Preseason Week 2 – Redskin Pass Rushers Versus Jets Quarterbacks

Preseason week two kicks off with a Thursday night game on ESPN on Thursday August 16th at 8 PM of the New York Jets versus the Washington Redskins. The strength of the Redskins team are their Pass Rushers. These guys in the trenches on defense that put pressure on the opponent’s passing game.  Today I look at the Redskins D-Line and examine how the Jet’s quarterbacks respond to pressure.

Washington Redskins – The Avalanche

If I was to compare a well executed pass rush to anything I pick a small avalanche.  An avalanche is a cohesive slab of snow lying upon a weaker layer of snow in the snowpack that fractures and slides down a steep slope when triggered. Large avalanches have the capability to entrain ice, rocks, trees, and other surficial material.

In 2017 the Redskins ranked 7th in the league in sacks with 42. According to Football Outsiders the Redskins were ranked first in pressure rating. Pressure rating is Pressure Plays divided by Opponent Passing Plays. Pressure plays include sacks, hurries, and forced scrambles. In Matt Harmon’s nfl.com article he ranks the Redskins as the NFL’s second best pass-rushing unit from 2017. His determination is based on total pressures and data collected from Next Gen Stats. Pro Football Focus ranked the Redskins third in pass rush productivity for 2017. Washington had three players finish inside the top 12 in pressure rate in 2017.

Pass Rusher
Navy quarterback Jarod Bryant eludes Notre Dame defensive end Pat Kuntz
By U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tommy Gilligan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I am including outside linebackers such as Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith in the defensive line. These are outside linebackers in a 3-4 defense and they typically excel at rushing the passer.

The Core – Projected Starters

In college Defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis made All-Conference First Team AAC in his senior year and All-Conference Second Team in his junior year. The Temple Owls award single digit numbers to the nine toughest players on the team and for two years  in a row Ioannidis was awarded #9.  He was a two time team captain and a three year starter. Matt posted 118 career tackles (77 solo, 30.0 for loss), 10.0 sacks, eight pass breakups and a forced fumble.  As a rookie on the Redskins in 2016 he appeared in 10 games and had eight tackles (six solo). In 2017 Matt played in 14 games and started in 10. Matt had 27 tackles (13 solo), 4.5 sacks, one forced fumble and 19 hurries. At his combine Matt bench pressed 32 reps which was tied for second best among defensive linemen. Matt is said to be relentless and competitive. Pro Football Focus gave Ioannidis the 14th-highest graded pass-rush grade among interior defenders last season. Ioannidis should be a favorite to win starter as one of the defensive ends. His competition would include Stacy McGee and Anthony Lanier.

Jonathan Allen 95
Jonathan Allen (# 95 in 2017). In week 3 Allen recorded his 1st NFL sack against the Raiders.
By Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA [CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Defensive lineman Jonathan Allen returns from a season ending injury he had in week 6 of his 2017 rookie year. Prior to the injury Allen started five games. He has 10 tackles (3 solo), one sack three hits and 10 hurries on just 112 pass-rushing snaps.

In college Allen was a beast. In his junior and senior years he amassed 105 tackles (52 solo), 30.5 tackles for loss, 22.5 sacks, 3 passes defended and five touchdowns.  He was 3-time First Team All-SEC. In his senior year he won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy (best defensive player), the Lombardi Award (best lineman or linebacker), the Chuck Bednarik Award (best defensive player), the Ted Hendricks Award (best defensive end) and was a Unanimous All-American. Now supposedly at 100 percent back from the injury Allen is a sure thing as a starter at defensive end.

Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan has started every game since his rookie debut in the 2011 season opener. In addition Kerrigan has been on the field for 88.6 percent of his team’s defensive snaps over his career. During his rookie season Ryan played every defensive snap. In his seven seasons he is a three-time Pro-Bowler and was selected in each of his last two seasons. In the last two seasons alone he has had 60 solo tackles, 24 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, 8 stuffs and 48 hurries according to Fox Sports. His sack total of 13 last season was  fourth in the league. According to nfl.com and Next Gen Stats, Kerrigan had 51 pressures in 2017.  They define a pressure as a pass-rushing play in which a defender gets within 2 yards of the opposing quarterback at the time of the throw or sack. For some perspective Charger’s Joey Bosa had 56 pressures, Denver’s Von Miller 59, Cardinals Chandler Jones 66 (led the NFL) and Aaron Donald had 65. Ryan can rush with both speed and with power. He has a strong work ethic and is humble.  Coming out of high school in Ryan’s words – “This isn’t being bashful, but I honestly thought I’m going to play my four years and get my degree and go get a job,” he said. “That was my thought process. Never did I think anything like this would transpire.”

Outside linebacker Preston Smith was drafted in round 2 of the 2015 draft. Smith has started every game for the last 2 seasons following his rookie year. In his three year career Smith has had 73 solo tackles, 20.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 3 interceptions, 10 passes defensed, 8.5 stuffs and 37 hurries.  In 2017 Smith had 16 quarterback hits which was ranked sixth in the league. According to Next Gen Stats in 2017 Smith led all players with 200 or more pass-rush attempts in pressure rate, recording a pressure on 15.9 percent of his rushes.

At his 2015 combine among defensive linemen, Smith finished 1st in the 3-cone (7.07s), 2nd in the 60 yard shuttle (11.7 s), 2nd in the broad jump (10’1″), 4th in the forty (4.74 s), 6th in the 20 yd shuttle (4.28 s) and 8th in the vertical jump (34″). These numbers are impressive and even more so from a player that is 6’5″ and 271 pounds. In addition to his athleticism Smith brings other intangibles to the table. “He’s (Smith) more of a team guy than anybody I’ve been around,” Redskins outside linebackers coach Chad Grimm.

Others With Starting Experience

Defensive lineman Anthony Lanier was a three sport athlete in high school – football, basketball and tennis. In college at Alabama A&M he played football and two years of basketball. He played in 47 football games  and accumulated 38.5 tackles for loss. That was ranked 24th in active career leaders in the FCS for the 2015-2016 season. In the NFL, Lanier made the Redskin 53 man roster his rookie season and played in four games. He registered only a fumble recovery on 48 defensive snaps. In 2017 Lanier again made the 53 man roster. In his second year Lanier played in 11 games, started 2 games, and played in 31% of the season’s defensive snaps. He registered 6 passes defensed, one forced fumble, one fumble recovered, five sacks and 11 tackles with eight of those solo. Lanier’s basketball skills probably help in him getting  five passes batted down. His five sacks was good for third on the team.

Defensive lineman Ziggy (Evander) Hood has a tremendous work ethic. “He’s an interesting guy,” said Chip Smith, who trains NFL players in the offseason in Atlanta. “I’ve put over 1,600 guys in the NFL and have 250 clients on rosters. I’ve been doing this a long time, and he (Ziggy Hood) is by far the hardest-working player I’ve ever trained.” Ziggy is supposedly moving back to his more natural position of defensive end for 2018. He had been filling in at nose tackle for two years. Here is Ziggy’s combine data compared to defensive tackles.

Defensive Tackle Phil Taylor was a first round selection by the Browns in the 2011 NFL draft. His rookie season Taylor started all 16 games. He had 59 tackles (37 solo), four sacks, one forced fumble, one pass defended, two stuffs and three hurries. He made the 2011 NFL All-Rookie Team. In 2012 Taylor missed the first eight  games due to a torn pectoral muscle. In 2014 Taylor missed a month of games due to knee surgery. Upon his return on November 6th 2014  he suffered a knee injury and was out for the season. The Browns released Taylor with an injury settlement on September 1, 2015. After missing the 2015 season the Broncos signed Taylor in February 2016. In July 2016 Taylor was placed on Injured reserve due to a knee injury suffered in training camp and was released in August. After missing the 2016 season Taylor was signed by the Redskins in January 2017. In the Redskins’ third preseason game, Taylor suffered a torn quad that would keep him out for the entire 2017 season. Taylor has not played a regular season game since November 2014. At age 30 Taylor will attempt to make an amazing comeback. With Da’Ron Payne sidelined due to injury, Taylor is taking snaps with the ones at nose tackle. He doesn’t appear to be facing any limitations.

