Three Years of Pass Rushing Productivity: Linebackers

| June 24, 2011

We’ve put the Pass Rushing Productivity formula to the test on edge rushers and inside penetrators, but those aren’t the only defenders that generate pressure. It also comes from those guys for whom it’s more of a secondary function, a bonus of sorts.
 
For them, pass rushing isn’t just pass rushing, it’s blitzing.
 
So up next – and what a great way to end the week – we’re going to look at who the best blitzing linebackers have been over the past year and over the past three years. To be clear, these are the guys playing the more standard linebacker spots: the 4-3 guys (middle and outside) and the 3-4 inside linebackers. You’ve seen the Pass Rushing Productivity formula a number of times now and it’ll remain in place for this look.
 
So let’s get to it with the 2010 data, shall we?
 
First, the qualifying standard. 90 blitzes seems a good enough number to provide us with a group that is regularly sent after the quarterback. That minimum leaves us with 30 guys to break down. So, the big question: who is the top dog?
 
With more than just a couple of memorable sacks, Desmond Bishop was incredibly productive as a blitzer. You’ll probably remember his sack against Tom Brady, but Bishop hassled quarterbacks on a regular basis. His 23 combined pressures on 91 pass rushes made him the most efficient blitzing linebacker by a long way.
 
Bishop’s nearest challenger was Denver’s D.J. Williams. How much opportunity he’ll get to show off this skill going forward in their new 4-3 – and with Von Miller to account for – remains to be seen, but John Fox has never been shy about sending linebackers. Case in point, you’ll find two Panthers on the 2010 list below, with one of them in fifth place overall (James Anderson).
 
The only team to have two players in the Top 10 won’t come as a surprise to anyone. The Pittsburgh Steelers have Lawrence Timmons (seventh) and James Farrior (ninth) to once again show how apt the nickname “Blitzburgh” is. Combining their steady effectiveness with frequent opportunities led the two to finish No. 1 and No. 2 in total pressures.
 
Here are all 30 linebackers that qualified:
 

Pass Rushing Productivity, Linebackers, 2010

Rank
Player
Team
Pass Rushing Snaps
Total Pressures
PRP
1Desmond BishopGB912320.05
2D.J. WilliamsDEN961614.06
3Chad GreenwayMIN911613.74
4Brian UrlacherCHI961412.50
5James AndersonCAR1271912.40
6Brian CushingHST1542512.34
7Lawrence TimmonsPIT1882911.97
8Michael BoleyNYG1091611.24
9James FarriorPIT2213010.97
10Daryl SmithJAX1542110.71
11Chris GocongCLV1522110.69
12E.J. HendersonMIN1051410.24
13Lofa TatupuSEA103129.47
14James LaurinaitisSL139158.81
15Will WitherspoonTEN103118.74
16Jonathan VilmaNO141158.69
17Paris LenonARZ110128.64
18Bart ScottNYJ179208.52
20Ray LewisBLT146158.22
21David HarrisNYJ184198.15
22A.J. HawkGB174187.90
23Aaron CurrySEA225227.67
24Gary GuytonNE9387.26
25Ernie SimsPHI136126.99
26Marvin MitchellNO11196.31
27Scott ShanleNO147126.29
28Curtis LoftonATL10775.37
29Jon BeasonCAR9065.28
30Barrett RuudTB10154.21

 

One of the more interesting things about this list is where the least effective blitzers come from. The bottom five are all from the NFC South. It’s no surprise to see someone like Barrett Ruud there given his struggles in shedding blocks, but more aggressive players like Jon Beason and Curtis Lofton? Perhaps it’s a message to their defensive co-ordinators that the zone blitz they so often used was a little predictable. Or perhaps, considering the success of James Anderson, both men just weren’t that good at blitzing?
 
