Things to look forward to: Terron Armstead, Part Deux

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Armstead

Terron Armstead (72) fends off Seattle Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons (91), who had 41 pressures (including 5 sacks) in 2013.  Clemons failed to pressure New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees (9) during their January 11 playoff game.  Photo credit:  Michael DeMocker/NOLA.com and the Times-Picayune.


Terron Armstead is currently penciled in as the starting left tackle for the New Orleans Saints with no real challenger – or reliable depth behind him – in sight.  After he succeeded Charles Brown late in the 2013 season and proved to be a quality run blocker (which you can read about here), the Saints brass put their faith in Armstead and have effectively put him on an island to defend Brees in the coming 2014 campaign.  However, that begs serious questions:  how effective was Armstead as a pass protector for the Saints’ $100 million, 35-year old quarterback, and how much better was he than Brown, if at all?  I dug into the numbers to figure this out.

 

The first chart below features pressure percentages.  These are numbers found by dividing the number of pressures created by a defensive unit with the total number of quarterback dropbacks they faced during the 2013 season.  In the chart, the average percentages of pressure created by the opposing defenses are in the left column, the pressure allowed by the Saints offensive line during their game with each opponent is in the middle column, and the difference (pressure percentage created subtracted from pressure percentage allowed) is in the right column.  This gives us an idea of how effective the Saints’ pass-blocking was in each game.  Ideally, the higher the number of the difference is better than a lower number.  At any rate, you want a positive difference, not a negative one.

 

Opp D Pressure %

Pressure % Allowed

Difference

Week 16 @ CAR

53.48%

29.93%

+23.55%

Week 17 vs TAM

46.38%

38.46%

+7.92%

Wild Card @ PHI

42.70%

24.24%

+18.46%

Divisional @ SEA

56.07%

27.08%

+28.99%

Average

49.66%

29.93%

+19.73%

As you can see the Saints’ offensive line progressed from game to game, initially having a very productive outing at Carolina (which was unfortunately not reflected in the game’s final score), dipping in productivity versus Tampa Bay, then gradually climbing in the playoffs until a downright dominant performance against Seattle.  Regardless, the offensive line won its battles in every game that Armstead started.  The hope among many fans (including myself) is that this success will carry over into the 2014 season; with four of five starters returning and one heavily-featured backup entering the lineup, that seems possible if not likely.

 

But how does this compare to how the offensive line played with Brown as part of the unit?  This chart explains.

 

Opp D Pressure %

Total Pressure % Allowed

Total Difference

vs ATL 

36.78%

30.00%

+6.78%

vs TMP 

46.38%

46.15%

+0.23%

vs ARZ 

49.64%

46.30%

+3.34%

vs MIA 

48.84%

18.18%

+30.66%

vs CHI 

38.33%

29.73%

+8.60%

vs NEL 

42.55%

30.00%

+12.55%

vs BUF 

47.81%

42.22%

+5.59%

vs NYJ 

38.78%

40.00%

-1.22%

vs DAL 

36.90%

17.78%

+19.12%

vs SFN 

45.64%

33.33%

+12.31%

vs ATL 

36.78%

25.71%

+11.07%

vs SEA 

56.07%

32.56%

+23.51%

vs CAR 

53.48%

26.53%

+26.95%

vs STL 

45.89%

90.91%

-45.02%

AVG

44.56%

36.39%

+8.18%

 

The numbers were for the most part very positive.  The offensive line struggled early in the season except for an extremely dominant performance against Miami, barely breaking even against Tampa Bay, and finishing strongly before the bye week at New England.  The first of two negative performances of Brown’s tenure came in the disaster against the New York Jets, but a strong rebound against Dallas carried them through a series of tough contests.  The second came in the game that led to his benching when St. Louis defensive end Robert Quinn took over the game.

 

In this context, Armstead’s performance as a starter was much more impressive than Brown’s.  The defenses faced by the Saints line with Brown at left tackle were 5.10% less effective at creating pressure, but they ceded 6.46% more pressure during that span.  So there is no doubt that the offensive line as a unit was much more productive protecting Brees with Armstead plugged in, but how did his individual play compare to Brown’s? The first chart shows the specific pressure created by each opposing defense on left tackles per pass blocks, the pressure allowed by Armstead, and the difference of the two.

 

Opp LT Pressure %

LT Pressure % Allowed

Difference

Week 16 @ CAR

8.36%

9.62%

-1.26%

Week 17 vs TAM

5.27%

6.06%

-0.79%

Wild Card @ PHI

7.87%

8.57%

-0.70%

Divisional @ SEA

7.89%

0.00%

+7.89%

Average

19.73%

6.06%

+13.67%

Armstead’s progress as a pass blocker was slow, but visible.  He graded in the negative during his first three starts per this metric, but when he brought it all together was downright dominant in Seattle.  At times Armstead very much looked like a rookie, like the first half of the Carolina game.  But when he was on, he was almost unbeatable.  Let’s hope he can keep up his development – in my opinion, he has the potential to reach more Pro Bowls than Jermon Bushrod, and could the best offensive tackle the Saints have had since the great Willie Roaf.  But let’s cool the jets on that, because it isn’t even training camp yet.  In the meantime, how did Charles Brown compare?

Opp D Pressure %

Total Pressure % Allowed

Total Difference

vs ATL 

5.10%

12.50%

-7.40%

vs TMP 

5.27%

3.85%

+1.42%

vs ARZ 

5.82%

7.41%

-1.59%

vs MIA 

8.53%

9.09%

-0.56%

vs CHI 

5.71%

5.41%

+0.30%

vs NEL 

6.13%

10.00%

-3.87%

vs BUF 

7.39%

11.11%

-3.72%

vs NYJ 

4.72%

8.33%

-3.61%

vs DAL 

6.45%

8.89%

-2.44%

vs SFN 

11.56%

13.33%

-1.77%

vs ATL 

5.10%

2.86%

+2.24%

vs SEA 

7.89%

4.65%

+3.24%

vs CAR 

8.36%

0.00%

+8.36%

vs STL 

9.60%

15.15%

-5.55%

AVG

6.97%

8.04%

-1.07%

Um, ouch.  Of the fourteen games Brown started, he finished five with positive differences in pressure expected and pressure allowed.  In the end he had a negative average difference.  Brown was clearly somewhere between inconsistent and mediocre as a pass protector, and in an offense that regularly sees six to seven hundred dropbacks per season that won’t do.  The Saints made the right decision in changing Brown out for Armstead – but will it ultimately pay off?  We’ll have to reach training camp and see.  One thing is for certain:  Armstead could not be in a better scheme and be surrounded by better personnel and coaching in the NFL today (with the possible exception of Chicago Bears offensive coordinator and former New Orleans Saints offensive line magician Aaron Kromer).  I’m excited to see how Armstead does in the coming season, and so should you.

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