Pass Rusher Profile: Pernell McPhee

A versatile pass rush threat, McPhee can be effective from many alignments.

| 2 years ago

Pass Rusher Profile: Pernell McPhee

PR-Profile-mcpheeThere 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.

Pernell McPhee

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.

McPhee by Alignment

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.

McPhee by Blitz

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.

McPhee by Stance

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.


Follow Ben on Twitter: @PFF_Ben


| 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.

  • lightsout85

    LOVE that first table. (I may be wasting my breath, but it’d be nice to see this kind of data in the subscription package).

    Just an observation: I can see why 4i is grouped with 5T, since it’s also “touching” an OT (not to mention removing it might create a small sample size for 4/5T), but when I look at breakdowns, I think it groups better with 3T – the logic being, if you have another defender playing further outside they’ll probably draw the OT outward & the 4i player would just have a very wide angle on the G. Looking at the technique-profile pages, a lot of primarily-3T players also played a decent amount of 4i (probably in the role I described, rather than engaging the OT).

    • Ben Stockwell

      Very fair point about where to throw in the 4i-tech and it’s a lack of joined up thinking on my part not to put it in there. Guys like Gerald McCoy use 4i as a 3-tech/B-gap extension and rush from that alignment a lot, really stress the guard to get out there if he remains their assignment.

      • lightsout85

        Yea, it’s like the 9-tech of inside rushers.

    • msmv

      I’ll second that. I’d love to have the alignment data available as well. I’ve been trying to find that kind of tracking data everywhere and PFF is the one place that does seem to collect it. The left side/right side breakdown for 4-3 ends and 3-4 olbs is nice, but like with McPhee it doesn’t tell the whole picture.

      Would be pretty cool if it were possible to include both types of edge rushers along with the other defensive linemen and then toggle the alignment techniques on and off for the PRP page, just like is possible with which games to include for the statistical output, but I guess that’s a pretty significant overhaul.

  • snowman88

    This data needs to be available in the subscription service. Paying $60 over the course of a year the customer at least can maximize what data is available to them. Knowing where a player lines up on a snap to snap basis is an even better observation of analysis.

    • lightsout85

      Glad I’m not the only who thinks this (or at least, cares enough to voice the feeling). There hasn’t been any new “type” of data (AFAIK) since 2012 (play-action for QBs, and QB pressure the year before). Even back when PFF was free, they featured things like pass-rush data broken down by downs (3rd & 4th, etc), but it was never featured in the package. (Just like this, un-blocked pressures, or route-breakdowns for passing).

      It’s not realistic for 1 fan to be able to watch enough film to have a base to compare to (ie: you could watch 1 or a few guys, even for a whole season, but you don’t have every single player, so you can compare people). We rely on places like this to keep us informed – and personally, I like to be as informed as I can (hence my constant calling for the inclusion of data I know they keep track of). To get into technical discussions & be able to speak with authority. On top of paying for a subscription I spend a lot of time working the data (in excel) to find what isn’t directly presented here (ie: totaling up seasons, or subtracting pressured-passing data from overall data, to find non-pressured results – things that aren’t directly listed here). I take pride in being an informed football fan(atic).

      It’s bittersweet when things like this come out. It’s very cool to see, but then I have to realize I’ll only know such numbers for 10-ish guys (if that), and that really provides no context for the league, for a more complete understanding.

      • msmv

        Yeh. I do the same with excel. It’s pretty annoying to do, but I like to be able to play with the data. In particular I like to look at per target statistics for coverage over the per cover snaps stats or at least in addition to. It’s a pretty simple thing to add a collumn once I have the data in excel, but copying the data into excel each time I apply a different filter is pretty annoying.