Pass Rushing Productivity

| January 21, 2010

For too long sacks have been the measuring stick in judging the productivity of a pass rusher. Going a bit deeper, Pro Football Focus’ Khaled Elsayed has decided to look at the hits and pressures a player gets, alongside their total number of snaps rushing the passer, to work out just who are the most productive pass rushers

Halfway through the season we did one of our Pass Rushing Productivity calculations to determine which pass-rushers weren’t necessarily the best, but the most effective in terms of rushing the passer. To come about the Pass Rushing Productivity ranking we delved a bit deeper this time. We looked at every play in our database that recorded a sack, hit or pressure, then looked at the grading we assigned to each so as to determine a ratio between the three. Sound complicated? In short, hits and pressures were roughly the same, but were given three quarters the value of sacks. So if a sack is worth 1 point, than a hit or pressure is worth 0.75 of a point. Add all these up, divide it by the number of snaps a player is rushing, multiply by 100 and you have our Pass Rushing Productivity Rating. Something like this:

Total Sacks + (Total Hits x 0.75) + (Total Pressures x 0.75) = Pass Rushing Points
Pass Rushing Points/ Number of Snaps Rushing Passer x 100 = Pass Rushing Productivity Rating

So now you understand how we have come to the ratings (and the weighting is certainly subjective), let’s get into seeing what kind of results it brings up, with there being no real surprise as to who the top dog is for 2009.

Amassing an impressive 14 sacks, 12 QB hits and 41 pressures, the Indianapolis Colts’ Dwight Freeney slowed down in the second half of the season but remained the most productive pass-rushing threat with a league-leading 13.7 PRP Rating. This is made all the more impressive because he was seemingly in a race to get to the QB with his colleague on the left side Robert Mathis, who finished fourth with an 11.2 Rating. This may be Peyton Manning’s team, but the reality is that without either of these men attacking QBs they wouldn’t be anywhere near the force they are. This is especially evident when you consider the man who spells them most frequently and plays inside on passing downs (Raheem Brock) finished down in 148th place (out of 175).

Freeney held off the challenge of LaMarr Woodley, who finished the season on fire to end up with a 12.4 rating. That was good enough for second place, and good enough to push Steelers teammate James Harrison down into sixth place. Woodley really came on as the season developed after not even being ranked in the top 10 of linebackers at the halfway mark. The Steelers defense may not have played to the level expected of it, but there’s plenty to be positive about when you consider how potent their pass-rushers are.

In third place, DeMarcus Ware seems to be getting stronger and stronger as a pass-rusher and led the league in Pass Rushing Productivity Points (total number of weighted Sacks, Hits and Pressures, disregarding number of pass rushes). When you compare Ware to the top two, he had more than 150 additional pass rushes, a testament to his durability compared to Freeney. Those numbers also speak to Woodley’s versatility, when you consider the Steelers use him in coverage more frequently.

The NFL sack leader and a man who, despite his woes in run defense, earned some votes for Defensive Player of the Year is up next. Elvis Dumervil was an expert at turning pressure into sacks, but not as good at generating consistent pressure as the guys above him. Still, that shouldn’t take away from a remarkable conversion from defensive end to outside linebacker that proved wrong the naysayers (this writer included) who doubted his ability to do so. The same can likely be said of Tamba Hali, who finished tied for 10th overall with a 10.1 rating. Hali came along as the season developed and while he (like Dumervil) may struggle with his run defense, he brings more than enough pressure to justify his worth to the Chiefs.

Another guy who garnered votes for Defensive Player of the Year was Jared Allen, who crept into the top 20 (19th place) in our PRP Rankings (this included Allen feasting on the Green Bay left tackles twice). What’s more interesting is that Allen generates less pressure than teammate Ray Edwards, who finished tied for 10th and excelled at hitting quarterbacks (only Anthony Spencer did it more). A lot of people like explain these results by claiming that Allen is constantly double-teamed, but the reality is he faces no more double-teams and chip blocks than the majority of guys above him. He should be viewed as what he is: a very good defensive end with a great motor who is not among the absolute elite when it comes to generating pressure.

Last year’s PRP Ranking king, John Abraham, couldn’t replicate his 2008 performance (nobody could), and with his sack count dropping there have been suggestions that he is no longer an effective pass rusher. While it can’t be argued that Abraham isn’t bringing the QB down as much, it should be noted that he is still generating enough pressure to finish seventh overall. Abraham wasn’t the only Falcons defender who impressed in getting to the QB, as one of the league’s most underrated players in Jonathan Babineaux finished fifth in the defensive tackles rankings. Of the five guys who surpassed him, the most surprising may be unconventional 3-4 nose tackle Shaun Rogers, who remains the most penetrative tackle in all of the league, even if injury curtailed his season.

