Signature Stats: First Downs Allowed – Linebackers

Using a brand new PFF Signature Stat - First Downs Allowed - Khaled Elsayed reveals the 10 best, and worst, linebackers in pass coverage.

| 4 years ago

Signature Stats: First Downs Allowed – Linebackers

Yesterday we unveiled one of our brand spanking new signature stats — First Downs Allowed. However, we looked at only cornerbacks.

How rude of us.

Tomorrow we’re going to make up for teasing you with a part of the data by handing you the numbers for safeties. Today? Well, today we’re going to look at linebackers and how they fare in pass coverage. But this stat goes beyond the numbers in isolation. By looking at how often a player is in coverage you get an extra level of detail you simply can’t find anywhere else.

First Downs Allowed in Coverage

Where better to start than seeing which linebacker gave up the most combined first downs and touchdowns in coverage — and if you’re a Redskin fan you may want to look away.

Two of the ‘Top 3′ — it’s not an honor many would want — played their football for Washington, with London Fletcher leading the way by allowing 33 first downs and five touchdowns. I know it’s not the done thing to speak ill of Fletcher, but this is part of the reason why the end-of-season accolades he earned were little more than lifetime achievement awards, and less reflective of his actual performance on the field. His combined total of 38 was six more than Perry Riley, and one more than the man he dumped to second place, Rey Maualuga.

The Cincinnati Bengal middle linebacker didn’t help his chances of earning a big deal as he approaches free agency for the first time in his career. The former second-round pick was beaten for a linebacker-leading 35 first downs, though his two touchdowns surrendered ensured he wasn’t the worst offender.


Most First Downs and Touchdowns Allowed

NameTeamFirst DownsTDs1st Downs & TDs
London FletcherWAS33538
Rey MaualugaCIN35237
Perry RileyWAS26632
K.J. WrightSEA29130
Lavonte DavidTB26430
Karlos DansbyMIA28230
Chad GreenwayMIN29130
Jasper BrinkleyMIN26329
JoLonn DunbarSL24529
Craig RobertsonCLV26127


Beaten with Regularity

However, it would be wrong to just punish those 10 for the total amounts of combined first downs and touchdowns they gave up. I mean, all bar two of them are every-down linebackers and so are inherently more likely to get beaten.

No, the First Down Allowed signature stat includes how many snaps a player was in coverage to truly paint a picture of those beaten most often in the passing game. Now Fletcher (third-worst) and Maualuga (fifth) aren’t spared much when looking at this, but they can at least watch as Craig Robertson is left propping up the 65 linebackers who spent at least 200 snaps in coverage. The Cleveland Brown nickel linebacker saw the chains moved (or 6 points picked up) on him on 7.38% of his coverage snaps.

That number ensured that rookie Miles Burris (7.03%) had the second-worst figure, while the equal third spot belonged to Akeem Ayers. The second-year linebacker is an interesting case, clearly misused by the Titans who failed to get him into situations in the passing game (rushing the passer) where he would excel, he was a walking target on his 316 snaps in coverage.


Bottom 10 First Downs and Touchdowns Allowed

NameTeamSnaps1st Downs & TDsIst Downs & TDs %
Craig RobertsonCLV366277.38%
Miles BurrisOAK327237.03%
Akeem AyersTEN316226.96%
London FletcherWAS546386.96%
Rey MaualugaCIN537376.89%
Jasper BrinkleyMIN426296.81%
K.J. WrightSEA449306.68%
Bryan ScottBUF372246.45%
Dont'a HightowerNE226146.19%
Russell AllenJAX397246.05%


Out of Sight

Of course there are also those linebackers who didn’t give up much in coverage. Take Mason Foster, for example. The Tampa Bay Buccaneer hasn’t quite lived up to expectations, but you can’t fault how many first downs and touchdowns he gave up. His total number was just seven, or 2.13% of his snaps in coverage.

Meanwhile, the Colts had two guys in the Top 5. Nickel linebacker Moise Fokou and every-down defensive stalwart Jerrell Freeman both coped extremely well in this regard, representing one of the two teams that had multiple players in the top 10 (the other being the Chicago Bears).


Top 10 First Downs and Touchdowns Allowed

RankNameTeamSnaps1st Downs & TDs1st Downs & TDs %
1Mason FosterTB32872.13%
2Moise FokouIND22762.64%
3Nick RoachCHI33192.72%
4Jerrell FreemanIND502142.79%
5James LaurinaitisSL541162.96%
6Brian UrlacherCHI390123.08%
7Takeo SpikesSD322103.11%
8Stephen TullochDET530173.21%
9D'Qwell JacksonCLV542193.51%
10David HarrisNYJ415153.61%


Sometimes it’s not just about the yards you give up, but the impact of those yards. Do they move the chains or don’t they? There’s a big difference between allowing a 9-yard completion on 3rd-and-10, or giving up a 3-yard completion on 4th-and-2. So looking into who’s giving up touchdowns and first downs is a real indicator of which linebackers really contribute in the passing game.


Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled

  • gasolinesnuggie

    I’m guessing this stat doesn’t account for the linebacker’s specific position (WILL, MIKE, SAM, etc.). If so, this stat doesn’t mean much at all.

  • Peter Kapusi88

    I really like your stats, but I think this is one of the worst yet. If I understood correctly, these are stats overall of a team (if the player actually was on the field that time), not just the passes went their way in man/zone cov. I do not know how you can influence that outcome of the down if the first down wasn’t got around your assigned area..

    • LightsOut85

      What leads you to think that? The numbers are all per-player, when they were targeted and gave those up (you think TB only gave up 7 combined 1st-downs & TD in the pass-game?). The 2 IND players have different snap counts, so it’s not overall team stats.

  • Tiago1801

    it makes sense for me. LB, DE and DT are responsible for run plays not backs

  • Fred

    Another problem with this stat is what down they were playing on.  Brian Urlacher and Takeo Spikes are two of the slowest ILB I can think of, but they are in the top 10.  Why?  Because they’re off the field on 3rd down passing situations.  So this stat gives them credit for a lot of “Snaps” but they don’t get penalized for a lot of of most likely 1st down pass conversion plays.

    • Dolamite

      Fred, Urlacher may be slow, but he doesn’t leave the field on passing sitautions.

    • Chris

      Url is not very slow, he was slower than usual this year due to injury, but he is still around average speed for a LB. Also he plays all downs, so your point is moot.

    • Moeman79

      slow for a CB,WR but for a line backer he still good, and he is best in coverage his main job in the cov-2. So I guessing that you have no facts and just like to run your mouth.

      • Fred

        Sorry, I assumed based on his low snap count compared to other LBs on the list that he was taken off field on 3rd downs.  I forgot he was injured for 4 games.  Specific players aside, I still believe this statistic is faulty if it does not consider down and distance.

        • Fred

          And my intent was not to insult Urlacher, obviously a lot of Bear fans here, my apologies.