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NY Jets: Is this scathing Alijah Vera-Tucker criticism legit?

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Alijah Vera-Tucker, New York Jets, Getty Images

These numbers claim Alijah Vera-Tucker isn’t the superstar New York Jets fans think

To most New York Jets fans, the narrative around Alijah Vera-Tucker is simple: He’s a star when healthy.

Some stats don’t agree.

In the run game, there’s no debate: AVT is a star. The metrics match the hype in that phase, whether it’s his stunning on-off impact or his elite run-blocking grades at Pro Football Focus. For his career, Breece Hall averages 6.08 yards per carry with AVT on the field and 3.97 with him off. Over his three-week stretch at guard in 2022 (Weeks 1-3), AVT had the best PFF run-blocking grade in the NFL among guards (85.6), and over his two-week stretch at guard in 2023 (Weeks 1-2), he ranked third-best (79.7).

However, some of AVT’s numbers in the passing game fall on the opposite end of the spectrum. Rivka Boord brought up this topic in her article about the most overrated players in the AFC East.

As Rivka described, AVT has allowed pressure (either a sack, QB hit, or QB hurry) on 8.1% of his pass-blocking snaps at guard since 2022, per Pro Football Focus. Quite frankly, that is a brutal rate. For perspective, the 2023 league average for guards was 5.2%. Consider that Washington’s Saahdiq Charles allowed an 8.1% pressure rate in 2023, placing Charles 74th out of 78 qualified guards (min. 200 pass-blocking snaps).

What gives? Is AVT really this bad as a pass blocker? Or are the numbers lying to our faces?

Let’s unpack this and try to figure out where AVT truly stands as a pass blocker.

Another outlet completely disagrees with PFF

While PFF views AVT as a total liability in pass protection (despite their adoration of his run-blocking), Next Gen Stats doesn’t think he’s nearly as bad. In fact, they think he’s better than the average guard.

NGS tracks pressures differently than PFF. Whereas PFF relies on humans to chart each play, NGS relies on GPS tracking, meaning the stats are automatically tracked in real time by a computer. This causes the two outlets to arrive at very different conclusions.

In the NGS system, AVT has allowed pressure on 7.1% of his pass-blocking snaps at guard over the past two seasons. While that doesn’t sound much different than his 8.1% rate in PFF’s system, it’s actually significantly better since the league average pressure rate is far higher at NGS. In the NGS system, the 2023 league average pressure rate for guards was 7.9%, compared to 5.2% at PFF. This means NGS viewed AVT as above average:

  • Next Gen Stats: 7.1% AVT pressure rate vs. 7.9% guard average (-0.8%)
  • Pro Football Focus: 8.1% AVT pressure rate vs. 5.2% guard average (+2.9%)

Cincinnati’s Alex Cappa allowed a 7.1% NGS pressure rate in 2023, placing him 32nd out of 77 qualifiers (59th percentile).

Okay, so PFF thinks AVT pass-blocks like a bottom-five guard, while NGS thinks he pass-blocks at an above-average level. Which side should we trust?

I have generally leaned toward PFF’s pressure numbers rather than the NGS system, as I don’t trust the idea of relying on computers to determine whether a play should be tallied as a pressure or not. The NGS system basically looks at dots on a screen to draw its conclusions. There’s a ton of context left out when you don’t have a human watching the actual play.

However, the issue with PFF is that subjectivity comes into play. Who is charting these plays? Are they qualified to be doing it? How do we know biases aren’t coming into play? How do they manage total consistency without human error across hundreds of plays?

At NGS, you at least have defined rules as to what constitutes a pressure. An unbiased computer is evaluating every play on the same plane. When you rely on anonymous humans, random variance can come into play for many reasons, particularly the ones I mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Based on what I’ve seen from AVT, I think his pressure rate at NGS is more accurate. I wouldn’t argue he’s a star in pass protection, as there are definitely warts in his pass-blocking game that often go ignored by Jets fans, but “above-average” sounds about right. It seems preposterous that PFF’s pressure numbers view AVT as abysmal. Then again, I could be biased as someone who covers the Jets, so why should I be trusted instead of these two analytical systems?

