Stat Analysis
Advanced analytics on player and team performance

2018 DVOA by Routes: Defenses

Saquon Barkley
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Scott Spratt

After breakdowns of DVOA by route for both receivers and quarterbacks last week, we'll round out our examination of route effectiveness with defenses. These efforts are made possible by Sports Info Solutions' charting of pass routes on every play. The numbers in the following tables represent DVOA and other passing splits only when those were the targeted routes. As such, pass-related outcomes like sacks, scrambles, and throwaways are excluded since they didn't result in a target. All DVOA figures are calculated against a baseline of only pass attempts, and since this evaluation comes from the defensive perspective, negative DVOA totals are better than positive ones.

Defenses are more comprehensive units of evaluation than individual players like receivers and quarterbacks, so they allow for some healthier sample sizes for the most popular pass routes. In particular, teams ran the curl, out, slant, flat, and dig routes on more than 1,000 pass attempts each, which created averages of more than 30 looks per defense. The 12 routes broken down by section in this article were all targeted at least 500 times last year. They are arranged from most heavily to least heavily targeted.

Curl

Defenses vs. Curl Routes, 2018
Defense DVOA Rk Passes Yards YPA C% aDOT YAC
BAL -46.0% 1 61 325 5.3 66% 6.1 2.9
LAC -42.3% 2 91 536 5.9 68% 6.1 2.5
WAS -34.1% 3 48 339 7.1 67% 7.0 4.1
CHI -30.9% 4 86 537 6.2 64% 6.8 3.6
OAK -23.5% 5 58 395 6.8 60% 7.5 3.5
KC -17.9% 6 70 379 5.4 62% 6.4 2.5
MIN -16.1% 7 53 349 6.6 67% 7.5 2.9
MIA -11.6% 8 63 480 7.6 79% 7.0 2.4
HOU -9.5% 9 86 610 7.1 73% 7.2 2.8
BUF -9.2% 10 81 581 7.2 75% 7.0 2.7
CLE -7.3% 11 92 728 7.9 73% 7.3 3.9
DEN -4.6% 12 41 278 6.8 73% 6.8 2.0
ATL -4.2% 13 74 570 7.7 77% 6.2 3.9
NE -1.8% 14 63 483 7.7 81% 6.7 3.2
JAX -0.8% 15 62 376 6.1 69% 7.3 2.0
SEA -0.8% 16 77 590 7.7 74% 7.2 3.6
PHI 0.0% 17 80 553 6.9 74% 6.3 3.1
ARI 2.4% 18 68 454 6.7 71% 6.9 2.7
LAR 4.1% 19 72 507 7.0 77% 6.1 3.1
CAR 4.3% 20 72 493 6.8 72% 6.6 2.8
IND 5.9% 21 90 511 5.7 72% 5.7 2.4
TEN 7.5% 22 70 511 7.3 78% 7.6 2.3
NYG 9.7% 23 80 570 7.1 73% 7.0 3.0
GB 15.8% 24 66 441 6.7 74% 6.7 3.1
CIN 16.7% 25 61 547 9.0 80% 6.9 4.9
PIT 17.1% 26 80 571 7.1 71% 6.8 3.4
SF 18.1% 27 67 503 7.5 74% 7.2 2.9
NO 22.3% 28 65 474 7.3 75% 6.5 3.3
NYJ 38.4% 29 57 485 8.5 79% 6.6 4.4
DET 39.4% 30 50 391 7.8 76% 8.2 1.9
TB 41.0% 31 63 538 8.5 87% 6.9 3.0
DAL 42.2% 32 70 594 8.5 84% 7.7 2.6
NFL Curls 0.2%   2217 15699 7.1 73% 6.8 3.0

Defenses saw the curl route on an average of 69 targets in 2019. That makes it the most popular route, but a relatively small sample size could still explain many of the big fallers from 2017, including the Saints (-40.7%, first, to 22.3%, 28th), Steelers (-31.0%, second, to 17.1%, 26th), and Bengals (-13.7%, sixth, to 16.7%, 25th). The Ravens were the only top-eight defense against curls from 2017 who repeated that feat in 2018. They actually finished first last season at -46.0% DVOA. Get used to that because the Ravens are going to show up near the top for a lot of different routes.

