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Investigating strength of schedule for NFL edge rushers: Further analyzing the matchup in the trenches

Nov 24, 2019; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa (97) is introduced before the game against the Green Bay Packers at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

In our last article, we looked at how the quality of opposing edge rushers can affect offensive tackles. We found that a pass-rusher's performance up to a given snap has strong predictive power toward whether an offensive lineman will win his pass block or not. We also found some evidence to suggest that performance against good pass-rushers matters more, as it has more predictive power toward future performance than the performance against below-average pass-rushers.

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It's a natural question to ask the same questions from the opposite perspective — how does the offensive tackle's quality impact an edge rusher's performance?

Edge rushers who faced a tough schedule

Just as we did last time, we start with the edge rushers who faced a tough schedule in 2019. Again, we measure the schedule by giving the percentile of the average opposing offensive tackle.

For example, Robert Quinn faced the hardest schedule, and his average opponent was in the 77th percentile. This means only 23% of all offensive tackles in the NFL were better than the average opponent Quinn faced when lining up over the offensive tackle.

Edge rusher Percentile of average opposing OT
Robert Quinn 77th
Shaquil Barrett 69th
Everson Griffen 68th
Vic Beasley Jr. 68th
Lorenzo Carter 67th
Jadeveon Clowney 65th
Chandler Jones 65th
Montez Sweat 65th
Terrell Suggs 64th
Nick Bosa 64th

We witnessed some great performances a season ago, some of which become even more impressive after reading this list.

Edge rushers rarely play at an elite level in their first year, but Nick Bosa managed to do exactly this, and he even did it against one of the toughest stretches of opposing pass-blockers. Shaquil Barrett had a career year and led the league in sacks, a feat that becomes even more impressive when we note that he faced the second-hardest schedule in the league, with his average opposing offensive tackle residing in the 69th percentile. This is roughly the level of Pittsburgh Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva.

Meanwhile, Jadeveon Clowneywho is still a free agent — posted a career-high pass-rush win rate in 2019 while also playing a fairly tough schedule.

Edge rushers who faced an easy schedule

On the other side of the spectrum, T.J. Watt — who earned the highest pass-rush grade among edge defenders last year (91.7) — faced the easiest schedule. Of course, leading the league in any metric is still an impressive feat, but it becomes a bit devalued when you see that his average opponent was on the level of Cam Erving, the 2015 first-round pick of the Cleveland Browns, who is still yet to earn a single-season pass-blocking grade above 60.0.

Edge rusher Percentile of average opposing OT
T.J. Watt 38th
Justin Houston 43th
Von Miller 44th
Frank Clark 45th
Harold Landry 47th
Brandon Graham 47th
Maxx Crosby 47th
Demarcus Lawrence 48th
Za'Darius Smith 49th
Joey Bosa 50th

Raiders edge rusher Maxx Crosby famously finished the regular season with more sacks than Nick Bosa, but both the pressure count and our pass-rush grades show that Bosa had a better rookie season. This observation is probably made even stronger when you consider that Crosby played a fairly easy schedule.

Who dictates the matchup on the edge?

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