It’s the middle of the week, which means it’s time for our weekly 32 Observations. We’ve seen enough action now to get some general ideas as to how players will play this year, and a number of players are playing noticeably better than last year. This week’s ’32 Observations’ will focus on those players who have shown signs of improvement, and some numbers to back up how they have elevated their play.
Buffalo Bills: While Bryan Scott has generally been solid in coverage, this year he has greatly improved his play against the run. Last year he had a Run Stop Percentage of 5.0%, and this year has more than tripled that to 17.3%.
Miami Dolphins: Wide receiver Brian Hartline is a 100-yard performance away from passing his receiving yard total from last year. His improvement has come while being targeted on 31.6% of the pass routes he has run, earning him a Yards Per Route Run of 3.30, which is the highest in the league among receivers of at least 50 pass routes.
New England Patriots: Cornerback Devin McCourty had a great rookie year in 2010, but receivers performed a lot better against him in 2011. In 2011, quarterbacks had a rating of 104.7 when throwing McCourty’s way. His third year has gone a lot better than his second, and now quarterbacks have a rating of just 42.2 when throwing at McCourty, which is eighth lowest in the league.
New York Jets: Muhammad Wilkerson was impressive as a first-round rookie last year and recorded 28 run stops, which was fourth most for 3-4 defensive ends. This year he is leading the position at 13 and is on pace to nearly double his 2011 total.
Baltimore Ravens: While Torrey Smith had a lot of big plays in 2011, he also had the fifth worst drop rate for receivers at 12.90. This year he has not dropped a pass yet, and only three wide receivers (Larry Fitzgerald, DeSean Jackson and Miles Austin) have been targeted more without dropping a pass.
Cincinnati Bengals: In 2011, Michael Johnson had the fifth worst Pass Rushing Productivity for 4-3 defensive ends at 5.7. This year he has the ninth best at 10.6. He is coming off back-to-back games with eight and five pressures, while he had no games with five in 2011.
Cleveland Browns: Last year, left guard Jason Pinkston was a liability in the run game. He earned a PFF Run Block Rating higher than -0.5 in just four of his 16 games, and had an overall Run Block Rating of -10.3. This year he has been above -0.5 in all four games, and has an overall rating of +1.4.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Of the tight ends to have played at least 50% of their team’s snaps, Heath Miller had the fifth highest drop rate in 2011 at 8.93. This year only Dennis Pitta and Brandon Myers have more catches without a drop.
Houston Texans: Last year Kareem Jackson allowed 17.0 yards per catch, which was the fifth highest in the league for cornerbacks. This year he has that number down closer to the league average at 14.3, and he has already doubled his interceptions from last year from one to two.
Indianapolis Colts: The last memorable game for Winston Justice came as an Eagle in the 2010 wild card matchup against the Packers. In that game he had four penalties and allowed three pressures before getting benched after 46 snaps. In his one and a half games this year he has yet to allow a pressure or commit a penalty.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Quarterback Blaine Gabbert has shown slight improvement in many areas this year, but two numbers that stick out are his touchdown and interception rates. He has gone from throwing a touchdown on 2.9% of throws to 4.4%, and has gone from throwing an interception on 2.7% of throws to 0.9%.
Tennessee Titans: Quarterback Jake Locker has become much more accurate with his throwing on the small sample sizes of the past two seasons. As a rookie he was at 62.3%, which would have been third worst if he had a qualifying number of attempts. This year he is fourth best at 79.8%.
Denver Broncos: Last year, defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson managed just two run stops on 90 run snaps for a Run Stop Percentage of 2.2%. His story has been very different this year, with six stops on 49 run snaps for a Run Stop Percentage of 12.2%.
Kansas City Chiefs: Outside linebacker Justin Houston had a rough time against the run early on in his rookie year. From Week 1 to Week 7 he had a PFF Run Defense Rating of -3.2. In the 14 games after that he has had a rating of +12.2, which is higher than any 3-4 outside linebacker in 2011.
Oakland Raiders: Tight end Brandon Myers had 16 catches all of last year. He has already matched that number this year, and has increased his yards per catch from 9.4 to 14.3.
