Where better to start than the 4-3 defensive ends that are so important when it comes to getting pressure on the quarterbacks. Keep in mind, our grading isn’t just focused on that aspect–we also look at the impact they have on the run game, the rare instances when they drop into coverage, and the penalties they do (or don’t) give up.
So here are our top 10 individual performances from 4-3 defensive ends in 2011.
10. Jason Babin, Philadelphia Eagles: Week 15 vs. New York Jets (+7.4)
Babin spent a season making tackles of all talents look bad, so it was with little surprise that he feasted on Wayne Hunter to the tune of two sacks, a hit, and a pressure. Hunter wasn’t the only player who had problems with Babin, though, as he picked up another sack and two pressures to help the Eagles to a Week 15 victory.
9. Jared Allen, Minnesota Vikings: Week 5 vs. Arizona (+7.5)
With Levi Brown lining up opposite him, you felt this had the potential to go well for Allen and so it did. The result was a two-sack, one-hit, four-hurry day, with an additional pressure picked up on a play nullified by a penalty. This pretty much sums up the dominance Allen had over Brown, with all of it coming against the one-time baddest tackle in the whole darn town.
8. Julius Peppers, Chicago Bears: Week 12 at Oakland Raiders (+7.7)
The sophomore season of Raiders left tackle Jared Veldheer was largely a success. Yet, there was one game that stood out for all the wrong reasons and it was because of Julius Peppers. The Bears’ DE mauled Veldheer, picking up two sacks and five pressures against him in addition to two more against Stefen Wisniewski and Khalif Barnes. Quite a few of the performances on this list came against sub-par tackles, making this one stand out all the more.
7. Terrell Suggs, Baltimore Ravens: Week 14 vs. Indianapolis (+8.6)
Playing slightly more with his hand on the ground qualifies Suggs in the defensive end category here. Week 14 was Suggs at his best as he dominated both Colts tackles. Rookie left tackle Anthony Castonzo didn’t have many more challenging tasks in Year 1, giving up two sacks which resulted in fumbles along with a holding penalty. Jeff Linkenbach was no match for the vaunted Raven either, surrendering a hit and two pressures. Always one of the more complete defensive ends in the league, Suggs bullied Anthony Hill and even made a nice play in coverage to show what he’s capable of. It’ll be an interesting challenge to replace his production in 2012.
5t. Brian Robison, Minnesota Vikings: Week 17 vs. Chicago (+9.0)
He may have finished behind his teammate Jared Allen in our overall rankings, but the Week 17 display from Robison against Chicago got a higher grade than anything Allen managed all year. He didn’t pick up the four sacks like Allen did or pick up as high a pass-rushing grade as Allen. However, here he picked up a sack, a hit, and five pressures. Robison also forced a fumble while chasing a player down and made some big contributions in the run game. This was all-around brilliance.
5t. Dwight Freeney, Indianapolis Colts: Week 3 vs. Pittsburgh (+9.0)
For those who think Freeney has lost a step, they might want to review his Week 3 performance against Pittsburgh where he nearly single-handedly pushed a poor Colts team to victory. Jonathan Scott couldn’t handle a frantic Freeney who picked up two sacks (including forcing a fumble), a hit, and seven pressures while drawing a holding penalty for good measure. Not always the best defender against the run, Freeney had some success there in one of the most dominant performances of the year by any defender.
4. Trent Cole, Philadelphia Eagles: Week 2 at Atlanta (+10.8)
You really couldn’t miss Cole beating up on Sam Baker on Sunday Night Football. The Eagles defensive end walked away with a sack, two hits, and nine pressures (though one did come against Justin Blalock) while also picking up three tackles for losses and another two for short gains. It was another example of why Cole is one of the best–if not the best–defensive end in the league.
2t. Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants: Week 13 at Green Bay (+11.6)
JPP proved plenty capable of making the big plays, but if he had a criticism, it was that he didn’t take over as many games as his talent (and the hype) would suggest. That wasn’t the case against Green Bay where Pierre-Paul was too much for Marshall Newhouse, picking up a sack, three hits, and five pressures against the Packers’ left tackle. Pierre-Paul was also responsible for two batted passes and his two tackles for losses highlighted his work in the run game.
2t. Michael Bennett, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Week 4 vs. Indianapolis (+11.6)
This may surprise some, but when Bennett was on form he was capable of dominating. Jeff Linkenbach found this out as he was bullied by Martellus’ brother. Bennett’s two-sack (including one forced fumble that he recovered), one-hit, and two-pressure day don’t stand out on this list, but his work in the run game was stellar. He was constantly redirecting runs, earning a number of +1.0 grades aided by two tackles for short gains and one each for no gain and a loss. Absolute domination.
1. Carlos Dunlap, Cincinnati Bengals: Week 8 at Seattle (+11.7)
If you’re looking for one defensive end to breakout with some big numbers next year, you could do a lot worse than turn your attention to Carlos Dunlap. His Week 8 performance against Seattle is a great example of why this could be. Dunlap manhandled James Carpenter as he picked up a sack, three hits, and eight pressures while also blowing up a number of plays in the run game. He was even able to break up a pass in coverage in what was the highest-graded performance of any defensive end in 2011.
With our grades being broken down by run defense and pass rushing (the biggest factors) here’s the top 10 for each category for you.
Top 10 Pass Rushing 4-3 DE performances
1. Chris Long (SL), Week 8 vs. New Orleans (+8.2)
2. Trent Cole (PHI), Week 2 at Atlanta (+8.1)
3. Carlos Dunlap (CIN), Week 8 at Seattle (+7.9)
4t. Jason Pierre-Paul (NYG), Week 13 at Green Bay (+7.8)
4t. John Abraham (ATL), Week 13 at Houston (+7.8)
6. Dwight Freeney (IND), Week 3 vs. Pittsburgh (+7.3)
7. Julius Peppers (CHI), Week 12 at Oakland (+6.9)
8t. Jason Babin (PHI), Week 15 vs. New York Jets (+6.7)
8t. Jabaal Sheard (CLV), Week 3 vs. Miami (+6.7)
10. Jared Allen (MIN), Week 17 vs. Chicago (+6.6)
Top 10 Run Defense 4-3 DE performances
1. Michael Bennett (TB), Week 4 vs. Indianapolis (+6.6)
2t. Will Smith (NO), Week 3 vs. Houston (+4.6)
2t. John Abraham (ATL), Week 10 vs. New Orleans (+4.6)
4. Elvis Dumervil (DEN), Week 17 vs. Kansas City (+4.2)
5t. Michael Bennett (TB), Week 10 vs. Houston (+3.7)
5t. Terrell Suggs (BLT), Week 8 vs. Arizona (+3.7)
5t. Julius Peppers (CHI), Week 13 vs. Kansas City (+3.7)
5t. Jared Allen (MIN), Week 13 vs. Denver (+3.7)
9t. Jason Pierre-Paul (NYG), Week 13 vs. Green Bay (+3.6)
9t. Cameron Jordan (NO), Week 3 vs. Houston (+3.6)
9t. Matt Roth (JAX), Week 10 at Indianapolis (+3.6)
9t. Jason Pierre-Paul (NYG), Wildcard vs. Atlanta (+3.6)