Outside linebacker Pernell McPhee has played seven seasons, 96 games and has 23 starts. He has 182 tackles (139 solo), 31 sacks, 6 forced fumbles, 11 stuffs and 63 hurries. In the last four seasons he has never recorded less than four sacks a season.

Others With Game Experience

Outside linebacker Ryan Anderson was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2017 draft. In college Anderson earned first team All-SEC honors from the Associated Press. He finished his senior year with 61 total tackles, including a team-high 19.0 tackles for loss, 9.0 sacks to rank tied for second on the team, 10 quarterback hurries, four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and three pass breakups. In his rookie NFL season Anderson played in 14 games. He accounted for 11 solo tackles, three assist tackles and one hurry. He has approached his upcoming second season with a more determined attitude to make more of an impact to help his team.

In his junior year at Texas Tech linebacker Pete Robertson made AP All-Big 12 First Team. He was ranked sixth in the NCAA in sacks (12.0). Robertson was a three year starter and amassed a career 140 solo tackles, 39.5 tackles for loss and 21 sacks. Among active career leaders in 2015 Robertson ranked eleventh in sacks (21), ninth in solo sacks (20), twelfth in forced fumbles (8) and fourteenth in total tackles for loss (38.5).  Robertson signed as an undrafted free agent with the Seahawks following the 2016 draft. However he was waived that summer and not picked up by another team. He spent the 2016 season working at UPS. In January of 2017 he was signed by the Redskins. Robertson played in four games in 2017 for 2% of defensive snaps and 20% of special teams snaps. He was credited with two tackles. Pete has a great team attitude and is eager to learn.

One to Two Year Players Yet to See Action

In college Alex McCalister  recorded 6 and 6.5 sacks in his last two years. His college career sacks per game (.43) was 28th among FBS active career leaders in 2015. At the 2016 combine McCalister showed his athleticism among defensive linemen with a 4.0 twenty yard shuttle (1st), 10’8″ broad jump (1st), 7.01 three cone drill (4th), 34.5 vertical jump (9th) and a 4.8 forty (8th). McCalister is  6’6″ tall and has an arm length of 36″”. That length and his quick feet are ideal for pass rushing. McCalister was drafted in the 7th round by the Eagles. He suffered a left calf tear in August, was placed on IR and missed his rookie season. Alex was released by the Eagles at the 2017 roster cuts in September. He was signed to the Redskins practice squad in December 2017.   McCalister’s high school coach, Adrian Snow, spoke highly of McCalister’s work ethic, coachability and team spirit.

Defensive lineman Ondre Pipkins was signed as an undrafted free agent following the 2017 NFL draft. In his senior year at Texas Tech Pipkins started in 11 games and led the interior defensive linemen with 32 tackles (21 solo). He was  ranked eighth overall on the team for tackles. Four of his tackles went for a loss which was tied for third on the team.

Rookies

Nose Tackle Tim Settle was picked in the 2018 draft round 5.  As a redshirt freshman Settle was named to the ACC All-Freshman Second Team. His sophomore year he made the All-ACC Second Team. Settle had a blocked kick in each of his two years.  Over his two years playing he had 53 tackles (28 solo, 19.5 tackles for loss, and one pass defensed. He entered the draft after his sophomore season.

Linebacker Jerod Fernandez was signed as an undrafted free agent following the 2018 draft. Jerod had six forced fumbles in 2017 which was ranked second in the NCAA. His 99 total tackles in 2017 was ranked 9th in the ACC.

Linebacker Vontae Diggs was signed as an undrafted free agent following the 2018 draft. Diggs spent a stretch growing up homeless living out of a car, hotel and friend’s houses. In college finished second on the team as a senior with 77 tackles (45 solo) and contributing 3.5 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and two pass breakups in 11 games.

