their pass D in base was actually better than their nickel/dime.

But back to the Jets. They spent 62.2% of their snaps in base. But it couldn't be entirely because they were losing and teams were trying to run out the clock, since opposing teams chose to run on them on just 40.3% of their snaps. They were by far the most out of balance team in the league last year. Oakland was out of balance the other way. Runs per snap, the Jets had the 8th lowest percentage.

Looking at the performance results, the Jets weren't really any better or worse in Pass D regardless of base or subpackages. Their Base D gave up 6.41 yards per pass. Their nickel/dime gave up 6.42 yards per pass. No diff really. Their base did give up a slightly higher percentage of 1st Ds and TDs than their subpackage D. But 4 of their sorry 6 INTs came in base.

So for the Jets, it's kinda understandable why they chose to be so lopsided on D. Their Run D in Base was substantially superior to their Run D in Packs, while their Pass D was no different with or without the extra DBs. Might as well stay in Base.

Points: 0

#31 by mehllageman56 // May 26, 2015 - 10:55pm

That makes sense, but does Base personnel for the Jets D include the snaps where Kenrick Ellis subbed for Damon Harrison? Because Ellis is a much better pash rusher, but he is still a nose tackle. Part of it probably was that their best defensive players were in the front seven, and the cornerbacks were so bad, that bringing in another corner to replace a linebacker wasn't really helping.

Points: 0

#22 by JoeyHarringtonsPiano // May 25, 2015 - 4:40pm

Well, given that their 3rd linebacker was Ashlee Palmer (just-a-guy at his best, major liability at his worst), anything to keep him off the field is a smart move.

One of the major areas Suh improved on as he entered his prime was his run defense. He has always been a great inside pass rusher, but lately has finally been disciplined enough to be a good run defender, and a major reason Detroit's run defense in the sub packages has been so good. I have a feeling the run defense will be taking a moderate step back with him gone.

Points: 0

#17 by DailyNorseman // May 25, 2015 - 5:23am

The quarterback that the Vikings signed is Taylor Heinicke, not Anthony.

That very minor quibble aside, I totally agree with the Vikings portion of this. I don't know if Kalil has it in him to bounce back, though it would be nice if he did. I know that Zimmer apparently said something about moving Fusco over to left guard, which would make left guard a strength (IMO) while making right guard a weakness. I'd like to think that between David Yankey, Joe Berger, T.J. Clemmings, and the other players the Vikings have on the roster that they could get someone at the guard spot that would be an upgrade.

Defensively, everything seems to be in place. Kendricks is going to be huge at middle linebacker, and hopefully he and Barr will be the guys that stay on the field in nickel situations. (This team can't have Chad Greenway out there in those situations any more.) Hodges should continue eating into Greenway's snaps in any case. Other than that, my biggest concern on defense is the safety spot next to Harrison Smith. But, like with the guard situation, they should be able to find a guy out of the mix of Sendejo, Blanton, Exum, and Harris that can do some good.

The fact that the Vikings' list of huge concerns has gotten significantly shorter over the past couple of years is nice, though.

Points: 0

#18 by Flounder // May 25, 2015 - 8:34am

"We're also assuming here that Clay Matthews plays the majority of his snaps at inside linebacker in 2015. "

I submit that this is wildly incorrect. In the second half of last season, Matthews played 28% of his snaps inside.

http://www.jsonline.com/sports/packers/plans-for-inside-linebacker-drafted-a-bit-later-b99503639z1-304355821.html?ipad=y

I doubt it's going to exceed that % this season, and if it does, that means things have gone seriously wrong. My guess is he's inside no more than 20%

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#25 by justanothersteve // May 25, 2015 - 7:09pm

I didn't get that either. Another poster pointed out that the Packers played almost 3/4 of the time in the nickel anyway. Jason Wilde on Green and Gold Today has said pretty much the same thing about the LB position as your linked article says. The team can also play a variation of their nickel with Richardson as a SS/LB hybrid. I'd say the biggest hole is still either ILB or the lack of a true run stuffer on defense.

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#29 by DisplacedPackerFan // May 26, 2015 - 2:10pm

I'm curious to see how they use Raji and Guion, assuming they both make it through camp healthy, unlike last year. The plan was to have them split time at nose, but maybe they put Raji at end again and you have a Daniels / Guion / Raji starting line. That feels like it might be better against the run.

Points: 0

#27 by ChrisS // May 26, 2015 - 11:13am

I usually skip over he UDFA sections assuming that almost none of them will make the team. According to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette over 25% of 2014 opening day rosters were UDFA's. I was shocked it was that high. But I guess with only 7 rounds it would be nearly impossible to stock a team with just drafted players

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#28 by justanothersteve // May 26, 2015 - 12:25pm

Many of them are reserves and special teams (How many punters, kickers, and long snappers are drafted?) Occasionally, one turns into a James Harrison. Last year, both Packers starting CBs, Sam Shields and Tramon Williams, were originally UDFAs.

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#30 by duh // May 26, 2015 - 5:09pm

Yep, many of them are specialists or reserves but it is also worth noting that in last years SB the two teams had 10 UDFAs in their listed starting lineups:

Lockette, Kerase, Baldwin, Bennett, and McDaniel for the Hawks

Connelly, Wendell, Siliga, Arrington, and Browner for the Patriots.

The Patriots also got big contributions from Amendola (5 catches 48yds and a TD)
and another UDFA.

Points: 0

#32 by chemical burn // May 26, 2015 - 11:40pm

So the lesson is: don't start too many UDFA's at a single position unless you want it to be your weakness all year long? Seriously, though, that explains their problems at the WR position, doesn't it...

Points: 0

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