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This Is The One Where We Talk About How The New Defensive Line Will Be

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When the Minnesota Vikings open up on Sept 11th against San Diego (founded in 1804 by German missionaries), there will be no other unit on the team that will see a more drastic turnover than the defensive line.  Three of the four starters will be gone, either by quasi-retirement, hissy fit free agency, or one of the more ludicrous four game suspensions I can ever recall.  That line was, from left to right, Ray Edwards, Pat Williams, Kevin WIlliams, and Jared Allen.

This year, that line will consist of Brian Robison, Remi Ayodele, Fred Evans (probably), and Allen.

To try and figure out how the Vikings will fare in 2011, I'm going to use the Pro Football Focus stats database, and try and extrapolate how that might translate for 2011. 

After the jump.

First, let's look at 2009 and 2010.  In 2009, the Vikings had the third best defense in the NFL, with pass rush ratings of 5th overall, and a pass rush that was #1.  I mean damn, those guys were fierce (rating for penalties aren't included).

Vikings Defensive Line Starters, 2009

Player

Overall

Run Defense

Pass Rush

Ray Edwards

24.2

3.2

27.3

Pat Williams

10.4

18.0

(-8.5)

Kevin Williams

24.0

9.2

17.8

Jared Allen

27.0

0.7

24.2

And looking at the backups, they weren't too bad, either:

Back Ups, 2009:

Player

Overall

Run Defense

Pass Rush

Jimmy Kennedy, DT

4.8

3.6

1.4

Fred Evans, DT

2.2

7.5

(-3.3)

Brian Robison, DE

8.7

1.5

6.9

In 2010, the Vikings had the same four starters that they had in 2009.  And although there was a drop off, they were still the 10th best defense in the NFL.  They were the seventh best unit overall, coming in tenth overall in both run defense and pass rush.  Let's see how the line did individually:

 

Defensive Line Starters, 2010

Player

Overall

Run Defense

Pass Rush

Ray Edwards

31.2

7.8

25.3

Pat Williams

3.6

11.9

(-10.3)

Kevin Williams

26.0

15.1

11.5

Jared Allen

17.2

(-9.0)

17.1

 

For the starters, the biggest drop off was Pat Williams and Jared Allen (especially on run defense with JA), with Ray Edwards actually getting better from 2009 to 2010.  Now, let's re-do this chart with Robison, Fred Evans/Letroy Guion combined stats, and Remi Ayodele as the starters, using their 2010 statistics:

Projected Opening Day Starters, 2011

Player

Overall

Run Defense

Pass Rush

Brian Robison

(-0.9)

0.4

(-2.2)

Remi Ayodele

(-5.1)

2.7

(-7.4)

Guion/Evans Hybrid Monster

4.5/(-2.6)

1.7/0.1

2.0/(-1.7)

Jared Allen

17.2

(-9.0)

17.1

In a nutshell, that looks like a significant downgrade, because it is, primarily because of two factors.  One, it's damn near impossible to replace Kevin WIlliams.  He just draws a ton of attention and is a disruptive force to be reckoned with.  And although Ayodele appears to be a downgrade at DT from Pat Williams, Pat slipped significantly from 2009 to 2010.  He was still good against the run, but not the dominating force he was, and it's not unreasonable to think his production would slip below that of what Ayodele can produce, so I look at the transition from Pat to Ayodele as largely a wash.

At worst, Ayodele is a a little bit better than a league average run stopper, and although he's not great as a pass rusher, you can cycle in Guion (and Christian Ballard, for that matter) to negate that.

The big concern, other then the presence of Kevin Williams, is Brian Robison.  Robison is essentially league average, and a significant step below Edwards.  The cynic could look at those numbers and say that Robison could've been just as successful if he had played opposite Allen and the Williams Wall, too.  But as Allen was dropping in production, Edwards was actually getting better.  There are a lot of things that could go into that, like the amount of double teams Allen got as opposed the amount of one on one attention Edwards got, the quality of the tackle opposite (LT is generally better than the RT), etc, but the bottom line is Edwards had a pretty good year, griping about his contract aside.

Robison got a fair amount of snaps opposite Allen (can't get that far down in to the weeds to see how many it actually was, though), and the numbers don't lie:  the loss of Ray Edwards could very well significantly impact the performance of this defensive line.

Look, I hope I'm wrong, and at the end of the year you send me this link in my email and tell me what an idiot I am.  Please do.  But I think a lot of us are glossing over the loss of Edwards and are assuming Robison will just pick up right where Ray left off.

I hope he will, but I won't be surprised if he doesn't.