San Diego Chargers: In Quentin Jammer’s last game of the 2011 season, he allowed 158 receiving yards against the Raiders. In four games this year he has allowed only 133, and no more than 45 in any individual game.
Dallas Cowboys: Last year Sean Lee burst onto the scene as a great run-stopping inside linebacker, but had a -4.6 Coverage Rating. This year he has improved in coverage, and has allowed just 5.8 yards per catch which is the lowest for inside/middle linebackers who have been targeted at least 10 times.
New York Giants: Eli Manning was pressured as much as anyone in 2011, and a small part of the problem was William Beatty’s inconsistent pass protection as he allowed 31 overall pressures in his 10 starts before landing on IR. This year, he has allowed just three hurries with no sacks or hits allowed on his 138 pass blocks.
Philadelphia Eagles: Last year, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie allowed 59.5% of the passes thrown his way to be caught and didn’t record an interception. This year it is down to 40.0%, which is third lowest among corners targeted 20 or more times. He also has three interceptions, which is second most in the league.
Washington Redskins: Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan had spans of good games and spans of not as good ones in terms of pass rushing as a rookie, which overall resulted in a pressure on 12.7% of his pass rushes. So far he has been good in every game this year, and now has a pressure on 16.1% of his pass rushes.
Chicago Bears: Due to injuries in 2011, Lance Louis was forced to play right tackle for the season, where he ended up allowing 41 overall pressures, or nearly three a game. With a healthy Gabe Carimi, Louis has been able to move back to right guard. In four starts he has allowed one sack, one hit and one hurry, so less than one pressure per game.
Detroit Lions: Chris Houston was a bright spot in a rough secondary last year, as he allowed 12.9 yards per catch. While he has only played in two games so far this year, he has played like an all-pro, and has allowed just 5.4 yards per catch with no completion going for more than 13 yards.
Green Bay Packers: Offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse had the third lowest Pass Blocking Efficiency for tackles in 2011 at 92.2, as he allowed 57 total pressures on 576 pass plays. This year has been significantly better as he’s up to 96.3 which is above average, and has just allowed eight total pressures on 181 pass plays.
Minnesota Vikings: For three of the past four years, Chad Greenway led all 4-3 outside linebackers in receiving yards allowed. This year he has only allowed 160 yards, which is seventh most, even though he was the fourth most targeted.
Atlanta Falcons: In 2011, when quarterbacks threw at safety Thomas DeCoud they had a rating of 90.6. This year, they have a rating of 10.2 in large part thanks to three interceptions compared to just four catches allowed.
Carolina Panthers: Last year, Greg Olsen had the third lowest catch rate for tight end’s at 52.9%. This year he has the second highest for tight end’s targeted at least 20 times at 76.9%.
New Orleans Saints: Defensive end Will Smith is known for his pass rushing, but this year he has been making more plays in the run game. He had nine run stops all of last year, and this year he already has eight.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Quarterback Josh Freeman was one of the most accurate passers on deep throws at 52.8%, but he only threw deep on 6.5% of the time which was by far the lowest in the league. This year, he now throws deep 11.8% of the time which is much closer to league average, and he is even more accurate at 57.1% which is fourth best in the league.
Arizona Cardinals: The league’s fourth lowest receiver in Yards Per Route Run in 2011 was Andre Roberts at 0.95. This year he is at 1.60, which is exactly the same as Larry Fitzgerald.
St. Louis Rams: Defensive end William Hayes has been a great free agent pickup for the Rams so far. He has an amazing Run Stop Percentage of 21.6%, after having an average 6.6% last year. His Pass Rushing Productivity has also more than doubled from 6.0 to 14.5.
San Francisco 49ers: Right tackle Anthony Davis last year allowed a pressure on one in every 12.4 pass plays. This year he has improved his pass blocking to allowing only one on every 35.5 pass plays, and has yet to allow a sack or hit.
Seattle Seahawks: While Marshawn Lynch was a good runner for the Seahawks last year, he is still improving. He went from an Elusive Rating of 46.1 last year to a league leading 70.8 this year.
Follow Nathan on Twitter: @PFF_NateJahnke