Titans Tape Study: Why does Jadeveon Clowney not yet have a sack?

Just a few short months ago, Titans’ fans were clamoring for Jadeveon Clowney to sign with the Titans. Clowney was supposed to be the finishing touch on what had been a very good Titans’ defense in recent years.

However, through five games, the Titans have allowed the 7th-most yards per game, 18th-most points per game, and they are 22nd in defensive DVOA, which looks at team efficiency. Basically, the Titans’ defense has been very underwhelming in comparison to past years. While Clowney hasn’t been terrible, he also hasn’t been the difference maker that many fans anticipated he would be when he first signed with the team. The Titans have the 5th-fewest team sacks per game, and Clowney’s lack of production has been part of that problem.

Clowney’s biggest knock as a free agent was only having 3 sacks in his 2019 season. And so far this year, he is on that same trajectory. Through his first five games and 163 pass rushing snaps, Clowney has still not accounted for a single sack.

This tweet below was what prompted me to write this article. This was tweeted before last week’s game against the Texans. Clowney now has 19 pressures, which is still the 2nd most pressures without a sack.

So what is going on with Clowney? Why does he have this many pressures without sacks? Is he not good at finishing his pressures? I took a look at the analytics and the tape to answer all of these questions.

The Stats

Despite the lack of sacks, Clowney actually ranks 26th in total pressures with 19, 20th in quarterback hits with 5, and 12th in hurries with 14. This means that Clowney is effectively winning his blocks and disrupting the quarterback, but is just not finishing his pressures with sacks.

YearSacks (Rank)Pressures (Rank)Pressure-to-Sack Conversion %
20166 (49th)49 (38th)12.2%
20178 (38th)64 (16th)12.5%
20189 (28th)59 (21st)15.3%
20193 (127th)48 (48th)6.3%

Clowney has only converted more than 15% of his pressures into sacks once in his career. For comparison, Harold Landry was at 17.6% just last year. Clowney also has ranked higher in pressures than in sacks in every year of his career. This low pressure-to-sack conversion rate has bothered Clowney since he entered the NFL.

There are a couple of extrinsic factors that can affect this pressure-to-sack conversion rate, such as coverage in the secondary, opposing quarterback play, double teams, and even pure luck, but for the purpose of this article, I wanted to hone in specifically on what Clowney can control.

The Tape

Watching the tape, the main cause of Clowney’s low pressure-to-sack conversion rate and low overall sack production was actually his pass rushing style. Clowney generates most of his pressures in two ways: (1) using an inside move and (2) off of stunts and twists.

First, let’s looks at his inside move. One of Clowney’s go-to moves is his inside swipe move, partly due to his lack of an effective outside pass rush. Initially to set up this move, Clowney will move to the outside shoulder of the opposing offensive tackle. Once the tackle angles their hips outside, Clowney will quickly swipe away their hands, while simultaneously penetrating back inside for a free path to the quarterback.

As a opposed to a speed dip and bend from Harold Landry, this inside swipe move takes a hitch longer to develop because Clowney has to first work outside before contacting the lineman and working back inside. This slight hitch can be the difference between a sack and a throwaway.

Also, this inside move gives the quarterback a direct view onto oncoming pressure and as a result, alerts them to get rid of the ball. In the example above, Gardner Minshew quickly gets rid of the ball as he sees Clowney work back inside for the pressure.

Next, let’s take a look at Clowney’s usage in twists and stunts. In this example below, Jeffery Simmons acts as the “penetrator,” whose main goal is to penetrate — pretty simple. Simmons needs to violently attack his gap, attract multiple linemen and push the pocket backwards. On the other hand, Clowney’s role as the “looper” is to follow in behind Simmons and get to the quarterback as soon as possible, aiming for that left hip. Using twists and stunts forces opposing offensive linemen to play disciplined and utilizes Clowney’s elite explosiveness and straight line speed to rush the passer.

Being the “looper” requires Clowney to cover a larger amount of ground to get to the quarterback. Subsequently, this gives the quarterback more time to throw the ball, like it does in the example for Kirk Cousins.

Essentially, these two main sources of Clowney’s pressures give the quarterback more time and a direct oncoming view of the pass rush to throw the ball away — leading to disruptive pressures, but less sacks.

Other than these two sources of pressure, Clowney’s pass rush style in general is predicated more on using his hands and strength to power through offensive linemen. This contrasts significantly to Harold Landry’s speed rush style. Landry’s dip and bend allows him to get to the quarterback untouched and into their blindspot. This style leads to a higher pressure to sack conversion rate because they can get to the quarterback more quickly and not in the direct line of vision. It even shows up in the stats as Landry converted 17.6% of his pressures into sacks, while Clowney only converted 6.3% last season.

Conclusion

Clowney’s lack of a hip flexibility to bend the corner and a true outside pass rush is preventing him from producing more sacks on the field. His pass rush tendency when faced one-on-one is to engage the linemen and use his powerful hands to manipulate the linemen out of his way rather than try to run around them. While this method is effective, it just takes a tad bit longer to develop. Whereas a pass rusher like Landry can use their speed and bend to go around linemen quickly and generate pressure almost instantaneously.

In addition, the Titans have been creative in trying to scheme up different ways to use Clowney to create pressure, lining him up all over the front seven. Clowney has been most effective as a blitzer, especially when they have him lined up at MIKE linebacker in the second level and blitzing up the A-gap. This creative usage of Clowney was how Mike Vrabel was able to maximize Clowney’s skillset and reach career sack numbers as a Texan in 2017. This is why signing Clowney to pair him up with Vrabel was so enticing during the offseason. However, the results have just not come to fruition yet.

Despite the lack of sacks, Clowney is ultimately still disrupting the quarterback — making them feel uncomfortable and throwing the ball away earlier than intended. There is tremendous value in that. Clowney is also a monster against the run. But at the end of the day, sacks are everything in the eyes of the media for pass rushers. Hopefully, Vrabel will once again be able to unlock that 2017 Clowney as the season progresses.

Comments

  1. With all due respect, Clowney is one of the worst players on the defense that we have.

    For comparison: Clowney and Landry have both played 5 games.

    Clowney has 10 tackles, 3 TFL, 5 QB hits, and 3 pass deflections.

    Landry, behind him at ROLB, has 23 tackles, 3 TFL, 7 QB hits, 1.5 sacks, 3 pass deflections, and one INT.

    Beside him, Jeff Simmons, who has only played in 4 games, has 18 tackles, 2 TFL, 5 QB hits, 2 sacks, 1 pass deflection, and 1 fumble recovery.

    Now, substitute D- Lineman Jack Crawford: He has only started 3 games, and has 4 tackles, 1 TFL, 3 QB hits and 1 sack.

    And here’s the kicker, neither Landry or Simmons are the Titans best defensive players. I’ll have more on that later.
    .
    -Annabella Hargrove

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