Outside of quarterbacks, pass rushers provide the largest wealth of data in regards to play metrics. Given the importance of pass rushers it’s a real boon that we’re able to extrapolate so much from on the field play. In this piece I’ve analyzed every sack and broken down into its component parts to see how and why it came about. This can gives us a feeling for each pass rushers’ strengths and potential weaknesses.
These are charted from the 2013 game-play and every sack for each player. I weeded out some sacks that were misattributed or were accumulated by overzealous stats-keepers (forced throwaways, etc.). In this study, I’ve included Jadeveon Clowney’s 2012 and 2013 seasons. His 2013 season only consisted of 3 sacks, but I couldn’t leave out a top 5 draft pick. Take a look at his 2013 numbers, but realize that small sample size is in play here. Of course these numbers aren’t meant to be predictive, but rather to complement what you see on film.
How Quickly Did They Get to the QB?
Measured here is the time from snap to sack for each pass rushers. Generally, times greater than 5 seconds are coverage sacks. Times between 3.5 and 5 seconds are the majority of sacks and what you would call “average sacks”. Sacks faster than 3.5 seconds are speed sacks which result from a good jump off the line or just great burst.
- Technically the fastest time belongs to Clowney at a blistering 3.28 seconds. However, remember that this is only on three sacks and is just for a quick reference on his play this year. His 2012 sacks were definitely slower at an average of 3.93 seconds. Compared to the speed rushers, this is slow – but compares favorably to guys like Tank Carradine and Werner from last year’s class. We can see that 30.8% of his sacks came after 5 seconds, the highest percentage in this group.
- On a significant number of sacks, Michael Sam edges out the rest of the field for the fastest sack time at 3.36 seconds. His combine numbers weren’t spectacular, so we have to look to other metrics and the tape for the discrepancy. Sam’s teammate, Kony Ealy is in a virtual tie for the top tie at 3.38 seconds.
- Dee Ford registered the slowest time among this group, with a snap to sack time of 4.26 seconds. This isn’t a case of one or two outliers pulling up the average, but the fact that the 73% of his sacks were simply average.
- Barr’s high sack time of 3.52 seconds serves as confirmation rather than a revelation. It’d be more surprising, and worrying, if his time getting to the quarterback was in the high 3.0s. He has the highest percentage of speed sacks in the group, racking up hits on the QB under 3.5 seconds on 78% of his sacks.
- The biggest revelation in this group is Kareem Martin’s excellent time of 3.61 seconds. That’s not something you usually see for a defensive end pushing 270+ lbs. True defensive ends are usually in the 3.8+ seconds range. In addition, he didn’t have a single coverage sack – getting to the QB under 5 seconds on every sack.
How Did They Get There?
- Earlier I noted Sam’s quick time to the QB, we can see a possible explanation for that here. Every one of his sacks was on an outside rush which likely led to sacks where he only quickly and definitely beat the tackle around the corner.
- While Ealy has a similar time to Sam, his variety of pass rush moves doesn’t leave as much to be desired. Of the group, he went to the bull rush – utilizing his strength 50% of the time. The bull rush is typically the slowest way to the QB so his ability to get their quickly while utilizing that rush makes his quick time all the more impressive.
- Barr and Mack have been often compared. Both had quality times getting to the QB, and both utilized the outside move more than 60% of the time. That’s not bad in itself, but when you go and watch their entire pass rush repertoire you want to make sure that’s not the only thing working for them.
- With arguably the most diverse variety of rushes (outside of Clowney ’13), Dee Ford’s varied attempts may slightly explain his slower time. With equal sacks coming from bull and inside rushes, he displayed an ability to get the QB consistently. However, Kareem Martin had a similarly diverse set of sacks and still had a fast snap to sack time.
- Attaochu, who fits more as a rush linebacker garnered his hits on the QB on outside and inside rushes rather than going right at the offensive lineman. This is likely how he’ll have to attack at the next level if his weight or strength doesn’t improve.
How Did Their Opponents Contribute?
I created a really quick and dirty strength of schedule (sack?) for the pass rushers. Part sacks allowed by each team’s offensive line and part Sagarin ratings, it’s not perfect but it should give you a relative feeling for the quality of teams/ offensive lines each pass rusher got their sacks against. The higher number means tougher opponents.
- The first thing I should note is that this group’s SOS are much more tightly grouped than last year’s class. It’s not the fault of the metric, but rather a group that did well against similar opponents.
- Khalil Mack is naturally going to have a low strength of sack playing at Buffalo and indeed comes in lowest of the group with a SOS of 23.09. However, more important is that 37.5% of his sacks were unblocked – the highest in the group. Suddenly that could cast some doubts on his quick sack time – was he beating blockers soundly or just on the receiving end of some good luck?
- For all the positive things I’ve written about Kareem Martin so far, his SOS is a paltry 38.57, racking up his sacks against the weaker ACC teams. On the positive side he wasn’t on the receiving end of many unblocked gimmies.
- Dee Ford and his sacks against SEC teams garners the highest SOS in the group. However, Trent Murphy did damage against some quality PAC-12 teams that puts his strength of sack in the same realm. Both were similar in the amount of unblocked sacks they got.
- Clowney has gotten a bit of special treatment here. He’s got two years of data and I’m selectively choosing data to look at. If you’re going to find one thing interesting about Clowney, is that he didn’t gather a single unblocked sack in his 2012 campaign where he got to the QB often. He had to work for those sacks and did well doing so.
How Did Their Team Contribute?
This chart requires a bit of explaining. Rush+Blitz represents the average number of players rushing the QB on each player’s sacks. The higher the number, the more players a team brought and presumably, the more difficult it was to block the total number of rushers.
Percent of Extra Pressure tells the percentage of sacks in which another player (or multiple players) pressured the QB before the pass rusher accrued the sack. It stands to reason that the more pressure on the QB, the easier it is to pick up the sack.
- Right off the bat, Clowney’s 2012 sack campaign looks like it received the most total help from his teammates. A whopping 69% of his sacks came with pressure from a teammate, notably current NFL player Devin Taylor.
- On the other hand, Anthony Barr only saw an average of 3.56 teammates rushing the passer and only received pressure help on 11% of his sacks.
- Trent Murphy had a lower number of rushers to aid him, but those fewer rushers still hurried the QB on 40% of Murphy’s total sacks.
- Discounting Clowney’s three sacks, Ealy was the only player who didn’t have any pressure applied by teammates. With a close to average 4.13 rushers, you could say Ealy was the player who was most responsible for his own sacks.
Like I wrote in the beginning, there’s a wealth of pass rush data that can be gleaned from play on the field. I’ve already written too much here, but you can follow on Twitter @NU_Gap for some of the things that didn’t make it to the piece such as number of steps taken to the QB.