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.
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
Name Team First Downs TDs 1st Downs & TDs
London Fletcher WAS 33 5 38
Rey Maualuga CIN 35 2 37
Perry Riley WAS 26 6 32
K.J. Wright SEA 29 1 30
Lavonte David TB 26 4 30
Karlos Dansby MIA 28 2 30
Chad Greenway MIN 29 1 30
Jasper Brinkley MIN 26 3 29
JoLonn Dunbar SL 24 5 29
Craig Robertson CLV 26 1 27
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
Name Team Snaps 1st Downs & TDs Ist Downs & TDs %
Craig Robertson CLV 366 27 7.38%
Miles Burris OAK 327 23 7.03%
Akeem Ayers TEN 316 22 6.96%
London Fletcher WAS 546 38 6.96%
Rey Maualuga CIN 537 37 6.89%
Jasper Brinkley MIN 426 29 6.81%
K.J. Wright SEA 449 30 6.68%
Bryan Scott BUF 372 24 6.45%
Dont'a Hightower NE 226 14 6.19%
Russell Allen JAX 397 24 6.05%
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
Rank Name Team Snaps 1st Downs & TDs 1st Downs & TDs %
1 Mason Foster TB 328 7 2.13%
2 Moise Fokou IND 227 6 2.64%
3 Nick Roach CHI 331 9 2.72%
4 Jerrell Freeman IND 502 14 2.79%
5 James Laurinaitis SL 541 16 2.96%
6 Brian Urlacher CHI 390 12 3.08%
7 Takeo Spikes SD 322 10 3.11%
8 Stephen Tulloch DET 530 17 3.21%
9 D'Qwell Jackson CLV 542 19 3.51%
10 David Harris NYJ 415 15 3.61%
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