When the Cincinnati Bengals franchised tagged Michael Johnson this off-season, they appeared to make their intentions known. Johnson was the team’s starting right defensive end, their second most important defensive linemen behind the exceptionally gifted Geno Atkins. Johnson played 923 snaps during last season and had 13 sacks. Production that would have made him a top target on the free agent market.
After giving Johnson the franchise tag, the expectation was that the Bengals would eventually sign him to a long-term deal. However, the days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months before the deadline to sign tagged players passed and Johnson had no deal.
Even though Johnson remained unsigned, the Bengals do enough to lock down one of their other very talented young defensive ends, Carlos Dunlap. In comparison to Johnson, Dunlap was just a bit-part player last season, but his raw talent and relative youth allowed the Bengals to feel confident investing in his future. Dunlap signed a six-year deal worth $40 million, or in other words, starter money.
Although he’s not a constant on the field for the Bengals, it was no real surprise that the team was so willing to sign him. He was a second round pick in the 2010 draft and has notched an impressive 20 sacks in limited time during the three years since. Situational pass-rushers in today’s league can be valuable and even though Dunlap will be expected to become an all-around player as his career develops, it will be his ability to get to the quarterback that ultimately defines his career.
Layout of the Process
Every sack was considered and examined under this set of criteria:
- Where and how the defender lined up.
- Whether the player beat a blocker or not.
- The quality and position of those blockers was also noted.
- Whether the player was double-teamed or not.
- Whether the player was involved in a stunt with a teammate or not and the effects of that stunt.
- The primary reason for the sack.
- The game situation ie: time, quarter, score, down and distance.
- How the player beat attempted blocks.
- Whether the player attacked the football or settled for the tackle on the quarterback’s body.
- How long it took the player to get to the quarterback.
- How many yards each sack pushed the offense back by.
- Where the player broke into the backfield.
- Where the player tackled the quarterback.
Dunlap’s Overall Results
Dunlap missed the first two games of the regular season and only started once all season long. He finished the season with 655 total snaps and 424 opportunities to rush the passer. Officially, Dunlap got to the quarterback six times, but Pro Football Focus(who count half-sacks as full sacks) only have him listed with five, while this analysis attributed him with eight.
This is likely because Dunlap had a handful of subjective half sacks and sacks when he only punched the football away from the quarterback. This analysis included each of those plays.
With eight sacks on 424 opportunities, Dunlap had a 1.9 sack percentage. That is the lowest rate of any defender in this series so far. Dunlap lined up at the left defensive end position in the stance of a defensive lineman for each of his sack. Never once did he stunt for a sack, while he only beat one double team all season. That double team came against the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Kelvin Beachum and Maurkice Pouncey. Pouncey was late to arrive to help Beachum, so Dunlap was able to knock him off his feet with his bull-rush for the sack.
Every sack came when playing with a lead, but only two came when that lead was greater than one score. As a situational pass-rusher, the presumption would be that a large number of Dunlap’s sacks came in the fourth quarter. Alas, only one, against the San Diego Chargers, came in the fourth quarter, with two coming in the first quarter, three in the second quarter and two in the third quarter.
Save for one sack against the Dallas Cowboys on a play that extended longer than eight seconds, every single one of Dunlap’s sacks came after he penetrated the pocket outside of the right tackle. For a player playing predominantly on the left side of the defensive front, that is no real surprise. Two of Dunlap’s sacks finished outside of the pocket, one was that sack against the Cowboys while the other came against the Baltimore Ravens when Tyrod Taylor initially escaped him between the tackles.
Reflective of his role, five of Dunlap’s eight sacks on the season came on third down. Not a single sack came when the line of scrimmage was greater than 10 yards away from the first down marker and one sack came on first and goal.
|JAX, Q2 04:58||Cameron Bradfield||Yes||No||No||Leverage|
|NYG, Q1 09:15||David Diehl||Yes||No||No||No|
|NYG, Q2 :48||None||No||No||No||No|
|SD, Q1 01:40||None||No||No||No||No|
|SD, Q4 04:01||None||No||No||No||No|
|DAL, Q2 01:31||None||No||No||No||No|
|PIT, Q3 13:37||Kelvin Beachum||No||Yes||No||No|
|BAL, Q3 05:12||Michael Oher||No||Yes||No||No|
The sample size is somewhat small, but it is worrying that Dunlap beat so few offensive linemen for his sacks. However, even when he didn’t effectively beat the offensive lineman in front of him, he was still making good plays.