Out

Defenses vs. Out Routes, 2018
Defense DVOA Rk Passes Yards YPA C% aDOT YAC
BUF -49.3% 1 46 214 4.7 61% 6.4 1.6
CLE -34.8% 2 67 350 5.2 61% 7.0 2.2
CHI -33.4% 3 76 409 5.4 68% 7.1 1.7
DEN -31.1% 4 64 391 6.1 66% 7.5 2.0
LAC -26.4% 5 42 213 5.1 57% 7.1 3.0
BAL -25.5% 6 62 317 5.1 50% 8.0 2.2
NYG -5.5% 7 46 264 5.7 61% 8.8 0.8
CIN -5.0% 8 55 367 6.7 65% 8.3 2.5
NYJ -3.7% 9 78 455 5.8 62% 7.7 2.4
GB -3.6% 10 54 368 6.8 64% 8.1 2.9
DAL -3.1% 11 51 425 8.3 80% 8.2 2.7
MIN -2.4% 12 64 402 6.3 67% 7.9 1.5
PIT -1.9% 13 60 437 7.3 77% 8.0 2.2
MIA 0.5% 14 39 213 5.5 63% 6.7 1.7
ARI 1.7% 15 56 344 6.1 70% 7.0 2.5
JAX 2.7% 16 66 459 7.0 68% 8.0 2.9
KC 3.5% 17 59 373 6.3 65% 7.9 3.0
LAR 6.5% 18 59 481 8.2 64% 7.2 5.3
OAK 7.4% 19 38 253 6.7 63% 8.3 2.3
PHI 8.3% 20 62 474 7.6 72% 8.6 1.6
SEA 13.2% 21 43 284 6.6 77% 8.0 1.6
ATL 13.6% 22 69 435 6.3 72% 7.6 2.0
HOU 14.5% 23 50 337 6.7 64% 9.1 1.9
SF 15.1% 24 51 349 6.8 65% 8.4 3.2
TB 16.1% 25 70 603 8.6 74% 7.6 3.7
TEN 17.3% 26 51 360 7.1 75% 7.9 2.3
CAR 17.8% 27 65 504 7.8 81% 7.5 2.4
NO 20.4% 28 65 493 7.6 69% 9.4 1.6
WAS 22.9% 29 60 433 7.2 73% 7.2 3.9
IND 26.4% 30 47 396 8.4 83% 7.9 2.6
NE 31.1% 31 60 428 7.1 70% 7.9 2.2
DET 33.6% 32 60 480 8.0 82% 7.6 2.1
NFL Outs 1.5%   1835 12311 6.7 68% 7.8 2.4

The top six defenses versus out routes -- the Bills, Browns, Bears, Broncos, Chargers, and Ravens -- finished 20% clear of the rest of the field in DVOA, and so you probably won't be surprised to learn that all six finished in the top seven of overall pass defense DVOA. The missing member of that top seven is the Jaguars, and they actually enjoyed a substantial improvement from a bottom-three finish in 2017 with 15.4% DVOA against out routes to a middle-of-the-pack 16th-place finish last year.

Those relative difficulties are surprising for the team with maybe the most well-regarded cornerbacks in football in Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. Bouye did take a step back in 2018, preventing offensive success on 49 percent of pass plays. He had been over 55 percent each of the previous three seasons. But Ramsey, Bouye, and the Jaguars finished top-10 in DVOA against both steeper-cutting comeback and gentler-cutting corner routes to the outside. They seem like a good candidate to improve even more against out routes in 2019.

Slant

Defenses vs. Slant Routes, 2018
Defense DVOA Rk Passes Yards YPA C% aDOT YAC
MIN -141.8% 1 18 69 3.8 39% 6.4 2.4
NYJ -65.8% 2 31 193 6.2 54% 6.9 4.5
BUF -40.5% 3 32 225 7.0 53% 6.5 6.5
NO -40.1% 4 34 266 7.8 71% 6.7 4.2
TEN -33.2% 5 28 164 5.9 57% 7.4 3.4
LAR -32.3% 6 26 201 7.7 56% 5.5 7.7
LAC -32.0% 7 31 205 6.6 50% 6.9 5.8
DAL -26.6% 8 43 277 6.4 57% 6.6 4.1
IND -25.0% 9 30 216 7.2 57% 7.4 5.1
NE -13.0% 10 35 228 6.5 74% 6.6 2.5
KC -12.6% 11 43 360 8.4 72% 6.3 5.2
BAL -10.6% 12 40 254 6.4 60% 7.1 4.3
SF -6.4% 13 26 186 7.2 65% 7.1 3.9
SEA -6.0% 14 33 239 7.2 72% 6.8 3.4
TB -5.5% 15 34 236 6.9 67% 7.4 4.0
DEN -4.3% 16 56 427 7.6 63% 6.5 5.6
OAK -4.3% 17 36 269 7.5 58% 6.4 6.0
WAS 1.6% 18 45 385 8.6 71% 6.3 5.3
GB 4.2% 19 44 352 8.0 63% 6.6 5.4
PHI 6.3% 20 41 254 6.2 63% 6.7 3.2
CLE 11.5% 21 37 410 11.1 69% 7.3 8.4
NYG 12.6% 22 51 471 9.2 75% 6.7 5.1
CAR 13.1% 23 43 374 8.7 70% 7.0 5.2
HOU 13.6% 24 34 258 7.6 71% 6.4 3.9
PIT 14.1% 25 36 291 8.1 71% 6.6 4.9
CHI 15.7% 26 47 382 8.1 78% 6.3 3.8
ARI 15.8% 27 41 374 9.1 70% 6.3 6.1
MIA 22.5% 28 35 316 9.0 65% 6.4 7.8
ATL 23.9% 29 45 400 8.9 65% 7.6 6.3
JAX 28.8% 30 25 189 7.6 72% 6.1 4.9
CIN 32.3% 31 53 488 9.2 70% 6.8 6.5
DET 52.5% 32 33 331 10.0 72% 8.5 5.6
NFL Slants -3.1%   1186 9290 7.8 66% 6.7 5.1

The Vikings and Jets were the No. 1 and No. 2 defenses against slant routes last season, and those teams may have the best two safeties in football in Harrison Smith and Jamal Adams -- but those defenders were each targeted on just one of those slant throws. Instead, the teams reached their top spots with the collective efforts of Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander, Mike Hughes, Morris Claiborne, Trumaine Johnson, Buster Skrine, and Darron Lee. Rhodes has by far the best reputation of that bunch, but he struggled a bit in 2018, preventing offensive success on just 51 percent of his plays in coverage. Waynes, Claiborne, and Johnson each finished at 55 percent.

