The Final Word on Carolina's Defensive Ends

Against the pass the Kraken was well and truly released. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

This is it-- the last time I'll make mention of the Carolina Panthers' defensive ends last season. It's a topic that has been discussed, debated, re-hashed, and over-analyzed ad naseum. Today Football Outsiders came out with their 2012 Almanac, a look back at the 2011 season with all of the information you could ever possibly want. We've been waiting for the in-depth charting, and now we have it.

What we see is one defensive end in Charles Johnson in need of help, and the other in Greg Hardy who was over-used to the point he wasn't able to give anymore. This is the case for two reasons: Firstly, because Charles Johnson was fighting through double teams on the majority of downs (sometimes being chipped also), and secondly because Greg Hardy was on the field for more plays than any defensive lineman on the team, ultimately finishing 9th in the NFL in total plays among DEs.

More after the jump

So here we are at the nitty gritty. We know now that Big Money suffered due to double teams, and we know Kraken suffered due to over use. How did each player deal with these issues?

Pass Rush

If you want something to look forward to let it be that despite all the critiques about his contract vs. sacks, Charles Johnson was still extremely effective in 2011, despite lacking quality defensive tackles.

- Charles Johnson (2011): 9 sacks, 3 hits, 19 hurries-- Total of 31 pressures

Allowed -2.8 yards average per pass play

This isn't perfect, far from it. Take Jared Allen, who finished the season with a total of an astonishing 55.5 pressures, but nevertheless in a bad situation CJ did pretty well.

Care to know who did better? His compatriot, Greg Hardy.

- Greg Hardy (2011): 4 sacks, 9 hits, 19.5 hurries-- Total of 32.5 pressures

Allowed 0.4 yards on average per pass play

There was never any doubting that Hardy knows how to rush the passer. We saw flashes of this ability in 2010, and he definitely took another step forward in 2011. What we do need to see, however, is him being able to get faster and get to the QB prior to the pass. Hits and hurries are nice, but a sack has a much greater impact. I'm still unsure what to think of the heavier, then lighter, then heavier rumors regarding Hardy's weight, but so long as he can keep his speed it's an excellent thing.

Run Stopping

This was where arguments were forged this season as some believe Greg Hardy to be a perfectly good run stopper, others thinking he's lackluster. Now we have a good sense of how CJ and Hardy did.

- Charles Johnson (2011): 27 runs against, 67% stop rate, 1.7 yards allowed average

Teams didn't like running against CJ, and why should they? Allowing just 1.7 yards on the ground, while fighting double teams is astounding for Big Money, and a huge reason why he's worth the money paid.

- Greg Hardy (2011): 37 runs against, 73% stop rate, 2.6 yards allowed

This is not bad at all. Teams were more willing to run at Hardy, but he still held them to an okay 2.6 yards (you'll see why this is worse than it sounds in a second). His stop rate is better than Johnson's, though it's important not to put too much stock in stops alone.

Final Rankings

It's here that everything is put in a blender, put together, and out pops the final ranking based purely on one key thing-- per play how many yards did the opposing team have against a defensive end. The margins are very small, but extremely important. Jared Allen ranked 3rd in the NFL with -1.1 yards allowed, so this is a metric that goes into the negative for top players.

- Charles Johnson (2011): -0.1 yards allowed average-- 10th in the NFL

- Greg Hardy (2011): 1.8 yards allowed average-- 50th in the NFL

As I said, it's astounding what a difference 1.9 yards has when working in these small margins. They tell us two vital things: Firstly, that Charles Johnson is every bit a top defensive end, even when he's not getting a lot of help; and secondly, that there is a rather large disparity between Greg Hardy as a pass rusher, and Hardy as a run stopper.

Now you see how close these margins are you can see what 2.6 yards allowed on the ground equates to. He's close to zero as a pass rusher, which puts him into good company, however we will need to improve as a run stopper in 2012 to be a long term answer. Perhaps this was due to injury, or Ron Rivera was correct in stating he was carrying too much weight, but whatever the reason the level of play will need to be lifted, but it appears Hardy has the tools to do it.

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