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Mid-season Report: Breaking down the Steelers edge rushers

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The Steelers pass rush so far this season has been much improved from 2014. 'Pressure Production' will allow us to take a closer look at the performance of Arthur Moats, Bud Dupree, and Jarvis Jones.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Last year the Pittsburgh Steelers finished the season with 33 sacks. Through the first eight games of this season they have already amassed 21 sacks, which puts them on pace for 42. Putting up 42 sacks last season would have led them to finish tied for twelfth in the league. In today's NFL, where offenses are predicated on passing more than ever, a productive pass rush can effectively buoy a defense.

As a young football evaluator, I have tried to create unique content that can separate me from other writers.  I spent a long time trying to find a unique path to travel down, and I finally found something that combined my passion for film analysis and analytics.

This past August I decided to start Pressure Production, a project that charts the pass rushing success of edge rushers. So far this season I have been following 21 players and charting their games as the season goes along. The results of this process have been fascinating, to say the least, and they provide a nice contrast to the ways we usually evaluate edge rushers in the NFL. The charting focuses in four main areas; Situational Success Rates (on the edge/inside and 1v1/double teamed), Reasons for Pressure (bull rush, spin move, unblocked, etc.), Conversion Rate (how often a player turns a pressure into a sack), and Average Time to QB (the average time it took the rusher to reach the quarterback on his pressures). If you would like to read more about the project you can do so here.

Let's dive into the Pressure Production results now to see what they reveal about the first half of the season for Arthur Moats, Bud Dupree, and Jarvis Jones (I have been focusing on younger players so James Harrison hasn't been charted).

Arthur Moats

Arthur Moats Cumulative Chart

Situational Success Rates: Out of Moats' 51 chartable pass rush attempts in the four games I have charted, he has rushed to the edge on 45 of those attempts and rushed to the inside on 6 attempts. Moats has successfully created pressure on 33.3% of his attempts to the edge of the offensive line, while created pressure 50% of the time on his attempts to the interior of the offensive line.  As Moats' sample size on rushes to the interior increases it's likely that his success rate will regress back towards the mean, but it's nice to see that he is capable of winning in multiple areas of the field.

On pass rush attempts where Moats faced only one blocker, he has an impressive success rate of 38.3%. On attempts where he faced multiple blockers, though, Moats has yet to successfully create a pressure. Luckily he has only faced double teams on 4 of his pressures, so his overall results haven't been heavily effected. Cumulatively, Moats has a success rate of 35.3%, which falls into the upper tier of the edge rushers charted so far. Moats' results from this portion of the chart are encouraging for hope of an uptick in production over the second half of the season.

Reason for Pressure: Moats has a rather limited array of pass rush moves that he benefits from. Moats' biggest strength as a pass rusher is speed rushing to the outside shoulder of the tackle, as that is how he has created nearly 40% of his pressures. Looking at the rest of the distribution for Moats' pressures, 17% have come off of initial jumps, 11% have come off of bull rushes, and 5.5% have come from a swim move.

Between all of those areas, there are still 28% of his pressures missing. Those 28%, or 5 pressures, have come due to being unblocked. When combining those unblocked pressures with coverage pressures, you have a category that I call "unearned pressures". Moats' distribution of 28% unearned pressures is one of the highest totals out of the 21 players charted so far, which is certainly cause for concern. It's unlikely that he will continue to be left unblocked as often as he has been, which could lead to a slip in performance over the second half of the season.

Conversion Rate: This is a number that appears to be concerning on the surface, but there is a clear explanation. On the five of Moats' 18 pressures where he was left unblocked, it was probably by play design so the quarterback knew he had to get the ball out before Moats arrived. Moats' conversion rate will likely go up if he is left unblocked over the second half of the season, but that will probably come at the cost of a lower success rate so it might not make much of a difference at all.

Jarvis Jones

Situational Success Rates: Most players have lopsided Situational Success Rates, winning much more in one situation than in others, but Jones' chart is relatively evenly distributed. On the 33 attempts he took on the edge, Jones created pressure 30.3% of the time and he has created pressure on 20% of the 10 attempts he took to the inside.

The single vs. double teamed portion is where Jones' chart becomes more lopsided. Jones has taken all but 2 of his 43 rushes versus single teams, probably due to opposing teams not fearing him much as a pass rusher. On Jones' 41 attempts versus a single blocker, he was successful 29.3% of the time, while losing both of his 2 attempts versus multiple blockers. Overall, Jones' Cumulative Success Rate of 27.9% is one of the worst out of the 21 players charted, but it is actually a higher number than I expected. Jones seems to have improved enough to be a capable rotational player.

