Pressure Points: Chargers' Depth Paying Off
Peruse this week’s top edge rushers in TheMMQB's Pressure Points in the chart below, and you’ll see the usual suspects: Mario Williams, Justin Tuck, John Abraham, Chandler Jones, Von Miller, Ryan Kerrigan and Michael Bennett.
One name, however, sticks out: Chargers outside linebacker Thomas Keiser. And not only did he have a good week, he tied the Bills’ Williams for Top Edge Rusher of Week 7 thanks to his two unassisted sacks and five hurries in a victory over the Jaguars.
It’s been a long road for Keiser. He left Stanford a year early during the lockout and didn’t get drafted in 2011. He finally hooked on with the Panthers, initially made the 53-man roster only to be cut and signed to the practice squad two days later. There was an eight-game appearance in ’11 (four sacks), before Keiser went on injured reserve early in ’12, and was waived by Carolina in May. Keiser was on the Chargers’ practice squad to start this season, and signed to the roster on Oct. 1. Three weeks later, Keiser was starring in a victory against Jacksonville.
“I don't (have any regrets leaving school early),” he said Wednesday. “As you can imagine, I was asked that question a lot during the lockout when I was sitting there as a UDFA and I could have been playing at Stanford. When it came down it, all I wanted was an opportunity to make it in the NFL. I knew I had what it takes to make it, I just actually had to go get a spot to prove it. I've just tried to make that case ever since then.”
Against the Jaguars, Keiser used surprising speed with his 6-4, 260-pound frame to repeatedly beat inexperienced Jaguars left tackle Cameron Bradfield and make life difficult for quarterback Chad Henne.
“His technique and effort on Sunday was unbelievable,” said Chargers end Corey Liuget, our Unsung Interior Rusher of Week 7. “He had some nice pressures too, but on his two sacks, he just flat-out beat that tackle's butt that whole entire game.”
The Chargers have notched two of their most impressive performances in back-to-back wins against the Colts and Jaguars despite having a depleted front seven. Dwight Freeney (injured reserve), Melvin Ingram (PUP list) and Jarret Johnson (missed two games) have been out. Donald Butler is nursing an injury at inside linebacker. Yet the Chargers keep progressing thanks to depth players like Keiser, inside linebacker Andrew Gachkar and safety Jahleel Addae.
“A lot of us who are making plays on the defense right now, were not starters to begin the season, we're more role players, but now we've had to step up in more significant roles and have been trying to let the defense not skip a beat,” Keiser said. “There's no consolation like, 'Oh, he's just a backup, it's OK if he doesn't do as well.' There are full expectations that you make all the plays that the starter would make.”
Liuget said that attitude stems from Johnson.
“Once Dwight went down, Jarrett stepped up and was like, 'Hey, we don't have a guy in this room that has 100 sacks or a Hall of Fame resume, but I'll be damned if we're not going to be one of the most dominant front sevens in the NFL,'” Liuget said. “We told him we had his back because he's a guy that works hard every day and makes everyone else better around him. That's why our depth players are doing such an excellent job.”
It also helps to have a third-year player like Liuget (pronounced LEE-jit), the team’s first-round pick in ’11, continuing to assert himself as one of the most overlooked players in the league. The team’s defensive MVP last year shows up every week, including against the Jaguars when his unassisted sack, three hurries and two sack assists tied for second in interior rusher points.
“I've definitely put the work in, the time in and everything I need to do to be one of the elite players. It's just that time,” Liuget said. “Third year coming around, I feel great, I feel no pressure and I'm just out there relaxed playing football. My coach said just keep cutting it loose. It's just time for me to finally meet everyone in America and for my team and everyone in the NFL to know this Corey Liuget, No. 94 for the San Diego Chargers, is a damn good football player.”
Liuget showed that, not only on his sack on a screen pass, but on the two plays where he caused sacks by teammates.
On the first, he (yellow circle) beat left guard Will Rackley with quickness and a hand move to get on Henne (Liuget actually got a piece of Henne and should be credited with half a sack), and force the quarterback into teammate Larry English.
“I've watched that over and over trying to get credit for the full sack, but I knew I had to get off the ball and make a play,” Liuget said. “I just tried to bend the corner. He grabbed me and I just laid out to trip up Henne's feet, and he went to stumbling and Larry got the rest of the sack.”
On the second sack assist, Liuget (again, yellow circle) walked veteran center Brad Meester back 4 yards, which caused Henne to run into linebacker Reggie Walker for the sack.
“I knew they hadn't scored a touchdown all year at home so they were not going to get one on us then,” Liuget said. “I knew I could bull rush him back into the quarterback, and I knew I had Reggie spying on him and the edge guys there as well. With that defensive call, it was great and allowed me to take advantage of the center. I drove him back and the quarterback had nowhere to run. Reggie stepped up and made a play.”
Head over to page 2 to see the rest of this week's awards.
