Pass Rusher Profile: Pernell McPhee
A versatile pass rush threat, McPhee can be effective from many alignments.
Pass Rusher Profile: Pernell McPhee
There is a recent track record for defensive players leaving the Baltimore Ravens to struggle in new surroundings. The latest to seek to break that curse is Pernell McPhee who will seek to boost the Chicago Bears’ pass rush in 2015 with the same quality and versatility that he displayed in Baltimore as part of a ferocious group with Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs, especially in sub-packages.
The doubters will say that McPhee was a product of those around him and will struggle on a defense without that same level of talent, but what is there in his pass rushing profile that points him out as a quality player in his own right and more than a product of Messrs Dumervil and Suggs.
It’s not often a player who racks up 74 pressures is considered to be the third prong of a pass rushing attack, but such is the depth the Ravens had last season and such was the quality of Pernell McPhee’s season. With Suggs and Dumervil dominating the snaps on the edge, McPhee was the Swiss Army Knife of the Ravens’ pass rush, moving all along the defensive front and winning battles wherever he lined up. The only alignment that he rushed the passer from at least 10 times where he didn’t record a single pressure was at 0-tech and he beat guards and tackles for at least 20 pressures each to boot.
His peaks of playing time and production do come in relatively conventional spots, however — at least as conventional as a 3-4 defensive end turned 3-4 outside linebacker can be. In the C-gap or wider he showed that he isn’t just a versatile pass rusher collecting plenty of pressure when given a shot off the edge. However, he showed his versatility and that the skills he displayed during his remarkable rookie season as a sub-package pass rusher in 2011 (+20.5 pass rush grade on less than 400 snaps) were not forgotten with 16 pressures (including two sacks) recorded when he was lined up as a 3-technique.
Playing in a system like Baltimore’s led McPhee to not only rush the passer from different alignments but on different paths as well, responding to the various blitzes the defense runs. McPhee was more productive with the extra bodies coming on the blitz but was still plenty productive when he was part of a base pass rush. In either situation you still have to win your battles and McPhee did that in abundance last season. He may have versatility in his game, but it would be a stretch to say that he is reliant upon it. The Bears should play to his strength and move him around, especially in their sub-packages, rather than trying to make him a specialist in a certain alignment.
One obvious way to mix up matters for McPhee is to play him from both a two- and three-point stance and he has plenty of experience with both. His superior production from a two-point stance is an endorsement of his conversion to being a stand up linebacker, but he hasn’t left behind his down lineman roots completely and still offers plenty when he does that, converting a healthy amount of his pressure into hits and sacks when he starts from a three-point stance.
By whatever means you seek to break down McPhee’s production you find that his versatility is not a gimmick. At some point the drive to prove someone as a “pure” pass rusher can be to the detriment of their use to the team. If a player (like McPhee) can work from various alignments with equal success, then it surely makes sense that the Bears continue to play to his strengths.
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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.