The most interesting name on that list might be Darron Lee, who is now on the Chiefs. Lee excelled in coverage in 2018, limiting offenses to 4.1 yards per pass and preventing offensive success on 62 percent of his plays in coverage. The Jets' attempt to snag linebacker Anthony Barr from the Vikings likely would not have upgraded their pass defense since he allowed 11.5 yards per pass attempt and prevented offensive success just 38 percent of his pass plays. New defensive anchor C.J. Mosley should stabilize their linebacker coverage. He was excellent, allowing 6.0 yards per attempt and with a 51 percent coverage success rate. They just paid a steep price to get him.

Flat

Defenses vs. Flat Routes, 2018
Defense DVOA Rk Passes Yards YPA C% aDOT YAC
JAX -49.5% 1 29 89 3.1 62% 1.8 3.7
CHI -49.1% 2 38 170 4.5 82% 0.8 4.6
NYG -35.5% 3 37 160 4.3 81% 1.4 4.0
LAC -34.5% 4 39 215 5.5 74% 0.8 6.1
PIT -32.7% 5 20 78 3.9 80% 1.8 3.4
BUF -30.2% 6 30 100 3.3 77% 1.1 3.4
BAL -27.3% 7 43 167 3.9 70% 1.3 5.1
LAR -24.4% 8 37 147 4.0 76% 1.6 3.8
SEA -24.3% 9 33 211 6.4 84% 1.4 6.4
ATL -22.7% 10 44 223 5.1 84% 0.9 4.9
ARI -21.0% 11 37 234 6.3 84% 1.6 5.6
DEN -15.5% 12 41 225 5.5 78% 1.1 5.6
CIN -15.2% 13 23 107 4.7 78% 1.2 4.9
MIN -14.7% 14 30 148 4.9 83% 1.5 4.6
CLE -13.6% 15 41 212 5.2 71% 1.5 6.1
NYJ -12.4% 16 42 183 4.4 76% 1.3 4.5
KC -10.9% 17 38 192 5.1 79% 1.4 5.4
CAR -10.8% 18 29 117 4.0 79% 1.3 4.0
IND -9.5% 19 49 259 5.3 78% 1.6 5.2
SF -4.9% 20 44 262 6.0 80% 1.5 5.9
NO -4.8% 21 41 203 5.0 73% 1.2 5.6
OAK -4.4% 22 27 168 6.2 74% 1.3 7.2
PHI -4.2% 23 43 234 5.4 81% 1.6 4.9
MIA -2.5% 24 29 127 4.4 72% 1.3 5.4
WAS -2.3% 25 53 274 5.2 77% 0.6 6.1
TEN 5.0% 26 42 192 4.6 71% 1.6 4.8
HOU 11.8% 27 30 166 5.5 80% 1.1 5.6
GB 14.9% 28 43 267 6.2 81% 1.3 6.6
DET 15.6% 29 30 148 4.9 80% 0.8 5.6
DAL 21.9% 30 22 133 6.0 91% 1.2 5.6
NE 22.9% 31 30 176 5.9 83% 1.7 6.0
TB 28.0% 32 28 150 5.4 86% 1.6 4.6
NFL Flats -11.7%   1142 5737 5.0 78% 1.3 5.2

Despite finishing with an 18th-ranked overall pass defense, the Giants have already popped up in two top-10s, against both out and flat routes. Both routes cut parallel to the line of scrimmage, with receivers moving toward the sidelines. I'm not sure that similarity indicates a single underlying cause. Case in point, the Giants finished 29th defending out routes in 2017, but first defending flat routes.

Star safety Landon Collins was prominently involved in the Giants' defensive efforts against flat routes, but he didn't have great success, allowing seven completions on seven attempts and two passing scores. Of course, the league allows a 78 percent completion rate on flat routes. The Giants thrived more because of their solid tackling than their prevention of receptions.

Dig

Defenses vs. Dig Routes, 2018
Defense DVOA Rk Passes Yards YPA C% aDOT YAC
PHI -76.1% 1 27 169 6.3 41% 12.2 5.1
CHI -53.2% 2 52 366 7.0 52% 9.0 6.0
WAS -43.4% 3 41 383 9.3 65% 10.3 4.0
BAL -36.8% 4 30 238 7.9 60% 11.0 2.7
ARI -33.6% 5 27 139 5.1 44% 9.3 2.9
HOU -33.1% 6 36 211 5.9 50% 9.3 2.1
NO -24.5% 7 47 436 9.3 60% 11.0 4.0
CAR -23.2% 8 25 201 8.0 68% 8.3 3.5
LAR -19.0% 9 30 248 8.3 61% 10.0 2.3
SF -18.7% 10 23 109 4.7 48% 7.6 2.5
BUF -16.1% 11 38 319 8.4 59% 10.5 3.8
NYJ -12.1% 12 30 243 8.1 67% 9.1 4.3
SEA -4.2% 13 40 380 9.5 62% 11.7 3.3
JAX -1.6% 14 32 220 6.9 56% 9.2 3.2
CLE 1.5% 15 37 302 8.2 59% 9.8 4.2
MIN 13.1% 16 33 293 8.9 55% 9.8 6.2
PIT 16.7% 17 46 354 7.7 62% 10.2 2.0
DAL 17.0% 18 28 322 11.5 78% 10.8 4.4
TB 17.9% 19 39 378 9.7 71% 11.6 3.2
DEN 18.4% 20 33 283 8.6 61% 10.2 2.9
IND 18.7% 21 34 322 9.5 71% 11.2 2.9
GB 28.2% 22 33 248 7.5 61% 10.3 2.2
NYG 33.8% 23 36 347 9.6 71% 11.0 2.5
DET 37.7% 24 27 286 10.6 67% 12.7 3.4
MIA 39.7% 25 30 383 12.8 73% 10.8 6.6
KC 43.5% 26 39 359 9.2 69% 12.5 2.0
NE 46.9% 27 43 465 10.8 65% 11.1 5.8
ATL 53.7% 28 37 397 10.7 69% 11.8 4.2
CIN 55.8% 29 34 371 10.9 82% 10.9 2.9
TEN 58.3% 30 28 324 11.6 71% 12.4 3.5
LAC 86.6% 31 35 435 12.4 76% 12.2 4.0
OAK 90.1% 32 23 321 14.0 78% 11.3 5.2
NFL Digs 7.5%   1093 9852 9.0 63% 10.6 3.7

