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How Disruptive Are The Cowboys Defensive Tackles?

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The Cowboys' defensive tackles may not have a lot of name recognition, but they are playing better than most people would think.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

In yesterday's post about the Cowboys' pass rush, we looked beyond sacks as the sole measure of pass rush efficiency, and introduced QB Disruption Points (go here for a detailed definition) as a way to aggregate sacks, QB hits and QB hurries into one number that can be used as an indicator of how much pressure a defense exerts on the opposing quarterback.

The formula used to calculate the QB Disruption Points values sacks slightly higher than hits or hurries, and this prompted some discussion about the admittedly arbitrary valuation of each: Each sack counts one point towards the total, while hits and hurries only count for 0.75 each. A case can easily be made for different ratios, and if you’re looking for the effect of a given play, sacks should surely get more weight.

But the metric here is not meant to measure the impact of every pass rush, it is meant as a way to measure how effective a player is at disrupting the passing game.

Before we take a closer look at individual Cowboys players, we need to keep in mind that the amount of sacks, hits or hurries a player can get is strongly dependent on the amount of pass rush snaps the player gets. The QBDP metric, while doing a nice job of aggregating three pass rushing stats into one number, is a volume stat. To make it more meaningful, you need to turn it into an efficiency stat, which is exactly what Pass Rushing Productivity does.

PRP is simply the QB Disruptions Points divided by the number of snaps on which the player rushed the passer. Importantly, since it's only calculated against pass rushing snaps, an argument that a given player plays more snaps against the run or vice versa, while true, is irrelevant.

Today, we take a look at the Cowboys defensive tackles. We'll start of with Henry Melton and how he compares as a pass rusher to the other DTs in the league. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Melton has recorded six sacks, four QB hits and 16 QB pressures over the first ten games of 2014. This gives him 21.0 Quarterback Disruption Points for the season. He achieved those numbers on 194 pass rushing snaps for a 10.8% Pass Rushing Productivity (both metrics are explained in detail in yesterday's post).

Here's how Melton's numbers compare to the other DTs across the league.

Player Team Pass Rush Snaps QB Sk QB Ht QB Hu QBDP PRP
Henry Melton DAL 194 6 4 16 21.0 10.8%
Ryan Davis JAX 134 6 4 7 14.3 10.6%
Tom Johnson MIN 164 5 5 11 17.0 10.4%
Johnathan Hankins NYG 181 4 3 16 18.3 10.1%
Nick Fairley DET 170 2 3 17 17.0 10.0%
Gerald McCoy TB 288 7 8 20 28.0 9.7%
Kyle D. Williams BUF 258 5 8 18 24.5 9.5%
Jay Ratliff CHI 172 4 3 13 16.0 9.3%
Ndamukong Suh DET 312 4 6 25 27.3 8.7%
Chris I. Baker WAS 128 0 2 12 10.5 8.2%
Sen'Derrick Marks JAX 274 6 5 15 21.0 7.7%
Marcell Dareus BUF 314 10 3 15 23.5 7.5%
Tyrone Crawford DAL 144 1 5 8 10.8 7.5%
Ian Williams SF 87 1 0 7 6.3 7.2%
Jonathan Babineaux ATL 251 1 2 20 17.5 7.0%

Over the first ten games of 2014, Henry Melton has created more pressure per snap than all other defensive tackles in the league. Other guys may be bigger, other guys may look more like the traditional defensive tackles, but nobody was more efficient than Melton at turning his pass rush snaps into QB disruptions. Not bad for a guy on a 'prove-it' contract.

With Tyrone Crawford tied for 12th overall, the Cowboys have two players in the top 15 list of most productive pass rushing DTs. Who'd have thought the Cowboys would recover so fast from the losses of Jay Ratliff and Jason Hatcher, both of whom made the Pro Bowl for the Cowboys at the DT spot? Too bad the Cowboys aren't playing Henry Melton more.

Henry Melton Snap Count by Week
Wk 1 Wk 2 Wk 3 Wk 4 Wk 5 Wk 6 Wk 7 Wk 8 Wk 9 Wk 10
Snaps 26 26 40 24 20 24 31 26 26 34

Melton hit 40 snaps only once, when the Cowboys played a season-high 75 defensive snaps against the Rams in week three, in the other games he's remained below the 38-40 snap target defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli set for him in early September:

Marinelli’s ideal snap total for Melton is in the 38 to 40 range, but he’s got to work up to that total.

"A guy like him, you don’t want to wear him down because of his quickness. So I’m hoping around that," Marinelli said. "We’ll see. If he’s tired, I’ll pull him and kind of see where he’s at. The game dictates that. A longer drive, we may take him out. You get in some three and outs, hopefully, and he’s getting a little bit of rest in between."

Before moving on to the remaining Cowboys' defensive tackles, we need to establish a baseline for what a good pass rushing performance looks like. The table above suggests that a 7.5% PRP is already a top 15 performance. The average for all DTs who played at least 25% of their team's snaps is 5.6% PRP.

Here's how all the Cowboys' defensive tackles look in terms of pass rushing.

Player Pass Rush QB Sk QB Ht QB Pr QBDP PRP
Henry Melton 194 6 4 16 21.0 10.8%
Tyrone Crawford 144 1 5 8 10.8 7.5%
Terrell McClain 99 0 1 4 3.8 3.8%
Nick Hayden 168 0 4 2 4.5 2.7%
Low pass rush snap count
Ken Bishop 26 0 0 3 2.3 8.7%
Jack Crawford 21 1 0 1 1.8 8.3%
Davon Coleman 23 0 0 0 0.0 0.0%

When you look at the numbers above, they shouldn't really come as too big of a surprise. Melton and Crawford are highly disruptive, but the fact that they are (mostly) playing the 3-technique spot plays a big role in their numbers. Terrell McClain and Nick Hayden man the 1-technique spot from which it's much harder to rush the passer, and their numbers are down accordingly compared to Melton and Crawford. Don't overinterpret the PRP difference between McClain and Hayden; two more hurries by Hayden and they'd both have the same PRP.

For the young guys, the low snap counts make any type of reasoned analysis impossible. Jack Crawford played DT against the Jaguars and acquitted himself well. Ken Bishop and Davon Coleman both played early in the season but have haven't played in a while.

Overall, the Cowboys look surprisingly good at defensive tackle. Henry Melton seems well on his way back to Pro Bowl form and makes the Cowboys decision to sign him look like a genius move. Tyrone Crawford would surely like to get more sacks on his stat sheet but he has looked impressive overall anyway. The 1-techniques are doing yeoman's work, and while the Cowboys could well use more pressure from the 1-tech spot, that's a lot easier said than done.

In the next post on pass rush productivity, we'll look at who is the most effective edge rusher for the Cowboys.