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How Much Does the Pass Rush Really Matter in the Playoffs?

Discussion in 'PatsFans.com - Patriots Fan Forum' started by ivanvamp, May 9, 2011.

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  1. ivanvamp

    ivanvamp Rookie

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    Ok, another thread about the pass rush. I wanted to know what the real correlation was between having a good pass rush and playoff success. Because espn.com doesn't track QB pressures until 2009, I just went simple and used sacks as the key stat. I know this doesn't give the whole picture, but I went back the last 5 years in the playoffs (2006-2010) and looked at the scores, the passing attempts, and the sacks, and calculated the sack percentage (sack per pass attempt). The reason for calculating the sack percentage should be obvious: 3 sacks in 15 pass attempts is better pressure than 3 sacks in 30 attempts.

    I wanted to see what the relationship really is.

    I have the excel file...not sure if there's any way to post it somewhere here. Anyway, here are some things I found......

    1. 21 teams had a sack % of less than 3.0 in an individual game. The record of these 21 teams in these games was 10-11.

    2. 23 teams had a sack % of 10.0 or above in an individual game. The record of these 23 teams in these games was 13-10.

    3. The two teams with the highest single-game sack % over the last 5 years were the 2007 Steelers (in the WC round against Jax) and the 2010 Ravens (in the Div round against Pit). The Steelers had a sack % of 19.0% (4 sacks in 21 opposition pass att), and the Ravens had a sack % of 18.8% (6 sacks in 32 opposition pass att). Both these teams, with dominating pass rushes, lost. Interestingly, both these teams gave up 31 points to the opposition.

    4. Here are the teams' records with these #'s of sacks in games:
    - 6 sacks: 2-1 (.667)
    - 5 sacks: 5-0 (1.000)
    - 4 sacks: 3-4 (.429)
    - 3 sacks: 13-10 (.565)
    - 2 sacks: 11-12 (.478)
    - 1 sack: 15-17 (.469)
    - 0 sacks: 6-11 (.353)

    - 4+ sacks: 10-5 (.667)
    - 2 or 3 sacks: 24-22 (.522)
    - < 2 sacks: 21-28 (.429)

    5. Average sacks per W: 2.3. Average sacks per L: 1.7. Average sack % per W: 6.2%. Average sack % per L: 5.4%.

    6. In the Super Bowl, the top 4 sacking teams went 1-3 (the only W being the 2007 Giants...ugh). The only SB team that had 0 sacks (the Saints) won the game.

    7. In the Conference Championships, the top 5 teams in sack % went 1-4. Only the 2008 Steelers (well, they played the CC in 2009) won with a top-level sack %. The bottom 6 teams in sack % went 5-1.

    8. The last 3 SB champions got out-sacked by their opponent in the Super Bowl.

    9. I also looked at the last 2 years just to see about sacks + QB hits. I calculated total "pressure index" as being sacks (x2) + QB hits. I figure a sack is worth twice what a QB hit is. Just my own formula, which I admit may or may not have a true correspondence to reality. But it is what it is.

    Teams that had a pressure index of .250 or better (calculated as ((Sacks x 2) + QB hits)/Pass att) went 10-8 (.556). Teams that had a pressure index of .150 or worse went 8-5 (.615). Interesting.

    Up to this point you can see that obviously, it's an advantage to have more sacks than fewer. Kind of makes sense. But it's not as big an advantage as I would have thought.

    But here's really the key: sack % differential. In other words, it's not so much how good are you at generating sacks; it's how good you are at generating sacks *compared to your opponent in that game*.

    Teams that were better than +.060 in sack % differential were 11-3 (.786). Teams that had a positive sack % differential were 29-23 (.558).

    Ok, what about the Patriots? What have the Pats' been like since 2006 in the playoffs?

    The Pats have played 8 playoff games from 2006-2010, compiling a record of 4-4. Here are some facts:

    - They have had 4 games where they've generated 3 sacks. They are 2-2 in those games.

    - They have had 4 games where they've generated 0 or 1 sack. They are 2-2 in those games (but 0-2 in games with 0 sacks).

    - They have had just 3 of those 5 games which had a positive sack % differential. They are 2-1 in those games. Obviously, they are 2-3 in games where they have had a negative sack % differential.

    - In their 4 wins, here's their stats:
    * 69 pts allowed (17.3/g)
    * 143 opponents' pass attempts (35.8/g)
    * 8 sacks (5.6% sack %) (2.0/g)

    - In their 4 losses, here's their stats:
    * 116 pts allowed (29.0/g)
    * 116 opponents' pass attempts (29.0/g)
    * 6 sacks (5.2% sack %) (1.5/g)

    So not much difference in their sack %, really.

