Lately for the Detroit Lions, the primary focus has been on their struggling offense. We’ve all seen countless pieces blaming Joe Lombardi, play-calling, the offensive line and execution. The bottom line is, the offense is just plain bad. We know this.
So I’d like to discuss something a little different today and focus on one of our best players on defense, bearing the most impressive beard in the NFL and maybe even the world, weakside linebacker DeAndre Levy.
Before Teryl Austin took over as defensive coordinator, DeAndre Levy had just made a name for himself. He was quietly lighting the NFL on fire while leading the team in interceptions in 2013 (six, t-2nd in the NFL). With the secondary struggling, some jested that he was the best cornerback in Detroit.
Enter Teryl Austin, and Levy is arguably having an even more impressive year at the weakside linebacker position. But strangely enough, he looks like a completely different player than ever before.
DeAndre Levy as a Coverage Linebacker
According to Pro Football Focus, DeAndre Levy was at his best as a coverage linebacker in 2013. He had the third highest coverage grade among all 4-3 outside linebackers (+9.8). Fast forward to 2014, and Levy is currently 21st of 34 among all 4-3 OLBs with a negative 2.1 grade.
So what does this mean? Well, before we jump to any conclusions, let’s take a closer look using PFF’s signature stats.
|Cov. Snaps/Target||Yards/Cov. Snap||Cov. Snaps/Rec.||Catch %||YAC||QB Rating|
Cov. Snaps/Target = Amount of times said player is the primary man in coverage relative to how many times he’s targeted.
Yards/Cov. Snap = Amount of yards allowed relative to how many times said player is in coverage.
Cov. Snaps/Rec.= Average amount of snaps said player is in coverage before he allows a reception.
Catch % = Catch percentage allowed while in coverage.
YAC = Cumulative amount of yards after the catch gained in said player’s coverage.
QB Rating = The standard NFL QB Rating for passes into said player’s coverage.
As you can see from the table above, Levy had a much better year defending the pass in 2013. In fact, he was in the top five in all of the first three categories. Teams were afraid to throw his way and respected his play-making ability.
2014 has been a completely different story. Teams have lost that respect for Levy’s ability to defend the pass, and have been targeting him once every 5.5 cover snaps. Only Anthony Barr of the Minnesota Vikings has been targeted more often.
Surprisingly, Levy has already given up more yards after the catch through 10 games (355) than he did the entire 2013 season (301).
Credit: NFL Game Rewind
Specifically, Levy has been giving up a lot of yards against the pass over the last several weeks. In the play above, the Cardinals are in 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TE). The play is simple. Send everyone down field to leave Larry Fitzgerald, the primary receiver, one-on-one over the middle with DeAndre Levy.
Levy is in zone-coverage reading the QB’s eyes on this play. He has a chance to make a play on Fitzgerald, but reacts too slowly and takes a poor angle. Even though the throw is a tad behind Fitzgerald, he’s still able to turn up field for an extra 18 yards.
The play was doomed to start with. Rarely do you see a linebacker win against a star receiver like Larry Fitzgerald in space. But this is not the first time we’ve seen a team attack Levy targeting a faster receiver.
Below is another example of Levy giving up big yardage in open space against the Cardinals.
So why the sudden decline in Levy’s coverage game? I think there are two major factors to this. First, Teryl Austin’s bend-but-don’t-break scheme tends to focus on stopping the deep ball in place of giving up short-yardage plays. Remember last year’s athletic interception versus the Browns where Levy was draped all over Ogbonnaya? You don’t often see Levy play tight coverage like that anymore.
This explains why Levy is forced to cover a lot of ground when making a play on the receiver, and sometimes results in a missed tackle for big yards after the catch.
Second, Stephen Tulloch’s disappearance probably affects things as well. When you have your leader go down, and someone new has to step up and call the plays, there can be a lot of confusion. It also doesn’t help that Tulloch was the highest graded Lion in coverage last year.
Don’t Run on Levy
Despite having an off year in pass coverage, DeAndre Levy is still the second highest graded 4-3 OLB in the NFL via PFF. This has a lot to do with how well he’s been against the run. In fact, he has the highest run stop percentage* among all linebackers at 16.9 percent. That’s nearly double last year’s percentage (8.8).
Levy has done a great job stepping up for Tulloch against the run, as Tulloch was one of the most efficient tacklers in the NFL last year.
*Run Stop Percentage = The percentage of a player’s run defense snaps where he was responsible for a stop.