Pass Rusher Profile: Jared Allen
Jared Allen's 2012 season and future prospects are the focus of this installment of Ben Stockwell's Pass Rusher Profile series.
Pass Rusher Profile: Jared Allen
Sporting a double-digit sack streak stretching back to his time in Kansas City and ranking second in career sacks among active players there is little doubt that, even though he is now the “wrong side” of 30, Jared Allen is one of the league’s premier pass rushers.
Few pass rushers play as much as Allen does in the Vikings’ trademark low rotation defensive line and that heavy workload has seen him register at least 65 total pressures in each of the last five seasons, recording his best mark in that spell last season with 80 even while playing through injury.
However, his drop-off in sacks and a shift in his pass rusher profile from 2011 to 2012, potentially to do with his injury struggles last season, marked out a change in Allen’s performance as he again carried the load for the Vikings’ right side pass rush. From converting nearly half of his pressure into sacks or hits in 2011, he converted less than 40% into hits or sacks a year later. In spite of this drop off Allen was still productive and as our own Neil Hornsby explored recently, productive in spite of playing by far the most snaps among edge defenders last season.
Contract wrangling has put Allen’s names in some headlines of late, but here we’ll throw the spotlight on Allen the pass rusher as we break down how he went about getting pressure in different ways in 2011 & 2012.
2011 Outside Pass Rush: 30 total pressures, pressure every 18.9 pass rushes
2012 Inside Pass Rush: 29 total pressures, pressure every 22.0 pass rushes
Even though he hasn’t ranked among the league’s upper echelon in terms of pressure rate in either season (35th in 2011, 19th in 2012) Allen has never been short on recording pressure inside or outside, particularly for a player who rushes the passer so often. When you think of Allen you think of a top tier speed rusher but his ability to get pressure inside is the hallmark of a well-rounded pass rusher who knows how to use the threat of his speed rush to open up the inside of an opposing pass protector.
In both 2011 & 2012 Allen’s sheer volume of pass rushes has seen him rank among the Top 10 in the league in terms of total outside pressures and his 50 total inside pressures across the two seasons is bettered only by Von Miller (66), Aldon Smith (63) and Julius Peppers (55). The balance in Allen’s play as a pass rusher is what makes him so difficult to block and the ability to turn the corner on the edge for sacks in 2011 (a league leading 10 sacks to the outside of opposing pass protectors) is what puts the fear of god into players trying to block him and opens up that inside shoulder.
To show the chameleonic nature of his pass rushing, Allen was able to switch his strength from his outside attack in 2011 to the inside in 2012. Though he still recorded a commendable 26 total pressures to the outside of his opponents, his pressure rate was only just in the league’s Top 50 and he struggled to convert them into hits and sacks (more on that in a moment). For an ordinary pass rusher losing that effectiveness would be debilitating and lead to a severe down year in terms of production, but Allen used his inside move to great effect this season to be amongst the league’s best.
Only seven pass rushers got pressure at a better rate and were it not for Von Miller’s ludicrous inside rush (pressure once every 13.9 pass rushes, far and away the league’s best) Allen would have been within spitting distance of the top mark, not bad for a player who rushed the passer 638 times. On top of the volume and rate of his inside pressure Allen also didn’t have any troubles converting his inside pressure, turning 48.3% into hits (nine) and sacks (five). Those combined 14 inside-move knockdowns were only bettered by Aldon Smith’s 15.
There are few more balanced pass rushers in the entire league than Allen and few as productive on such a heavy workload.
Outside conversion rate: 46.7% in 2011 to 19.2% in 2012
Having led the league with 10 sacks to the outside of opposing pass protectors in 2011 Allen could muster only five hits and no sacks just a year later. Was this marked drop off simply down to the torn labrum in his left shoulder or did he simply lose a step this season? Taking his pass rushing as a whole, Allen’s closing percentage this season was far lower than in his near record breaking 2011 season.
Twelve months ago Allen was coming off of that season sporting a closing percentage of 48.5% (fifth-best in the league) but a year later he only converted 38.8% of his total pressures into sack and hits, only just better than the league average for edge defenders and only just inside the league’s Top 50. Where Allen excelled in this regard and really made up for his ineffective finishing to the outside of opposing pass protectors was cleaning up and as an uncontested pass rusher.
Allen recorded two hits and a sack unblocked but collected six of his 12 sacks either cleaning up a play on a broken pocket or when the QB held onto the ball too long — four of Allen’s 12 sacks and three of his hits came in pursuit. Depending upon your point of view, this is either padding his stats or, (to my mind) more accurately, cleaning up and preventing the chance for a big play when a play breaks down.
