In the first part of this series, we had taken a look at the weight of the Colts’ 3-4 defensive front, and how it compared to the rest of the NFL’s 3-4 defensive fronts. In this analysis, we will look at the “next level” of the Colts’ 3-4 defense, specifically as it relates to the weight of their ILB and OLB corps. As previously mentioned, there are 17 defenses utilizing or set to utilize a 3-4 defense in 2014: Atlanta Falcons, Arizona Cardinals, Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers, Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Tennessee Titans, and the Washington Redskins. For the purposes of this analysis, I have calculated the average weight of each 3-4 starting defense’s respective two ILB’s, their two OLB’s, as well as the total weight of their linebacking corps (all 4 starting LB positions) for comparison purposes. Without further adieu, let’s begin:
At first glance, if you’re like me, you’ll immediately look for where the Colts rank. From the calculations, the Colts are a very light defense at the “second level” as it relates to a 3-4 defense. Not only are they the lightest at OLB of 3-4 defenses, but they are the lightest in total weight among all 3-4 NFL linebacking corps. For a defense that in 2013, ranked 26th against the run (allowing 125.1 ypg), this could be a glaring problem.
However, it doesn’t appear that there’s any direct correlation between a heavy linebacking corps and an elite run defense. The Top 5 run defenses in 2013 are bolded in the table. You’ll see that at OLB, while the Arizona Cardinals (3rd) and New York Jets (1st) were heavy, the 3 remaining Top 5 defenses ranked 14th (Ravens), 9th (Eagles), and 11th (49ers) in total OLB weight. The results are even more muddled at ILB, where the Top 5 run defenses: Cardinals (12th), Ravens (T-7th), Jets (8th), Eagles (T-7th), and 49ers (10th); have no representation in the Top 5 heaviest 3-4 ILB’s.
Well, what do the advanced statistics indicate? Well, ProFootballFocus.com (PFF) rated the New York Jets as the #1 rush defense and by a wide margin. The only thing that prevents this from being an open and shut case is the fact that not only are the New York Jets the top rated run defense using advanced statistics, but they are also the heaviest! Does this mean that bulking up shuts down the running game?
Not exactly, or at least the advanced statistics from PFF do not indicate this specifically at the linebacking level. The only Jets’ linebacker of the 4 starting positions to rank in the Top 10 against the run was ILB David Harris, but it’s not the Jets ILB’s that are particularly big (8th). It’s the OLB’s (1st) from where this linebacking corps draws most of its additional weight. This leads me to believe that while the extra weight certainly doesn’t hurt, the Jets’ success against the run is more of a tribute to the weight of their defensive line, the skill of their defenders, as well as the coaching and scheme of their colorful, yet defensively apt head coach, Rex Ryan.
You may still be thinking, “Well, we were pretty poor against the run last year, and we’re still incredibly light at the linebacker position all-around.” Yes, this is true. However, I think improvement from the run defense as a whole will depend more on the defensive line, particularly as it relates to the free agent addition of Arthur Jones, and NT Josh Chapman’s ability to hold down his position effectively. Nevertheless, the linebacking corps, while light, should get an added boost from the addition of D’Qwell Jackson. While Jackson is undersized a bit himself at 240 lbs, it’s the consistency of his tackling and his ability to both call and diagnose the play that should strengthen the Colts’ run defense. To elaborate, Jackson should not only be able to better get the Colts in the correct defensive play, but he should also be able to quickly decipher the opposition’s play, run or pass. Consequently, for the Colts’ linebacking corps, it’s not so much about the bulk, as it is their brains and brawn.