So let’s get right to it — do sacks really matter?
We know the Dallas Cowboys defensive front is, well, not what we would like it to be. But through two games the defense has four sacks and the defensive line is responsible for three of them. Extrapolate that over a 16-game season and it’s 32 sacks. That would actually be of little improvement over 2015 where the Cowboys had 31 sacks and went 4-12. But it would also be four more sacks than the Cowboys had in 2014 when they went 12-4 and made the playoffs.
We also know there must be some level of unhappiness inside of The Star as it concerns the "Rushmen'' because Fish is on 105.3 The Fan reporting an assortment of possible changes for Sunday night's home game against the Bears. To wit, he says look for Tyrone Crawford to serve as the LDE, for rookie Maliek Collins to possibly start at the 1-Tech, for Terrell McClain to be the 3-Tech and for Jack Crawford to compete with Benson Mayowa at RDE. (All that along with the possibility of an injured Orlando Scandrick sitting and Justin Durant taking over for Anthony Hitchens at MLB, and you're looking at five or six changes to a defense from one week to the next.)
In the end, all of this needs to stop the run, defend the pass, and, in terms of what we all want, record some sacks.
So as much noise as we make about the pass rush as it relates to these Cowboys, it got me thinking about the idea of whether sack totals translate into postseason success.
I started much the same way I started my project with turnovers a couple of weeks ago — by looking at Cowboys history. Now, in this case, there were fewer years to review because the sack did not become an official NFL statistic until 1982. So I charted sack totals for each season since 1982, matched them up with playoff and non-playoff seasons and below are the totals, the per-season averages, the all-time high and low totals along with the number of season the Cowboys had at least one player with double-digit sacks.
16 playoff seasons: 621 total sacks, 38.8 sacks per season, a high total of 62 sacks in 1985, a low total of 23 sacks in 1991 and 9 seasons with at least one player with double-digit sacks.
18 playoff seasons: 684 total sacks, 38 sacks per season, a high total of 58 sacks in 2008, a low total of 24 sacks in 2001 and 2002, and 9 seasons with at least one player with double-digit sacks.
The lack of variation in the numbers is startling. With my research on turnovers there was a clear difference in Cowboys teams that made the playoffs and didn’t make the playoffs. In the case of sacks there is absolutely no difference.
So I decided to sample recent NFL history and look at the 12 playoff teams each season from 2009-15, the same sample I used in the turnover piece. So here are the per-season numbers from 2009-15:
2015: 524 total sacks, 43.6 sacks per team, a high total of 52 sacks and a low total of 36 sacks.
2014: 447 total sacks, 37.3 sacks per team, a high total of 49 sacks and a low total of 20 sacks.
2013: 528 total sacks, 44.0 sacks per team, a high total of 60 sacks and a low total of 35 sacks.
2012: 479 total sacks, 39.9 sacks per team, a high total of 52 sacks and a low total of 32 sacks.
2011: 479 total sacks, 39.9 sacks per team, a high total of 48 sacks and a low total of 29 sacks.
2010: 440 total sacks, 36.7 sacks per team, a high total of 48 sacks and a low total of 27 sacks.
2009: 447 total sacks, 37.3 sacks per team, a high total of 48 sacks and a low total of 31 sacks.
Seven-season average sacks per playoff team: 39.8 sacks.
So the average for playoff teams in the past seven seasons is slightly better than the Cowboys’ average in playoff and non-playoff seasons since 1982. But there is something to be learned from the raw numbers for both the Cowboys and the playoffs teams in the past seven years. It appears that a good rule of thumb for playoff teams is a minimum of 30 sacks.
Every single Cowboys playoff team since 1982 had at least 30 sacks, with the exception of two — 1991 (23) and 2008 (28). All but four of the 84 playoffs teams in the past seven years have had at least 30 sacks. In fact, a thin majority of playoff teams the past seven years operate at a high level when it comes to quarterback sacks. 45 of the 84 had at least 40 sacks.
But 40 sacks is not a guarantee, of course. Take last season. Detroit and the Los Angeles Rams both failed to make the playoffs and had at least 40 sacks. The year before Buffalo led the NFL in sacks with 54 but failed to make the playoffs. Philadelphia, the New York Giants, Kansas City, the New York Jets, Jacksonville, Minnesota and Los Angeles all had more than 40 sacks and failed to make the playoffs that year.
As educated football fans we all know that sacks aren’t the only way to measure a pass rush. But they’re the only official way to measure it. There are quarterback hurries, hits and pressures, but they’re not official NFL statistics. Your definition of those statistics are going to be different than others’ definitions, so I ultimately decided not to include them in this piece. There was just too much variation to provide accuracy.
But I do know this after putting this piece together. The Cowboys’ pace for sacks this season is below their historical average in playoff and non-playoff seasons. Additionally, only four Cowboys playoffs teams have reached the postseason with 32 or fewer sacks (they had 32 in 1982 and 2003). The Cowboys need to pick up the pace a bit if they hope to meet their historical averages, and the return of DeMarcus Lawrence could certainly help with that. Their historical average, however, really doesn’t mean any more or any less when it comes to making the playoffs.
So do sacks really matter? It would appear that sacks don’t matter as much as any of us might think, though sacking the quarterback 40 times in a season, at least based on NFL averages in the past seven seasons, can certainly enhance a team’s chance of making the playoffs. It will be interesting to see if the Cowboys can pick up the pace, or if picking up the piece really matters this season. ... and if changing out possibly a full half of a starting defense can make the difference.