The Facts About Sacks

A season ago, the Jaguars pass rush was anemic as they registered just 14 sacks as a team finishing dead last in the NFL by a wide margin. A sack is certainly one of the most positive plays a defense can have, and it's usually devastating to sustaining offensive possessions. Find out what interesting abnormalities we found regarding sacks.

Sacks Equal Wins? Not Necessarily

The NFL leader in sacks a season ago was the Minnesota Vikings (48), who had a great year as they advanced all the way to the NFC title game. As great as the Vikings were, a great deal of their 2009 success can be placed on the acquisition of the Wrangler man himself, Brett Favre. Out of the Top 10 teams in sacks, just four advanced to the playoffs a year ago. Out of the 11th through 22nd ranked teams in sacks from 2009, seven teams qualified for the playoffs, and those teams accounted for eight playoff victories and both Super Bowl participants.

So the less sacks the better?

Not exactly.

Only one of the bottom ten teams in sacks made the playoffs a year ago (New England), and they were buried in their playoff opener.

How Do The Best Defenses Stack Up?

The New York Jets were statistically the top defense in the 2009 regular season. After a trip to the AFC title game with a rookie quarterback, the Jets certainly saw 2009 as a success. Despite allowing the fewest yards in the league a year ago, the Jets defense finished tied for 18th in sacks (32).

Just half of the Top 10 defenses were in the Top 10 in sacks (Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Denver and Washington), and just two of those teams qualified for the playoffs (Minnesota and Dallas).

Surely, the top passing defenses would be in the Top 10 in sacks, right?

Not so much. Only two defenses were in the Top 10 in both pass defense and sacks (Denver and Washington), and neither qualified for the playoffs or even finished with a winning record.

Three of the ten-best sacking teams finished in the bottom ten in pass defense (Miami, Arizona and Cleveland).

Individual Sack Leaders in the Post-Season

Denver Broncos outside linebacker/defensive end Elvis Dumervil led the NFL in sacks with 17 a year ago. Would Dumervil trade those sacks for a playoff appearance? Who cares, he can't. In fact, just five players in the Top 10 in sacks were in the playoffs (Jared Allen, Dwight Freeney, Will Smith, Trent Cole and DeMarcus Ware).

In the last three seasons, and in four of the last five seasons, the league leader in sacks has not played in the postseason (Elvis Dumervil, DeMarcus Ware, Jared Allen and Derrick Burgess). In each of the last five seasons, the league leader in sacks has not won a single playoff game.

Going back to 2001, NFL regular season sack leaders have won just one playoff game (Dwight Freeney, 2004). No team that played in a Super Bowl since 1999 had a regular season sack leader.

What Do the Stats Tell Us?

Although everyone is enamored with sack numbers (including players as that's how many of them get paid), it is far more important to have a well-rounded defense that can get consistent pressure.

It's impossible to believe that a player such as Elvis Dumervil does not make any defense better, but the facts are that most teams can't put two great pass rushers on the field at the same time (as these stars are at such a premium). Perhaps that's why Dumervil in 2009, and a variety of league leaders going back to the turn of the beginning of the millennium haven't found post-season success.

Would a team like the Jacksonville Jaguars (14 sacks, last in the NFL) trade defensive lines with the Minnesota Vikings (48 sacks, first in the NFL)? Of course they would, but the difference between these teams successes had much more to do with who is behind center than who is tackling the opponents quarterback.

In summation, it's great to be able to hit and affect the opponents quarterback, but with the rule changes growing ever closer to flag football in terms of how signal-callers are allowed to be hit, sacks will be less important defensively than cover guys, and if a team only has a certain amount of resources to acquire players it's infinitely more important to acquire a quarterback who can play at a high level in crunch time.


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