    So what does all this data suggest? It's good to have a quality pass rush in the playoffs, no doubt. But it's not a deciding factor, generally. I think we can say that the Giants' pass rush in 2007 really disrupted the Patriots' offense, for sure. But even then - *even then* - the Pats' managed to put themselves in a position to win the game if one of about 5 or 6 plays goes their way in the Giants' last drive. So even that one could have easily gone the other way.

    Other things, like efficiency and turnovers, are better indicators of playoff success than sacks or QB pressure are, even though it's better to get pressure than to not.

    Very long (but hopefully somewhat interesting) story short: QB pressure isn't everything. It's one factor in what makes a playoff defense successful, but it is far from the only thing, and it's not even necessarily one of the most important, despite what it feels like to us. You can win a championship without having a great pass rush. Hard to believe, but true.
  2. TheGodInAGreyHoodie

    TheGodInAGreyHoodie Rookie

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    One question that must be asked is this a chicken/egg question.

    Much like the whole notion that you need to run the ball to establish the pass has been debunked when you realize that the winning team has better rushing yards than losing teams is not because the won running the ball, but because they ran to run out the clock and that put up a lot of rushing yards after the game was in garbage time, not that high rushing yards won them the game earlier.

    Likewise, I have seen enough 4th quarter sacks of QBs when their team was down by 2 TDs to know that attempting to stage a 4th quarter comeback leads to sacks and ints that would not otherwise have occurred, b/c the QB is holding onto the ball longer and going for broke.

    I don't have the stats, nor plan to compile them, but I am willing to bet you will find the number a lot closer if you back out any sack that occurred when the point differential was 13+.
  3. ivanvamp

    ivanvamp Rookie

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    I would suspect that you would be right, which only further advances my thesis, that a pass rush isn't as big a factor in deciding playoff games as we might think it is.
  4. mgteich

    mgteich PatsFans.com Veteran PatsFans.com Supporter

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    # of a sacks is a poor indicator of defensive success in the playoffs or in the regular season.
  5. Oswlek

    Oswlek Rookie

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    No matter what numbers can be brought up, it really isn't contestible that having a strong pass rush is better than not having one.

    But the people who like to point at NE's 03/04 prowess as a model for success are overlooking two enormous factors.

    1) Neither of those teams possessed the outside demon that is supposedly so critical for success.

    2) The primary LBs on the '03 team had NFL resumes of 8, 10, 5, 9 and 12 seasons, along with experience in BB's system of 4, 5, 2, 5 and 2 seasons. That matters a whole lot more than people seem to realize. Mark Schlereth was talking about what it was like to face NE back then and how much confusion there was because everyone was a threat to do just about anything on every down. THAT is where the pressure came from, not because NE had some mythical defense with two DeMarcus Wares and two Ray Lewises that fans have built up in their heads. It was a bunch of guys who could do numerous things whose skillsets combined in a symbiotic way.

    Anecdotally, look at Willie Mac. In his 2nd to last Patriot game, he was a monster, accumulating 5 sacks against an overwhelmed Jacksonville squad. He didn't get that many in a season after that. Sure, guys fall off the cliff, but that also demonstrates how well NE utilized their tools.

    By comparison, here are the experience levels for the non-TBC LBs last year.

    NFL - 2, 2, 0, 0, 0, 2
    NE - 2, 2, 0, 0, 0, 1

    Why do so many in this forum refuse to accept that these guys will likely get better with time in the league and as BB learns how to utilize them? Those two gangbuster OLBs NE had in 2003 had 6 sacks between them in their respective rookie seasons, one of which as the 4th pick in the entire draft. Yet somehow, we should pencil in 5 sacks total for Nink and Cunningham for the rest of their careers?
    Last edited: May 9, 2011
  6. dhamz

    dhamz Rookie

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    Maybe.

    Or maybe Bill Walsh was right when he said nothing was more important to winning in the NFL than being able to pressure the QB in the 4th quarter.
  7. Deus Irae

    Deus Irae PatsFans.com Retired Jersey Club PatsFans.com Supporter

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    I think people are looking at sacks without enough context. The key is not sacks, but pressure. However, what's important is to look at how that pressure is gotten. If a team is getting pressure, but it's because they're consistently tossing 6 men at the QB, that's a far less effective pass rush than a team getting pressure with 4 men.
  8. VJCPatriot

    VJCPatriot Rookie

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    Thanks for the thoughtful analysis. I believe turnovers is really the key stat to determining the outcome of football games in the playoffs. Those possessions are so precious, it's not even funny. Think of the principle of 'opportunity loss'.

