By Shawn Maher
High Chancellor of Hog Heaven (@ShawnBenMaher)
This week’s Hog Report is tempted to make strange bedfellows with a pale horse. With stripes.
Lately all the talk in the NFL world had revolved around zebras. Granted, the crew working Monday Night Football crew was appalling for the second week in a row, following up a hideous non-call on an apparent Steven Jackson touchdown against the Redksins by creating this week’s aptly titled “Inaccurate Reception.”
But, with all due respect to the late Freddie Mercury, there is only one animal that concerns us here at the Hog Report: the big bodied hogs that make the football world go ‘round.
Underneath all the brouhaha, an unbelievable week of football has just wrapped up. The Bears’ Hog-Index-leading defensive front remains fearsome (as predicted to win last week’s Hog Report), and the Texans remain both the unstoppable force and the immovable object.
But this is not Sportscenter, and we are not here to repeat ourselves every hour on the hour. Instead, we will take a look at the best and the worst of the unsexy beasts and look forward to the premier Week 4 trench warfare.
Three Prime Cuts
1. Sizzling like Bacon: D-Hogs are the Perfect Super Bowl Hangover Cure
The Giants may have been one of the most impressive franchises in recent history, but the question as to whether they could put together two dominant years in a row was posed on opening night against Dallas.
The defensive line is still bookended by the terror-inducing combination of Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck (and, when not complaining about a contract, the oft-forgotten Osi Omenyiora) but the interior was a question mark.
With defensive tackles Chris Canty and Shaun Rogers landing on the PUP list and IR, respectively, the Giants were unable to take advantage of the Cowboys’ weak interior offensive line. A Tony Romo interception was the direct result of the pass rush, but otherwise the Giants looked to be suffering from the dreaded Super Bowl hangover.
As any professional tailgater knows, a full helping of hearty pork will cure any hangover. The Giants have slowly turned the heat up on their defensive skillet and begun to cook up the opposition once again. Moving the freakishly talented Pierre-Paul across the line to take advantage of match-ups has certainly fueled the fire, as well.
With the defensive backfield suffering a rash of injuries, the Giants have once again become prime examples of how the first line of defense is the most important.
After an introduction by a nearly un-listenable Cee-Lo Green song, the Giants made the hyped Carolina offense nearly unwatchable on Thursday night.
By the end of the night, Pierre-Paul, Omenyiora, Michael Boley, Chase Blackburn, Rocky Bernard and Linval Joseph all made notches in the sack column. They also played disciplined football within their assignments to nullify the Panthers’ zone-read running game.
Always the slow starters, the Giants are becoming the no-nonsense group of hogs that Tom Coughlin loves. More importantly, as the defensive hogs improve, it makes life easier on their defensive backs and offensive counterparts, who have also been dinged up.
As the Giants’ defensive negative pass play percentage (NPP%, one of the greatest indicators of success) increases, the offensive NPP% has steadily decreased.
| ||Overall Rank||Def NPP%||Sacsk||INT||Def R/YA||Off NPP%|
|WK 1 vs DAL||25th||9.68||2||1||5.50||8.57|
|WK 2 vs TB|| 10th||13.33||2||2||3.76||5.88|
|WK 3 vs CAR|| 7th||14.29||2||3||3.00||5.13|
2. The Seahawks D-Hogs Put Green Bay in Position to Get Screwed
Sure, the story on Tuesday morning was all about the replacement referees, the Lingerie Football League rejects, making the Keystone Cops look like the SWAT team.
Buried underneath that mess was a defense from the West Coast putting the clamps down on a West Coast offense.
If the Packers had been able to overcome the Seahawks’ swarming defense, Seattle would not have been in position to win the game.
The record for the amount of sacks in a half was set by the Giants in 2011, taking down Jay Cutler nine times in the first half of a 2010 match-up against the Bears.
Against the Packers, led by Aaron Rodgers, the Seahawks managed to rack up eight in the first half.
That is no small feat considering how Mike McCarthy, offensive mastermind for the Packers, designs every passing play to have the ball out of Rodgers’ hand within 2.5 seconds. The Giants were dealing with a Mike Martz-led, slow-developing offense heavy on seven- and nine-step drops.
Audibles are completely verboten and set the quarterback up for a painful day against a strong pass rush in the Martz system. McCarthy’s offense is quarterback friendly, and its eight sacks are a testament to the Seahawks’ d-hogs.