The Chargers were the second-worst team against dig routes after finishing top-seven on curl, out, slant, and flat routes. Linebacker Jatavis Brown was a weak link in their otherwise strong pass coverage, allowing 6.3 yards per attempt and preventing offensive play success just 46 percent of the time. His replacement, Thomas Davis, had historically been a strong coverage linebacker, but he didn't perform any better in 2018, allowing 6.9 yards per attempt, and he will be 36 years old this season. Jack-of-all-trades safety Derwin James could have been an option for them to improve this weakness, but he landed on injured reserve because of a preseason stress fracture in his foot. This could easily be a weakness for the Chargers again in 2019.

Drag

Defenses vs. Drag Routes, 2018
Defense DVOA Rk Passes Yards YPA C% aDOT YAC
ATL -70.3% 1 31 128 4.1 65% 3.1 3.2
CLE -50.1% 2 20 128 6.4 80% 3.5 5.2
JAX -36.4% 3 24 125 5.2 67% 3.8 3.9
NO -32.9% 4 37 215 5.8 76% 2.3 5.0
BUF -25.3% 5 20 138 6.9 70% 2.8 6.8
DAL -24.9% 6 23 117 5.1 70% 3.4 3.4
KC -23.3% 7 33 189 5.7 82% 3.6 3.4
CIN -22.9% 8 39 217 5.6 77% 2.9 4.5
SF -22.5% 9 17 75 4.4 59% 3.7 3.0
ARI -21.5% 10 20 128 6.4 75% 3.2 5.3
LAR -20.9% 11 30 168 5.6 67% 3.3 5.0
DEN -19.9% 12 25 162 6.5 64% 3.0 7.1
MIA -19.1% 13 12 68 5.7 75% 5.0 4.1
SEA -17.0% 14 11 58 5.3 82% 2.8 3.8
NYG -16.3% 15 28 224 8.0 74% 3.3 7.8
CHI -5.0% 16 41 257 6.3 63% 3.1 6.9
BAL -2.4% 17 31 233 7.5 77% 2.8 6.7
PIT -1.8% 18 33 192 5.8 73% 3.3 4.3
TB 0.7% 19 33 276 8.4 94% 3.1 5.9
HOU 4.1% 20 35 228 6.5 74% 3.3 5.5
OAK 4.3% 21 26 163 6.3 85% 3.0 4.7
MIN 4.5% 22 13 86 6.6 69% 4.8 5.2
WAS 11.3% 23 33 238 7.2 85% 3.3 5.3
TEN 11.8% 24 29 182 6.3 76% 4.1 3.9
NE 14.3% 25 44 347 7.9 68% 3.4 8.2
IND 16.4% 26 19 139 7.3 68% 4.1 6.7
NYJ 17.9% 27 35 281 8.0 69% 4.2 7.4
LAC 22.5% 28 16 67 4.2 63% 4.2 2.4
DET 26.3% 29 26 201 7.7 84% 3.5 6.2
PHI 26.6% 30 28 229 8.2 82% 3.1 6.9
GB 30.4% 31 23 220 9.6 65% 3.9 11.1
CAR 32.7% 32 20 161 8.1 85% 3.2 6.4
NFL Drags -6.3%   855 5640 6.6 74% 3.4 5.6

The top-rated Falcons are maybe the biggest surprise of any team on any route leaderboard. Their defense famously fell apart after losing star safety Keanu Neal and linebacker Deion Jones at the start of last season. Their pass defense finished 28th overall, and they were no better than 10th against any of the five most common routes. But they still nabbed the top spot defending against drag routes. I don't think it is a coincidence the Falcons landed there for the first route with fewer than 1,000 sample plays from 2018. None of the team's other linebackers or safeties excelled in coverage. Cornerback Robert Alford had the worst coverage success rate in the league at 35 percent, but he was never targeted on a drag route. Desmond Trufant had their best success against the route, with three defensed passes and a tipped-ball interception