    When Brady threw the interception on that opening drive on what looked a like a sure march to a TD, the Pats lost the opportunity to score 7 points, take that off the scoreboard, then gave the Jets the opportunity to possess the ball for X minutes, X minutes that the Pats potent offense was forced to sit on the bench. Because of that dynamic as well as the loss of momentum, a winnable game became a very tough game.

    Add to that the turnover from the botched fake punt call that led DIRECTLY to another Jets touchdown, and you have killer TOs that changed the entire complexion of the game because the Pats were forced to come back from TWO scores down instead of one. This obviously altered their offensive gameplan and options because they were forced to play catch up now.

    Consider also that up until the Jets game, the Patriots defense LED the NFL in turnovers created and PLUS/MINUS turnover ratio. For whatever reason they failed to generate turnovers vs the Jets. What was the key difference in personnel in the playoffs versus the regular season? The only key difference lay in the defensive line where we had several big DL hurt. The Pats OL also looked overmatched vs the Jets big DL where they had played more than adquately in the regular season. Pats secondary had always been suspect, but the difference is that they generated no turnovers in the Jets game.

    Overall a number of factors led to the loss but the Turnover battle appears to be the most dispositive factor imo. Even above that of a pass rush, which was never all that strong in the regular season anyways, but good enough for a 14-2 record WHEN the defense could also force turnovers.
    Last edited: May 9, 2011
  9. eom

    eom Rookie

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    It matters enough to start 50 threads about it.
  10. Synovia

    Synovia Rookie

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    The idea that you can judge pass rush by sack percentage alone is absurd.
  11. signbabybrady

    signbabybrady Rookie

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    The OP clearly stated that his breakdown was flawed by the fact he wasnt using pressures and only using the sack stat. So yes do take this with a grain of salt but I also think that there would be a correlation between a teams sack% and a teams pressure% as it only makes sense that a team with a higher percentage of pressures would come away with a higher percentage of sacks.

    I would like to see this done with more than just a 4 or 5 year sample as the smaller the sample the more an outlier will screw things up.
  12. ivanvamp

    ivanvamp Rookie

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    Thanks for this. It's almost like he didn't even read what I wrote!

    But I would have done 5 years' worth of stats using QB hits as well, but espn.com only has that stat for the past two years. And I did mention the last 2 years' worth of data with that stat available. To quote my original post:

    "9. I also looked at the last 2 years just to see about sacks + QB hits. I calculated total "pressure index" as being sacks (x2) + QB hits. I figure a sack is worth twice what a QB hit is. Just my own formula, which I admit may or may not have a true correspondence to reality. But it is what it is.

    Teams that had a pressure index of .250 or better (calculated as ((Sacks x 2) + QB hits)/Pass att) went 10-8 (.556). Teams that had a pressure index of .150 or worse went 8-5 (.615). Interesting."

    So I did make reference to a larger pool of stats, but unfortunately, I can't find "pressure" stats (besides sacks) that go back beyond 2009. If anyone knows where I can find them, that would be great, and I'd happily do some larger analysis.
  13. TheGodInAGreyHoodie

    TheGodInAGreyHoodie Rookie

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    Here is the most compelling argument that an elite pass rusher doesn't matter. The Patriots trade one away and then have made almost no effort to replace him.

    Yeah, I drink cool-aid and belong to the religion of IBBIT.

    But consider this.....

    Bill Belichick (or more accurately Ernie Adams) slices and dices the statistics and what factors goes into winning NFL football to a greater extent than ESPN, football outsiders, CHFF or anyone on this board. And they have decided that spending money in FA, trading for or drafting high a player whose dedicated to rushing the passer is not a compelling enough need that it is more important than the other things they have done to improve this team.

    I trust they did a through and thoughtful analysis of this and it is not as some suggested that BB has simply forgotten about the pass rush in an age of senility.

    BB knows more about football than either you or I. If he says that the team he has assembled gives NE the best chance to win vs. the team you want him to assemble, then I am taking his word over yours.
  14. Oswlek

    Oswlek Rookie

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    I wouldn't read too much in not acquiring a pass rusher. If one was readily available at a reasonable price he wouldn't think twice about bringing him on board.

