Michael Nania goes beyond the simplicity of the box scores to break down Quinnen Williams‘ strengths and weaknesses as a pass-rusher in 2019.
Quinnen Williams‘ rookie season was respectable, but he did underwhelm with a lack of eye-popping plays in the passing game. As the third overall pick and largely hailed as the draft’s most talented player, the expectation was for him to come right in and dominate. He failed to do that.
However, at 22 years old with only two years of starting experience across both college and the NFL, Williams’ story is far from complete. He has plenty of time to fulfill his massive potential.
Rather than giving up on Williams and endlessly complaining about his sack totals (an incredibly simplistic stat that does not come close to capturing a player’s overall impact), what we should be doing is analyzing the pluses and minuses of his game to understand where he is as a player and how he can take the next step.
I wanted to give Williams’ pass-rushing game the in-depth look that it deserves. Was he truly a liability, or were there hidden-impact plays that flew under the radar on live television? What were his strengths and weaknesses in terms of move type, alignment, and matchup?
To answer these questions, I set out to re-watch all of Williams’ pass-rushing reps throughout the season, charting a few details for each one to locate trends and impact that flew by the naked eye.
Here are a few things to know before we get into the numbers.
Production by move type
These are the five varieties of moves that I divided Williams’ rushes into.
Power: Williams’ initial move is directed straight into the opponent’s chest with the intent to win through strength. Bull-rush, long-arm are examples.
Inside: Williams attempts to beat his man to the inside with a rip, spin, swipe, swim/arm-over, etc.
Outside: Williams attempts to beat his man to the outside with a rip, spin, swipe, swim/arm-over, etc.
Stunt penetrator: Williams’ assignment is to crash down and absorb blockers to open up a clear lane into the pocket for a teammate.
Stunt looper: Williams’ assignment is to sell his rush in one direction and then change his course to take advantage of the lane created by a teammate.
Production by alignment
I charted Williams’ rushes according to his alignment across the line of scrimmage. Here is a look at the positions used (known as “techniques,” as in “3-technique”).
Production by matchup
I charted Williams’ rushes according to the position of the offensive player that he competed against. If he was a stunt penetrator, I assigned his matchup as the player who he most needed to absorb in order to open up a lane.
What was charted?
Pass rush snaps: Number of times Williams rushed the passer. Excludes screens, bootlegs, sprint-outs, or any type of play in which Williams did not get the chance to truly engage with an opponent.
Sacks: Williams records a sack.
Hits: Williams does not sack the quarterback, but knocks him to the ground.
Hurries: Williams does not sack or knock down the quarterback, but he bears down on the quarterback to force an awkward change in his throwing mechanics, a premature release, scramble, etc.
Wins: This stat is the crux of the study, aiming to solely capture Williams’ ability to get his job done.
There are many examples of good reps that go for naught. A victorious rush could end up not amounting to anything because of a quick release by the quarterback. The rusher could be on his way to a sack until he is forced to stop and put his hands up to block the throwing lane. When a player clears an opening as a stunt penetrator, he may not get to the quarterback himself, but he created the opportunity for somebody else to. These are just a few of many ways that a defender can record a great rush without being rewarded with a tangible result.
The “wins” stat accounts for these issues by looking only at Williams’ assignment and nothing else. I considered a “win” any instance in which Quinnen beats his blocker to set himself or a teammate en route to the QB’s initial set point, within a reasonable amount of time (about 2.5 seconds from snap to win).
Keep in mind that if a pressure is recorded (hurries/hits/sacks), a win will be logged on that play as well.
While we cannot determine how Williams’ win rates would compare against the rest of the NFL, they can help us visualize his progress throughout the season in addition to showcasing his best and worst splits.
Williams’ first three games came against the Bills, Eagles, and Cowboys. He missed the Jets’ meetings with the Browns and Patriots in Weeks 2-3 due to an ankle injury, resting up over the Week 4 bye.
Here are the numbers broken down by move type.
Williams was highly productive as a stunt penetrator early in the season, especially against the Cowboys (more on that later). His one-on-one game got off to a rocky start, however.
Here are the numbers broken down by alignment.
Williams lined up everywhere from the nose to opposite a tight end, but he typically settled in at either the 3 or 4i-technique, playing at one of those spots 58.5% of the time. He also saw some time further inside, lining up at 0, 1, or 2i-technique 33.8% of the time. He was most successful at the 3-technique position, where he was most frequently utilized, winning 25.9% of the time from that spot.
Here are the numbers broken down by matchup.
Williams was deployed on the defense’s left side far more often than the right, which clearly was the right decision based on his productivity. He did well in his limited reps against centers and thrived against right guards in his most frequent role as the left 3-technique.
Week 1 vs. Buffalo
Wins: 1 (7.7%)
Move type: 4 stunt looper (1 win), 3 inside, 2 stunt penetrator, 2 outside, 2 power
Alignment: 5 as 4i-tech, 4 as 3-tech (1 win), 4 as 2i-tech
Matchup: 6 vs. RG, 3 vs. LG, 3 vs. C (1 win), 1 vs. LT
Williams’ debut was a rough one in the pass-rushing game, although his diet of opportunities was small as he barely played in the second half. It was revealed afterward that he injured his ankle at some point in the game, presumably in the first half.