Running Back and Wide Receiver Screens

Defenses vs. Running Back Screen Routes, 2018
Defense DVOA Rk Passes Yards YPA C% aDOT YAC
PIT -92.4% 1 15 22 1.5 60% -2.9 5.8
BAL -72.8% 2 25 70 2.8 76% -3.8 7.5
KC -69.8% 3 31 197 6.4 81% -3.3 11.2
CHI -66.7% 4 24 84 3.5 83% -4.4 9.0
TB -41.3% 5 26 195 7.5 88% -3.9 12.6
WAS -38.4% 6 23 154 6.7 74% -4.4 13.5
CAR -28.9% 7 23 79 3.4 83% -3.9 8.2
HOU -27.4% 8 28 141 5.0 86% -3.7 9.4
NYJ -24.4% 9 17 167 9.8 76% -3.4 15.5
TEN -24.2% 10 23 128 5.6 87% -2.9 9.4
LAR -19.5% 11 22 105 4.8 86% -3.0 8.4
BUF -8.8% 12 23 120 5.2 83% -3.4 10.1
NO -6.1% 13 19 103 5.4 89% -3.9 10.3
NE -4.8% 14 22 117 5.3 82% -3.6 10.0
SEA -1.8% 15 39 313 8.0 92% -4.3 13.1
MIA 3.5% 16 27 190 7.0 89% -3.5 11.6
DET 3.8% 17 20 104 5.2 80% -3.2 9.7
MIN 6.0% 18 35 214 6.1 77% -3.6 11.9
PHI 6.9% 19 32 218 6.8 91% -4.1 11.1
OAK 9.4% 20 24 176 7.3 83% -3.4 12.4
NYG 16.0% 21 22 130 5.9 86% -3.7 10.8
DAL 17.7% 22 35 236 6.7 89% -4.3 11.8
CIN 20.1% 23 27 200 7.4 89% -3.4 11.8
DEN 20.3% 24 17 148 8.7 94% -2.8 12.3
CLE 21.0% 25 29 217 7.5 76% -3.9 14.2
JAX 25.3% 26 31 219 7.1 84% -3.9 12.5
ATL 27.7% 27 32 220 6.9 81% -3.6 12.3
SF 29.6% 28 36 247 6.9 81% -3.4 12.2
LAC 29.8% 29 36 295 8.2 89% -4.0 13.4
ARI 37.0% 30 28 224 8.0 89% -3.3 12.5
IND 49.4% 31 33 249 7.5 91% -3.5 11.8
GB 52.5% 32 17 143 8.4 88% -4.2 13.6
NFL RB Screens -1.0%   841 5425 6.5 84% -3.7 11.4

 

Defenses vs. Wide Receiver Screen Routes, 2018
Defense DVOA Rk Passes Yards YPA C% aDOT YAC
DEN -91.0% 1 26 173 6.7 85% -2.0 9.6
MIA -83.1% 2 24 116 4.8 79% -2.2 8.3
BUF -75.3% 3 19 62 3.3 84% -1.4 5.6
MIN -71.1% 4 20 83 4.2 95% -2.0 6.5
KC -52.3% 5 29 113 3.9 86% -1.2 5.7
NYJ -46.7% 6 32 137 4.3 88% -1.9 6.6
GB -42.4% 7 25 89 3.6 84% -1.3 5.9
DET -39.3% 8 10 45 4.5 100% -1.4 5.9
CAR -38.9% 9 23 119 5.2 96% -1.8 7.3
PIT -34.8% 10 22 100 4.5 95% -2.0 6.9
DAL -33.4% 11 14 79 5.6 93% -1.6 7.7
NE -33.0% 12 26 138 5.3 92% -0.7 6.4
IND -27.8% 13 36 186 5.2 94% -2.0 7.5
CIN -27.4% 14 21 84 4.0 100% -1.7 5.7
JAX -24.2% 15 22 118 5.4 86% -1.7 8.2
CLE -23.5% 16 40 171 4.3 85% -2.2 7.1
CHI -20.4% 17 21 113 5.4 100% -0.8 6.1
LAC -17.7% 18 22 104 4.7 100% -1.4 6.1
PHI -15.6% 19 27 157 5.8 93% -2.2 8.3
TB -12.3% 20 20 111 5.6 95% -2.3 8.1
SF -11.4% 21 24 151 6.3 92% -0.4 7.4
NO -10.2% 22 25 187 7.5 88% -2.0 10.8
LAR -9.8% 23 24 160 6.7 88% -2.2 9.8
TEN -9.2% 24 24 170 7.1 96% -1.8 9.1
WAS -8.9% 25 13 101 7.8 92% -1.6 10.0
HOU -8.9% 26 28 181 6.5 89% -1.3 9.0
NYG -7.9% 27 25 151 6.0 96% -2.2 8.6
BAL -7.6% 28 17 101 5.9 88% -2.1 8.6
ARI -6.6% 29 28 199 7.1 96% -1.5 8.9
SEA 1.9% 30 25 182 7.3 92% -2.1 10.0
OAK 17.0% 31 19 137 7.2 89% -1.5 9.3
ATL 18.5% 32 16 122 7.6 94% -1.5 9.5
NFL WR Screens -27.2%   747 4140 5.5 91% -1.7 7.8

From my perspective, the relative success of teams defending against running back and wide receiver screens were much less interesting than the relative success of offenses running those plays. Running back screens were fairly average plays by DVOA standards, coming in at -1.0% DVOA across the league. In contrast, wide receiver screens were the least effective pass route with a -27.2% DVOA. Fades were the only routes even close to that inefficiency, but at least fade routes lead to a high 2-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Wide receiver screens don't have any obvious benefits, and yet teams ran 135 more of them in 2018 than they did in 2017, when they were also horribly inefficient.

