Continuing our stat comparison of Cardinals defenders from the past and present we look at two Inside Linebackers that have had very different results on the field. Karlos "Big Splash" Dansby helped the 2009 Ariziona Cardinals win the NFC West Division and a heart pounding home playoff game against the Green Bay Packers, who we saw shaping into a Super Bowl calibre team in the 2009 Playoffs. In a game that highlighted the weakness of our defensive backfield, primarily Mike Adams, it's crowning moment was the Aaron Rodgers sack by Adams and the fumble recovery by Dansby that was returned for a touchdown to win the game in overtime. While Cardinals fans were seeing another playoff run unfold, Dansby and his agent were seeing dollar signs and waiting for free agency to begin.
Once free agency began, Dansby departed for the Miami Dolphins to become the highest paid Inside Linebacker ever with a five year contract worth $43 million, with $22 million guaranteed, which is more than star linebackers such as Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher make. This left the Cardinals with another high profile player and position to fill before the 2010 season. The front office turned to free agency themselves trying to land LB Larry Foote, but unable to land a big name settled for a free agent from the St. Louis Rams LB Paris Lenon to be a mentor and stop gap until, 2nd round steal, Daryl Washington was prepared to start.
How well did Paris Lenon perform in the void of the highest paid inside linebacker ever? We'll find out after the jump...
When comparing the 2009 statistics of a handful of the elite Inside Linebackers in the league we see that Dansby was below par in total tackles, with the glaring weakness being assists. Assisted tackles is a great measure to tell you how much of a motor a player has, and if they are always moving and tracking the ball. Two of the best inside linebackers in the game Patrick Willis and Ray Lewis had close to 40 assisted tackles in 2009. While the average elite ILB in 2009 had 33 assists, showing that they were always close to the ball and always hustling. Dansby had 20 assist in 2009.
Solo tackles is a great stat to tell you how often a player stopped a play, but in my opinion it is the assist which tells you how many times the player helped someone else take a player down. One interpretation of this is that Dansby was not playing until the whistle stopped, and took the mentality that it was someone elses job to take down a runner if they made it past him. But that doesn't mean that Dansby's not a talented ILB, it just means that he's not the type of ILB that you should make the highest paid ILB ever. If Ray Lewis, Patrick Willis, and DeMeco Ryan are A+ linebackers, then Dansby is an A. An A talent who happened to make the most of a free agency period that was thin at linebacker talent and had the best buzz coming off of an overtime TD return in one of the best games in playoff history. Who doesn't want that guy on their team?
Using the above stats we can directly compare the performance of Lenon to Dansby and see how adequately Lenon filled the void from a purely numbers perspective.
Cardinals Defense Ranking 2009: 20th Overall, 20.3 Pts All, 325 Yards Avg, Rushing 17th, Passing 23rd, Sacks 6th
Cardinals Defense Ranking 2010: 29th Overall, 27.1 Pts All, 434 Yards Avg, Rushing 30th, Passing 23rd, Sacks T-18th
Looking at the Defensive rankings for rushing, and last weeks analysis where I blamed much of the reason our rushing defense was so bad on the lack of pressure from the Outside Linebackers, I think it is reinforced when you look at the stats for the 2009 and 2010 ILBs. The weakness was not in the ILB, it was the OLBs. I'm not arguing that we shouldn't add more depth to the ILBs, but I think we should recognize the talent that we have. Lenon provided more tackles, pass deflections, and forced fumbles, and particularly assisted tackles than Dansby had provided in 2009 (and 2010 with the Dolphins), and Dansby put up good enough numbers in 2009 to "make a splash in free agency". Lenon stepped in to fill the role of a marquee player and quietly outshined him.
From the stats we see that Paris Lenon is not a flashy player, and he does not have the flashy dance moves of Karlos Dansby after making a play. But what he does have is a hard nosed, gritty playing style who is a presence in the middle of the field and played on par with the best linebackers in the business in 2010.
So do you think Lenon's production was a product of being in the system, or truly being a diamond in the rough?