Top edge rushers of Week 7
(tie) Thomas Keiser, San Diego Chargers
Mario Williams, Buffalo Bills
Williams had two unassisted sacks, two hurries and three hits for 5.0 points, which tied with Keiser. Included in Williams’ total, which mostly came against Dolphins right tackle Tyson Clabo, was a huge strip/sack of Ryan Tannehill, which the Bills converted into a game-winning field goal.
Unsung edge rusher of Week 7
Carlos Dunlap, Cincinnati Bengals
Didn’t record a sack against the Lions, but his seven hurries and two quarterback hits were good enough to tie for fourth with 4.50 pressure points. He was one of the few bright spots for a Bengals pass rush that ranked 16th in our weekly rate when the number of dropbacks are factored in.
Here are this week's edge rusher breakdowns:
Top interior rusher of Week 7
Jason Hatcher, Dallas Cowboys
We’re running out of superlatives for Hatcher, who takes this award home for the second-straight week. Hatcher had just one sack, but when you add in a holding penalty, five hurries and three hits, you end up with 6.0 pressure points – the highest total so far this season for an interior rusher, and seventh-highest regardless of position. Hatcher’s recent surge also has him creeping up on Houston’s J.J. Watt for best interior rusher for the season. Hatcher leads in pressure points (23.75 to 20.88), but Hatcher has rushed the passer 35 more times. That gives Watt a rate lead of 0.2 percent over Hatcher. Last week, Watt led 10.2 to 8.7 over Hatcher.
Unsung interior rusher of Week 7
Corey Liuget, San Diego Chargers
Here are this week's interior rusher breakdowns:
Week 7: Team Pressure Points
Cumulative defensive pressure points
Cumulative Pressure Points Allowed by O-Lines
One of biggest indicators of success for NFL defensive coaches is the ability to affect the quarterback.
Sure, that means sacks, which are an official NFL statistic. And quarterback hits, which are also tallied in press boxes. But affecting the quarterback, making him feel pressure, has several other factors, most of which aren’t officially tallied (though NFL teams do them internally).
We at The MMQB thought long and hard about finding a better way to evaluate quarterback pressure, both from individual and team standpoints. We’ve developed our own formula, which we think will highlight players who aren’t getting the glory stats (sacks) but are still affecting the quarterback just as much.
The two statistics that we’ll be tabulating are sack assists and drawn holds. The latter is self-explanatory. Pass rushers are sometimes held by offensive lineman before they can sack the quarterback. Those plays aren’t official plays for the NFL. But they can be nearly as damaging. It’s a 10-yard foul, although there is no loss of down.
A sack assist is given to a player who allows a teammate to get a sack. You see it all the time. One player comes flying at a quarterback, causing him to bolt, and the QB winds up in the arms of a different defender. Sometimes the sacker didn’t do very much, yet he still gets credit for the sack. The player who actually caused the sack gets nothing. We’re going to change that.
Here’s how the formula works.
Because not all sacks are created equally, we have divided up sacks into three categories: solo, assisted and easy.
Solo sack (1.25 points): For the player who beats a blocker and gets the sack on his own. These are the real sack masters; they should be rewarded for their standout individual effort.
Assisted sack (.75 points): Given to the player who officially receives a sack but had help from a teammate in taking the quarterback down.
Easy sack (.75 points): An official sack that falls into one of the following categories: coverage sack (quarterback held the ball longer than 3.3 seconds because the coverage was so good); unblocked, usually because of a schemed blitz; offensive miscue, such as the quarterback tripping after getting stepped on by an offensive lineman; or garbage-time sack, which we have defined as a sack when the offense is trailing by more than two scores with four minutes or less remaining in the game.
Sack assist (.5 points): As described above, this is when a player aids in the sacking of a quarterback. The official sacker will get an “assisted” or “easy” sack (.75 points), and the disrupter gets a “sack assist.”
These three categories—drawn holds, hurries and hits—are not official statistics, but they’re extremely important. A team can have zero sacks, but if they accumulate hurries or hits, they’re making life extremely uncomfortable for a quarterback. The hurries and hits are shared with us by our friends at ProFootballFocus.com. Our hits and hurries include plays wiped out by penalty.
Drawn hold (.75 points): The player who draws a holding penalty on a pass play. Only tabulated if the penalty results in a “no play.” If there is holding on a sack and the sack counts, there is no drawn hold—although that player could get a sack assist.
Hurry (.5 points): When the actions of a defender causes the quarterback to alter his throw or footwork. This is what defenses call “moving a quarterback off his spot.”
Hit (.5 points): Recorded just after or as the quarterback releases a pass and goes to the ground as a result of contact with a defender.
Once the film is graded, we come up with Pressure Points. We feel this is a much better way to evaluate what kind of quarterback pressure a player or team is generating. We will divide the performances by edge rushers (ends and outside linebackers), interior rushers (tackles and inside linebackers) and by team. Individually, we will handout two awards for both edge rushers and interior rushers.