One statistic that is becoming more prevalent in the NFL is "batted passes." They have become popularized by the Houston Texans' J.J. Watt, who led the league with 16 of them in 2012, which is a staggering number for one player. In fact, Watt had more batted passes in 2012 than the entire Eagles roster had in 2011 and 2012 combined.
Batted passes can lead to great things for a defense. At a minimum, if you can bat a pass at the line of scrimmage, you're going to get an incomplete pass, barring some fluke play in which the pass lands in the arms of an opposing receiver anyway. They can also lead to interceptions if you can affect the trajectory of the pass by tipping it, or by simply getting a hand in the QBs face, making the him adjust his throw in the same way a basketball player might throw up a bad shot to avoid it from being blocked by Manute Bol.
Over the last two seasons, only three NFL teams have had fewer batted passes than the Eagles:
The Eagles' wide-9 probably played a part in the Eagles' inability to bat passes at the line. Here's a still shot from the Cowboys game showing the Eagles' pre-snap alignment. More often than not, the DEs were taking a wide rush angles:
As a result, the defensive ends were almost never a threat to get in the way of passing lanes, and opposing QBs would often have enormous windows with which to throw:
Here, Tony Romo easily steps up and delivers a first down pass on 3rd and 2:
That's like taking candy from a baby. Additionally, the Eagles were extremely "vertically challenged." Here are the Eagles' 2012 defensive linemen and their heights, in order of snaps played:
- Trent Cole - 6'2
- Cullen Jenkins - 6'2
- Fletcher Cox - 6'4
- Derek Landri - 6'2
- Jason Babin - 6'3
- Brandon Graham - 6'1
- Cedric Thornton - 6'3
- Darryl Tapp - 6'2
- Phillip Hunt - 6'2
- Mike Patterson - 6'0
- Vinny Curry - 6'3
- Antonio Dixon - 6'3
That would be a grand total of one defensive lineman who is listed at 6'4 or taller. By comparison, the Cowboys played 8 defensive linemen over 6'4, while the Giants and Redskins each played 6. And that's excluding rush linebackers for the Skins and Cowboys, who both ran a 3-4 in 2012.
In 7-on-7's during OTAs and minicamp, the Eagles added staffers to the defense, who were lined up as faux defensive linemen. They were all wearing these weird black things on their backs that stuck up in the air as if they were around 8 feet tall, and their job was to do little more than just stand in place, simulating defensive linemen trying to bat down passes at the line of scrimmage. They looked like this:
If there is concern about batted passes from perspective of avoiding them on offense, it's a fairly safe assumption that they will be a point of emphasis on defense.
This offseason, the Eagles added three players who could help out in the "batted passes" department. In March they traded for the enormous 6'7 and a half Clifton Geathers, and in the draft they added 6'6 Joe Kruger. They also selected Bennie Logan in the 3rd round. Logan is only 6'2. However, in the "Eagles Almanac," Dan Klausner of Bleeding Green Nation noted Logan's ability to swat down passes at the line of scrimmage.
Regarded more as a run stuffer but has flashes as pass rusher, where he shows a burst-plus-bull rush combo to push and collapse the pocket, then slip his block and close on the QB. I also have no doubt we’ll be seeing him regularly leap in the air, get his hands up in passing lanes and bat down throws or deflect them to result in interceptions...
I often look for sequences in succession in which a player shows off the breadth of his ability, a sort of encapsulation of his skill set. For Logan, that moment came in the 2012 matchup against Alabama in the fourth quarter, with 12:52 remaining and the Tigers leading 17-14. First Logan bull rushes, drives Barrett Jones back and gets his right arm/hand up to bat down A.J. McCarron’s pass. On the very next play, he fires off the snap and gets under Jones’ hands, driving him back again and reestablishing the line of scrimmage ~2 yards in the backfield, then tripping up Eddie Lacy for a gain of just a single yard.
I popped on a game of Logan's against Ole Miss in 2012 to see for myself, and sure enough... Batted pass:
Near batted pass that was intercepted:
Near batted pass:
"When you’re rushing the passer, you’re not always going to get to the quarterback, as you know," said Logan. "We were taught whenever you see the QB at the point of releasing the ball, you try to get your hand in the passing lane and bat the ball down. So whenever I couldn’t get to the rusher at LSU, I mainly focused on getting in the passing lane and batting the ball down."
“I wouldn’t say I got an amazing amount of (batted passes), Said Kruger, "but I got quite a few. I’d say I read the screen pretty well, and it’s easy for me looking over guys and being able to see what when (the QB) is going to throw the ball. So it’s easy for me to bat them down.”
Big guys beat up little guys, and they can also swat down passes at the line of scrimmage.