The Chiefs finished in the top five of defensive DVOA against both types of screens with about 30 chances to defend each type. That may seem as big a shock as it was to see the Falcons leading all defenses against drag routes because of their similar overall defensive deficiencies, but the Chiefs and Falcons reached the bottom 10 of defensive DVOA in very different ways. The Chiefs were far and away the worst run defense, but they had a respectable pass defense that was ranked 17th and had success against a number of shallower routes like screens, drags, and curls. When they lost in coverage, it tended to be over the top.

Go/Fly

Defenses vs. Go/Fly Routes, 2018
Defense DVOA Rk Passes Yards YPA C% aDOT YAC
IND -83.2% 1 10 34 3.4 10% 30.1 8.0
GB -79.1% 2 19 157 8.3 21% 29.2 10.5
ARI -49.2% 3 9 62 6.9 13% 34.0 2.0
CHI -47.8% 4 17 158 9.3 24% 32.9 2.0
NE -46.4% 5 33 188 5.7 13% 32.3 2.8
TEN -45.7% 6 16 145 9.1 13% 32.8 22.0
CLE -43.6% 7 25 204 8.2 25% 28.0 3.8
OAK -39.0% 8 17 182 10.7 19% 39.2 9.7
CIN -35.0% 9 19 120 6.3 17% 30.2 2.7
HOU -34.5% 10 20 142 7.1 16% 29.6 21.0
PIT -34.0% 11 28 259 9.3 20% 31.6 5.8
DET -24.3% 12 22 180 8.2 23% 34.8 2.0
SF -19.6% 13 18 146 8.1 19% 33.7 2.7
DEN -16.2% 14 15 244 16.3 29% 31.7 27.3
TB -7.5% 15 11 108 9.8 27% 32.8 4.0
BAL -5.5% 16 20 181 9.1 24% 27.6 2.8
JAX -5.3% 17 17 164 9.6 25% 30.5 6.0
MIN 2.6% 18 24 262 10.9 23% 34.8 4.2
BUF 5.6% 19 20 281 14.1 33% 34.0 3.7
LAC 18.1% 20 9 105 11.7 25% 30.8 9.5
DAL 27.2% 21 30 389 13.0 34% 30.4 4.7
NYG 28.4% 22 18 273 15.2 31% 35.4 7.2
KC 35.7% 23 39 518 13.3 31% 31.3 5.3
NYJ 41.4% 24 23 344 15.0 32% 35.5 7.7
ATL 44.4% 25 22 312 14.2 36% 31.9 9.3
SEA 58.6% 26 13 228 17.5 46% 34.8 4.0
CAR 87.5% 27 21 406 19.3 42% 35.9 5.8
MIA 88.6% 28 19 404 21.3 44% 30.9 13.4
WAS 88.9% 29 14 264 18.9 36% 30.5 12.0
PHI 94.8% 30 19 306 16.1 47% 31.7 9.0
NO 101.3% 31 34 666 19.6 47% 32.8 8.2
LAR 173.8% 32 12 362 30.2 55% 37.6 14.5
NFL Go/Flys 10.0%   633 7794 12.3 28% 32.4 7.6

Getting into the deeper routes, the defenses with the best cornerbacks and free safeties tended to thrive. The Cardinals, Bears, and Patriots have star power on the outside, but the No. 1 and No. 2 teams against go routes, the Colts and Packers, have excellent defensive backs who should soon become household names. The former's Malik Hooker was a first-round selection in 2017 who showcased his talent more in his lack of production than in his efficiency last season. Quarterbacks were clearly scared to throw the ball his way, targeting him just 2.6 percent of the time -- he intercepted his lone go target in 2018. But the teams that chose to pick on cornerback Kenny Moore did not have much success with it. Moore finished 22nd at the position, preventing offensive success on 56 percent of pass plays, and he was also the best run-stopper among cornerbacks.

The Packers completely overhauled their secondary in the last few drafts, landing corners Kevin King, Jaire Alexander, and Josh Jackson in the first two rounds the last two seasons. King was limited by injuries in 2018, but Alexander looked like a major hit in his first season, preventing offensive success on 52 percent of his plays in coverage. Jackson did his best work on go routes, allowing just one completion and defensing two passes in five attempts. Green Bay added top coverage strong safety Adrian Amos from the Bears for 2019 and are primed to be even better against the pass.

