The case for Alabama football's pass defense to continue its statistical rise

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports

In recent years, there has been a noticeable correlation between breaking up passes and having a nationally elite pass defense. In three of the last four seasons, four of the top 10 in passes defended (pass breakups and interceptions) were also in the national top 10 in yards per pass attempt allowed.

Alabama football's overall pass defense numbers are not following suit yet, but the Tide led the nation in pass breakups before this weekend’s games.

Alabama’s defense is above its norm in passes defended yet well below its traditional pass defense metrics. It is likely one will regress to the other in UA’s final four games of the regular season, starting next Saturday with LSU, which had a top 25 passing attack entering its open weekend. It has been an emphasis in UA’s open week practices.

“We’ve played a little better each week,” UA coach Nick Saban said of the defense. “We’ve got a lot of young guys playing, we got a lot of mental errors, we didn’t tackle well early in the season. All of those things are things we’re focusing on.” 

UA’s passes defended number has benefitted from atypically active defensive linemen. Christian Barmore’s three pass breakups, Phidarian Mathis’ three and DJ Dale’s two give the Crimson Tide eight from defensive linemen after getting just three all of last season, seven in 2018 and eight in 2017.

Most of that damage came against Georgia, when UA prioritized pass deflections from defensive linemen while facing quarterback Stetson Bennett IV, listed at 5 feet, 11 inches.

The Crimson Tide’s defensive line also took advantage of facing Mississippi State’s Air Raid offense last week. Against 48 pass attempts, the most UA has seen from an SEC West opponent since 2016, Mathis got two of his three pass breakups. 

Justin Eboigbe is the first UA defensive lineman with an interception since Da’Ron Payne and Raekwon Davis in 2017.

Even without the abnormal production from the defensive line, UA would be on its typical pace or ahead of it. Freshman defensive back Malachi Moore leads the team with eight pass breakups and is tied for the lead with two interceptions; Josh Jobe and Patrick Surtain II have five pass breakups each and Surtain has an interception. No one on last year’s team had more than eight. UA has only had four players with 10 pass breakups or more in a season since 2016.

UA’s numbers are dragged down by explosive plays. It is one of just five SEC teams and 33 teams nationally (of 103) to allow 10 or more pass plays of at least 30 yards. However, five of those 10 plays came in the second and third games against Texas A&M and Ole Miss.

Since then, Alabama has improved its yards per attempt allowed from 8.4 to 6.9.

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or bhudson@tuscaloosanews.com or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson