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Cliff Avril & Michael Bennett: What do they bring to the Seahawks?

USA TODAY Sports

Admit it…you were feeling faint at the thought of Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett joining the pass rush the moment you heard they were coming to Seattle. The Fantasy and dreamlike pass rush combinations with Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin were overwhelming.

WAIT A MINUTE... There is just one problem; we are going to be without our starting LEO and the rookie leader in sacks to start the season. Terrific. At least we get Irvin back after we start the season 4-0 right? (I'm an optimist what can I say?) Chris Clemons is a different story though. He may fall on the PUP list and be available after 6 games. His absence will be felt.

We all know Chris Clemons’ value to the Seahawks defense. This knowledge is based on watching countless hours of our beloved Seahawks through crushing defeats and glorious highs. My point being… more often than not the defense relies on how Chris Clemons performs.

That leads me to Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett. We've heard Avril will possibly play some at Will Linebacker, but played mostly at DE for the Lions last year. Remember when Bennett played as a pass rushing DT his rookie year with us in the preseason in 2009? Well, he played primarily at 5 tech DE for Tampa Bay last year.

Confused? No problem. My brother and I have your back.

What we've done is give everyone here on Field Gulls more data to understand and know Avril and Bennett; like we know Chris Clemons. I think the timing is right considering that the draft numb is over, Scruggs is out indefinitely, and, well... Irvin’s situation. (WHY BRUCE??!?!??!?!?!?)

Introduction

The analysis is based on three players that played defensive end in 2012: Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, and Chris Clemons. It combines rough data collected by me tracking attributes of each of their plays against a common opponent in 2012, the Minnesota Vikings. I'm certainly no data analysis expert but hope you are able to enjoy the content. I offer some commentary but hope to leave most of the interpretation up to you, draw your own conclusions and let me know what you think!

Incidentally, Cliff Avril was injured in both Viking division games (undisclosed back injury week 4 and concussion week 10). For this reason I used both of his partial games in my evaluation, an important point to remember when evaluating the data.

Why the Minnesota Vikings?

It seemed to make sense at the time; that and, ever since the poison-pill episode, we seem to be cosmically tied to them. The real point was to see all three players playing in a somewhat similar environment in order to better compare and contrast their play styles, etc.

I tried to isolate the attributes for the players themselves and therefore did not spend a lot of time tracking the score and other items from each of the games.

First, the Minnesota Vikings’ 2012 Offense (I apologize in advance for subjecting you to this):

Official rankings:

  • 20th in Offense (yards per game)
  • 2nd in Rushing Offense
  • 31st in Passing Offense

My play charting:

  • 63% pass (122/193)
  • 37% run (71/193)

The charts below show the number of plays by type, percentage compared to 193 total plays (shaded grey), and percentage of run/pass (red):

1_medium

Other notes:

  • 56% of plays are either running plays or play action with the threat of run
  • 93% of plays are running plays, play action or shotgun passing plays
  • Offensive Tackles were primarily Matt Kalil at LT and Phil Loadholt at RT

Although Kyle Rudolph looked good, it's disappointing for former Seahawk John Carlson in 2012. For the year he caught only 8 catches for 43 yards and no TDs in 14 games with the Vikings after signing the big deal last offseason.

The Main Characters

  • Cliff Avril: 6'3" - 260 lbs - 27 yrs
  • Michael Bennett: 6'4" - 274 lbs - 27 yrs
  • Chris Clemons: 6'3" - 254 - 31 yrs

These are the official stat lines on NFL.COM for Avril, Bennett and Clemons vs. Minnesota in 2012 (click image to enlarge):

2

As usual, those stats don't tell the whole story.

Cliff Avril played the most of his snaps in the "Wide 9" alignment (Greg Cosell describes this alignment in the video link HERE). The shot below illustrates how wide the defensive ends play in this alignment:

3_medium

Michael Bennett played in alternative 4-3 under and over front formations, his 4-3 alignment is illustrated below:

4

Lastly, Chris Clemons in his familiar role:

5

Charting the plays

My charting shows they all played primarily outside at either 5 technique or some variation of outside pass rush technique (with limited time at 3 tech for Bennett). The table below shows the number of plays at each technique/position.

6_medium

Above, their defensive snaps are compared to the total defensive snaps (i.e. "sub" = subtotal of players' snaps; "total" = total defensive snaps). This shows how often they were subbed out (I did not count the plays Avril was subbed out for injury reasons). Avril clearly saw more time off and had a designated series or two off as opposed to being subbed out in specific situations; Bennett and Clemons hardly had any plays off showing how valuable to their defense they are.

