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Jamal Adams and Bradley McDougald: A statistical comparison

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Oakland Raiders v New York Jets

With news starting to pour in, I am going to put my wildly unpopular look at the Seahawks Super Bowl winning season on hold for now and maybe forever!

Instead, today I will begin to preview Jamal Adams’ impact on the 2020 Seattle Seahawks. That’s timely and people have asked for it, so why not? First we will look at Adams’ contributions as compared to Bradley McDougald from a statistical standpoint. Here we go:

By Snaps

Both players are full-time starters who rarely leave the field. McDougald started 15 of 16 games, and played in 100% of all defensive snaps in 14. He missed most of the game against Atlanta after missing most of practice, subbing in when Marquise Blair left the field with cramps.

Adams played in 14 games total, always appearing in more than 90% of the Jets’ defensive snaps. He may or may not have been benched in week two. He says he was. Adam Gase threw some mud in that water, but did not deny that he wanted Adams off the field.

Both players have mostly stayed healthy. Adams missed the end of last season with an ankle injury which left him in a walking boot. Adams did not appear on the injury report in any other season, from what I can find on Pro Football Reference. In three seasons, McDougald has been listed as questionable eight times, and missed more than 10% of his team’s snaps in six games since becoming a starter partway through 2017. Adams has only missed more than 10% of snaps in one game he started, and that was in a squash victory over a hapless Dolphins team.

Winner: Push.

By Production

This should be a huge win for Adams, but let’s find out.

Production is a funny thing, and defining it can be hard, but for our purposes, I am going to concentrate on those kinds of production we can measure statistically. I went ahead and purchased Football Outsider’s 2020 almanac just for this post! That means we have a treasure trove of info to work with.

As a run defender

Stops: These are plays which “stop” the opposing offense from achieving “success.” Which can be defined as stopping the offense from increasing their likelihood of scoring (or increasing their likelihood of scoring a touchdown versus a field goal), but feel free to click on the link to read FO’s definition.

Adams was rare good at this. He recorded 38 plays against the run, and 63% of all plays he made against the run resulted in the offense losing value. That ranked third in the NFL among safeties. From a team perspective, the Jets ranked first in adjusted line yards allowed, first in percentage of opposing rushes which were “stuffed” (stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage), and in the top ten at defending both the 2nd level and the open field. They were also top ten at defending runs off both ends and behind both tackles, while being ranked second at defending runs behind right tackle and first at defending runs off right end. Every single one of those stats speaks incredibly highly of Adams.

McDougald was not nearly as good as Adams at defending the run. He had fewer plays in more snaps, 30, and was much less successful at stopping the run. He ranked 33rd. Only 43% of the plays he made as a run defender improved Seattle’s chance of preventing a score/TD. Seattle ranked 21st in adjusted line yards, and 12th at stuffing runs. The were similarly below average at defending rushers in the open field, ranking 21st and 20th in 2nd level yards allowed. The Seahawks were particularly bad at defending runs to the left, ranking 27th and 25th against runs behind left end and left tackle.

Trading for Adams should improve Seattle’s ability to stop the run and especially to stop the run to the outside. While it can be difficult to compare players playing in different schemes, Seattle’s second level has been arguably slow and old for at least two seasons now. As one-man solutions to a team-wide problem go, the Seahawks could hardly hope for a better open-field run defender than Jamal Adams.

Winner: Adams

As a pass defender

Let’s get the apples-to-oranges comparison out of the way first. Adams played for defensive coordinator Greg Williams last season and typically Williams likes to blitz. According to Pro Football Reference, New York blitzed in 39.2% of all defensive snaps in 2019. Which ranked fourth in the NFL. Seattle blitzed in 26.9% of all snaps, 15th. That means Adams had many, many more opportunities to rush the passer: 90 as compared to McDougald’s 21, to be precise.

From those many more opportunities Adams earned more value. McDougald earned two hurries, one hit and a split sack. But maybe not as much additional value as one might assume. While Adams did record 6.5 sacks, he also only recorded three hurries and six knockdowns. We’ll see how many opportunities to blitz Adams is given in 2020. But it must be noted that he had three times more opportunities to rush the passer in 2019 than McDougald, Quandre Diggs, Tedric Thompson, Tre Flowers and Shaquill Griffin combined. Seattle will have to adjust their tendencies, and likely with it, parts of their scheme to capture this part of Adams’s value.

