My Unit is better than your Unit

Admit it, you've looked at other units before. You have seen their size and intensity and walked away impressed. Sometimes you've even looked at another unit and laughed and proclaimed how much better your unit is.

When Rob Ryan was named the new Defensive Coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys some of you jumped for joy because, after all, Ryan has been working with inferior units and maximized their ability to penetrate, defend and take away. Of course I'm talking about defensive units, get your mind out of the gutters...

Each defense is broken down into separate units such as the secondary, linebackers and defensive line. With all the talk (by some) of how Dallas needed Cullen Jenkins to bolster a lackluster Dline, I wanted to take a look and see if Rob really needs a dynamic pass rushing defensive line to be successful.

I went back and looked at statistics from all the defenses Rob has coached. I decided to then take a look at his most recent stint in Cleveland to determine how the different levels of the defense performed for Ryan. I looked at two stats, sacks and interceptions.

Now before everyone gets up in arms saying you can't determine a defense by these two stats, you are right. The point of this exercise is to look at certain stats from Rob's past and try to project those onto the 2011 Dallas Cowboys defense. I understand this is flawed in many ways and do not expect this to be the end all be all of the conversations sure to follow in the thread, however, I did find some interesting nuggets which give me hope the 2011 Dallas Cowboys defense can be a pass rush machine.

First lets take a look at some stats from the 2009 and 2010 Cleveland Browns defense, coached by Rob Ryan.

2009 Cleveland Browns

Stat Total NFL rank
Yards per Game Allowed 389.3 31
Points Allowed Per Game 23.4 21
Sacks 40 8
Interceptions 10 29
Hits & Hurries 203 11


2010 Cleveland Browns

Stat Total NFL rank
Yards per Game Allowed 350.1 22
Points Allowed Per Game 20.8 13
Sacks 29 25
Interceptions 19 8
Hits & Hurries 221 14

Not really a whole lot there to inspire confidence...

But wait, you say, Rob didn't have the a whole lot of talent to work with. Ok I'll bite. So I went and took a closer look at the units, and specifically how each unit produced in the Rob Ryan D.

As I said earlier, I broke the Defense into three levels, Secondary, Linebacker and Defensive Line. I then looked at the production of each unit as a whole. I wanted to see where the production came from in Ryan's complex defense. I knew he rotated players in and out and had them playing multiple positions from multiple formations. But by breaking down each unit you can get an idea of where he wants his pressure production to come from.

2009 Cleveland Browns: Stats by Position Group

Position Group Sack % of Total
INTs % of Total
Hits & Hurries % of Total
Defensive Line 10.5 26% 0 0% 92 45%
Linebacker 24.5 61% 1 10% 93 46%
Secondary 5 13% 9 90% 18 9%
Total 40 100% 10 100% 203 100%

Interceptions: SS Brodney Pool (4), CB Eric Wright (4), LB David Bowens (1), CB Brandon McDonald (1)

Sacks: LB Kamerion Wimbley (6.5), David Bowens (5.5), DT Corey Williams (4.0), LB Matt Roth (4.0), LB Marcus Benard (3.5), LB Jason Trusnik (2.5), Kaluka Maiava (2.5), Shaun Rogers (2.0), Robaire Smith (1.5), Kenyon Coleman (1.5), DT Brian Schaefering (1.5), DB’s Brodney Pool, Brandon McDonald, Abram Elam, Mike Adams & Hank Poteat (1)

2010 Cleveland Browns: Stats by Position Group

Position Group Sack % of Total
INTs % of Total
Hits & Hurries % of Total
Defensive Line 7.5 26% 3 16% 65
Linebacker 17.5 60% 1
5% 134 61%
Secondary 4 14% 15
79% 22 10%
Total 29 100% 10
100% 221 100%

Interceptions: CB Joe Haden (6), SS T.J. Ward (2), FS Abram Elam (2), CB Sheldon Brown (2), DB Mike Adams (2), DE David Bowens (2), NT Ahtyba Rubin (1), LB Scott Fujita (1), CB Eric Wright (1)

Sacks: LB Marcus Benard (7.5), LB Matt Roth (3.5), Scott Fujita (3.5), DE Kenyon Coleman (2.5), FS Abram Elam (2.0) NT Ahtyba Rubin (2.0), LB Chris Gocong (2.0), NT Shaun Rogers (2.0), CB Joe Haden (1), DB Mike Adams (1), LB Jason Trusnik (1), DE (David Bowens (0.5), DE Derreck Robinson (0.5)

When looking at this small sample size a few things stand out.

