Defensive Points Per Play Allowed And Teams That About-Faced

Continuing the series today we look at the three most improved and three most declined teams in opponent points allowed per play. Since it is per play a ranking based solely on total points would be slightly different. This category appeared worthy of its own post as sometimes a team can bend but not break. Teams generally toughen up in the red zone and that can make a big difference. (This article looks at all points per play and not just red zone plays.)

The top three teams in terms of most improved from 2017 to 2018 in opponent points allowed per play are as follows.

1. Houston Texans

In 2017 the Texans had six games where the opponent scored 30+ points and three of those they scored 40+ points.  In 2018 that number dropped to only two games the opponent scored 30+ points and both were under 35. Their total points allowed in 2017 of 436 was the most in the league. In 2018 they allowed the seventh lowest total touchdowns and the third lowest rushing touchdowns.

Houston was the only team that had two players with 15+ tackles for loss. They were their defensive ends of J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney.

2. Denver Broncos

The Broncos were 22nd in opponent points scored per play in 2017 allowing a total of 382 points . The average was 347. They improved to 9th in 2018 allowing 349. The average in 2018 was 373.  The Broncos were 28th in 2017 in receiving touchdowns allowed with 29. They improved in 2018 to 15th with 26 allowed.

Cornerback Chris Harris got selected to his fourth Pro Bowl for his 2018 season. In spite of  suffering a broken leg in week 11 and missing the rest of the season, Harris still had 10 passes defended, 3 interceptions, 40 solo tackles and a sack. As reported by Pro Football Focus, Harris is one of only nine cornerbacks since 2006 who have seen at least 500 targets, yet logged more career interceptions than the number of touchdowns allowed in coverage. Over his eight year career with the Broncos Harris has 19 interceptions and has allowed only 16 touchdowns.

3. Cleveland Browns

In 2017 the Browns were 30th in opponent points scored per play with a total of 410 points. In 2018 they were 13th with a total points of 392.  In 2108 the Browns were tied for third in receiving touchdowns allowed with only 21. That was an improvement from 27th place in 2017 with 28 receiving touchdowns allowed. Cleveland had the worst red zone defense in 2017 allowing opponents to score a touchdown on 67.4% of their red zone trips, That improved to 20th in 2018 going down to 61.1%.

2019 round 2 draft pick cornerback Greedy Williams has only given up three touchdowns over his two year college career.

The bottom three teams in terms of most declined from 2017 to 2018 in terms of points allowed per play are as follows.

30. Los Angeles Rams

The Rams dropped from 11th in 2017 to 24th in 2018. They were 26th in 2018 in receiving touchdowns allowed with 31.  That was down from 11th place in 2017 when they only allowed 21 receiving touchdowns.

The Rams used three of their eight 2019 draft picks on secondary players. Second round pick safety Taylor Rapp had a opposing quarterback rating of 12 when targetted as reported by Pro Football Focus. Third round pick cornerback David Long, on 595 coverage snaps in his career, allowed a total of 18 receptions on 60 targets for 130 yards. Those 18 receptions resulted in only three first downs and one touchdown. Long’s three-cone and 20-yard shuttle times at the combine were the top among all players. Long is not your protypical size for a corner at 5’10 and 196 lbs and so he could be a steal in the third round. Seventh round pick safety Nick Scott was a running back as a freshman, cornerback as a sophomore and safety his last two years. He only started at safety his last year and he made three interceptions and one pass defended. On the mid-season Pro Football Focus review of Penn State they praised the stellar performance of Scott and fellow safety Garrett Taylor. They had only allowed a combined 9 receptions for 92 yards and Scott had an opposing QB rating of 50.8.

31. Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals dropped from 10th to 28th in opponent points per play. The Bengals ranked 30th in total points allowed per game at 28.4. In 2017 they were 16th with 21.8 points allowed per game. The Bengals were 31st in defensive points per drive with a 2.56. The league average was 2.04.

The Bengals have hired a new head coach for the 2019 season. Marvin Lewis was the head coach for the last 16 years. He led the team to four division titles and seven playoff appearances. However he never led them to a playoff win.  The new coach, Zac Taylor, is in his first role as a head coach. He was a record setting quarterback at Nebraska and has held numerous NFL coaching positions including quarterback coach, wide receiver coach and interim offensive coordinator for the Dolphins They also have a first time defensive coordinator – Lou Anarumo. “At the end of the day, you have to start with stopping the run and being tough and stout up front. And then everything works from there,”- Lou Anarumo.

32. Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons dropped from 7th to 26th in opponent points per play from 2017 to 2108. They were 29th in opponent receiving touchdowns with 33. The league average was 26.5. In red zone defense the went from an opponent touchdown scoring percentage of 43.6% in 2017 to 70.4% in 2018.

The Falcons were hit hard with injuries including safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen, as well as linebacker Deion Jones. After a disappointing 2018 the Falcons released cornerback Robert Alford.

Keanu Neal played only one game in 2018. In  2016 free safety Neal made the NFL All-Rookie Team and the following year he made the Pro Bowl. Safety Ricardo Allen played only 3 games in 2018.  Allen had averaged 2 interceptions and 4 passes defended per 16 games over his four years as a starter. Linebacker Deion Jones only played six games in 2018. Over his three year career he has averaged three interceptions and 12 passes defended per 16 games.

In Conclusion

The data for all teams is available here – defensive Points Allowed Per Play.  A running total of the most changed teams and the 2018 outliers is available here – running totals.

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