When New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh was hired, one of the aspects of his defense he brought with him from his time as defensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers was the use of a consistent rotation of players along the defensive line. As quoted by the New York Post in 2021, Saleh said:
“The objective really for the entire D-line is to not have any of them play more than 40 snaps in a game. That’s the goal... We ask so much out of our D-line that if you can go four plays in a row or play 90 percent, then you’re probably BS’ing on the football field, in our mind and you’re not executing the technique as it’s designed.”
While built from the theoretical basis of trying to avoid players playing while fatigued, the strategy has not been without its detractors, including 2023 Hall of Fame inductee and retired Jets defensive lineman Joe Klecko. Indeed, the idea of taking your best players off of the field regularly in order to play lesser players is a bit unorthodox and questionable at face value.
However, the Jets are not the only team in the league executing this strategy. Arguably, the team most emphasizing this is the Philadelphia Eagles, who lost in the Super Bowl on Sunday but made it to that game in large part due to a defensive line that led the league in sacks.
As detailed by Arif Hasan of Pro Football Network, the defensive line rotation does seem to be the bread of butter of Philadelphia’s defense, much like it is for the Jets.
It’s not unusual to see a defensive line rotation in the NFL – it happens fairly frequently. But the Eagles do it much more than most, with 12 defensive linemen playing at least 15 snaps a game and 10 playing at least 20 snaps a game. Seven of them are playing at least 25 snaps. In terms of defensive line diversity, they rank sixth in the NFL in the number of defensive linemen playing significant snaps.
The Eagles rank 26th in snaps per game from their snap count leader along the defensive line, with Haason Reddick earning 48.0 snaps per game.
Additionally, as further detailed by Hasan, the rotation seems have long-term benefits in terms of defensive line performance.
When looking at all defensive linemen who have played at least seven games in both halves of the season, we can see that pressure rate generally drops a slight amount in the second half of the season. Those who play 50 or fewer snaps per game see their average pressure rate drop by about half a percent. Those who play more see their pressure rate drop three times as much.
But what do you think? Does the defensive line rotation make sense? And if it does, what other positions might this strategy have benefits for?