Phillips on Rivers

How Shaun Phillips sacked the passer in 2013

To get a better idea of what the Titans got when they signed Shaun Phillips, I decided to watch the 10.0 sacks he had playing for the Broncos in 2013. While the Broncos are more of a 4-3 than I expect the Titans to be, I still think this was a useful exercise. Philips played 770 snaps (68% of the time), which is probably a good estimate of the maximum for his expected 2014 playing time.

Normal film disclaimers apply. I don’t know the offensive or defensive calls on any of the plays. I watched 11 of Phillips’ 770 total snaps (he had two half sacks, 1.0*9 + 0.5*2 = 10.0 sacks, 11 plays). That’s obviously a small, highly selective, and not necessarily at all representative sample size. This is not a full scouting report or breakdown of Phillips as a player, or even as a rusher. It is not an exhaustive chronicle of his pass rushing productivity. Instead, it is an analysis based off a selective sample size that is intended to highlight where Shaun Phillips may win, to take off Josh Norris‘ favorite phrase.

1. All of Phillips’ sacks came when the opposing quarterback was in shotgun. Pretty simple here, not much elaboration required.

2. All of Phillips’ sacks in 2013 came when the Broncos had five defensive backs on the field. Again, pretty simple and straightforward. I think there’s a good chance he sees a lot of time as a nickel rusher for the Titans.

3. Ten of Phillips’ 11 sack plays came when the opposing offense had three wide receivers on the field. This is not much of a surprise, as nickel is often a response to 11 or 20 personnel. Again, a nickel edge rusher.

4. Phillips was aligned as an edge rusher on ten of his 11 sack plays. Of those ten plays where he was aligned on the edge, he was aligned in a wide-9-type look (or wider) for seven of them. Of those ten plays, he was standing up for four of them and has his hand in the dirt for the other six. Ray Horton has frequently, though far from exclusively, had his nickel edge rushers stand up rather than put their hand down. Phillips’ 2013 sacks (and what else I’ve seen of him over the years) indicate he should be able to do either. His other sack play came when he standing up on the outside shoulder of the right guard.

5. When he beat an offensive tackle to get his sack, he generally beat him with an outside rush with what looked like a rip move. He used that to beat Ricky Wagner three times in Week 1 (playing RT, as Michael Oher played only 33 snaps that game), plus Lane Johnson in Week 4 and Eric Fisher and TE Anthony Fasano in Week 11. He had one sack where he beat an offensive tackle not with an outside move, against D.J. Fluker in Week 15 when Fluker overplayed the outside rush and he came inside with an arm over/swim move (which, by the way, is nowhere near as good as J.J. Watt’s).

6. Phillips’ sacks did not come from beating a left tackle. All those tackles I listed in #5 are right tackles. He had two sacks when he was aligned on the defensive right/offensive left side. One came when he was single-blocked by Antonio Gates, whom he easily defeated with an inside move, while the other came on a T-E stunt Colts left guard Hugh Thornton was slow to recognize and Phillips had an unmolested path to Andrew Luck.

7. Eight of his 11 sack plays came where he defeated his blocker. Sometimes guys just fall into a bunch of sacks, or at least get the majority on plays where they don’t win. Phillips had those, including one of Tony Romo where he didn’t touch him until over 7 seconds after the snap (really). Then again, basically every guy who has more than five or six sacks has at least a couple sacks on plays where he didn’t win. That Phillips did not have a disproportionate number of those suggests he is still a decent rusher and was not just lucky to get 10.0 sacks, an impression buttressed by the 20 total pressures we have for him at Football Outsiders (10 sacks on 30 sacks+hurries, c.f. Karl Klug, 2011, 7 sacks on 10 sacks+hurries).

On the whole, I was relatively encouraged by this analysis. On a good team like the Broncos, I wondered just how fortunate Phillips’ sack total was. I know he’s not a stiff-when I said I thought the Titans would have signed him by now, it was because I thought he was a useful player who made a lot of sense. He can be a good player for the Titans for more than the reasons I outlined in this post, but that he looks like at least a decent complementary rusher. At this stage of his career (turning 33 in May), that’s about all the Titans should be expecting of him.