Jared Allen is one of the elite 4-3 defensive ends in the NFL.
Maybe we don’t rank him quite among the very best in the league, but in 2008 he was our seventh-ranked 4-3 DE (fourth purely as a pass-rusher), and in ’09 he was our sixth-ranked 4-3 DE (fifth purely as a pass-rusher). So, given his struggles this season, you’d assume he is some way lower than that so far in 2010. But just how far has he slipped?
Jared Allen is currently the 61st ranked 4-3 defensive end in our list. That’s dead-last among players who have played a qualifying number of snaps. Think about that for a second. There are 32 teams in the NFL, and fewer than two-thirds of those run the majority of their snaps in a 4-3 defense. That means Allen is behind a whole swathe of backups. The guy one spot above him is the Colts’ Keyunta Dawson. Allen’s play hasn’t just taken a dip, it’s driven off a cliff.
Last season Allen got 64 combined pressures on the year (sacks, hits and pressures). He got those pressures from 628 attempts rushing the passer, meaning he put recordable pressure on the quarterback once every 9.8 attempts.
A look at his game-by-game chart shows a player every bit deserving of Defensive Player of the Year talk.
But this season, he has rushed the passer 176 times and recorded just 14 total pressures (and one sack). That’s pressure recorded once every 12.6 attempts. Allen is going nearly three snaps more between each recorded pressure this season. His chart? Ugly.
The problem isn’t just frequency, as Allen isn’t getting to the quarterback to finish plays with sacks. His lone sack all season came when Chad Henne‘s scramble caused Jake Long to lose leverage on his block.
It isn’t unprecedented for Allen to start slowly in a season: He had a poor start to 2009, too. Joe Thomas shut him out in the opener against Cleveland, and he was only able to notch two pressures against Detroit’s Jeff Backus in Week 2. But the following week he burst back with a sack, a hit and three more pressures on the quarterback against the 49ers. Even 2008 saw him struggle in the season opener against Green Bay before exploding on the Colts the following week.
Last season he did the majority of his statistical damage against weaker OTs — eight of his 16 sacks and seven more combined hits and pressures came against Green Bay — but he had strong games against capable pass-protecting left tackles as well. The Bengals’ Andrew Whitworth was our sixth-ranked LT last season, but Allen was able to pressure Carson Palmer five times and hit him once in their encounter.
It is true to say that Allen has been coming close at times this season — in only one game has he been prevented from knocking down the quarterback (against the Jets) — but it is the volume of pressures, or lack thereof, that is missing from his rush.
What might be most troubling for Vikings fans or coaches is that, by and large, Allen is not being shut out by additional help in the form of a tight end or running back. He is just being beaten one-on-one by the left tackle. Long and Ferguson are among the league’s best left tackles, and you would expect them to keep Allen pretty quiet over a game, but Backus, and Dallas’ Doug Free are not of the standard of player you would expect to get the better of Allen over the course of a game.
What’s more, Ray Edwards on the other side has been playing exceptionally well: In addition to his two sacks he has 26 more combined hits and pressures on the quarterback this year, and is currently our sixth-ranked 4-3 DE in terms of pass rush. The emergence of Edwards as a legitimate pass-rushing threat on the other side of the line means that Allen is enjoying the least amount of attention he has seen in years. This should be the season he is setting new career highs for production, not career lows.
Another cause for concern is that Allen is struggling badly against the run this season as well. People have always referred to Allen as a complete DE, capable against the run as well as the pass, but in truth he has never been much better than average in that regard. The problem is that so far in 2010, average would be a monumental leap forward. His grade for play purely against the run is also rooted firmly at the bottom of our list at 61st of qualifying players. Though he held his own in that regard in his past three games, he was routinely blown off the ball by the Saints and Dolphins in the opening contests.
Could it be that Allen has suffered the same fate as Samson? When the mullet was cut off, was the power contained therein lost, leaving an ordinary mortal? Allen has been free of injury, and has had no major problems that can explain away the dip in form, but there is no doubting that the dip is there.
Maybe all Allen needs is to face the Packers again, such was his success against them in 2009. If that’s the case, he’s in luck: Minnesota’s Week 7 opponent is Green Bay. With Chad Clifton ranked as our 32nd OT at this point in the season and surrendering two pressures per game, it’s a matchup that Allen can certainly take advantage of. If Allen can have success against the Packers, the road for him goes through some much poorer left tackles than the ones he has faced so far this season, with games against the Cardinals and Bears upcoming.
Minnesota pays Allen to be an elite pass-rusher. The Vikings spent too many years in the wilderness searching for the guy that could put consistent pressure on the quarterback, and they paid a hefty price for Allen to be that guy. Before 2010, he had been worth it, ranking among the better pass-rushers in the NFL and chipping in with a regular stream of sacks. Not so this season.