Michael Bennett had a strong first month of the 2012 season, and that’s most visibly obvious in the money stats for defensive linemen: sacks and forced fumbles. Bennett leads the Buccaneers (and is tied for seventh in the NFL) with four sacks and has forced a pair of fumbles. There is evidence, however, that Bennett may be playing the run just as well as the pass, and perhaps as well as any lineman in the league.
In Friday’s “Football Geekery” column, Buccaneers.com tapped into some innovative stats provided by the Football Outsiders on their endlessly fascinating web site. A complicated statistical study called “Adjusted Line Yards” allowed the Outsiders to rank all 32 NFL defensive lines in terms of how well they have stopped the run this year. The numbers produced are designed to measure the performance of the D-Line specifically, not the entire defense.
Tampa Bay’s line ranks number one on this list, which will not be surprising to anyone who watched the Bucs play in September. Read more about it here on Buccaneers.com, though you may want to check out the defensive line page on Football Outsiders if you want to really get a grasp on how the Adjusted Line Yards (ALY) stat is formulated.
And if you do go to that Outsiders page, you may notice a second chart below the first that concocts the same ALY stat in regards to the direction of each run by a team’s opponents. How well does a team’s D-Line fare, for instance, when the running back takes the handoff and heads towards his left guard?
There is one number on that second chart that suggests Bennett is having a very strong season. The chart notes that runs by the Bucs’ opponents in the direction of the right offensive tackle (and thus, often, at the left defensive end, where Bennett is often stationed) resulted in an Adjusted Line Yards mark of -0.64. There are five types of runs (or directions, if you will) listed on that table, multiplied by 32 teams, and that aforementioned figure is the only one on the entire table that dips into negative numbers.
It’s a tricky analysis, and the Football Outsiders chart does not specifically mention Bennett or any other player by name. No matter what direction a back runs, it’s fair to say that most stops are a team effort and Bennett would surely be the first to share the credit. Still, it appears that when he’s the first line of defense, opposing runs often come up short.