As usual, the best answer lies in the film.

I looked back through AVT’s five starts at guard from 2022-23 to try and get an idea of what both systems are seeing. The primary question on my mind: Why did PFF charge him with more pressures than NGS even though their system is more forgiving to linemen than the NGS system?

My hypothesis going in was that PFF knocked AVT for some pressures that shouldn’t have been counted as such. But I kept myself open to the idea that NGS is overrating AVT while PFF is telling the truth, revealing a harsh reality that would shock any Jets fan. I left it up to the film to unveil the true story.

I clipped every play that I thought could be argued as a pressure, not just the ones I thought were a pressure, giving you, the reader, a chance to make your own call.

PFF charged AVT with 19 pressures. NGS charged him with 16. Here’s every play that could have been included in those totals.

Alijah Vera-Tucker pressures allowed at guard

2022 Week 1 vs. Baltimore

  • Potential pressure clips I found on film: 4

AVT gets cooked pretty badly here by a swim move. Luckily, Connor McGovern bails him out with some help, and AVT’s man doesn’t really affect the play.

This is an example of a play where the offensive lineman clearly lost but probably wasn’t knocked for a pressure since his man didn’t affect the quarterback. There are a ton of these throughout every game; do you really think the average guard only loses 5% of his pass-blocking snaps? Nah. They only get credited with pressures if the defender makes an impact.

Clearly a bad rep, not a pressure.

Verdict: No pressure

Not the worst rep of all time, as it takes the defender some time to get home, but this is definitely a pressure allowed by AVT. The defender wraps up Joe Flacco before the elite QB is able to escape.

Verdict: Pressure (1)

Bad rep by AVT as he whiffs selling the run block, allowing pressure right in Flacco’s face. No doubt about this one.

Verdict: Pressure (2)

This one is debatable, but I’m going to let AVT off the hook since Tyler Conklin didn’t do much of anything on this block. Not an ideal job by AVT at all, but I would charge this pressure to Conklin since he engaged the defender first and didn’t provide any resistance.

Verdict: No pressure

Total verdict: 2 pressures

  • PFF tracking: 3 pressures on 66 PBLK snaps, 4.5% pressure rate (-0.7% vs. G average at PFF)
  • NGS tracking: 2 pressures on 62 PBLK snaps, 3.2% pressure rate (-4.7% vs. G average at NGS)

Both outlets thought AVT pass-blocked well in this game, and after watching every play, I agree. The Jets racked up an absurd number of pass plays in this game since they were trailing the entire time. Whether you credit AVT with two pressures or three, that’s a really good pass-blocking performance on 60-plus snaps. These four reps were the only blemishes I saw. He was sharp.

NGS hit AVT with two pressures while PFF gave him three. My guess is that PFF charged AVT for the last one, which I can’t argue with. It wasn’t a good play; you can go either way between him and Conklin.

Overall, though, this was a good outing, and both outlets agreed (although NGS saw him as elite in their system while PFF just saw him as merely solid). This game doesn’t play a huge role in his overall underwhelming numbers at guard.

2022 Week 2 at Cleveland

  • Potential pressure clips I found on film: 4

I put this one on AVT for a lack of recognition against the stunt. McGovern realizes the DT is trying to penetrate inside, so he tries to pass him off to AVT, but AVT isn’t aware and stays fixated on his man, causing him to get picked by the penetrator. This leads to pressure on Flacco.

Verdict: Pressure (1)

While it might look like one, this is clearly not a pressure to me. AVT protects the area he’s supposed to protect. Flacco just happens to slide right into the rusher’s lane. I’m hoping neither outlet charted this as a pressure.

Verdict: No pressure

Here’s another one that looks bad but isn’t AVT’s fault. I have no idea why Max Mitchell oversets so hard to the outside when he knows he’s getting a chip from Ty Johnson, which will likely push the rusher inside. Plus, the rusher is clearly trying to go inside from his very first step. It’s Mitchell who blows this up, causing AVT to get caught in the mud.

Verdict: No pressure

I’d hit AVT for this one. He gives up an inside spin, allowing the rusher to get right in Flacco’s face. AVT recovers nicely to push the rusher away, keeping Flacco clean, but he still affects the throw, forcing Flacco to fade away.

Verdict: Pressure (2)

Total verdict: 2 pressures

  • PFF tracking: 3 pressures on 49 PBLK snaps, 6.1% pressure rate (+0.9% vs. G average at PFF)
  • NGS tracking: 2 pressures on 47 PBLK snaps, 4.3% pressure rate (-3.6% vs. G average at NGS)

I’m not sure where PFF got their third pressure from. I explained above why both of those two clips should clearly not be counted as pressures against AVT, but PFF apparently counted one of the two as a pressure (there were no other plays in this game remotely close to being pressure-worthy).

So far, I’ve aligned perfectly with the NGS tally on two consecutive games, while PFF gave AVT one extra pressure in each game. I understood why it may have happened in the Baltimore game, but this one makes me skeptical.

NGS typically charges linemen for pressure much more frequently than PFF. So, the fact that it’s PFF who is crediting AVT with more pressures means he looks immensely better in the NGS system. In this particular game, AVT was 3.6% below the guard average at NGS compared to 0.9% above the guard average at PFF, just because of one mysterious pressure that I didn’t see on film.

I thought this was another great performance from AVT in pass protection. Once again, the Jets racked up a very high number of passing plays, and yet, I only saw two bad reps.

2022 Week 3 vs. Cincinnati

  • Potential pressure clips I found on film: 6

B.J. Hill dominates AVT with a jerk-swim combo, creating clear pressure on Flacco.

Verdict: Pressure (1)

Mitchell actually does a good job of passing this stunt off to AVT. He places the defender right in AVT’s lap, but AVT fails to pick it up, resulting in a low hit on Flacco. I’d definitely knock AVT for this one.

Verdict: Pressure (2)

The debate with this one is whether a lineman should be excused when he trips. AVT trips on Mitchell here, which is why he falls and allows this rusher to get in Flacco’s face as he throws (possibly contacting the arm). Personally, I wouldn’t blame a lineman for allowing pressure if he gets tripped. That’s usually bad luck, which is the case here.

This is the type of thing I would expect to be accounted for at PFF but not NGS. A human at PFF should see the trip and let AVT off the hook for something outside his control. NGS just sees No. 58 getting past No. 75.

I’m letting this one slide.

Verdict: No pressure

While it doesn’t help that Mitchell gets in AVT’s way, AVT seems to be getting beat outside from the jump. He is never able to establish a strong grip on the defender. Even if Mitchell got into a regular pass set, I think the defender would have beat AVT through the B gap with a rip move. Eventually, the defender loops all the way outside of the tackle to get around AVT and hit Flacco.

It’s a tough call, though, and I did debate over this one. Without Mitchell getting in his way, perhaps AVT would have recovered and pushed the defender past the QB. We don’t know.

I wouldn’t argue if you excused AVT for this one, but I lean toward knocking him since his rep wasn’t ideal, regardless of the obstruction. But it’s a toss-up.

Verdict: Pressure (3)

I know it takes a relatively long time to play out, but I’m still going to knock AVT for this one. He’s too passive. AVT barely makes contact on the defender, allowing himself to gradually be walked back into the pocket. The rusher comes off AVT with no resistance and gets the hit.

Verdict: Pressure (4)

It’s hard to definitively judge this without knowing the Jets’ protection call on the play. My hunch, though, is that Mitchell should be blamed for this sack, not AVT – even though it looks like AVT is obviously at fault.

Mitchell lets the DE run untouched into the backfield to kick out and pick up the DB who creeps to the line just before the snap. It’s a decent thought, but the Jets have a RB on that side to pick up the blitzer. Mitchell can’t let the DE (the innermost threat) go untouched. He seems to be assuming AVT would be there on the inside, but AVT is assuming Mitchell would pick him up, so instead of sliding two gaps outside, AVT chips the defender over his inside shoulder to help McGovern pick him up – which AVT is probably supposed to do to help sell this play action.