    The problem is that developed pass rushers are expensive and in high demand, and elite prospects require more draft capital than their risk/reward often merits.

    I think BB would be the first to agree that he needs more consistent pressure than NE had last year. But BB is also aware that players have this remarkable characteristic called "improvement". Crazy, I know. I always thought that players peaked their rookie season and then progressively worsened, but after doing some fact checking I was surprised to find the opposite occurs more often.

    Clearly a problem exists, but considering this newfangled "improvement" idea, in conjunction with BB specifically stating, "we have young linebackers, but we have good linebackers", the solutions might just already be on the roster.

    On a serious note, what I find really humorous is that those pounding the table screaming for a pass rusher would probably have been perfectly fine with this draft if you just substituted some random "name" OLB for Mallett. It is funny because Markell Carter in the 6th round has nearly the same odds of making an impact (namely, not much) as any of those guys have. Frankly, after watching highlights of Carter, I'm actually pretty optimistic on the kid.
  15. AzPatsFan

    AzPatsFan Rookie

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    This is the first post that makes sense about the Pats playoff loss. In every upset, and that is what the last Jets playoff game was, how many times do the announcers say "...the favorite is letting the under dog hang around..." ? What they really mean is that the favorite is wasting precious offensive opportunities, and not putting points on the board.

    As a longtime observant Pats fan, I don't think anyone disputes that Belichick saw the 2008 season end, with out Brady and with very little in the way of Team speed and consequent few defensive turnovers. BB obviously decided it was time to do a comprehensive rebuild. Lots of older stars retired or were pushed off that offseason. And the roster was scrubbed. Lots of youngsters started in 2009, and even more in 2010.

    It shows in the season records too: 16-0, 11-5, 10-6, and then back to 14-2. Team speed was way up and with it, defensive turnovers. The Pats lost in the playoffs to equal or better teams in 2008 and 2009, when the fading stars, or reconstruction was only just begun.

    It was this past season that was the most rankling. The Team was young, fast, almost rebuilt, and playing well from mid-season onward. But the Playoff Patriots were only a shell of themselves, compared to when they dismantled the Jets 45-3.

    The Defensive line was beyond thoroughly beaten up, and playing street free agents. Tom Brady was hobbling around on a broken leg that needed off season surgery.

    I think Belichick has added almost all the missing pieces for his next legitimate Superbowl contender in this draft. The secondary is now young fast, deep and talented and ball-hawks. The LBs are maturing inside and yes even outside. The DL has a new former First Round toy in Marcus Stroud, the return of Ty Warren, and more experience for the youngsters. New stars were found in the TEs, RBs, and maturing WRs. Now the Offensive line is being re-constructed, with a formidable new generation of talent. Even depth at QB has improved.

    Furthermore the Jets opposition has likely crested, and will start to recede. Neither the Bills nor Dolphins look ready to challenge. The Jets can't replace the old timers, and Free Agents; and their last half decade of trade-ups has resulted in only one or two players per year, not enough to sustain a Team, over the long haul. Shaun Ellis has aged, and wasn't offered an extension. Jason Taylor is gone, Kris Jenkins career is done. Bart Scott is another year older. LdT has eeked out another year, doing the job that McKnight was drafted for, and failed. Antonio Cromartie is wearing out his welcome; this is a surprise to whom? Can they resign their bad boys, Santonio and Braylon? The only positive is that Sanchez is maturing.

    Their draft produced only two players, at most. Wilkerson is a good but raw pick, while they desperately reached for Jenkins replacement in the third round. Typically they had no second round pick. Kenrick Ellis is facing 20 years of breaking rocks for his umpteenth run in with Law. Tossed out of Carolina, it takes a real jerk to be tossed off the "Hampton Institute School for the Incorrigibles" team. Way to go Kenrick... Furthermore, it shows in the Jets records, 11-5, 10-6, and next season 9-7 or 8-8?:snob:
  16. randomk1

    randomk1 Rookie

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    Run out of gas? They held the nr. 1 offense in NFL history to 14 points.
  17. AzPatsFan

    AzPatsFan Rookie

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    That pass rush was augmented by the injury to the Pats best backup interior lineman going into the SB game. He was limping before the game. Then Neal got hurt almost at the start of the game, and the backup gamely limped out onto the field to fill in. Many sacks came from the other guys overplaying to try to help out the injured substitute.

    The Giants pass rush was good, no doubt. But now you know the rest of the story...:(:(:(
  18. randomk1

    randomk1 Rookie

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    It wouldn't have mattered whoever was in there...the OL was dominated.
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