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How effective are stunts and should NFL defenses be using them more?

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Washington Football Team defensive tackle Daron Payne (94) lines up against Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce (62) at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The story of 2021 NFL season has been defenses reclaiming their right to innovate in the face of almost constant tinkering on behalf of the Andy Reids, Sean McVays and Kyle Shanahans. 

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Much ink has been spilled discussing these innovations — from Brandon Staley's scheme in Los Angeles and Bill Belichick’s renaissance re-fueling the Patriots path back to the playoffs to the value of interior defensive linemen in increasingly two-high schemes

Today, I want to talk about a very small part of the equation: stunts. More specifically, how often are they being deployed, and how effective are they?

PFF charts stunts on passing plays and has its own expected points added and success rate models. The following table looks at stunt rates and effectiveness over all passing plays through Week 17 of the 2021 season:

Stunt rate and offensive success (measured by EPA and success rate) on stunted and non-stunted passing plays — 2017-present
Season Stunt % EPA on Stunts EPA on Non-Stunts Success Rate on Stunts Success Rate on Non-Stunts
2017 29.1% -0.01 0.04 43.4% 46.2%
2018 28.0% 0.04 0.06 45.4% 48.6%
2019 28.7% 0.03 0.05 44.7% 47.6%
2020 25.5% 0.00 0.07 46.5% 49.9%
2021 24.8% 0.04 0.04 45.4% 48.5%

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