These Seahawks hogs fly to the ball rapidly because they are of a leaner variety. First-round draft pick Bruce Irvin (6-3, 248) and late-bloomer Chris Clemons (6-3, 254) spent the first half harassing Rodgers.
Even when they weren’t sacking Rodgers, the Seattle front four were laying hits on him and blocking his passing lanes by throwing their hands up in the air like they were at a Sugarhill Gang concert.
After halftime, the Packers made enough adjustments to keep Seattle from sacking Rodgers again. Because of the pressure, however, Green Bay never had time set up the big play. In addition to putting up a 17.02 NPP%, Rodgers only threw for 3.91 yards per drop back.
The Seahawks’ d-hogs have almost doubled their NPP% since Week 1, skyrocketing from 5.41% to 9.60% thanks to their showing against the Packers.
Of Rodgers’ 26 completions, seven were to running backs for 44 yards. Speaking of running backs, those on the Packers could only tote the ball for 2.61 YPA against the Seattle front.
3. Buffalo’s O-Hogs Have Been Surprisingly Spectacular and Their D-Hogs Stopped Playing Surprisingly Subpar
After losing Jason Peters to Philadelphia, the Bills drafted Cordy Glenn to play left tackle. Many viewed Glenn as a more probable guard candidate due to his hefty stature and perceived lack of quickness. Many of those critics are now eating crow smothered in Buffalo sauce.
The Bills have quietly fielded the most formidable group of o-hogs in the NFL – top ranked in the Offensive Hog Index – in no small part due to Glenn. According to Pro Football Reference, Buffalo has run behind Glenn for 9.60 YPA. Coincidentally, C.J. Spiller was running for a 9.33 average before hurting his shoulder.
The offense also sports a squeaky clean 4.60 NPP%, having only allowed one sack of Ryan Fitzpatrick through the first three weeks.
On the other side of the ball, that was one more sack than free-agent defensive end signings Mario Williams and Mark Anderson had managed through the first two weeks. Defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus did not get on the board until Week 2, with two and one, respectively.
That lead to a devastating 16.16 NPP% and a rise of nine spots in the Defensive Hog Index.
In Week 3, Mario Williams had 1.5 sacks, Kyle Williams and Anderson had one, and Dareus earned a half by helping out Mario. The massive Dareus’ value lies in his immovability, as evidenced by Trent Richardson’s 2.25 YPA. Dareus also kept linebacker Nick Barnett clean, absorbing blocks to help Barnett to 8 tackles and Arthur Moats to six.
1. This is Why the Patriots’ D-Hogs Can’t Have Nice Things
Even though the Patriots’ defense was undoubtedly the weak link during New England’s AFC-winning 2011, optimism was running high. This season rookie defensive end Chandler Jones looks to be the first legitimate pass rusher Bill Belichick has had since he was still winning Super Bowls, and rookie linebacker Donta’ Hightower was a standout among standouts at Alabama.
Even though both are inconsistent rookies, Sunday night’s game against the Patriots saw long-time veteran Vince Wilfork getting pushed around. After showing up to camp as a lighter and more athletic, he might want to retrieve a little of that lost girth.
Baltimore converted 50% of their third downs against the Patriots, but only had to face eight third-down situations due to Joe Flacco’s offense rolling to 503 total yards and Ray Rice running at 4.65 YPA. The Patriots were not able to manage one sack all game and mustered only a measly 2.56 NPP%.
Even more telling was that after the Patriots built up a 13-0 lead after the first quarter, the defense continued to let the Ravens back in the game. In the second half, Rice rushed for a 5.67 average, while Flacco completed 69.6% of his passes for 246 yards in the second half alone.
Without any pressure from a group of d-hogs gassed by the Ravens’ no-huddle, Flacco threw no interceptions and stayed clean for a goose egg on the NPP%.
Squandering a first quarter deficit should be nothing new to the Patriots, as last season the only two games in which a team wasted a first-quarter lead involved the Patriots and the Bills.
In their 2011 Week 3 contest, New England held a slightly larger lead of 14-0 after the opening period, only to fall 34-31. They had their revenge in Week 17, overcoming a 21-0 deficit after one to score 49 unanswered points to win.
The Patriots surely hope to be as resilient after this season’s Week 3 heart-breaker.
2. Is Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain Corroding?
As the Steelers plummet to a 28th ranking in the Defensive Hog Index, many of us wonder how important the presence of James Harrison was to the Pittsburgh d-hogs.