Reason Pressure: Unlike Moats, Jones is capable of beating offensive linemen in multiple ways, but he doesn't have a clear go-to strength like Moats does. Surprisingly, 33.3% of Jones' pressures have come from a speed rush to the outside shoulder of the tackle. Jones is a severely limited athlete who doesn't have the natural tools to sustain success in this area, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that most of these pressures have come when Jones is able to work through slow footed offensive tackles.

As for the rest of the chart, it's very evenly distributed. Jones has seen 16.7% of his pressures come from each swim moves, bull rushes, and coverage pressures, while 8.3% of his pressures have come from each a rip move and being left unblocked. If Jones sees an uptick in production over the second half of the season I think it is reasonable to assume that it will come from him achieving more pressure sacks, an area where Jones has always had success due to his relentlessness when pursuing quarterbacks.

Conversion Rate: Jones has a surprisingly high, at least to me, success rate of 16.7%.  With the type of player Jones is,  a gamer type who isn't very athletic or strong, you would think he would have trouble with finishing sacks. That has not been the case, as Jones has one of the higher Conversion Rates out of the 21 players charted. If Jones is able to sustain his Conversion Rate over the course of the second half of the season, when he will hopefully be free of a nagging biceps injury that caused him to miss the Cardinals game, then he could see an uptick in production follow.

Bud Dupree

Situational Success Rates: As I said when analyzing Jones' Situational Success Rates chart, most players have a very lopsided distribution. Dupree is one of those players. Dupree has had success 34% of the time on his 47 attempts to the edge of the offensive line, while losing all of his 6 attempts to the interior. That doesn't surprise me, though, as winning on the interior requires a certain level of technical ability, which Dupree does not yet have, rather than shear strength.

Looking at Dupree's single vs. double teamed portion of the chart returns another lopsided result. Dupree took 50 of his 53 snaps versus a single blocker, matchups that he won 32% of the time, while only seeing multiple blockers on 3 of his attempts. He has yet to create a pressure versus double teams this season. Dupree's elite athleticism is enough to overpower single blockers, but when facing multiple blockers Dupree is forced to rely on technical ability that he just doesn't have at this point in his career. Overall, Dupree's Cumulative Success Rate of 30.2% is one of the lowest among the 21 players charted, but keep in mind that virtually ever player that I am following is an upper tier pass rusher.

Reason for Pressure: Dupree's Reason for Pressure chart is heavily lopsided in a few areas. 37.5% of Dupree's 16 pressures have come off of bull rushes. Closely following suit, 25% and 18.8% of his pressures have come from speed rushes and initial jumps respectively. These numbers make sense in relationship to Dupree's elite athleticism but lack of polish as a pass rusher. If Dupree is able to develop the technical aspects of his repertoire then his athleticism will become an even more devastating asset.

Despite his successful forward approach and heavy reliance on athleticism, Dupree has been able to win in other areas this season. 6.3% of his pressures have come from each a rip move, a swim move, and being left unblocked. I wouldn't look for any of these numbers to see a big uptick in the second half of the season. The Steelers coaching staff should, smartly, allow Dupree to continue his forward approach which maximizes his athletic strengths.

Conversion Rate: This is one area of Dupree's game where he is already an elite player. His Conversion Rate of 18.8% is tied for the highest out of the 21 players charted. Dupree's explosion, he is the most explosive edge rusher to enter the league since 2004, allows him to close on quarterbacks in the pocket extremely quickly. He has also shown the ability to play extremely disciplined when facing quarterbacks in the open pocket, something that he didn't do in college.

What Does All of This Mean?

If you struggle to follow all of these numbers and metrics, I don't blame you.  Even I had a hard time keeping them all separate when I first started the project. Here's what they all mean in simpler terms. Arthur Moats has performed about as well as anyone could have expected him to, but his performance could slip in the second half of the season if opposing teams don't leave him unblocked as often as they have so far. As for Jarvis Jones, he has turned in a mediocre performance over the first half of the season, yet he has been an improved player from previously in his career. Depending on how he performs over the second half of the season, Jones could solidify his position as a valuable rotational piece for this defense. Alvin Dupree has proven his ability to carry over his elite athleticism to success in the NFL. When taking that into account, along with the technical improvements he has already begun to show, and the Steelers' knowledge for how to correctly use him, I feel confident saying that Dupree will eventually become an elite pass rusher.

If you would like to compare the performance of these three Steelers with the rest of the 21 players charted, here is a comparison chart:

If you would like to read more about 'Pressure Production' you can follow the hashtag (#PressureProduction) or my account on Twitter, and visit the website I created for all of the content at pressureproduction.wordpress.com.