It was Thanksgiving less than a week ago, the time to give thanks. Just because everyone is now looking towards the holidays of December doesn’t mean that NFL teams don’t still have reason to be thankful.
Each year some players improve on their previous seasons, and teams should be happy when they see some of that happening. In this week’s 32 Teams, 32 Observations, we’ll look at some statistical bits for defensive players on each team that are enjoying an upswing in 2011.
Buffalo Bills: Safety Jarius Byrd was already a fine player thanks to his run stopping, but now he has improved in coverage as well. Over the past six games he has allowed just six catches while playing all but two downs.
Miami Dolphins: While defensive end Randy Starks has been a strong pass rusher, this year he has put his act together in the run game too. Last year he ranked 26th out of 42 3-4 defensive ends with a -2.6 run defense rating. This year he’s seventh out of 30 with a +6.5.
New England Patriots: Last year cornerback Kyle Arrington allowed 65.3% of balls thrown his way to be caught and had just one interception. This year he’s down to 47.7% of balls thrown his way, and is up to seven interceptions.
New York Jets: Aaron Maybin is becoming the pass rusher that he never was in Buffalo. In his two years as a Bill, he brought pressure on 5.5% of his pass rushes. As a Jet, he’s pushed that number to 18.3%.
Baltimore Ravens: Cornerback Lardarius Webb has transformed from someone who was third on the depth chart to a potential Pro-Bowler. Last year he had just one pass deflection over the first 12 weeks of the season, and this year he has nine.
Cincinnati Bengals: Defensive end Carlos Dunlap was already one of the better pass rushing options in Cincinnati, but this year he has been even better. He was able to bring pressure on 11.1% of his pass rushes in 2010, and has brought that up to 17.8% in 2011.
Cleveland Browns: Defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin has seen his PFF rating take a complete 180 from last year. He had 10 overall pressures last year, and has more than doubled that to 21 this year.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Backup defensive linemen Steve McLendon didn’t make much of an impact on his 23 snaps last year, but this year he’s had nine stops on just 116 snaps, and has a +5.4 run defense rating.
Houston Texans: In his third year, Brian Cushing rebounded from his sophomore slump. He has 42 stops on the year on 664 total plays, compared to just 31 stops last year on 817 plays.
Indianapolis Colts: Weakside linebacker Philip Wheeler has had three or more stops in seven of his 11 games. This is an improvement to last year, where he accomplished this just three times in the nine games where he saw significant time.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Although he has only started six games, Derek Cox has played significantly better. He has been thrown at 28 times, but has only allowed nine catches for 105 yards, and has yet to allow a touchdown. He had an individual game last year where he allowed more yards.
Tennessee Titans: Cornerback Cortland Finnegan was our worst-rated cornerback last year and allowed 1.11 yards per play in coverage. This year he’s ranked as the sixth-best in terms of coverage, and has allowed just 0.72 yards per play in coverage.
Denver Broncos: A second chance has done a lot for defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley. He has had four or more stops in four of his last six games. He hadn’t had a four-or-more-stop game in his previous 19.
Kansas City Chiefs: Nose tackle Kelly Gregg has made more of an impact with the Chiefs than he did in his last year in Baltimore. He’s had six games with multiple stops compared to just four last year including the playoffs, which puts him as our ninth-best run stopping defensive tackle.
Oakland Raiders: Safety Tyvon Branch was a liability in the pass game in 2010, allowing 74.3% of passes thrown his way to be caught, and the seven touchdowns he gave up was the most of any safety. He’s cut that down to 52.3% of passes thrown his way to be caught, and has allowed just three touchdowns.
San Diego Chargers: While linebacker Shaun Phillips has been a great run stopper, he can now add being a great pass rusher to his resume. He had pressure on 9.6% of pass plays last year, and has increased that to 13.2% this year.
Dallas Cowboys: Although Sean Lissemore wasn’t really given a chance as a rookie, he has played too well not to be mentioned. Despite playing as a backup and never seeing more than 35% of a game, he has had a run defense rating of +1.5 or higher in over half of his appearances.
New York Giants: Former first round pick cornerback Aaron Ross has made a lot more big plays this year. In 2010 he had three passes defended and no interceptions, and this year it’s up to four interceptions and seven passes defended.
Philadelphia Eagles: As a Panther, defensive tackle Derek Landri brought pressure on one in every 23 of his pass rushes. This year as a backup he is bringing pressure on one in every eight.
Washington Redskins: Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo was already good at pass rushing with 48 overall pressures. He is already up to 43 this year, on significantly fewer pass rushes (431 to 268).
Chicago Bears: While the Chicago pass rush hasn’t been as good from the outside, Henry Melton has helped the inside rush to help make up for it. Last year he had just seven sacks/hits including the playoffs, and this year so far he is at 11.
Detroit Lions: Defensive end Willie Young had just six snaps in his rookie year last year, but made the most of them with two pressures. He is still making the most of his chances with 21 overall pressures in 105 pass rushes, or a pressure on one in five pass rushes.
Green Bay Packers: The only player to have gone from a negative rating to a positive one on the defense is Jarrett Bush. He has five pass deflections on 111 plays in coverage compared to just one last year on 114 plays in coverage.
Minnesota Vikings: Outside linebacker Erin Henderson has been a dominating force in his first year as a starter. He has had a positive run defense rating in every game this year, which results in a +13.0 run defense rating; fourth-best for 4-3 outside linebackers.
Atlanta Falcons: Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon has had his ratings go up in all three aspects of defense. Most impressive is his improvement in coverage where he’s allowed just 69.4% of passes thrown his way to be caught compared to 89.2% last year.
Carolina Panthers: Defensive end Greg Hardy has stepped up his pass rushing in his first year as a starter. He is up to 34 overall pressures already to compare to his 25 last year.
New Orleans Saints: You know it’s bad when the only thing I can mentions is a player who was terrible at something last year is a little less terrible this year. Linebacker Scott Shanle allowed 85% of passes thrown his way to be caught in 2010 and has got that down to 73.2% this year.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The clear choice is defensive end Michael Bennett who managed just nine stops last year, but is up to 20 this year on a similar number of snaps. He also had just one sack/hit last year and is up to seven so far this year.
Arizona Cardinals: Last year, safety Adrian Wilson had a down year allowing 0.86 Yards Per Play in Coverage. This year he has cut that amount in half and then some, allowing just 0.34 Yards Per Play in Coverage.
St Louis Rams: After barely getting a chance in Miami last year where Al Harris didn’t have a big play, he has been a positive in the St. Louis lineup. Despite turning 38 in a week, he’s had four pass deflections, and has only allowed 58.6% of passes thrown his way to be caught.
San Francisco 49ers: While a number of guys could go here, defensive linemen Ray McDonald had just two sacks/hits last year, and is up to nine this year on fewer pass rushes (396 to 379).
Seattle Seahawks: As a defensive end in Arizona, Alan Branch had just a +1.6 run defense rating last year. This year at defensive tackle for the Seahawks, he’s up to a +12.2 run defense rating.