Deep Cross

Defenses vs. Deep Cross Routes, 2018
Defense DVOA Rk Passes Yards YPA C% aDOT YAC
PHI -95.3% 1 20 113 5.7 40% 16.0 1.0
IND -60.0% 2 11 46 4.2 27% 20.2 4.0
BUF -50.7% 3 17 107 6.3 35% 15.5 2.8
CLE -47.4% 4 14 85 6.1 36% 17.6 3.2
LAC -34.4% 5 22 278 12.6 45% 20.5 8.2
CHI -32.9% 6 18 155 8.6 44% 17.4 3.8
TEN -27.9% 7 22 167 7.6 41% 13.6 4.7
GB -22.2% 8 19 219 11.5 58% 15.9 2.5
JAX -18.5% 9 25 294 11.8 56% 16.4 6.1
DAL -15.1% 10 20 193 9.7 37% 20.6 7.6
ARI -14.0% 11 13 102 7.8 38% 14.5 6.4
SEA -12.9% 12 28 256 9.1 43% 20.2 6.6
OAK -12.0% 13 18 176 9.8 47% 18.0 2.6
KC -5.0% 14 38 390 10.3 53% 14.8 4.3
NE 2.3% 15 21 300 14.3 50% 20.4 7.9
CIN 8.1% 16 21 319 15.2 62% 17.0 5.3
DEN 12.1% 17 16 220 13.8 56% 12.9 11.1
WAS 22.1% 18 12 175 14.6 58% 19.2 7.0
DET 31.6% 19 27 334 12.4 52% 20.5 6.4
CAR 34.2% 20 19 300 15.8 74% 17.3 3.8
BAL 34.4% 21 18 216 12.0 56% 18.2 2.7
HOU 45.7% 22 13 251 19.3 67% 20.7 7.9
NO 45.8% 23 13 146 11.2 62% 18.5 2.3
NYG 48.2% 24 17 174 10.2 65% 13.6 2.1
PIT 48.4% 25 21 248 11.8 60% 17.0 5.8
TB 58.3% 26 21 296 14.1 62% 16.5 6.4
MIA 69.6% 27 22 300 13.6 59% 20.2 6.2
MIN 70.4% 28 11 161 14.6 73% 14.2 4.5
SF 80.4% 29 17 314 18.5 53% 21.5 11.9
LAR 84.3% 30 17 313 18.4 76% 19.4 5.6
ATL 85.9% 31 22 346 15.7 67% 17.4 7.2
NYJ 91.5% 32 32 490 15.3 66% 15.8 6.3
NFL Deep Crosses 14.1%   625 7484 12.0 54% 17.5 5.5

The Colts and Packers again finished close to the top at second- and eighth-best against deep crossing routes, but the Eagles bested both of them and took the top spot. The Eagles ran extremely hot and cold against different routes. They finished top-five defending dig, comeback, and fade routes, but bottom-five defending drag, go, and post routes. Given that, their ranking of 15th in overall pass defense DVOA seems appropriate.

Broken Play

Defenses vs. Broken Play Routes, 2018
Defense DVOA Rk Passes Yards YPA C% aDOT YAC
TB -137.2% 1 15 75 5.0 47% 11.7 1.1
DET -83.8% 2 13 56 4.3 31% 11.4 1.0
PIT -74.9% 3 22 103 4.7 59% 9.1 0.5
BUF -55.2% 4 16 74 4.6 38% 11.0 3.3
ATL -51.0% 5 14 124 8.9 62% 10.3 4.6
NYJ -47.7% 6 20 84 4.2 45% 11.9 2.9
NE -41.7% 7 21 189 9.0 62% 8.8 3.9
CLE -37.8% 8 20 128 6.4 45% 10.1 5.8
WAS -34.1% 9 21 107 5.1 55% 9.7 2.5
ARI -30.5% 10 21 104 5.0 60% 6.8 1.2
DAL -30.5% 11 17 74 4.4 65% 6.0 2.6
LAC -28.3% 12 23 143 6.2 48% 9.6 3.1
GB -16.7% 13 20 127 6.4 40% 14.2 1.8
PHI -14.3% 14 13 97 7.5 38% 18.2 5.6
CIN -10.5% 15 25 106 4.2 48% 10.0 3.2
JAX -7.7% 16 16 157 9.8 50% 10.6 10.3
IND -7.2% 17 19 167 8.8 47% 11.2 6.7
LAR -1.5% 18 19 111 5.8 47% 7.7 5.6
HOU 3.2% 19 22 196 8.9 41% 15.4 3.7
SEA 5.5% 20 21 208 9.9 35% 14.0 4.7
CHI 19.2% 21 24 254 10.6 52% 16.5 8.2
OAK 21.0% 22 23 184 8.0 48% 15.0 2.5
MIN 30.0% 23 17 167 9.8 59% 10.6 5.7
CAR 32.9% 24 17 181 10.6 71% 13.1 3.7
DEN 42.2% 25 21 191 9.1 71% 10.5 2.8
NO 42.3% 26 18 178 9.9 67% 8.5 4.7
MIA 49.0% 27 20 189 9.5 45% 18.1 6.6
KC 49.5% 28 20 215 10.8 68% 12.4 6.4
TEN 59.9% 29 14 145 10.4 54% 14.4 5.3
SF 104.0% 30 20 246 12.3 75% 13.5 4.4
BAL 121.1% 31 26 423 16.3 68% 16.3 6.0
NYG 148.5% 32 19 317 16.7 84% 10.4 8.0
NFL Broken Plays 2.6%   617 5120 8.3 54% 11.8 4.4

There isn't a ton of consistency in the year-to-year performances of defenses against broken play routes, and I expect that is a product of both the low number of those opportunities and the fact that their successes and failures likely say more about the chemistry between quarterbacks and their receivers than they do about the skill level or discipline of defensive players. The Ravens are a great illustration of that. They were exemplary against nearly every route they faced but were second-worst against broken play routes. There, they allowed 20-plus-yard completions to the who's who of gunslinger quarterbacks -- Patrick Mahomes (x2), Baker Mayfield (x2), Ben Roethlisberger, and Jameis Winston.

