Most Defensive Plays per Snap, Weeks 1-8

As promised in Tuesday's DVOA commentary, let's take a look at some numbers through eight weeks on defensive Plays per snap. By "Plays" here, of course we don't mean how many plays someone is on the field for. (If we did, "plays per snap" would be 1.0.) Instead, we're using the FO definition of defensive Plays as any time that a defender appears in the play-by-play: tackles, assists, passes defensed, and turnovers.

First, here are the leaders through Week 8 in defensive Plays per snap, with a minimum of 200 defensive snaps. Your leader will unfortunately not be getting any more defensive snaps, because he's out for the year: Dallas linebacker Sean Lee. Second and third are two rookies, and one of them is a surprise. Everybody knows that Luke Kuechly is having a very good rookie season, but not many people have seen Tennessee second-round pick Zach Brown, who has replaced Will Witherspoon as the Titans' starter on the weak side.

Highest Rate of Plays per Snap, Weeks 1-8 2012 (min. 200 snaps)
Player Team Pos Pass Runs Total Snaps Plays/Snap
50-S.Lee DAL ILB 22 38 60 314 19.1%
59-L.Kuechly CAR ILB 27 37 64 339 18.9%
55-Z.Brown TEN OLB 23 18 41 241 17.0%
50-A.Hawk GB ILB 16 46 62 374 16.6%
53-K.Conner IND ILB 7 30 37 231 16.0%
52-P.Willis SF ILB 28 43 71 445 16.0%
51-J.Mayo NE OLB 33 49 82 520 15.8%
50-J.Freeman IND OLB 23 47 70 444 15.8%
59-M.Foster TB ILB 19 34 53 340 15.6%
56-D.Johnson KC ILB 15 46 61 395 15.4%

Two linebackers would break into this list if we went down to a minimum of 75 plays: Keith Rivers of the Giants (20 plays on 109 snaps, 18.3%) and Cleveland's L.J. Fort, an undrafted free agent out of Northern Iowa (14 plays on 77 snaps, 18.2%).

Here's a list for just defensive backs, with a minimum of 100 snaps.

Highest Rate of Plays per Snap by DB, Weeks 1-8 2012 (min. 100 snaps)
Player Team Pos Pass Runs Total Snaps Plays/Snap
25-R.Clark PIT SAF 17 31 48 321 15.0%
20-C.Griffin WAS CB 18 5 23 154 14.9%
26-J.Babineaux TEN SAF 35 27 62 431 14.4%
22-B.Skrine CLE CB 42 11 53 401 13.2%
43-M.Jennings GB SAF 12 7 19 145 13.1%
37-R.Doughty WAS SAF 15 14 29 222 13.1%
26-E.Lankster NYJ CB 17 0 17 132 12.9%
26-A.Winfield MIN CB 41 26 67 535 12.5%
27-Q.Demps HOU SAF 13 1 14 114 12.3%
41-Mad.Williams WAS SAF 32 30 62 517 12.0%

And now defensive linemen, with a minimum of 150 snaps. There's no surprise to see a certain player who's basically on a different planet this year.

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Highest Rate of Plays per Snap by DL, Weeks 1-8 2012 (min. 150 snaps)
Player Team Pos Pass Runs Total Snaps Plays/Snap
99-J.Watt HOU DE 21 23 44 370 11.9%
99-K.Vickerson DEN DT 5 19 24 225 10.7%
79-R.Pickett GB DE 2 25 27 264 10.2%
92-B.Mebane SEA DT 6 29 35 347 10.1%
97-J.Bannan DEN DT 2 22 24 247 9.7%
93-M.Martin TEN DT 4 22 26 277 9.4%
95-R.Bernard NYG DT 2 12 14 151 9.3%
75-R.Pitoitua KC DE 4 12 16 181 8.8%
76-A.Hicks NO DT 1 14 15 174 8.6%
70-M.Devito NYJ DE 2 27 29 341 8.5%


Even if we moved the minimum for linemen down to 100 snaps, only one player would have a higher rate than Watt: Sean Lissemore of Dallas (20 plays on 136 snaps, 14.7%).

