More Than Sacks
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In 2007, Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Jared Allen led the NFL in sacks with 15.5. Behind him were Seattle's Patrick Kerney with 14.5, Houston's Mario Williams and DeMarcus Ware of the Cowboys with 14.0, and Osi Umenyiora of the Giants with 13.0.
Were these players the five best pass rushers in the NFL last year? It depends on how you define pass rush. One of the things we've been doing at Football Outsiders is dealing with three different stats relating to quarterback pressure:
1. Sacks -- the old faithful quarterback takedown, as recorded by the NFL, and as adjusted for the league's retroactive statistical changes.
2. Hits -- a stat that the NFL started recording in 2006. To qualify for a hit, a defender must knock the quarterback to the ground in the act of throwing, or after he has thrown the ball. Hits that result in roughing the passer penalties are included.
3. Hurries -- recorded by Football Outsiders' own game charters; not an official NFL stat. To qualify for a hurry, a defender must pressure the quarterback into throwing too soon, flush the quarterback out of the pocket, or draw a holding penalty in the act of hurrying.
The problem with using sacks alone as the rating system for pass rushers is that it's incomplete, and can be radically slanted based on opponent. A sack of a quarterback like Drew Brees of Brett Favre, who have proven that they'll gamble and throw picks under pressure, may be a lot tougher than taking down Ben Roethlisberger, who will extend a play as long as he possibly can, even with defenders hanging all over him. Some quarterbacks are affected more than others in the face of pressure; others have learned to adjust.
Taking sacks, hits and hurries together, here were the premier pass rushers of 2007:
(Note: All numbers are adjusted for official scorer and game-charter tendencies.)
The most interesting thing here, of course, is that only one of the top five sackmasters are in the top five in overall pass pressure (Ware). Williams, with his four hits and 11 hurries, didn't even make the list. Kampman, under the terms of these numbers, was the most disruptive defensive element against enemy quarterbacks. Vanden Bosch and Odom are great players, but also beneficiaries of a phenomenon known as "Everyone has to double-team Albert Haynesworth." Abraham's ability to disrupt was impressive last year, given the disaster the Falcons toted out every week, and his three sacks of John Kitna on Sunday shows that he hasn't lost a thing.
Kerney and Allen are the more traditional speed-rushers; their greatness is reflected in their ability to get consistent pressure even without a sack, and that's what these stats are all about. Umenyiora was a key part of the NFL's best front four -- it remains to be seen how they'll do week-to-week without him. Ogunleye and Burgess were bright spots on disappointing teams.
Taking the quarterback down is the best way to go, but the ability to upset and affect the passing game in a consistent fashion has value as well. That's why sacks aren't the only way to measure pressure anymore.
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