On C.J. Mosley‘s pick-six, Williams lined up at 3-tech and found himself on the ground. Williams sells outside and attempts to swipe towards the inside, but is thwarted by Jon Feliciano. Williams fails to throw an effective counter (something he struggled with) and is pancaked.
Quinnen’s lone win came as a stunt looper from the left three-technique spot, courtesy of penetration by Leonard Williams. Leo holds the center (Mitch Morse) long enough to give Quinnen a head of steam while preventing Morse from readying his hands. Quinnen bulls Morse into Allen’s initial set point with leverage to peel off towards the inside. This probably would have been a crushing sack against a stationary pocket-passer, but Allen decides to scramble almost immediately (picking up the first down). Nice play by Quinnen.
Week 5 at Philadelphia
Wins: 6 (24.0%)
Pressures: 2 (2 hurries)
Move type: 7 outside (1 win), 5 power (1 win), 5 stunt penetrator (2 wins, 1 hurry), 4 stunt looper, 4 inside (2 wins, 1 hurry)
Alignment: 15 as 3-tech (3 wins, 2 hurries), 7 as 2i-tech (3 wins), 1 as 0-tech, 1 as 4i-tech
Matchup: 13 vs. RG (3 wins, 1 hurry), 6 vs. C (1 win), 3 vs. RT (1 win, 1 hurry), 3 vs. RG (1 win)
Williams returned from a two-game absence (plus a bye week) to face Philadelphia’s star-studded offensive line on the road. He performed well given the tough circumstances.
After failing to win on his first eight rushes against Philly, Williams won six of his final 17 (35.3%) to close the game. He picked up a trio of wins against right guard Brandon Brooks, one against center Jason Kelce, and one against right tackle Lane Johnson, who have each made the Pro Bowl three times. In addition, Williams was active in the run game with three stops shy of the first down marker for a gain of three yards or less.
Williams’ best rush was this hurry against Johnson. Lined up as the 4i-technique (which is what I went with, but 3-tech could work as well), Williams heads outside towards the right tackle. Johnson is initially concerned with Harvey Langi, who drops out, so he is late to turn his attention to Williams and is not in a good position to take him on. Williams violently swipes away Johnson’s punch to spin him around and set a course for Carson Wentz. Wentz gets the ball out quickly for a completion (about 2.24 seconds from snap to release), but a win is a win for Williams.
On this play, Williams lines up as a 2i-technique opposite the inside shoulder of the left guard (Brooks). Williams sells inside penetration, then stops in his tracks and clubs Brooks with his outside arm. Williams wins a lane to the outside where even if he does not hit Wentz, he could at least force Brooks into Wentz’s lap. However, Wentz gets the ball out quickly (about 2.14 seconds from snap to release). Nothing Williams can do about that. It’s a strong move even if nothing came out of it.
Week 6 vs. Dallas
Wins: 9 (33.3%)
Pressures: 1 (1 hurry)
Move type: 10 power (2 wins, 1 hurry), 7 stunt penetrator (5 wins), 5 stunt looper (1 win), 3 outside, 2 inside (1 win)
Alignment: 8 as 3-tech (3 wins), 5 as 4i-tech (2 wins), 4 as 1-tech (1 win), 3 as 2i-tech, 2 as 0-tech (2 wins), 2 as 6-tech (1 win, 1 hurry), 1 as 4-tech, 1 as 5-tech, 1 as 7-tech
Matchup: 10 vs. RG (5 wins), 8 vs. RT (2 wins, 1 hurry), 4 vs. C (2 wins), 4 vs. LG, 1 vs. TE
Williams caused some problems for Dallas – the second consecutive elite offensive line he competed against.
It was as a stunt penetrator where Williams shined. Over seven reps in that role, Williams successfully opened up a lane to the quarterback five times, creating three hits and two hurries for teammates.
Here, Quinnen crashes down from the nose (slightly shaded to his right) and absorbs the center (Travis Frederick) and left guard (Connor Williams), allowing Leo to loop through the A-gap and take down Dak Prescott. Prescott’s pass falls incomplete.
Williams had some solid one-on-one reps as well. He has six-time Pro Bowl right guard Zack Martin barreling into the pocket here, but Prescott releases the ball approximately 2.27 seconds after the snap.
It should also be noted that Williams dominated on the ground against Dallas. He contributed to six run stops for three yards or less (five of those for one yard or less).
So far, I’m intrigued by what I’ve seen from Williams. He needs to do a better job of sticking with his rushes (he is a bit quick to pull up and play the passing lane), perfecting counter moves, and timing the snap, but his raw power showed up frequently while flashes of technical proficiency were there. In addition to showcasing long-term potential, Williams’ impact as a stunt penetrator added value in the passing game that I initially did not notice. Coupled with his already-solid run defense, Williams’ stunt ability should keep his floor relatively high.
As I go through his next 11 games, I am hoping to see Williams build upon some of the positive trends that he established against Philadelphia and Dallas.
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