All subjective. I could be wrong. But I’m leaning toward Mitchell as the culprit for leaving a premier threat unblocked to try and pick up a blitzer despite the blitzer already being accounted for.

If I’m correct on this, then it’s another play I would expect PFF to understand in a way that NGS could not. The NGS system is probably just going to knock AVT since the defender runs right past him, straight through his gap. A PFF analyst should be able to dissect this and assign blame correctly.

Verdict: No pressure

Total verdict: 4 pressures

  • PFF tracking: 5 pressures on 58 PBLK snaps, 8.6% pressure rate (+3.4% vs. G average at PFF)
  • NGS tracking: 5 pressures on 56 PBLK snaps, 8.9% pressure rate (+1.0% vs. G average at NGS)

They’re in agreement on five pressures, which isn’t far off based on what I saw. AVT certainly wasn’t good in this game as a pass blocker.

Again, though, there is a major difference in the expectations of each system. PFF expects linemen to allow pressure much less often than NGS, so even with an identical total of pressures, PFF thinks AVT played much worse than NGS. A pressure rate in the 8-9% range is terrible at PFF, but at NGS, it’s only slightly worse than average.

I think this game serves as strong evidence that PFF’s pressure charting for AVT is off the mark. I showed two plays in which I argued a human analyst should have been able to let AVT off the hook, but PFF still blamed him for one of those two plays (they don’t disclose exactly which plays were tagged), whether it was the one where he got tripped (clip #3) or the sack that was arguably on Mitchell (clip #6).

If PFF excused him for both of those plays, they would have knocked him for four pressures instead of five, resulting in a 6.9% pressure rate versus NGS’s 8.9%. Compared to expectations, those rates would be very similar, both falling in the range of 1-2% worse than the league average. Instead, just because of one pressure too many, PFF has him at 3.4% above average (horrible) compared to NGS’s 1.0% (slightly below average).

Even if you say AVT should have been blamed for the sack, there was also the play where AVT got obstructed by Mitchell (clip #4 above) that I thought was debatable. I can understand blaming AVT for one of the two, but blaming him for both is overkill for two 50-50 calls. Between the sack, clip No. 4, and the play where he got tripped (clip #3), I believe AVT should have been knocked for only one pressure by a human analyst, in my opinion, putting him at four for the game when adding in the three obvious ones.

These are the plays that should serve as the gap between PFF’s league-average pressure rate and NGS’s. It’s understood that a computer can’t discern these details, so I get why NGS gave him five pressures, but a human should account for those things, thus resulting in a lower league-average pressure rate. But for whatever reason, human error seems to be coming through unusually often in AVT’s charting, making him look unfairly terrible on the stat sheet.

I don’t think PFF has a bias against AVT (they revere his run-blocking). It’s just human error. They happened to make too many mistakes in his charting, and since his sample of games at guard is small, it’s only taken a handful of mischarted plays for him to get a pressure rate that looks way too high.

AVT definitely struggled in this game against Cincinnati. Of his three games at guard in 2022, this is the only one where I thought he was subpar in pass protection. The first two games were excellent, in my opinion.

Let’s move on to his two starts at guard in 2023. Will we see more apparent mistakes from PFF?

2023 Week 1 vs. Buffalo

  • Potential pressure clips I found on film: 4

This is a clear loss by AVT, but I don’t know if it constitutes being a “pressure” since the ball is out quick and the defender doesn’t seem to affect Zach Wilson in any way. Statistically, I’d let AVT off the hook here just to be consistent with what defines a “pressure,” but it’s definitely a loss for AVT, so I can’t argue if you’d label this differently.

Verdict: No pressure

AVT gets cooked to the inside by Ed Oliver, who runs straight at Wilson’s initial set point. Wilson is forced to slide over. AVT does a good job of staying with it and forcing Oliver past the QB, but this is a pressure.

Verdict: Pressure (1)

There are so many defenders in the backfield here that AVT’s man doesn’t actually have much of an effect. However, AVT gets beat so cleanly and quickly up the middle that it would be remiss not to blame him for this. If not for the other defenders chasing him away first, this is an easy sack.

