Detroit Lions Defensive Ends: Of Philosophies, Schemes and Kyle Vanden Bosch
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Before launching any discussion regarding Kyle Vanden Bosch’s stats, let’s get the KVB intangibles checklist out of the way:
High Motor? Check.
Work Ethic? Check.
Clean Fingernails? Check.
OK. Now that we’ve dispensed with KVB’s intangibles, let's move on to the Lions defensive line philosophy and defensive end schemes.
Lions head coach Jim Schwartz’s vision of “what we like to do” came to light when he proclaimed, “We will stop the run on the way to the QB.” This philosophy stands in contrast to those D-lines who “read, and react” with the exception of designated pass rushing LBs, usually found in 3-4 defenses.
Finally in possession of the D-line talent in 2010 that allowed Schwartz, and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, to begin implementing their philosophy, they had to come up with schemes that would put their players “in the best position to be successful.”
BBlades is the "handle" of an astute observer of the Lions. He had it right in a Pride of Detroit blog thread. Primarily, the Lions use their DEs in one of two ways: They penetrate and seal one edge (usually the right), while rushing the QB from the other edge. The DE who seals the edge gets enough penetration that he can be “felt” by the QB. The rushing DE contains the QB with the intent of forcing him up into a pocket being collapsed by the DTs.
This scheme seems counterintuitive to standard NFL defensive doctrine. Isn’t the RDE the pass rushing, blind side stud in most defenses? Yes. But, how can you cast Vanden Bosch (or anyone else for that matter) in the role of Julius Peppers?
Schwartz and Cunningham needed to think outside the box, and come up with a scheme that put their defensive ends in the best position to be successful.
When we see how Cunningham uses a mix of personnel to accomplish this “seal and rush” scheme, it brings the statistics into proper perspective.
So, which DEs fill which role within the framework of a seal and rush scheme? This is how I see the DE pairings:
Rush LDE (Avril, Jackson) and Seal RDE (KVB, McBride)
Seal LDE (McBride) and Rush RDE (Jackson, Avril)
The above pairings were extremely effective in Seal and Rush roles in 2010. This scheme was played in over 75% of Detroit’s defensive snaps. There are very few stunts, or loops, used on a play to play basis. The few stunts used usually involved DT Corey Williams and Vanden Bosch.
Notice that KVB never plays LDE, while McBride has adapted to the “seal” role on either side. Now, I’m not saying that KVB can’t play LDE, but he would have to take a Berlitz course in left defensive endese and have his visa stamped.
Let’s get back to KVB’s 2010 stats. In fact, let’s take a look at Avril, Jackson, and McBride as well for some schematic perspective.
For you nit pickers, these are Pro Football Focus stats. PFF awards a whole sack for every player who participated in a half sack. Don’t like it? Well, that’s tough. Deal with it.
KVB played 676 snaps.
McBride played 471 snaps.
Avril played 651 snaps.
Jackson played 337 snaps.
We can see a little statistical correlation in the Seal and Rush categories. KVB and McBride, the “seal” elements of the scheme, played 1147 snaps between them. Avril and Jackson, on the other hand, played 988 snaps in the “rush“ role. There were 78 snaps shared by “seal” DE Andre Fluellen (72) and “rush” DE Willie Young (6).
The disparity in snaps between the DEs playing a seal role and those DEs who played the rush role can be explained by short yardage and goal line situations where a larger “package” is required defensively.
QB Sacks - Hits - Pressures
KVB: 5 - 10 - 16
McBride: 5 - 6 - 17
Avril: 9 - 2 - 43
Jackson: 8 - 2 - 11
The seal and rush roles are more readilly defined by this set of QB rushing stats than any other stats. The designated rush DEs would be expected to have the better snaps to sacks ratio:
Vanden Bosch had a sack for every 135.2 snaps played.
McBride had a sack for every 94.2 snaps played.
Avril had a sack for every 72.3 snaps played.
Jackson had a sack for every 42.1 snaps played.
Run Defense: Solo Tackles - Assists - Missed Tackles - Stops
KVB: 27 - 6 - 5 - 23
McBride: 15 - 7 - 2 - 8
Avril: 15 - 9 - 1 - 15
Jackson: 22 - 5 - 0 - 19
Which DEs were run at, and how did they fare? Let’s look at the snaps played to solo tackles plus assists ratio:
Vanden Bosch had a tackle or assist for every 20.5 snaps played.
McBride had a tackle or assist for every 21.4 snaps played.
Avril had a tackle or assist for every 27.1 snaps played.
Jackson had a tackle or assist for every 12.5 snaps played.
How about the stops ratio? A stop is regarded as any play that was an offensive failure. Tackles for a loss, tackles for no gain, fumbles forced, plus sacks.
KVB recorded a stop for every 29.4 snaps played.
McBride recorded a stop for every 58.9 snaps played.
Avril recorded a stop for every 43.4 snaps played.
Jackson recorded a stop for every 17.7 snaps played.
Now, let’s look at the missed tackles ratio.
Vanden Bosch missed a tackle for every 135.2 snaps played.
McBride missed a tackle for every 62.3 snaps played.
Avril missed only one tackle in 651 snaps.
Jackson never missed a tackle in 337 snaps played.
Lawrence Jackson certainly looked like a 28th overall first round draft pick, didn’t he?
Penalties - Nullified
KVB: 6 - 2
McBride: 7 - 2
Avril: 6 - 1
LoJack: 1 - 0
Again, Jackson played about as good as a DE can. KVB, McBride, and Avril seldom hurt the Lions cause by taking costly penalties.
KVB brought leadership to a defense that sorely needed it. Not only has he set an excellent example of what it takes to be a professional, he also leads by example.
The Lions defense now has an identity that reflects KVB’s values. His mantra, “All Day!” is the infectious saying that Ndamukong Suh and the rest of the D-linemen can be heard repeating—with gusto.
The Lions defensive line has a growing mystique of dominance, but mystique alone doesn’t necessarily translate into results.
Sure, Vanden Bosch will never again be the sack machine that some fans expected when he was signed.
Vanden Bosch was put in the most advantageous position to be successful by the Lions coaching staff in 2010. There were no glaring deficiencies in his play from a statistical standpoint—given the role he played within the scheme.
With the emergence of Lawrence Jackson and Cliff Avril as bonified stars, it’s quite possible that we will see a diminished role for KVB moving forward, along with a change in scheme that more clearly embraces Jim Schwartz’s philosophy: “We will stop the run on the way to the quarterback.”
Also, we cannot be certain of the free agency status of Turk McBride. If McBride leaves the team, the “Seal and Rush” scheme might be a one season phenomenon unless Andre Fluellen grows into that role.
If the Lions can increase the pressure on QBs from both edges on a more consistent basis by starting Avril and Jackson, then they should do so. Neither player was exposed as a liability in an opponent’s running game.
As for Vanden Bosch’s future? He will continue to be an integral part of the Lions' plans. There is no better coach on the field for a defense to rally behind. I have no misgivings that Vanden Bosch will continue his solid, if unspectacular play as long as he remains healthy.
Even with a reduced role in the defense, Kyle Vanden Bosch will continue to be to the Detroit Lions what the late Bob Ufer characterized QB Rick Leach as “The guts and glue of the Maize and Blue.”
All day, baby! All day!
Mike Sudds is a syndicated Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Mike is also an analyst and correspondent for DraftTek.com.
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