En route to a 5-0 start, Texas A&M's defense, the source of much criticism over the last two seasons, seems to have taken a step forward this season under new defensive coordinator John Chavis.
How much of a step forward? Here's a statistical look at some of the key areas the Aggies have improved through five games:
Rushing the passer: This is perhaps the biggest difference in the Aggies defense this season. They are pressuring opposing quarterbacks at a better rate this season than in 2014. Against Power 5 conference competition, Texas A&M averages 4.3 sacks per game, significantly up from the 1.7 sacks per game vs. Power 5 opponents in 2014.
Even when the Aggies aren’t getting a sack, they’re getting heat on quarterbacks. Their number of disrupted dropbacks (a combination of sacks, interceptions, batted passes and passes defended) is also up significantly to 8.3 disrupted dropbacks per game (last season the Aggies averaged 5.3). They’re tied with Florida for second in the SEC with 43 disrupted dropbacks this season, behind only Alabama’s 49 (the Aggies were 11th in the league in the statistic last year).
Keeping opponents out of the end zone: Texas A&M’s red zone defense has improved, at least to this point in the season. Against the Aggies first three Power 5 opponents this year, they’re allowing red zone touchdowns 60 percent of the time (last year at this point in the season, they were allowing red zone touchdowns 90 percent of the time).
They also are doing in between the 20s. When A&M’s Power 5 opponents get a first down on a drive, they’re scoring a touchdown only 32 percent of the time this season. Last season, that number was 56.6 percent when the Aggies faced Power 5 teams.
Fourth quarters: Chavis praised his team each of the last two weeks for its ability to finish games by playing well in the fourth quarter. The numbers validate Chavis’ assessment.
Against Arkansas and Mississippi State, the Aggies’ two previous opponents, their performance improved significantly in the fourth quarter. In the first three quarters of the last two games, the Aggies allowed 112, 91 and 148 yards per game, respectively. In the fourth, they’ve allowed an average of 73 the last two weeks. Yards per play is also down. In the first three quarters, they’ve allowed 6.22, 6.74 and 8.46 in the first three quarters while allowing only 4.42 yards per play in the fourth quarter of the last two games.
Raw numbers: The raw statistics (or totals) can be misleading occasionally based on teams’ styles of play but even those are areas where the Aggies are showing improvement.
Against their first three Power 5 conference opponents this year (Arizona State, Arkansas and Mississippi State), the Aggies allowed an average of 383.3 yards per game, 172 rushing yards per game and 211.3 passing yards per game. Last season those totals were 505.3 yards pe game, 255.3 rushing and 250 passing per game, respectively. Yards per play took a dip from 6.78 last season to 5.3 so far this season.
Area to improve -- run defense: The Aggies’ rush defense total is somewhat skewed by them allowing only 92 yards in the opener to Arizona State. The last two weeks against SEC teams the Aggies allowed 228 rushing yards to Arkansas and 196 to Mississippi State.
With rushing teams such as Alabama and LSU still on the schedule, the Aggies will be tested again in that area. Arkansas attacked the Aggies by using the aggressiveness of A&M’s defensive ends (who are talented pass rushers) by running into the gaps those ends voided. With A&M dealing with a banged-up group of linebackers (the Aggies’ best linebacker, Otaro Alaka, missed last week’s game with an undisclosed injury), it will be interesting to see how that develops.