A list of players with the fewest Plays per snap would primarily be a list of defensive linemen, either blocker-soaking tackles or pass-rush specialists, so it's not really very useful. Even if we limit it to linebackers, the list of players with the fewest Plays per snap is all 3-4 outside linebackers like Dwight Freeney and Connor Barwin. The inside linebacker with the lowest rate of Plays per snap is Joe Mays of Denver (19 plays on 291 snaps, 6.5%).


21 comments, Last at 04 Nov 2012, 4:01pm

5 Re: Most Defensive Plays per Snap, Weeks 1-8

Aaron, how about breaking this down with DEFEATS per snap. Or do you not have the data on defeats at this point? (Two subjective edits would be to give Malcolm Jenkins a defeat for tackling Vincent Jackson--since his tackle literally prevented a TD, not just postponed it; and one for that Charger who "tackled" the Broncos receiver in the 1st half of that MNF game which later led to SD getting a pick-six.)

6 Re: Most Defensive Plays per Snap, Weeks 1-8

Any chance this can be broken down with assists removed or given half-credit? There seems to be heavy scorer bias (both a tendency to be pro-home team & be consistently either high or low), and this would affect any leaderboard.

Panthers' assisted/combined tackles in home games: 38, 32, 36, 28
Panthers' assisted/combined tackles in road games: 13, 16, 8

9 Re: Most Defensive Plays per Snap, Weeks 1-8

Interesting. Although important to note that, especially for DB's, plays per snap might actually be an indicator of poor play rather than good play, since it means that DB is being targed by the offense (and that's probably happening for a reason).

A couple of years ago I was working on a way to infer snap count from "play" counts (this was before snap data was available). The numbers I came up with seemed to jive pretty well...LB's were the most likely to have stats show up, so their multiplier was the smallest, while linemen were the least likely and had the largest multiplier. In fact, I think I worked out that a "starting calibur" lineman was likely to only have something like 2.4 plays per game, on average, where he shows up on the stat sheet. With a multiplier of ~10 from the table above, that means that a starter is playing about 24 snaps per game, which seems about right for a position that often rotates in and out.

11 Re: Most Defensive Plays per Snap, Weeks 1-8

What about the fewest plays per snap for DBs? I would have thought in the case of CBs in particular that would be a good indicator of how well they've been covering.

12 Re: Most Defensive Plays per Snap, Weeks 1-8

Isn't one sign of a really bad defense an interior LB which racks up loads of tackles? I mean, opponents just run past the line into the arms of the MLB/ILB for gains of 5-8 yards?

Don't get me wrong, a MLB with a high number of plays does not have to be a bad sign, but it is terribly hard to tell wether it is a good sign or not.

15 Re: Most Defensive Plays per Snap, Weeks 1-8

Thanks, but that is not the point. The point is ... how do I interpret these stats on this page? Having a high number of plays does neither tell whether the player is any good, nor whether the defense is any good.

I have seen pretty average players MLB/ILB in average to bad defenses where people actually thought they were pretty good players because of tackles or play stats.

20 Re: Most Defensive Plays per Snap, Weeks 1-8

Getting to the point that you're high on the league tackle list is never a bad thing for a linebacker. He may be high on the list because the line in front of him is bad, but there are many bad lines in the league, and not every linebacker behind such a line is at the top of the tackle list.

It would be correct to say that the linebacker with more tackles isn't necessarily the better player. It is incorrect to say that a linebacker with tackles near the league high isn't very good because his teammates are bad. Jerrod Mayo led the league in tackles because his defense was on the field so much. He's also an excellent linebacker. He's second in the league in tackles this year, and he has a better line in front of him this year than last.

18 Re: Most Defensive Plays per Snap, Weeks 1-8

Every so often, FO looks at a stat that turns out to be useless in an interesting way. This is one of those times.

I like it that Aaron tries these things out. My only complaint would be that he gave a half-hearted rationalization for the stat being useful, rather than just admitting the obvious.

A more reasonable stat would be yards surrendered per snap, or DVOA while on field. Better still would be DVOA improvement while on field. (DVOA with and without the player) There would still be a lot of noise for a little signal. It would tell you more about the defensive packages the player belongs to. But that could be a good thing.