McDougald may have been the better pass defender of the two. According to PFR, he was targeted 57 times, allowed only 31 of those targets to be completed, for an average of 6.2 yards allowed per target and a quarterback rating allowed of 58.8. The normal very appropriate criticism of quarterback rating is that it doesn’t include sacks, but that’s immaterial here. Adams was targeted 38 times, allowing 21 completions, and a quarterback rating allowed of 75.2. The big difference between the two is McDougald intercepted two passes, and Adams intercepted one. Adams only allowed a very slightly higher completion percentage, and he was significantly better than McDougald in yards per target allowed and yards per completion allowed: 8.9 and 4.9 vs 11.5 and 6.2, respectively.

Interceptions matter though, a lot, and Adams only has two in 3,181 professional snaps. McDougald had five in 2,490 since joining Seattle, and had five in 2,347 snaps before joining Seattle.

Things look a little rosier for Adams when comparing Seattle and New York at the team level. The Jets were above average at defending slots receivers, ranking 13th, tight ends, 12th, and very good at defending running backs, 5th. Seattle was modestly worse: 16th, 17th and 10th.

It also must be noted that while Adams has performed strongly against the pass in both seasons as measured by QB rating allowed, McDougald was flat awful in 2018. He allowed completions on 76.7% of targets, five TDs, and a QB rating allowed of 110.1. He’s also allowed 399 yards after catch over the past two seasons as compared to Adams, who has only allowed 228. Adams is also the more consistent tackler, as that stat might imply. He’s missed 16 over the last two seasons while converting 190. McDougald missed 19 in just 148 total tackles.

Winner: Adams (I’ll explain below)

Conclusions

I’m setting aside any sort of conversation about leadership for now. We’ll see.

The Seahawks have probably greatly improved their ability to defend runs to the outside. Smart people may wonder why teams put so much damn emphasis on run defense, but they do. In 2019, New York led the NFL in expected points added by their run defense. Seattle ranked 27th, and the gulf between their performances was 89.79 points wide. Staggering, really. That’s more than the LA Rams were able to add with their entire passing offense, and they ranked 15th in the NFL. It’s only about 46 points fewer than Seattle was able to create with its own passing offense, and the Seahawks ranked sixth in that category.

From the standpoint of identifying a weakness and acquiring the player who can fix that weakness, the Seahawks hit a grand slam. You’re gonna see Adams ending runs off the edges, and you’re gonna see Adams ending runs off the edges all the damn time. Eight years ago, Bobby Wagner ran a 4.46 at his pro day. Adding to that, KJ Wright ran a 4.75 (Combine), McDougald ran a 4.74 (“), Tedric Thompson 4.6, and Quandre Diggs 4.56. Only Thompson could still claim that speed, and he’s long gone. Diggs likely has at least most of it left. Newest addition Jordyn Brooks ran a 4.54. Adams ran a 4.56 at the Combine and a feverish 4.4 flat at his pro day. He also smoked the 3-cone drill: 6.96.

It is not clear whether Adams will be a better pass defender than McDougald. They had very different roles within their respective defenses. Adams certainly could boost what looks like an anemic pass rush, but only if Seattle significantly changes how it plays its strong safety. However one somewhat hidden stat has me at least pretty confident the Seahawks will improve as a pass defense, overall.

The Seahawks were incredibly reluctant to play nickel defense in 2019. Seattle played nickel personnel in only 27% of defensive snaps. The Jets played it in 77% of defensive snaps, and allowed only 5.6 yards per play. The Seahawks allowed 7 yards per play, and a 30.4% DVOA against. To put that into practical terms, when Seattle went nickel, opponent quarterbacks played like Patrick Mahomes in 2019. When the Jets went nickel, opposing quarterbacks played like Eli Manning in 2018 (-1.7%).

Seattle needed defensive back talent to play nickel defense more frequently, but they maybe also needed the kind of defensive backs who could play the run to allow for more nickel defense. After all, the defense can only guess whether the offense’s next play will be a run or a pass, and must be able to account for either possibility. Having played so much base personnel against so many pass-first offensive personnel groupings, I would guess Seattle’s run defense was actually worse than it first might have appeared. So bad that the Seahawks tactically sacrificed pass defense to handicap their run defense. Adams should allow Seattle to play more nickel defense, that nickel defense will likely be better able to defend the pass, and that nickel defense will likely be better overall for his presence.

No one should anticipate the return of the Legion of Boom. It’s not even a fair comparison. But the Seahawks were damn close to being a first overall seed in 2019. That can’t be projected into 2020, but it’s worth noting. And the Seahawks were damn close to being a first overall seed in 2019 despite an 18th ranked defense, and a 26th ranked rush defense. That defense lacked speed. That defense could not be trusted to stop the run when in nickel personnel. Rarely should one player be counted on to fix such big problems, but if you were to target one defensive back from the whole NFL who could possibly do it, it’d probably be Jamal Adams.