Post

Defenses vs. Post Routes, 2018
Defense DVOA Rk Passes Yards YPA C% aDOT YAC
JAX -93.7% 1 13 127 9.8 23% 28.8 15.7
MIA -89.6% 2 23 225 9.8 36% 17.7 5.4
NE -78.2% 3 24 165 6.9 25% 22.9 3.2
DET -74.3% 4 11 19 1.7 9% 24.8 6.0
CHI -56.8% 5 10 84 8.4 30% 23.2 10.7
CIN -53.1% 6 17 224 13.2 47% 23.1 6.0
KC -51.7% 7 14 99 7.1 29% 28.0 3.8
OAK -42.5% 8 19 180 9.5 24% 29.5 3.3
BAL -10.2% 9 23 156 6.8 35% 18.9 4.1
NYG -3.6% 10 21 309 14.7 50% 25.1 5.9
NYJ -1.8% 11 19 163 8.6 32% 25.8 6.0
PIT -0.2% 12 20 146 7.3 45% 21.0 1.7
LAR 5.2% 13 21 249 11.9 43% 23.0 4.8
WAS 14.8% 14 10 162 16.2 33% 23.9 24.3
SEA 19.2% 15 17 171 10.1 35% 19.1 11.5
ARI 20.7% 16 17 219 12.9 47% 23.8 5.3
LAC 22.0% 17 22 184 8.4 41% 20.4 2.3
HOU 25.0% 18 21 380 18.1 57% 22.8 9.0
MIN 27.3% 19 10 85 8.5 40% 30.1 1.3
DAL 32.8% 20 9 120 13.3 56% 20.1 3.4
TB 34.5% 21 18 217 12.1 59% 20.2 1.8
ATL 35.6% 22 17 202 11.9 53% 21.6 2.4
CAR 38.7% 23 19 269 14.2 53% 24.8 2.3
CLE 44.2% 24 26 351 13.5 52% 23.5 4.5
SF 61.8% 25 14 162 11.6 50% 28.7 1.7
TEN 73.6% 26 16 290 18.1 50% 26.4 10.6
NO 76.3% 27 15 282 18.8 80% 21.8 4.0
PHI 98.8% 28 23 469 20.4 61% 24.3 10.0
IND 118.5% 29 16 321 20.1 81% 18.8 5.5
GB 129.6% 30 20 396 19.8 70% 23.1 7.8
BUF 136.4% 31 19 286 15.1 65% 21.2 4.5
DEN 138.4% 32 12 213 17.8 67% 16.7 10.5
NFL Posts 19.5%   556 6925 12.5 47% 23.0 5.8

There is a lot of overlap at the top of the go and the post leaderboards, with the Patriots, Lions, Bears, Bengals, and Steelers in both top 12s. Meanwhile, other top teams like the Jaguars and Dolphins had standout cornerbacks who tended to cover their opponents' major downfield threats. More than half of the Jaguars defensive post targets went to Jalen Ramsey, although he can thank under- and overthrows for a lot of his success. The Dolphins' Xavien Howard and Minkah Fitzpatrick were more involved in their team's post route defensive success.


Summary

Defensive DVOA Rankings by Most Popular Routes, 2018
Defense Curl Out Slant Flat Dig Pass
Def
DVOA
CHI 4 3 26 2 2 1
BUF 10 1 3 6 11 2
BAL 1 6 12 7 4 3
CLE 11 2 21 15 15 4
DEN 12 4 16 12 20 5
JAX 15 16 30 1 14 6
LAC 2 5 7 4 31 7
LAR 19 18 6 8 9 8
NE 14 31 10 31 27 9
MIN 7 12 1 14 16 10
WAS 3 29 18 25 3 11
DAL 32 11 8 30 18 12
SEA 16 21 14 9 13 13
TEN 22 26 5 26 30 14
PHI 17 20 20 23 1 15
ARI 18 15 27 11 5 16
KC 6 17 11 17 26 17
NYG 23 7 22 3 23 18
CAR 20 27 23 18 8 19
NYJ 29 9 2 16 12 20
IND 21 30 9 19 21 21
CIN 25 8 31 13 29 22
HOU 9 23 24 27 6 23
NO 28 28 4 21 7 24
PIT 26 13 25 5 17 25
MIA 8 14 28 24 25 26
OAK 5 19 17 22 32 27
ATL 13 22 29 10 28 28
GB 24 10 19 28 22 29
SF 27 24 13 20 10 30
TB 31 25 15 32 19 31
DET 30 32 32 29 24 32

The best pass defenses of 2018 performed better by rank against popular pass routes that moved receivers away from the middle of the field -- out and flat routes -- than on routes that moved receivers toward the middle of the field -- curl, slant, and dig routes. Those teams universally had strong outside corners, including Kyle Fuller for Chicago, Tre'Davious White for Buffalo, Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Carr for Baltimore, Denzel Ward for Cleveland, and Jalen Ramsey for Jacksonville, who all prevented offensive play success 54 percent of the time or more -- top-30 at the position -- on big target volumes. Their excellent pass rushes didn't hurt, either.

Most of the pass defense trailers struggled across all of the most popular routes, so they can be optimistic that their offseason changes can dramatically improve their defensive fortunes. Among last year's worst pass defenses, the Lions, Packers, and Raiders made the biggest efforts to that effect, respectively signing cornerback Justin Coleman and safeties Adrian Amos and LaMarcus Joyner to a combined $44.7 million in guaranteed money.

Comments

2 comments, Last at 29 Aug 2019, 12:34pm

1 Buster Skrine

So the Bears major weakness last year was slant coverage, and they signed one of the players that helped the Jets produce excellent slant defense numbers last year. Seems smart, depending on what other weaknesses the Callahan-Skrine swap creates instead.

2 correlations

how do these defense route splits correlate with pass rush effectiveness?