Aside from Lane Johnson, who was slapped with a 10-game suspension, Vinny Curry was probably the most disappointing player on the Eagles in 2016. After signing five-year contract extension worth $46 million and $18 million guaranteed, Curry responded with a 2.5 sack season – his lowest total since he was a rookie.
Curry has understandably been under intense scrutiny since, and 2017 is considered a make or break year of sorts for the defensive end. Fortunately, there is reason to think he can bounce back, beginning with the possibility last season wasn't as bad as people thought.
At least, that was the observation made by Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz on Tuesday
"When we watched film a lot of times with Vinny, and I think you guys probably saw the same thing, his pressure numbers were high, but his sack numbers were low," Schwartz said. "He didn't do as good a job finishing the rush as he did starting the rush. A lot of times he would create pressure, and somebody else would come in … and they'd sort of get the sack or the quarterback would throw the ball away.
"We need to take his sack numbers and make them a little more in line with his pressure numbers, because he was very disruptive last year. He did some good things, but it didn't show."
The way some people talk, you would think Curry was invisible last year, so Schwartz's comments caught my attention. Was this just typical coach speak designed not to throw a player under the bus, or do the Eagles legitimately think Curry was "very disruptive" in 2016?
As it turns out, there is some truth to what Schwartz is saying. In fact, Curry was one of the most productive pass rushers in the NFL based on pressure stats by Pro Football Focus.
Curry only had 2.5 sacks and 12 quarterback hits officially, but PFF also measures and counts hurries, which he had 29. Based on their charting, which actually credited Curry with 4 fewer quarterback hits than league's numbers, the sixth-year veteran had 40 total pressures – tied for 22nd in the NFL among 4-3 defensive ends. When adjusted for the number of snaps played, Curry finished tied for eighth in a metric called "pass-rush productivity."
So what happened? Why couldn't Curry turn all of these so-called pressures into sacks?
"He was on the ground a little bit too much around the quarterback," Schwartz said. "He needed to be able to take that one extra step and be able to finish."
Schwartz also acknowledged Curry's knee injury, which was limiting particularly early on in the season.
No, hurries are not sacks, but sometimes hurries are just as good. If the quarterback is getting rid of the ball before he wants to, it can lead to incomplete passes and even turnovers. Finishing is important, too, but the idea Curry wasn't active is false.
The danger is when a pass rusher becomes known for constantly being a step too late. Right now, Curry is racking up a whole bunch of Mamulas, which is fine – and as we all know, doesn't keep guys in the league.
"In 2001, I was with the Titans and I had Kevin Carter," Schwartz said. "I think Kevin Carter had two sacks and it was a lot of the same things. He had missed opportunities for sacks and he had times where he slipped and fell or the quarterback ducked underneath him. When the season was over, we were sitting there saying, ‘Jeez, he had eight or 10 sacks that he had a good opportunity to make that he didn't make them.'
"Good players can make that transition, Kevin Carter did, had a good career. It was sort of a one-year blip and that is the challenge for Vinny – proving last year was a one-year blip."
Curry had 9.0 sacks in 2014, so it's easy to draw the conclusion he can do it again. Of course, Mike Mamula recorded 8.0-plus sacks in his career, twice, and he's remembered as the king of the hurry. In other words, Curry has quite a bit of work ahead to prove last season was a blip and he's worth that big extension he signed.