When you consider that Allen plays the Aaron Rodgers-led Packers twice a season, the ability to coral a quarterback either in pursuit or cleaning up for pressure by other pass rushers was a crucial part of his arsenal with his seeming inability to convert outside pressure into sacks.
D’Anthony Batiste: 6 total pressures; 1 sack, 2 hits, 3 hurries (Week 7)
Aaron Rodgers: 4 total pressures; 3 sacks
You need look no further for how Allen’s 2011 and 2012 seasons differed than to look at who his chief victim would have been last season compared to how he fared this season against him. Allen closed out the 2011 season by recording four sacks against J’Marcus Webb and the Chicago Bears, coming up agonizingly short of the NFL single-season sack record. In that final game of the year Allen recorded more sacks against Webb than he recorded all season long against tackles in 2012 (three).
Including the Week 6 game in Chicago, Allen recorded five 2011 sacks against Webb along with a hit and four hurries for good measure. A year later, however, and illustrating Webb’s improvement as much as Allen’s changing profile as a pass rusher, Allen only registered two hurries against the Bears’ much-maligned left tackle.
The two tackles who suffered the most against Allen in 2012 were D’Anthony Batiste and Rodger Saffold who each surrendered six pressures in single outings against Allen though Batiste’s performance came on appreciably fewer passing plays (44) than Saffold’s (64) to give some insight into the disparity in grades for those two performances.
Rather than tackles, Allen’s chief victims (in a different way than you would usually think) in 2012 were quarterbacks. Of his 12 sacks half of those were charged to quarterbacks — twice as many as were charged to tackles — and across three games against the Packers, Aaron Rodgers took three of them.
The other three quarterbacks charged for sacks by Allen were Matthew Stafford, Matt Schaub and John Skelton as Allen showed a willingness to stay in plays to the very end. Compared to a year earlier a smaller proportion but similar quantity of four sacks were charged to quarterbacks, a part of Allen’s game that has always been present thanks to his relentless motor but became more important with the drop in productivity of his outside pass rush this season.
Eugene Monroe: No pressure (Week 1)
The first week of the season gave somewhat of a pointer to how Allen’s year would pan out as he came up empty against Eugene Monroe and the Jacksonville Jaguars, well almost empty. Allen did record a sack in this game but it was ruled out when he was adjudged to have jumped offsides early in the first quarter, taking away a sack when he was in the backfield at the same time as Blaine Gabbert.
Looking closely at the play, the speed and explosion of his get-off makes him appear further offsides than he perhaps was, moving extremely closely to the center snapping the ball. Outside of this play Allen would record a hit and a hurry in this game but they came against Rashad Jennings and Eben Britton rather than Monroe.
The other opponent, also from the AFC South, who from the stat sheet appears to have given Allen a rough outing was Duane Brown in the Texans’ Week 16 encounter with the Vikings in Houston. However, in spite of Brown appearing to have conceded no pressure to Allen in that game, plays nullified by penalties hide the full picture in this encounter.
Early in the first quarter Allen had a hit taken away from him by a defensive pass interference penalty by A.J. Jefferson and just more than five minutes into the third quarter Brown was guilty of a holding penalty in pass protection which robbed Allen of a pressure (by the play being nullified) and potentially more if Brown hadn’t held and there hadn’t been some help from left guard Wade Smith to allow QB Matt Schaub time to escape into the right flat.
These hidden plays help to shed some more light onto why, in spite of surrendering “no pressure” in the game, Brown walked away with one of only three negative game grades for the season.
Though he may never again generate pressure at the same rate as the likes of Von Miller, Aldon Smith and Cameron Wake, Jared Allen is still one of the league’s most rounded and productive pass rushers. At the age of 31 and averaging in excess of 1000 snaps over the last five seasons, the question for Allen is how much longer can he continue to be productive? Will others give up on him before he loses his productivity?
Whilst he still has four years on John Abraham the now former Atlanta Falcon brings an interesting comparison for Allen’s coming seasons. At 34 Abraham was still a productive pass rusher last season but not productive enough that the Falcons or any other team are willing to pay the price to see if he continue that form through his mid-thirties.
The Vikings appear to be biting the bullet and paying Allen his money and gigantic cap hit due this season, but how long does Allen have to go until he reaches the same crossroads as Abraham has hit this summer? Will the Vikings or anyone else see fit to give Allen the sort of workload that he seems to thrive upon as not only a pass rusher but also an every-down defensive end?
For the time being, with this offseason’s mini-drama seemingly behind us, it only remains to be left to enjoy the energy and enthusiasm that Allen brings to the field in Minnesota and see how he rebounds from a season when, whether through injury or loss of form, he didn’t quite show the same ability to finish plays. Was 2012 a dip in form or the beginning of Allen’s downturn after half a decade as one of the league’s premier pass rushers?
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Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.