 

That’s the 2010 study, now we’re upping the qualifying minimum to 200 and looking back at the past three years. We find 38 qualifiers to go under the microscope; a class headed by a surprising candidate. Indeed, it’s Ben Leber who leads the way, and is one of two Minnesota Vikings in the Top 5. The only reason another one (E.J. Henderson) isn’t in there alongside them (his PRP is actually better than Chad Greenway’s) is his lack of snaps. What this should tell you is that, in simple terms, the Vikings blitz efficiently. That, and the fact that it doesn’t hurt having a trio of pass rushers like Kevin Williams, Ray Edwards and Jared Allen up front. Extra focus on them is bound to make life a little easier for the guys coming from deeper.
 
Interestingly, in second – and this is something we can expect to see plenty of next year – is Brian Cushing’s blitzing. He was exceptional in his rookie year and, while other aspects of his game dropped off in a sophomore slump of sorts, he remained an effective blitzer. He’s one of two AFC South linebackers to make the list, although the other isn’t quite the conventional linebacker Cushing is.
 
No, Daryl Smith of the Jags hasn’t just attacked from one spot, he’s done it from everywhere in the front seven. As an inside linebacker, an outside linebacker (in 3-4 and 4-3 alignments), at defensive end and even at defensive tackle in some nickel calls. Smith is a real force the Jags have unleashed in a variety of ways. It should also be noted that only the two Steelers and Bart Scott have more total pressures than the 60 Smith has managed over the past three years.
 
Below is the complete list of the 38 qualifying linebackers from 2008-2010:
 

Pass Rushing Productivity, Linebackers, 2008-2010

Rank
Player
Team
Pass Rushing Snaps
Total Pressures
PRP
1Ben LeberMIN2044517.03
2Brian CushingHST2825013.92
3D.J. WilliamsDEN2033313.42
4Lawrence TimmonsPIT4577613.29
5Chad GreenwayMIN2854512.63
6Daryl SmithJAX3936011.96
7Michael BoleyNYG2423611.47
8Ray LewisBLT4085510.78
9Chris GocongCLV2573410.51
10James FarriorPIT5637310.44
11Keith BrookingDAL2583410.37
12Rocky McIntoshWAS2032610.22
13Bradie JamesDAL3264110.20
14Lofa TatupuSEA2503210.00
15Jonathan VilmaNO364469.96
16Bart ScottNYJ574739.71
17Brian UrlacherCHI224279.71
18Gary GuytonNE259329.65
20Aaron CurrySEA324409.65
21James LaurinaitisSL212259.55
22David HarrisNYJ454529.25
23Paul PoslusznyBUF224269.15
24A.J. HawkGB309348.66
25DeMeco RyansHST242268.37
26Karlos DansbyMIA318328.18
27Brandon JohnsonCIN220227.95
28Paris LenonARZ211217.82
29Will WitherspoonTEN363367.78
30Stephen CooperSD213217.75
31Lance BriggsCHI284277.66
32Julian PetersonDET571496.92
33Dhani JonesCIN224186.58
34Stewart BradleyPHI249195.82
35Scott ShanleNO382275.50
36Antonio PierceN/A201145.47
37Jon BeasonCAR271185.35
38Barrett RuudTB203125.05

 

Obviously, there are plenty of mitigating circumstances in these articles. Some players (like Aaron Curry and Julian Peterson, at times) play on the defensive line in nickel situations so they aren’t always blitzing as much as filling typical pass rushing roles, but, nonetheless, it’s a good indicator (through numbers) of which linebackers are making an impact on the quarterback.
 
So watch these guys next year. Quarterbacks will be, or they may just find some unexpected pressure coming their way.
 
 
Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled … and be sure to follow our main Twitter feed as well: @ProFootbalFocus
 
 

  • Rick Drummond

    A worthy note as a response to a reader via twitter:

    Patrick Willis just didn’t hit the minimum for pass rushing snaps to make it into the 2010 table above. With 79 blitzing snaps and 20 total pressures, his PRP was 20.89.

    Thanks for reading along, @manraj76

  • ntahan

    As I read these articles I notice that Michael Boley actually played better than it may have seemed…I had him pegged as a pedestrian signing for the giants