Verdict: Pressure (2)

Oliver knocks AVT into Wilson, tripping him as he makes the throw. It’s not a terrible rep, as Wilson sort of moves into AVT, but Oliver successfully affected the QB against AVT, so I think it counts.

Verdict: Pressure (3)

Total verdict: 3 pressures

  • PFF tracking: 3 pressures on 27 PBLK snaps, 11.1% pressure rate (+4.9% vs. G average at PFF)
  • NGS tracking: 4 pressures on 26 PBLK snaps, 15.4% pressure rate (+8.3% vs. G average at NGS)

Since the Jets ran a very low number of pass plays in this game, giving up 3-4 pressures makes this a bad game for AVT on the stat sheet, and I do agree with that conclusion. He got beat too many times for such a low volume of reps. Not only did the Jets pass at a low volume, but many of their passes were screens or quick dropbacks, so the number of true pass sets was even lower. AVT didn’t hold up well at all when he had to drop back in one-on-ones.

We finally have a game where NGS tallied more pressures than PFF. I think both systems did their job in this one. PFF probably let him off the hook for clip No. 1 due to the lack of obvious impact by the defender, but the NGS system probably knocked him for that since the GPS picked up the defender getting past AVT to win an angle to the QB. Thus, you get NGS giving AVT more pressures than PFF, which is how it’s supposed to go.

2023 Week 2 at Dallas

  • Potential pressure clips I found on film: 5

Tough matchup here for AVT as the Cowboys have DeMarcus Lawrence (a 265-pound edge rusher) standing up inside. Lawrence beats AVT outside with the rip move, and he gets a hand on the football to break up a possible touchdown pass to Garrett Wilson.

Verdict: Pressure (1)

Not a good job by AVT of passing off the stunt. His hands get deflected as he goes for the punch, allowing the defender to stay clean and squeeze through the B gap. Luckily, Mekhi Becton picks him up to prevent a hit on the QB, but AVT allows the defender to blow up the pocket.

Verdict: Pressure (2)

This is another bad stunt pickup by AVT, this time on the receiving end of the pass-off. Connor McGovern is doing the best he can to pass this off, but AVT just doesn’t recognize it, allowing the defender to get through for a sack.

Verdict: Pressure (3)

I had to reach pretty far for each of these next two clips. We’ll see why when we get to the charting of this game.

This time around, AVT picks up the stunt (two of them, actually) really well. He slides outside to pass his guy off to Becton and then comes back inside to pick up a looper coming all the way from the opposite B gap. Yeah, AVT is pretty deep in the backfield, but this is a tough pickup, and he is able to wall the defender off from affecting the QB.

I do not think this is a pressure, but one of the two outlets charged AVT for two more pressures than the other, so I had to scrounge for possible candidates. This was about as close as I could get, so AVT was probably tagged here. To me, that is crazy.

Verdict: No pressure

I think this is another good stunt pickup. AVT passes his guy to Becton and comes back inside to pick up the looper. While AVT is unable to fully square up to the defender, allowing him to get some inside penetration, AVT still catches the defender with his left hand and slows him up significantly. Yes, the defender gets an angle on Wilson and bears down on him by the end of the play, but AVT buys enough time for Wilson to release the ball 3.2 seconds after the snap while still standing at his initial set point, all without being touched.

Not a pressure to me. Apparently it was counted, though.

Verdict: No pressure

Total verdict: 3 pressures

  • PFF tracking: 5 pressures on 36 PBLK snaps, 13.9% pressure rate (+8.7% vs. G average at PFF)
  • NGS tracking: 3 pressures on 33 PBLK snaps, 9.1% pressure rate (+1.2% vs. G average at NGS)

It was PFF, not NGS, who apparently knocked AVT for those last two pressures.

This game is the primary cause of AVT ranking so much better at NGS than he does at PFF. Of the five games, none saw a wider discrepancy between PFF’s evaluation of AVT’s pass blocking and NGS’s evaluation. PFF knocked him with two more pressures than NGS, making him look horrifying at PFF but merely below average at NGS. So what happened?