When Dante Sawyer realized he would not be able to go straight to South Carolina following high school due to academic non-qualification, he buckled down and did the next best thing. Sawyer completed what is typically a two year junior college degree in a little over a year. Starting in March of 2014 he completed 63 credit hours in fourteen months all while starting for an East Mississippi football team that went 12-0 and won the national championship. Sawyer was able to join the University of South Carolina football team for the fall 2015 season. In his senior year at South Carolina Sawyer had five forced fumbles, five passes batted down,  three sacks, five tackles for a loss and 19 solo tackles. His five forced fumbles ranked second in the FBS in forced fumbles per game. Sawyer brings quickness, versatility and hustle. He went undrafted and was signed by the Redskins prior to preseason game one.

Currently Injured

First round draft pick Nose Tackle Da’Ron Payne suffered an ankle injury on July 27th. Payne has returned to practice but is questionable to play in Thursday’s game. Payne is projected to be the starting nose tackle.

Defensive end Stacy McGee is on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. He is recovering from groin surgery. McGee is projected to make the 53 man roster.

New York Jets – Under Pressure

The  quarterbacks for the Jets are rated good for performance under pressure.

Quarterback Josh McCown had one of the best years of his fifteen year career in his first season as the Jets quarterback in 2017 following his free agent signing.  He was fifth in the league in completion percentage (67.3%). and thirteenth in quarterback rating (94.5). McCown set career highs in touchdown passes (18), yards (2,926) and completions (267). According to Pro Football Focus the areas that he excelled were adjusted completion percentage (4th), passer rating versus pressure (6th) and throwing the deep ball (8th). His passer rating versus pressure was 79.6. According to nfl.com McCown was the fourth most pressured quarterback in 2017 and he had the eighth highest passer rating when pressured. Josh McCown was also one of the best quarterbacks on third down in 2017. He had a passer rating of 101 on third down. That rating was fourth best  and put him in the company of Wentz, Stafford, Goff, McCown and Alex Smith (in passer rating order). McCown embraces the role of a teacher and mentor. “I want other guys to be able to have that opportunity. When I lay down at night, that’s what gives me the most peace: knowing that I was able to share and help somebody along that ride. (to have a career with one team). Prior to the 2017 season McCown adopted a new additional training exercise for his brain to help optimize cognitive performance.  With the results of 2017 he plan to continue this training for 2018.

 

Due to an ACL and knee injury in the 2016 preseason, Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has not played an NFL game since his 2015 season. (He did have a minor backup game in 2017 where he had only 2 attempts). Bridgewater was a first round pick in the 2014 draft. He had the fourth highest rookie completion percentage (64.4%)  in NFL history for rookies with a minimum eight starts. Among active quarterbacks he had the seventh best rookie quarterback rating (85.2). Pro Football Focus ranked Bridgewater the most accurate qualified passer in the league while under pressure with a pressure % of 39.9% and an accuracy under pressure of 75.2%. In 2015 continued to have a high completion percentage under pressure with Pro Football Focus ranking him fifth in adjusted completion rate on throws under pressure at 70.7%. However Bridgewater is a mixed bag under pressure as he graded negatively with six of his nine interceptions coming under pressure. They gave him a similar grade in 2014.

Rookie quarterback Sam Darnold had two seasons at quarterback at the University of Southern California (USC). In his redshirt freshman year Darnold handled defensive pressure very well. Pro Football Focus ranked him No. 2 in adjusted completion percentage while under pressure at 67.6 percent. Darnold also thrived against the blitz where he ranked No. 1 in adjusted completion percentage at 79.0 percent.  In 2016, Darnold had a 100.1 under pressure rating completing 38 of 69 of his passes (55.1%) for 487 yards, 6 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He also had a 107.5 rating against a standard rush and a 106.1 rating against the blitz. Darnold regressed in his final sophomore year for performance under pressure. In 2017, Darnold had a 72.3 rating while under pressure completing 44 of 91 (48.4%) for 726 yards, 6 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. He also had a 91.7 vs. standard rush and 103.9 rating against the blitz.

It should make an interesting night of football as one of the best pass rush defense goes up against three quarterbacks that have been successful against pressure. On Washington there are 18 defensive linemen and outside linebackers competing for what may be about 7 defensive linemen and 4 outside linebackers. Who will help their case? On the Jets will Darnold push up into the number two spot as backup?

Enjoy the game!

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