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InFocus: Deep Analysis Of DL Rotation

Posted Sep 29, 2012

InFocus

Despite the 2-1 start to the season, there have been many questions as to how good the 2012 Eagles really are. However, there is no question that for the first time in a while, the defense has been strength of the team - a defense led, of course, by a stellar defensive line.

It’s no secret that one of the Eagles’ top annual offseason priorities is building a strong defensive line. And it’s not just about locking in four strong starters. The goal is always to build up depth along the line so as to keep each player fresh with a constant rotation at the position.

Let’s examine that rotation through three weeks of play.

Total Defensive Line Snaps Through Week 3
Player Pos Snaps
Trent Cole DE 124
Jason Babin DE 120
Fletcher Cox DT 113
Derek Landri DT 110
Cullen Jenkins DT 105
Darryl Tapp DE 70
Cedric Thornton DT 70
Phillip Hunt DE 42
Brandon Graham DE 30
Vinny Curry DE 0
Team 196

The above chart lists each of the nine linemen we’ve seen on the field this season. As you can see, the top defensive ends are very clear. Trent Cole and Jason Babin are the only two linemen on the team to have reached 120 snaps. Darryl Tapp has been pretty busy as the top reserve at the position, however, and is working ahead of both Phillip Hunt and Brandon Graham.

At defensive tackle, we see what is basically a three-man rotation for the top-two spots at the position. Calling only two of these guys “starters” is using the term very loosely. Although Derek Landri and Cullen Jenkins started off the season playing most of their snaps with Cole and Babin to their outside, Cox has quickly entered the mix and actually leads the defensive tackles in snaps played. Cedric Thornton has been heavily involved, as well.

Although it’s clear that these guys are rotating early and often, there are a few trends worth noting. First of all, Cole, Babin, and two of Jenkins, Landri, and Cox have been on the field together on 113 of the team’s 196 snaps (58 percent). That’s essentially the base set so far. I mentioned the Cole-Babin duo earlier. Of Cole’s 124 snaps, Babin has been on the field with him on 115 (or 93 percent) of those plays.

The defense has gone with the 2 DE-2 DT set on all but six of their 196 snaps. On the other six plays, they used three defensive tackles and one end. The game situation was third-and-1 on three of those occasions and third-and-3 on another, so that makes logical sense. It was first-and-10 and second-and-14 on the others.

Moving on, let’s take a look at the splits by down in percentage form.

Defensive Line Snap Percentage Breakdown
Down Cole Babin Jenkins Landri Tapp Hunt Cox Thornton Graham
All 63% 61% 54% 56% 36% 21% 58% 36% 15%
1 58% 56% 41% 60% 40% 28% 58% 42% 17%
2 53% 52% 41% 59% 47% 27% 58% 44% 20%
3 86% 84% 92% 45% 14% 4% 57% 14% 4%
4 50% 50% 50% 50% 50% 0% 50% 50% 50%

What you’re looking at is the percent of the time each player was on the field on each down. For example, the Eagles have faced 81 first downs. Trent Cole has been on the field for 47 (or 58 percent) of those snaps.

There’s a lot of numbers here, many of which are in the same range, but a few do stand out.

The obvious one is the heavy usage of Cole, Babin and Jenkins on third down. The team has faced 49 third downs this season and that trio has been on the field together for 40 (or 82 percent) of those snaps. Jenkins specialty has been third down (92 percent), as he’s played only 41 percent of the defensive snaps on first or second down.

His counterpart at defensive tackle? Usually, it’s Cox, who has handled 57 percent of the third down snaps. Landri basically has the opposite gig of Jenkins, working 60 percent of the snaps on early downs, but just 45 percent of third downs.

Cox’s splits are interesting, as well. He’s proven to be a versatile lineman, seeing an even percentage of the snaps across first, second and third downs.

Third-Down Situational Snap Percentage Breakdown
Down Cole Babin Jenkins Landri Tapp Hunt Cox Thornton Graham
3rd/4th Downs 82% 80% 88% 43% 14% 4% 55% 14% 4%
3rd/4th & 3 or fewer 50% 42% 75% 50% 50% 17% 58% 50% 8%
3rd/4th & 4 or more 95% 95% 95% 44% 5% 0% 56% 5% 5%

What you see in our next chart is some additional splits. Here we have the percent of team snaps handled by each player in three game situations: (1) third and fourth down combined, (2) third or fourth down and fewer than four yards to go and (3) third or fourth down and more than three yards to go.

The Eagles have only faced two fourth down plays through three weeks, so this is mainly a look at the team’s third down personnel on the front line.

Interestingly, we see a wide variety of packages on the 12 short-yardage plays, albeit in a very small sample size. Tackles Jenkins and Cox are the two most often on the field, with Cole, Landri, Tapp and Thornton each handling half of the snaps.

Knowing that Cole and Babin play a lot on third down, but rarely in short yardage, it should come as no surprise that both (along with Cullen Jenkins) have been on the field for 95 percent of all third and fourth down plays with more than three yards to go. These plays are almost always going to be called passes by the defense, allowing the duo to focus on putting pressure on the quarterback. Backups Tapp and Hunt have combined to play just two snaps in this situation

Percentage Of Each Player's Total Snaps By Down
Down Cole Babin Jenkins Landri Tapp Hunt Cox Thornton Graham
1 38% 38% 31% 45% 46% 55% 42% 49% 47%
2 27% 28% 25% 35% 43% 40% 33% 40% 43%
3 34% 34% 43% 20% 10% 5% 25% 10% 7%
4 1% 1% 1% 1% 1% 0% 1% 1% 3%

For good measure, I also wanted to include a chart showing the percentage of each player’s individual snaps spent on each down. For example, Darryl Tapp has played 70 snaps this season, 30 (or 43 percent) of which have come on second down. Because there will always be more plays on earlier downs throughout a game, you’ll notice that these are weighted towards said earlier downs.

We see almost identical splits for Cole and Babin, which isn’t surprising after we learned earlier that they play 93 percent of their snaps together.  The duo’s main focus is first and third down. Jenkins is in the same boat, but is the team’s top third-down lineman. Landri, Tapp, Hunt and Thornton rotate in quite a bit on second down, allowing the big guns to remain fresh for third down.

That’s it for this week. Going forward, you should now have a better idea of what is happening when the team is making mass “line changes” during a defensive series. Check out InFocus throughout the season and you’ll find the most comprehensive Eagles analysis on the web.

Mike Clay, @MikeClayNFL on Twitter, is the Director and Managing Editor at Pro Football Focus Fantasy. He also works as an NFL Writer for NBC's Rotoworld.com.

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