The answer is fairly obvious. Without bombastic and unpredictable pressure, Dick LeBeau’s zone-blitz defense is not functional.
The principals of LeBeau’s coverage schemes are a basic Cover 3 shell, but the problems a quarterback faces are based on an uncertainty of how defenders will fill those zones.
With a handful of incredibly upset-looking defenders bearing down on him, the quarterback has no time or interest in finding out, often taking a sack or forcing an interception.
This season, the Steelers have an uncharacteristic 6.52 NPP% and have allowed opposing quarterbacks to dissect the holes in their zone coverage.
Despite the emergence of Big Ben as one of the upper-echelon quarterbacks in the league, recent history shows that the Steelers are generally more successful when his opposing counterpart is on his back.
| ||WK 3 Record||Final Record||WK 3 NPP%||WK 3 Sacks||Final NPP%||Final Sacks|
*Led league in NPP% and won the Super Bowl
**Led league in NPP% and won the AFC Championship
3. The Big D Stands for “Disastrous” with the Cowboys’ O-Hogs
As we mentioned earlier, the Cowboys’ o-hogs put up an impressive display against the Giants in Week 1 that in no way could be sustained, especially with center Phil Costa falling victim to injury. Despite their struggles, they managed to win after falling victim to the Seahawks in Week 2.
Despite escaping Week 3 with a win over Tampa Bay (and surviving the kneel downs at the end), the Cowboys o-hogs offered a less-than-inspiring performance. They gave up four sacks and cleared the way just enough to provide running backs room for 1.65 YPA.
Only eight teams in this millennium have managed to win while giving up at least four sacks and rushing for 1.65 YPA or less. Looking at the four instances in the past three years, the victors’ d-hogs had to put in a very good performance to make up for their offensive counterpart.
Except for one game, in which Michael Vick only managed a 50% completion rate, the winning quarterback still managed to complete better than 64% of his passes.
| || Score||NPP%||Rush YPA||Completion %||Yards per Dropback|
| ||TB 10||10.00||3.00||35.71||3.03|
|2011-WK4||DET 26 ||9.80||1.05||69.60||6.63|
| ||MIN 23 (OT)||10.00||5.74||61.11||4.73|
| ||MIA 10||26.32||4.19||58.62||2.50|
| ||TEN 20||6.67||5.50||60.71||5.77|
Trench Warfare Week 4: Will the Giants Crack Vick like the Liberty Bell?
The 2012 Philadelphia offensive line was born under a bad sign, losing left tackle Jason Peters before the season even began. They saw back-up left tackle King Dunlap (hamstring) give way to back-up Demetress Bell against Arizona, and center Jason Kelce (knee) has been relegated to IR.
The Eagles racked up an 11.90 NPP% and passed for an abominable 4.33 yards per drop back en route to a 27-6 loss to the Cardinals in the desert.
Although Dunlap is on the mend, welcoming a ferocious group of d-hogs in the New York Giants to the Linc invites the perfect storm in Philadelphia. Vick’s Kevlar vest can only withstand so much punishment, and Vick will not help his hogs withstand the Giants.
Although Reid’s offense is another quarterback- and o-line-friendly West Coast offense, Vick has never grown into the decisive quarterback that can save the ship by getting the ball out quickly. Both Vick and his hogs are responsible for their 25th ranking in NPP%, the dint of the team’s rise to the 14th rank in the Offensive Hog Index lies in the running game.
Will Reid try to protect his team by going run heavy? That seems awfully un-Andy. What seems right up Reid’s alley, especially considering his position firmly on the hot-seat, is to use the first sign of the slightest injury to bench Vick. He can use it as an excuse to try out rookie Nick Foles, a preseason standout and more traditional passer.
After all, the Eagles have an out on Vick’s contract after the season, and Reid has never hesitated to pull the trigger on a quarterback change.
On the other side of the ball, the Eagles roll six deep at defensive end to form one of the most aggressive pass-rushing d-hog units in the league. Jim Washburn’s wide-nine warriors match up favorably against the Giants’ best-of-the-rest o-hog unit.
But the Giants still sport a 6.40 NPP%, good for 10th best in the OHI. Will the Eagles sustain their 11.11 NPP%, 5th best amongst the d-hogs?
While the Giants’ d-line will continue its upward swing against Philadelphia’s weakened offensive unit, the Giants will game plan slants, switch routes, screens and draws to keep the Eagles’ aggressive pass rush on its heels and protect its offensive line. It’s why they are the champs.