The next table to shows the percentage of time each player lined up on either the strong or weak side; although all three were heavy to the weak side, this seemed to be more an indication of how the offense lined up as Avril and Bennett primarily played left end over Loadholt and Clemons played primarily right end over Kalil. It’s also worth noting the Vikings did not seem to play a lot of sets with one or more in-line TE.

7_medium

The Below pie charts depict how each player was used. Again, I kept it as simple as I could so we could see the high-level results (and to mask my deficiencies recognizing them). That’s why I don’t specify which inside gap they rushed, for example. "Outside Rush" includes any attempt they made to the OT’s outside shoulder, "Inside Rush" includes any attempt they made inside the OT’s shoulder, at the guard, etc. "Stunt" includes the redirects around and behind other defensive linemen but may not have all been actual stunts. Here are the results (click image to enlarge):

8_medium

Interesting stuff. Avril rushed to the outside more than the others; Bennett rushed the interior the most of the three (although I was surprised it wasn’t more based on my experience watching him in Seattle); Clemons was clearly the most versatile, at least in how he was used.

How did the offense defend these players? Naturally, the offense opted to block these guys the most one on one with the OT. Interesting that Avril saw 3 times the amount of one on one blocking from a TE as the other two. Clemons was double-teamed the most and Avril also saw the most unblocked looks as the plays moved away from him.

9

Measuring Effectiveness

You can contrast my tracked plays below with their official stat lines shown earlier:

9a_medium

Let me state again, this is a totally subjective analysis as I can’t really know if they did what they were really supposed to do. For example, holding the edge on running plays to force the back inside I would still track as "Blocked" or "Non-Factor". However, I think this data can illustrate some high level indications of the player’s effectiveness. I’ll have more on the "blocked shot" later on.

Below are graphs of each player’s involvement and the result (click to enlarge).

9b

My observations:

  • I was surprised how similar these players charted out above, especially on the outside. That's good news for us considering how great Clem has been.
  • Avril almost exclusively rushed the tackle's outside shoulder; was that by design considering how good Detroit's DTs are? The tape definitely showed the QB stepping up into the pocket to avoid Avril's outside rush and it seemed the design was for Fairley and Suh to collapse the pocket and Avril to influence the QB from the outside. It will be curious to see how he is used in Seattle.
  • Please don't ask Bennett to cover a TE. Ever again. Avril either, for that matter.
  • On that note, Clem can cover a TE pretty effectively and drop into zone well, too. What a beast.
  • Stunting with any of these players is extremely effective; I'd like to see more of that.

While charting the players I noticed some things that could not be boiled down to basic metrics:

  • Cliff Avril - He reminded me somewhat of Bruce Irvin with both his speed (not nearly as fast, though) and the lack of an inside counter move when rushing from the outside. Did this have something to do with the scheme, as I mentioned earlier? That is where I would definitely stop comparing him to Irvin, though; he clearly has a higher football IQ at this time; he has longer arms and a tenacious attitude that combine for some amazing plays. I didn't notice as much raw power from him as I'd like and clearly Minnesota's offense felt comfortable putting a TE on him more than Bennett or Clemons. His lining up exclusively at left defensive end also makes me wonder how playing him at LEO against most QB's blindsides will affect his play.
  • Michael Bennett - Bennett again flashes a nice blend of power and quickness that give offensive players a hard time. I was surprised he wasn't used more as an inside rusher, especially on clear passing downs as he was effective every time he was moved there. I was also surprised how successful he was as a pass rusher at the 5 tech, not surprised to see him dominate vs. the run. Clearly he will provide options at multiple positions for the Hawks.
  • Chris Clemons - How good is this guy? I've always appreciated his pass rush ability but his versatility flashed for me when watching him on tape. His awareness of screen plays and even effectively dropping into coverage when necessary shows how much we lost when he went down last year in the playoffs.

Blocked Shot

One of my favorite plays involved Avril. It's a tragedy that he will only receive credit for essentially just a tackle. In my opinion, however, he should receive credit for a: blocked shot, pass defended, QB pressure, tackle, and a sack. Quality is not great but I'm sure you can still enjoy.

Click to view the gif:

Avril_medium

Summary

After a sampling of information I am hoping you can get to know Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett in the context of how you know Chris Clemons. Although, I think we can all agree Pete Carroll and Dan Quinn have many ideas and options of how these two great players will be used before and after Chris Clemons returns.

Please consider following my brother, @hermann22, and me, @wimerek to continue the discussion on Twitter. We welcome your input and feedback, thanks for reading!!

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