Palazzolo’s Pitch: Versatile Big Men

Steve Palazzolo looks at early season production from a handful of the league's big men who are taking on new roles.

| 3 years ago

Palazzolo’s Pitch: Versatile Big Men

Pitch-WK03As an advocate of fat guy touchdowns (who isn’t?), I’m also quite partial to watching big men rush the passer off the edge. It’s not often you see 300-pounders trying to bend the edge on an offensive tackle and you’re even less likely to see it from a rush linebacker position. It’s not prominent enough to call it a trend, but a couple teams have been taking advantage of their athletic big guys.

Lamarr Houston

After three seasons playing predominantly defensive left end, Houston has made the move to the right side this season and the early results have been quite good. Not only has he flipped sides, but the Raiders have him standing up as a rusher for the first time in his career. They experimented with it a bit toward the end of the last season, but with 75 percent of his snaps coming from a stand-up position this year, it’s a full-blown switch.

Through two weeks, Houston is grading at +6.0 overall (seventh among 4-3 DEs) with a pass rush grade of +4.1. His 17.8 Pass Rush Productivity ranks second at the position behind only Robert Quinn of the Rams. This week, Houston represents the first challenge for the Denver Broncos since LT Ryan Clady has been place on injured reserve so keep a close eye on his matchup with backup LT Chris Clark. 

Houston’s pass rushes by position:

Click to enlarge

Mike Neal

Like Houston, Neal was a second-round pick in 2010 and after battling injuries during his first two seasons, he showed well with a +6.1 pass rush grade on a career-high 266 snaps last year. Unlike Houston who is essentially just flipping sides and getting used to life as a stand-up rusher, Neal is experiencing a completely new position as he moves from 3-4 defensive end to rush linebacker in the same scheme. It’s a rare move as we often see 4-3 defensive ends make the switch since responsibilities and alignments are similar, but a 3-4 defensive end rushing off the edge is an entirely different animal.

Though the transition hasn’t been as smooth for Neal, his -2.4 pass rushing grade is identical to fellow 3-4 OLB and teammate Nick Perry, while the anchor of the group, Clay Matthews, is at -3.0 as a rusher. It’s been an underwhelming performance from Green Bay edge rushers to this point, but Neal’s versatility gives them a chance to get creative using all three of them in their subpackages.

Neal’s pass rushes by position:

Click to enlarge

New Positions, Better Production

Speaking of position changes, things have gone smoothly in for a two of the league’s more underrated defensive linemen as their respective teams have implemented a new scheme here in 2013.

Cameron Jordan, 4-3 DE to 3-4 DE

Many draft analysts expected Jordan to be drafted by a 3-4 team back in 2011, but the Saints took him and put him at the end of their 4-man line for the last two seasons. It wasn’t as if he was completely mis-cast in the role as he did a fine job beating up on tackles and tight ends in the running game to the tune of a +25.8 run stop grade over the last two years, but he was never able to provide the type of pass rushing presence required of a 4-3 DE.

The move to the inside has worked well to this point as Jordan has continued his stellar work in the run game at +4.0, but his pass rush grade is up to +5.5 and his 15.4 PRP is tops among 3-4 defensive ends. When the Saints made the move to the new scheme, there were many questions about the team’s personnel fitting in properly, and while there are still some concerns at outside linebacker, Jordan’s transition was never a concern and he’s continued his strong play this season.

Jason Hatcher, 3-4 DE to 4-3 DT

The change in Dallas appeared to be an extreme one on the surface as they moved from a 3-4 system to a 4-3 under new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, the architect of the “Tampa-2” system that led the 2002 Buccaneers to Super Bowl victory. Prevailing thought was that the change from a 3-4 would be difficult, but the Cowboys were running similar concepts a year ago and it was not as extreme of a shift as that prevailing thought would have you believe.

Hatcher is one of the players moving to a new position as he played 3-4 defensive end the last few years and he’s now moving further inside to play 3-technique defensive tackle. It’s not completely foreign territory for Hatcher who lined up over the guard extensively in Dallas’ sub-package looks, but the change will come in the new base alignment. Through two games, Hatcher is Dallas’ highest graded defender at +8.3 including +6.5 as a pass rusher. Like Jordan, he his overall grade ranks second at his position.

News and Notes

He’s who we thought he was!

Chance Warmack:
Run Block: +2.9 (Sixth among guards)
Pass Block: -4.6 (62nd among guards)

The former Alabama guard was given the “road grading” label coming out of college and he’s lived up to the reputation to this point. He did struggle at times in pass protection last season and that, too, has been prevalent through two games.

He’s not who we thought he was!

D.J. Fluker:
Run Block: -3.3 (59th among tackles)
Pass Block: +1.8 (18th among tackles)

Warmack’s college teammate, Fluker, came into the league with a similar reputation, with some analysts even questioning his ability to remain at tackle due to his struggles against speed rushers. The opposite has been true, but of course, there’s a long way to go this season and we’ll be sure to revisit the numbers on both players.

Jinx ‘Em All

Offensive tackles yet to allow a pressure: Cordy Glenn, Bills; Tony Pashos, Raiders

Guards yet to allow a pressure: Larry Warford of the Lions, Gabe Carimi of the Buccaneers, and Louis Vasquez of the Broncos.

Centers yet to allow a pressure: Chris Myers, Texans; Scott Wells, Rams; Manuel Ramirez, Broncos; Rodney Hudson, Chiefs.

When 190-pound Andre Ellington lines up at fullback…

They’re probably not running the ball behind him.


Cardinals offensive coordinator has been getting creative with the talent on his roster. Ellington has line up at fullback four times this season while cornerback Patrick Peterson has played eight snaps on offense, and he even threw a 17-yard completion on a trick play last week. Keep an eye on the Cardinals’ offensive creativity.

Signature Stat Talk

•  Falcons DT Corey Peters leads the position in Run Stop Percentage at 14.3 percent.

•  Raiders CB Mike Jenkins is tops at the position allowing only 0.18 Yards/Cover Snap.

•  Which QB has lost the most yards to dropped passes?

•  Giants TE Brandon Myers leads all tight ends with 2.61 Yards/Route Run from the slot.

Sam Gets GIF-Happy:

•  Trent Williams on Johnny Jolly

•  Jason Peters owns Corey Liuget

Around the Site This Week

•  Week 2 is in the books

•  The Good and the Bad.

•  Big man sits atop the Race Rookie of the Year

•  I started off slow in last year’s Pick ‘Em race too

•  Consensus at the top, but not so much in the middle, of our Power Rankings.

•  Nathan Jahnke’s has 32 Observations from deep within the PFF database.

•  Sam Monson with his usual outstanding X and O breakdown, this time featuring a pair of game winning passes.


Follow Steve on Twitter.


| Senior Analyst

Steve is a senior analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has been featured on ESPN Insider, NBC Sports, and 120 Sports.

  • lewk

    I know the GB pass rush has graded poorly so far, but I’m not convinced it’s as bad as it seems. I got the feeling that containment was the number one priority against a couple of mobile quarterbacks.

  • LightsOut85

    Are those tables just something you did on Excel? Could we get this (position-snap-distribution for pass-rushers) in the premium stats sometime? (Although if I had to rank, I’d want 3rd/4th down rush numbers (featured multiple times), first).

    • LightsOut85

      Also, what are those “other positions” Lamarr Houston seems to have lined up primarily at? (4-3 olb?) Shouldn’t he not even be under the 4-3 DE category then? (based on where he played the majority of his snaps…thought this was the definition).