The answer: I don’t know. I would completely understand if it were the NGS system that blamed AVT for those final two pressures – that’s just what their system does; use GPS tracking to see if one dot gets past another dot to win an angle on the QB – but as we discussed earlier, PFF’s analysts should be letting him off the hook here after using context. PFF giving him five pressures in this game is a mistake.

I’m with NGS on this being a slightly below-average game for AVT. I think it’s baffling to hit him with a pressure rate nearly 9% worse than average.

Final conclusions

The main question coming into the film breakdown was whether we should trust PFF’s evaluation of AVT’s pass blocking or NGS’s. After watching, I side with NGS. And that’s based on the evidence, not because I want to pick the side that paints AVT in a better light.

The difference in their conclusions lies not necessarily in how many pressures they knocked him for – PFF tagged him for 19 versus NGS’s 16, which isn’t a huge difference. Rather, the major difference was the expectations of each system. Allowing 19 pressures versus 16 wouldn’t be a huge deal if both systems had the same league average, but the league average is much higher at NGS. Because of this, AVT appeared above average in one system and terrible in the other despite them tagging him with a similar total of pressures.

So, to decide which system was giving a more accurate conclusion, we had to decide which league average to trust.

Based on what we knew coming in, one of two things had to be true (or an answer somewhere in the middle):

  1. We’d find out that NGS should have charged him with more pressures than they did, meaning PFF is correct about him being a poor pass-blocker relative to league average
  2. We’d find out that PFF should have charged him with fewer pressures than they did, meaning NGS is correct about him being an average/above-average pass-blocker relative to league average

No. 2 came out as the clear answer. Across the five games, I, the human analyst capable of applying context, tallied AVT with 14 pressures allowed – five fewer than PFF’s human analysts but only two fewer than the computer system that is very aggressive in blaming linemen for allowing pressures. Therefore, PFF overshooting feels far more likely than NGS undershooting.

Here’s how I see it. Every PFF pressure should be an NGS pressure, and there should be more NGS-exclusive pressures tacked on top of those (the plays that look like pressure on a screen but could be negated after applying context with the human eye). Instead, with AVT, it’s the other way around, which is an anomaly that suggests NGS is painting a more accurate picture.

My perspective of PFF and NGS’s pressure systems has changed after conducting this exercise. Both systems have their flaws, but NGS seems to be somewhat more reliable. It adheres to a defined set of rules, keeping it free from human error. I don’t love relying on a computer to evaluate the results of these plays, but in this exercise, PFF’s system did not prove that it maximizes the advantage of human analysts being able to utilize context in a way that computers cannot. Instead, PFF’s use of human analysts just seemed to make the system more erratic in its decision-making, showing less consistency in its rules.

I’ve always leaned toward PFF’s pressure numbers, but going forward, maybe I’ll start using NGS more. Perhaps I’ll use a composite system between both metrics. Either way, it was interesting to critique these two analytical systems today. Both have plenty of value. They just view the game differently.

Look, AVT isn’t great in pass protection. That’s a reality all Jets fans should know. He has a lot of room to improve and catch up to his run-blocking. But I do think NGS is right about him being an average or slightly above-average pass-blocker at guard. This is how I would label him at the moment.

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15 days ago

Thank you for this outstanding breakdown. At this point AVT, isn’t a great pass blocker but as you pointed out he’s not as bad as what Rivka made him out to be. Rivka is great with the numbers however I think she is too married to them with her player analysis. In the same article she (reluctantly) had Reddick there as well stating even though he got more sacks his “pressure rate” could improve. So now we are valuing pressure rate over sacks? QB’s complete passes under pressure but do NOT complete passes when sacked. I agree with you on AVT.

I also think a deeper issue here is McGovern stinks. He’s not good and Jets’ fans need to accept it. The OL is OFTEN confused which is part of AVT’s pass pro problems. Then as you pointed out Mitchell didn’t help at all. AVT has work to do but with better players around him, I think his pass blocking will see a major jump.