It’s amazing to think that back at the start of the season, the Philadelphia Eagles were the team to beat, the Washington Redskins were a team on the rise, and the Dallas Cowboys were a team ready to bounce back from a disastrous 2010.
In fact, when you polled people on what to expect from 2011 it was only the situation of the New York Giants that left a set of fans from the NFC East concerned. A tough offseason saw them lose Terrell Thomas and Bruce Johnson for the year while Prince Amukamara was sidelined with a foot injury, leaving their secondary severely depleted. Throw in some big losses in free agency (Kevin Boss and Barry Cofield) and some retooling on an offensive line that was aging, and the Giants looked like a team ready for some transitioning.
It’s funny how things work out, right? As we know, the Giants went onto take the division, the Eagles capitulated, while the Redskins and Cowboys proved they weren’t quite up to challenge. That the NFC East played out in such a surprising fashion owes to some performances we didn’t see coming. So, with that in mind let’s look at some of the movers and shakers in the NFC East as we break down the most improved, most deserving of more snaps, and most disappointing players of 2011.
Mike Jenkins: From (2010) -10.8 to +1.1
Let’s be clear, it wasn’t exactly a vintage year from Jenkins. Injuries hampered him somewhat and he benefited from teams going after Terrence Newman. Still it should be noted that in 2011 he gave up just 51.9% of throws where he was in primary coverage–a year after he allowed 67.4%. He hasn’t quite got back to his 2009 form that led to one slightly less smug writer saying he was ready to break out as one of the better cornerbacks in the league, but he’s a lot closer than he was 12 months ago.
Biggest Drop Off
Doug Free: From +17.9 to -9.9
It never looks good on a player when their performance falls off a cliff after they get a big payday, but Free was always something of a candidate in this regard. A player far more suited to the right side than protecting a quarterback’s blindside, teams who had a bigger idea of Frees’ weaknesses were able to take advantage of him to the tune of 10 sacks, five hits, and 33 hurries. 2010 saw him give up 33 combined QB disruptions. Consider the fact that he was nowhere near as effective with his run blocking and you’ve got a major case of ‘down-year-itis’.
Sean Lissemore: +13.8 from 284 snaps
It hasn’t surprised us at all to see Cowboys coaches coming out and praising Lissemore for his impact in limited snaps. The seventh round pick from the 2010 draft made a big impression whether the Cowboys lined him up on the nose or at end in base or in their sub-package defense. Lissemore responded with 14 defensive stops in the run game on just 108 plays in run defense. He even held up as a pass rusher (two sacks, three hits and eight hurries) to indicate the Cowboys may have found themselves another late-round defensive linemen who can cope with a full-time workload.
New York Giants
Jason Pierre-Paul: From +6.0 to +39.2
So JPP wasn’t exactly bad as a rookie, but his leap to being one of the top defensive ends in the league, was such that there really wasn’t another candidate on the Giants’ roster for this spot. What was most impressive about the New York defensive end was he didn’t just get pressure, he made plays in the run game too, and showed up big when it mattered most for the Giants. He’ll find it hard to top this year, but anything resembling the season he just put forward will scare opposing offensive coordinators senseless.
Biggest Drop Off
Kareem McKenzie: From +23.6 to -33.2
When players get older you know that each year could be the one their play falls off a cliff. This was that year for McKenzie, who went from being PFF’s top-ranked right tackle in 2010 to one of our worst a year later. McKenzie has always been a better run blocker, but his pass protecting has never been as exposed as it was this season, giving up 59 combined sacks, hits, and hurries in the regular season. Last year that number was only 28.
Greg Jones: +0.4 from 204 snaps
Truth be told, the Giants were excellent at getting the most from their players (case in point: their excellent use of Osi Umenyiora). However, we have to pick someone and Jones is that guy because in limited action he looked like the kind of two-down linebacker that could give the Giants some extra stoutness. Of course, given their heavy use of a nickel package and the competition provided by both Chase Blackburn and Jonathan Goff possibly returning, Jones may find it hard to get on the field.
Derek Landri: From -7.1 to +22.0
So where did that come from? Landri started in Carolina, and despite having one of the quickest first steps of any interior lineman, failed to impress the longer the season went on. Yet put him in the wide-nine scheme and watch him go. Landri played so well as a backup in his 355 snaps that he has many thinking he could handle a full-time role in the Eagles’ defense. What was so impressive was how the former Jaguar was able to make plays rushing the passer and defending the run, showing the kind of discipline that the scheme relies on. Great find.
Biggest Drop Off
Nnamdi Asomugha: From +10.0 coverage, to -1.0 coverage
First, don’t take this as saying Asomugha was terrible, he wasn’t. He simply had plenty of moments where he looked completely out of place in a scheme that didn’t seem to suit him. He got better as the season went on and but never justified the price tag, and failed to look like the shutdown corner he had become in Oakland. By the end of the season he had given up twice as many yards and four more touchdowns than he did in all of 2010. You do feel he’ll get better in 2012, but for now, Eagles fan can be understandably disappointed.
Phillip Hunt: +8.8 from 180 snaps
Now Hunt, who picked 18 QB disruptions on 105 pass rushes, deserves more playing time. His rate of generating pressure reminds me of the impact another former CFL player had; Cameron Wake. There’s good reason to think Hunt can succeed, but the question becomes who do you take off the field for him? Trent Cole and Jason Babin are every-down players who show very little sign of wearing down over the course of a game or season. Indeed, for Hunt to get the playing time he deserves he may need to eventually ditch the Eagles jersey and catch on for a team in desperate need of pass rush.
Trent Williams: From -23.4 to +3.8
When Trent Williams said that the game had slowed down for him heading into his second year, you’d be excused for not necessarily believing him. After all, how many times have we heard players say that only for them to falter when they get on the field? So credit to Williams who took a huge leap forward, no longer looking like a rookie out of his depth on an NFL field. The biggest area the former first round pick improved in was his pass protection, where our signature stat, Pass Blocking Efficiency for tackles comes to the fore. The weighted formula saw him score a 96 (giving up two sacks, four hits and 13 hurries on 372 pass blocks) this year, after picking up a 93.4 (allowing four sacks, four hits and 35 hurries on 524 pass blocks) the previous year. In a conference low on quality left tackles, a healthy Williams could easily be on track for Pro Bowl recognition.
Biggest Drop Off
Adam Carriker: From +4.4 to -9.5
Carriker earned negatives for both his work in run defense and rushing the passer in 2011, a year after he looked to have finally found a home in the Redskins’ 3-4. Instead, year No. 2 resulted in a drop-off that saw Carriker fail to consistently generate pressure, or make much headway against the run. Still, at least he didn’t give up any penalties right?
Evan Royster: +7.7 from 158 snaps
It may seem an odd situation, but the Redskins could find themselves heading into the 2012 with quite the backfield depth. With Tim Hightower back from injury and Roy Helu seemingly the No. 1 going forward, it may be hard for Royster to get much playing time. Clearly, he was so impressive on his 57 rushes (where he averaged 5.9 yards per carry and forced eight missed tackles) that he’s earned more touches. He didn’t embarrass himself in pass protection either, so the sixth-round pick presents an interesting dilemma for ‘Skins management.