Dunlap forced two fumbles against the San Diego Chargers by attacking the quarterback’s arm when he started his throwing motion. The first was a good play, but the second was exceptional.
Dunlap doesn’t actually beat right tackle Kevin Haslam. If the interior pressure from Geno Atkins wasn’t so good, Rivers would have simply stepped up into the pocket and Dunlap would have gone too deep to make a play on the football. Even with that pressure, Dunlap still only got to Rivers with his fingertips.
It’s impossible to see from the broadcast angle, but the replay shows us how Dunlap used his strength, timing and body control to knock Rivers’ elbow as he looked to let the ball go. It ultimately popped up into the air for a fumble.
Although he did only beat four offensive linemen, Dunlap showed off his range of abilities on those separate occasions. He used two speed rushes and two bull rushes to beat Bradfield, Diehl, Beachum and Oher. In every sense, those moves were the prototypical styles of moves that you would expect. He didn’t show anything spectacular in his hand usage, save for maybe an anchoring technique against Bradfield. He didn’t show any spectacularly low pad-level or burst off the line of scrimmage.
He simply did enough on each occasion and took advantage of less impressive offensive tackles. Michael Oher may be a big name player, but he wasn’t a big performer during the regular season last year. He had a positive PFF grade, but he also gave up a large number of sacks and is always susceptible to the bull rush that Dunlap used to beat him.
|Players Beat||Snaps||Sacks Allowed||PFF Grade*|
Oher’s greatest weakness has always been his inability to handle that bull-rush. While Dunlap isn’t overpowering in the same way that an Aldon Smith can be, he does have a similar type of frame and enough bulk at 6’6, 280 lbs to overpower smaller tackles or run passed slower tackles.
|Timestamp||Players Beat||Primary Reason for sack||Attacks Ball?||Time Elapsed|
|JAX, Q2 04:58||Cameron Bradfield||Dunlap||No||2.6|
|NYG, Q1 09:15||David Diehl||Dunlap||Yes||2.8|
|NYG, Q2 :48||None||Extended Play||No||4.0|
|SD, Q1 01:40||None||Extended Play||Yes||4.2|
|SD, Q4 04:01||None||Dunlap||Yes||2.3|
|DAL, Q2 01:31||None||Extended Play||No||8.6|
|PIT, Q3 13:37||Kelvin Beachum||Dunlap||No||4.0|
|BAL, Q3 05:12||Michael Oher||Dunlap||No||4.6|
The most worrying aspect of Dunlap’s sacks as an analysis is the time it took for him to get to the quarterback. Only three of his sacks came within three seconds of the snap and the other five came at least four seconds after the snap. That is much too long from snap to sack and shows off a worrying dependance on the coverage ability of the Bengals’ secondary.
He was very proficient in attacking the football however. More often than not it was the situation that dictated if it was worth going for the ball instead of just wrapping up to secure the sack. That is exactly what you want from your pass-rushers because he is not risking missing the quarterback unnecessarily, while still not passing up opportunities to create what could be crucial turnovers.
Dunlap obviously has a huge amount of physical talent. He doesn’t appear to be a refined pass-rusher just yet, but he still has plenty of time to develop and is int he perfect situation to do that methodically. Having Mike Zimmer as your defensive coordinator and an outstanding depth of talent absorbing the pressure to perform now is the perfect mixture of patience and urgency for development.
The Bengals have seen much more of Dunlap than anyone outside of the organisation. It’s a major vote of confidence in his ability and commitment that they have been so willing to invest in him for the long-term.
You can follow Cian Fahey on twitter @Cianaf