Last season, NFL defensive ends Vinny Curry and Jason Pierre-Paul combined to play 1,713 defensive snaps, the former in Philadelphia and the latter with the New York Giants. Now that Curry and Pierre-Paul are the potential new starting DE duo for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they will likely provide a similarly large amount of playing time to their new team, but perhaps in a different configuration.
That is, Pierre-Paul might benefit from seeing a somewhat smaller share of snaps, while Curry will likely find himself filling a larger role in Tampa than he did in Philly.
Pierre-Paul's 1,071 defensive snaps played in 2017 ranked first among all NFL defensive linemen and represented 91.5% of the possible plays in which he could have taken part. Curry, who was mostly a first and second-down player in a very deep and successful Eagles D-Line rotation, was in on 642 snaps, a 56.1% share of the potential playing time for his defensive unit.
It's not that the Bucs want to limit the impact of their prized trade acquisition; it just might be worth finding out if Pierre-Paul would be more effective on a per-snap basis if his overall share of the playing time was lessened a bit. Given his eagerness to be on the field as much as possible, the Bucs are surely not planning any drastic cut in his snaps.
"It is fair to say that [Pierre-Paul might benefit from a lighter workload], but I don't think that's what he wants to hear," said Head Coach Dirk Koetter. "He addressed that in his press conference. When I did my research on JPP, one of the things people that have coached him in the past told me is that he doesn't like to come off the field. As a coach, I look at that as a positive."
As for Curry, he made it clear in his own introductory press conference that he relished the idea of getting a larger share of the playing time with his new team. He said he understood the Eagles' approach, given their depth, and kept his own attitude positive and focused on the team's success. The Buccaneers are just building that kind of depth, however, and Curry looks like he'll be a bigger part of it in Tampa. He is likely to be the starting right end but may also see a significant amount of time at defensive tackle in pass-rushing situations.
"He did that in Philly, as well," said Koetter. "He played inside. So, yeah, I could see that, because you want to get Noah [Spence] on the field as much as you can in passing situations, assuming he comes back the way we think he will. So, yeah, I could see that happening."
Spence was the 39th overall pick in the 2016 draft and he had a promising rookie year with 5.5 sacks despite playing most of the season with a harness to protect an injured shoulder. His sophomore season was derailed after six games due to a second shoulder injury that required surgery. When Spence has been on the field for the Bucs, he has been forced by depth issues to play more of a traditional every-down defensive end role. With a deeper rotation, he might flourish in a job focused much more on just rushing the passer.
"When a player's coming off an injury, his focus has to be on getting healthy," said Koetter. "We have high hopes for Noah and he has high expectations for himself. I do see Noah because he's getting rehab in our facility and I see him from time to time. I know Noah's ahead of schedule, he looks great. It just maybe allows us to play him in more of a pass-rushing role and not so much in an every-down role."
A healthy Spence in 2018 would essentially add three new players to the edge-rush rotation. The team also re-signed end Will Clarke, who had 2.5 sacks in 2017, and still has Will Gholston, who has generally been a better run-stopper in his professional career. Patrick O'Connor and Channing Ward are also currently in the mix for spots on the DE depth chart. Additionally, the interior-line rotation looks more impressive after the signings of Beau Allen and Mitch Unrein.
Allen and Curry, as noted, are veterans of an Eagles line that was given a good amount of credit for the team's 2017 run to its first Super Bowl victory. Philadelphia had the league's best run defense and also rang up 38 sacks. The Eagles' rotation was very deep and egalitarian, with seven different players logging at least 500 snaps and three more with over 100 snaps.
Yes, the Buccaneers saw that rotation in Philly and would like to duplicate it in Tampa in 2018, but that's not exactly a new concept.
View photos of the newest Buccaneer, DE Vinny Curry. Pictures from AP Images.
"They're a great model, and they stayed healthy," said Koetter. "They are a great model for that, and we would love to do that. As we sit here today, we might have the depth to do that, but it's a long way until we play that first game. As long as you have your numbers, as long as you have depth, I think that rotation will work itself out.
"But I think if you look around the league – we've said this every year, that we would love to have a rotation and play guys less. Sometimes injuries don't let you do that. We've been hit hard the last two years at the defensive end spot. By the end of the season we had guys that were playing a lot of snaps by necessity."
Indeed, the Buccaneers' D-Line was among the most battered in the league in 2017 according to Football Outsiders, which tracks a metric they call "adjusted games lost" due to injury. This analysis draws distinctions between time missed by starters and important reserves and by less impactful players, and it also takes into account time spent on the field by players whose abilities have been reduced by injuries.
According to that metric, the Eagles only had 4.3 adjusted games lost on their defensive line in 2017. The Buccaneers had 23.7, the fourth-highest total in the NFL. That number will need to come down in 2018 if Tampa Bay's plan for a rotation up front is going to come to fruition. However, there is a lot better chance of that rotation materializing after the additions of Curry and Pierre-Paul. Their respective roles might end up being a bit different than they were a year ago, but collectively they should give the Bucs' pass rush a big boost.
"It worked out," said Koetter. "We got JPP and we got Vinny Curry. Those were two guys that we did not have targeted [in free agency]. When free agency started, those two guys were not on the list. But we have them now."