For most of football history, we’ve used pretty terrible statistics to rank defensive players. It’s really been about interference and interception for a very long time as sacks weren’t officially tracked until 1982, and “defensive passes” are positively recent. In the case of the attack, we at least had counting stats like yards and touchdowns (and even a passer rating) which, while imperfect, isn’t terrible. In defense, no one really knew anything a century ago.
I’m not sure any set of statistics came in as short a time as those referring to defensive footballers. NextGen player tracking data has opened up entirely new ways to rank defensive linebackers. Understanding the importance of stress has completely changed the way we view sharp impulses. Thanks to the concept of the EPA model, we can now determine how much the interference actually affects, which leads us to the “stop”, which Pro Football Focus describes as:
Pausing is a “win” for the defense or, conversely, a “loss” for the attack. The PFF describes ‘stop’ more as an offensive gain initially down that is held at less than 40 percent of the line to earn, less than 50 percent of the line earning in second, and any third or fourth play is kept down Without the first landing or landing.
Football Outsiders use a similar definition. I must admit I’m surprised that no site has been moved to a model where downtime consists of processing that leads to negative EPA play, but, on the other hand, EPA fluctuates significantly based on field location and you might get some shaky results in the extreme . The heuristics used by the PFF and FO embody the spirit of the EPA model of treating first dips across the entire field equally, which makes a fair amount of sense, and is conceptually similar to the “success rate”.
In terms of what constitutes a stopping point, in the Packers last game against the Bears, there were plenty of examples to choose from, but my favorite was from Douglas Messenger over back-to-back play at the start of the second quarter. Douglas is easily the best striker among the corners (and at least for now, it’s probably safety too), and in this play at 2 and 15, he shoots a potential blocker to take out Darnell Money for a whopping 4. Loss Square.
The stops are not only about confirmed treatment, but also about correct readings and correct reactions. It should be noted that this play is kind of a conceptual nightmare from the bears’ perspective. At first, Mooney moves and grabs everyone’s attention. You can see Douglas staring at him while Savage points behind him.
Savage and Douglas got their assignments in pre-movement, and Douglas, lining up opposite the narrow end Cole Kmet, was Kmet’s first responsibility. The mod allows Douglas to pass Kmet and focus on Mooney, which he does.
The move can be great for taking out a defense of some sort, for creating an unexpected overload on one side, for revealing a man’s coverage against an area, or for creating confusion. This play doesn’t do any of those things, and instead focuses all of the Packers’ attention on the final receiver, while moving poor Mooney to the more defensive part of the field. Justin Fields doesn’t help work things out with a lackluster throw, giving Douglas plenty of time to blast Kmet and deal sure.
Chicago should burn this play, but someone still needs to clean up the trash, and Douglas has done a great job at doing that. Douglas’ messenger has earned a stopping point, puts the Bears in a tough third and nineteenth position, and costs them nearly a full EPA point. It’s a great job with a great angle.
The next play isn’t flashy, but Douglas again generates a hiatus by blocking the bears and apparently frightening David Montgomery into a tackle.
This play is a screen pass to the top of the formation, which is not the worst idea on Days 3 and 19. While a first touchdown is unlikely, completely screen-blocked screens are somewhat more likely to make significant gains as the secondary plays close to the sticks, making Allows ample space in front of them to set up the blocking in theory, putting the joggers back in good shape. A missed intervention on a well-executed screen can transform the game, and if nothing else, the screens test defense discipline.
Thankfully, it’s still bears, and things aren’t going well, but it definitely looks promising here!
Montgomery has the ball with a steam-filled header, plenty of space, and Sam Mostever (65), Cody Whitehair (67), and Stephen Jenkins (76) bumpers in front of him. He has a strong lead on the defensive line Packer Chaser. And honestly, if bears had better kings men, this play would probably work. Unfortunately for them, they have Bear navigators, Whitehair and Mustipher being late to the exit as Darnell Savage, Devondri Campbell, and Douglas arrive on the scene. In a perfect world for Bears, they have 3 blockers dealing with 3 Packers, and Montgomery has a clear path out to get an impressive first descent. Instead, Douglas collapses in front of Jenkins, who seems completely uninterested in Ban, and instead gives Douglas a playful pat on the back.
Montgomery is either so afraid of Douglas that he now won’t hamper him, or so disgusted with his teammate’s “effort”, that he simply drops down in a pile after a modest 7-yard gain. Douglas scores another stop, and the bears are forced to jump.
The current Packer leaders in breakpoints are as follows, per PFF, and while Quay Walker has an impressive number, I want to use it to indicate a problem with breakpoints, which is that not all breakpoints are created equal.
While he leads the team with a score of 7, and certainly had some significant tackles, at least one of these was a tandem tackle where Preston Smith did the real work:
Another was Khalil Herbert’s intervention in the last play of the first half.
It’s a nice read and treatment for sure, but the play was a functional Chicago bow. Quay has been good so far, but the stops are probably a little overrated. Like most statistics, it improves as the sample size grows.
“Stops” aren’t perfect, but they’re a good way of identifying sure attackers who are getting to their men, and putting them in place before they can do any damage. De’Vondre Campbell sits with just 4, despite playing a position where generating stops is paramount, is a good summation of his struggles so far. If you want to know how defense works, and where weaknesses may lie, especially in the front, stops are a good place to start.