1. Sack production comes mainly from the linebackers (60%) then the defensive line (26%) then secondary (14%).

2. Interceptions coming from the defensive line? Who's ready to see Rat dropping into a hot route lane and taking a pick to the house!!

3. There are a lot of players, from a lot of positions, in on the sack action.

4. Ryan has never had players in the same league as Ware or Ratliff.

5. There are some guys I have never heard of putting up decent numbers.

Now all of these stats mean nothing if I do no project them onto the current Cowboys roster. So first I decided to pick a goal for the Cowboys defense, 50 sacks in 2011. This would put the defense easily in the top 5 in the league. It is a tough, but attainable goal in my opinion.

Then I separated the Cowboys on the current roster into position groups. I only used players who I expect to contribute and are currently on the roster, so no Abe Elam.

I then used the stats from Cleveland to project what the Cowboys would need to do to get to 50 sacks. It broke down like this. I changed the percentages to 65% from LB's, 25% from Dline and 10% from secondary. This matches our pass-rush strengths (LB's) and makes the math easier.

50 sacks / 32.5 from linebackers / 12.5 from Dline / 5 from secondary

The position groups I used are as follows.

  • CB’s: Terence Newman, Mike Jenkins, Orlando Scandrick, Josh Thomas
  • S: AOA, Barry Church, Danny McCray, Andrew Sendejo
  • LB’s: DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Victor Butler, Bradie James, Keith Brooking, Sean Lee, Bruce Carter
  • DLine Rotation: Jay Ratliff, Marcus Spears, Kenyon Coleman, Igor Olshansky, Sean Lissemore, Josh Brent, Jason Hatcher

I then looked at our top three pass rushers:

Player Sacks per year (Career Avg.) Sacks per year (previous 3 seasons) Career Years
DeMarcus Ware
13 15.5 20 (2008) & 15.5 (2010)
Jay Ratliff
4 5.5 7.5 (2008) & 6.0 (2009
Anthony Spencer
4 4 7.5 (2008) & 6.0 (2009

So let's say recent history holds with our top rushers. If DWare and Spencer can combine for 19.5 sacks in 2011, that leaves 13 sacks for the rest of the unit, or 2.5 sacks each. I think this LB group is capable of reaching the 32.5 sack threshold.

If Rat can get 5.5 sacks this year, that leaves 7 sacks for the rest of the group or 1.2 sacks per player. Say what you will about this group, but I think we can pencil in 12.5 sacks between them. Ratliff is the key to making this group productive (duh).

The secondary is expected to get about 5 sacks to reach the 50 sack goal. I do not know about you, but I am very excited to see Scandrick and his 4.3 speed blitzing from the nickel CB position. I think we can count on him getting to the QB a few times this year. Now as to whether the secondary can cover anyone... well that's another post.

So to conclude, after looking at some numbers and using cherry-picked stats to prove my point (that's what stats are for right?), I firmly believe this defense is capable of being a top ten pass rush defense this year.

For those worried about the pass rush from the Dline, I hope these stats show you we already have a marquee pass rushing Dlineman on the team, and if the other guys can contribute 1 or 2 sacks over the course of a 16 games season, they are doing their job in helping the Cowboys be a premier pressure team.

Of course pressure is only one of many components for a successful defense. Notice I said a top ten pass rush defense, not a top ten defense. I'm not looking at this defense through blue star shaped glasses. There are still HUGE question marks, primarily in the secondary regarding their coverage ability.

That being said, the additions of Coleman and retaining Spears and Hatcher at reasonable contracts I believe will go a long way to help Ryan turn up the pressure on opposing offenses. After all, it does not look like Ryan will ask any of those men to do more than what they are capable of. Stop the run, help our premier pressure players get the QB, and get a sack or two yourself along the way.

Now I know some of you will point out, it's not just about sacks, it about QB pressure... and you're right. But my head hurts and that is simply too much information to analyze, I'll leave it to OCC to break down QB pressures. [Edit: You got it, dude]

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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