Other defensive tackles who impressed include Tony Brown, who stepped up in the absence of Albert Haynesworth (also ranked in the top five). Brown finished third in the DT category and was excellent at pushing the pocket back. It seems the Titans at least found someone who is able to step up and fill Haynesworth’s boots. One of the more surprising names up there is situational pass-rushing specialist Israel Idonije, who finished second. It wouldn’t surprise if the Bears found a way to get him on the field more next year.

As for the rookies, the most impressive was Clay Matthews, who seemingly got stronger as the season went on. For a guy who was a little raw as a pass-rusher, it is extremely encouraging for Packers fans in the future. Matthews finished 13th overall, four places ahead of Brian Orakpo. No denying that Orakpo looks a much better player when asked to rush the passer than to play as a conventional outside linebacker in a 4-3, and it will be interesting to see how a new regime uses him next year. Of the other first-round picks, Larry English finished 51st overall, Everette Brown 60th, Robert Ayers 68th, Michael Johnson 108th and Tyson Jackson 161st.

It’s worth giving a special mention to Justin Smith, who, as a 3-4 end, was able to finish 25th. Smith didn’t have the sack count his performances deserved but he amassed a massive 44 pressures that were a big part of a much-improved 49ers defense. When you compare Smith to a guy who made the Pro Bowl in Darnell Dockett (89th overall) or the underrated Calais Campbell (56th Overall), it really puts into perspective not just how good a pass rusher Smith was in 2009, but how much of a snub it was for him to not make the Pro Bowl.

Now before we give out the top 10s, let’s briefly talk about a guy who didn’t play enough snaps to qualify for the rankings (200 pass-rushing snaps minimum). It really beggars belief that Miami was not able to get Cameron Wake on the field more. In 134 snaps he generated a PRP ranking that would have put him a long way ahead of everyone else at 19.78. With that kind of production you have to wonder if any perceived shortcomings in his run defense and coverage are worth it, considering his potential impact rushing the passer.

Top Ten Overall

1. Dwight Freeney – 13.7
2. Lamarr Woodley – 12.4
3. DeMarcus Ware – 12
4. Robert Mathis – 11.2
5. Elvis Dummervil – 10.9
6. James Harrison – 10.8
7. John Abraham – 10.5
8. Aaron Kampmann – 10.2
9. Leonard Little – 10.2
10. Ray Edwards – 10.1
11. Tamba Hali – 10.1

Top Ten Defensive Ends

1. Dwight Freeney – 13.7
2. Robert Mathis – 11.2
3. John Abraham – 10.5
4. Leonard Little – 10.2
5. Ray Edwards – 10.1
6. Stylez White – 10
7. Trent Cole – 9.59
8. Julius Peppers – 9.47
9. Jacob Ford – 9.24
10. Jared Allen – 9.22

Top Ten Outside Linebackers
1. Lamarr Woodley – 12.4
2. DeMarcus Ware – 12
3. Elvis Dummervil – 10.9
4. James Harrison – 10.8
5. Aaron Kampmann – 10.2
6. Tamba Hali – 10.1
7. Clay Matthews – 9.99
8. Tully Banta-Cain – 9.83
9. Brian Orakpo – 9.46
10. Clark Haggans – 9.2

Top Ten Defensive Tackles and 3-4 Ends
1. Justin Smith – 8.72
2. Shaun Rogers – 8.28
3. Tony Brown – 7.43
4. Israel Idonije – 7.38
5. Calais Campbell – 6.95
6. Vonnie Holliday – 6.87
7. Albert Haynesworth – 6.58
8. Kendall Langford – 6.42
9. Randy Starks – 6.34
10. Cullen Jenkins – 6.26

Target – 5-11 – The Bucs made small progress late last season but don’t seem capable of making the last to first leap that the NFC South has become known for in this decade, they don’t have a single unit that could be classed as a game winning or changing unit to hang their hat on. Getting more consistent line play and just being in the hunt to win more matches would be a step in the right direction, at some point the Bucs need to make a bigger leap but getting closer to the pack in the NFC South is a more realistic aim for 2010.

Comments are closed.