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Anthony Montgomery is the backup, but probably not for long

Starting tomorrow during the Redskins @ Giants game but continuing for most of the season I will carefully be watching for Anthony Montgomery in the lineup. I'll get to why in a moment.

Briefly before that, make sure you check out the team's final roster heading into the season available at the official site here. I didn't do a good job at all of analyzing the cuts or the final roster, which is far more interesting for who doesn't make the team than for who does (because the real "news" always happens on the margins; no one is shocked Jason Campbell made the team, for instance). And now that the deed is done I haven't anything to add that others haven't covered better already. See, for example, Curly R on the depth chart or Hog Heaven on the running backs, tight ends, wide receivers, etc.

I have been meaning to write on Anthony Montgomery before the season started, and time has run out for me to put it off any longer. And unfortunately I put it off too long for another reason: As of this writing, Kedric Golston is listed as starting in front of Anthony Montgomery. It's too late to question the wisdom of that decision, not that I have any wisdom to add nor any input on such. But it's never too late to examine Montgomery's impact on the Redskins defensive line of 2007 perhaps to shed light on just how valuable he will be to the team moving forward. Remember that there's no reason to think Kedric's hold on the starting DT position is stone-set. Although Kedric has been my pick for some time because I like him as the underachiever drafted after Montgomery, it went Golston-Montgomery-now Golston from '06-'07-'08. Sprinkled throughout was a heavy rotation betwixt them anyways, which should continue this year.

My trusty Pro Football Prospectus from the fellas at Football Outsiders had much to say on the subject of Montgomery's '07 performance. Click below to read more about that.

The revelation of the defensive line was defensive tackle Anthony Montgomery, a 2006 ffifth-round pick who took over from Joe Salave'a on the interior and emerged as a huge difference-maker in one-on-one situations.

Thus opens the analysis of the team's front seven in PFP. And the numbers totally bear that out, and then some, though they do require explanation. First, for those of you who don't know, Football Outsiders developed a methodology for examining the success or failure of NFL plays that tends to better explain situations than, say, mere yardage. As they tell it:

On first down, a play is considered a success if it gains 45 percent of needed yards; on second down, a play needs to gain 60 percent of needed yards; on third or fourth down, only gaining a new first down is considered success.

Which makes far more sense than saying, merely, the runner who averages 3.1 yards per carry is better than the one who averages 3.0 yards per carry. The latter might be a third down back who gets those 3 yards on 3rd or 4th and short situations (in which case he has real value playing against a stacked front seven) and the former might be a 1st and 2nd down back who is getting his 3 yards on down and long situations. Yards are important because they ultimately lead to success in the form of moved chains and points scored. A 4th and 1 touchdown plunge is more valuable than a 1st and 20 two yard plunge, ya?

Anyways, that kind of metric is intuitive enough not to require much more explanation. That relative milestones change depending on down and distance should hardly surprise anyone who watches the game, as you celebrate more feverishly a four yard gain that leads to a first down than a four yard gain that puts you just 15 yards short of the first down.

This success rate works for defensive players too. When a defensive player prevents an offensive player or an offense from reaching those milestones, it's a success on that side of the ball.

With that understanding, the numbers:

  • Anthony Montgomery was involved in 48 plays defined as "total defensive plays including tackles, pass deflections, interceptions, fumbles forced, and fumble recoveries" which they track from Official NFL Gamebooks.
  • Of those 48 plays (2nd among measured defensive linemen, which didn't include Kedric Golston), Montgomery recorded 43 "stops" which are plays where he prevents one of the success milestones mentioned above depending on down and distance.
  • That is a 90% stop rate which happened to be the third best in the league behind only Adam Carriker and Rob Meier.
  • With that 90% stop rate Montgomery was 2nd on the team in total average yards (average number of yards gained by the offense when this player is credited with making the play) with 1.5 AvYd allowed.
  • First place was Andre Carter, because he was such a beast against the pass (average yards on pass plays was -2.9, impressively).
  • Against the run Montgomery had no equal on the team; his run stop % was 92 and he gave up 1.6 yards on average, best on the team.

In sum, Montgomery's strength, both relative to his teammates and in absolute terms, is his ability to shut down the run. Very few players were better than him in this capacity, and most of the few who did demonstrate comparable run stopping ability weren't as good against the pass.

Which is all to say that I'm very confident moving forward with the interior of this defensive line. One day Cornelius Griffin (32) will cease to be the starter for the Washington Redskins. As Montgomery and Golston muscle each other for position, perhaps year in and year out, remember that a time will come when vacancies will permit them both to line up persistently side by side. And given the way Montgomery has demonstrably played well, and the way Golston has pushed Montgomery for position, at least from the coaching staff's perspective, I'm feeling quite good about the future of our two, young, over-achieving defensive tackles.

Is the Redskins defensive line the best in the biz? Naw, not by a long shot. But it was beyond my wildest dream that our 5th and 6th round defensive line picks from the 2006 draft would have come this far, this well, just two years later. I could not be happier with those picks and it is a huge credit to the team for making the most out of that second day (which also included Reed Doughty).