Sig Stats: Team Blitzing

Nathan Jahnke has a look at 2014 blitzing by team and those who were most effective at generating pressure.

| 2 years ago
2014-Sig-Stats-tm-blitz

Sig Stats: Team Blitzing


2014-Sig-Stats-tm-blitzIf you are someone who tries to keep your eye off the ball during a play, something that can be fun to watch is who all is going after the quarterback. Some teams rarely bring something other than their typical four-man rush. Others seem to mix up who is going after the quarterback on every other pass play. Last year I examined how often teams blitzed and how successful they were in doing so. This year I’ll update the information for the 2014 as well as compare it to last year.

There are many ways to define a blitz, but here we’re defining it as someone pass rushing that the offense wouldn’t expect. For example, in a goal-line situation if there are six defensive linemen and they all rush the passer, that wouldn’t count as a blitz. However, in a base 3-4 defense if an ILB rushes instead of an OLB, it would count, even though it is still potentially just a four-man rush.

Blitz Percentage

The first part of the equation is how often teams blitz. The more a team blitzes, the more the offense needs to be ready for anything. The less they blitz, the more likely it can take the offense by surprise.

Like last year, we find the Arizona Cardinals near the top of the leaderboard. In their dime defense Deone Buchannon typically lines up near the line of scrimmage and rushed the passer 103 times — 34 more times than any other defensive back — and slot cornerback Jerraud Powers rushed the passer 54 times — 23 more times than any other corner. Most interesting at the top is the Rams who went from Tim Walton to Gregg Williams at defensive coordinator. Their personnel didn’t change too much from 2013 to 2014, but how often each linebacker and defensive back rushed the passer saw a significant increase.

Near the bottom of the list we find mostly 4-3 teams or teams with two good edge rushers. Most notable is the Bills who also saw a defensive coordinator change. Kiko Alonso rushed the passer 85 times in 2013, while no linebacker rushed more than 50 in 2014. The defensive backs also saw a decrease in pass rushes.

Rank 2013 Rank Team Blitzes Dropbacks Blitz %
1 23 SL 274 602 45.5%
2 1 ARZ 288 678 42.5%
3 9 IND 302 730 41.4%
4 10 TEN 244 604 40.4%
5 15 PIT 238 631 37.7%
6 3 HST 253 678 37.3%
7 5 GB 259 696 37.2%
8 11 WAS 195 585 33.3%
9 18 NYJ 198 598 33.1%
10 6 MIA 193 601 32.1%
11 21 NO 194 605 32.1%
12 12 ATL 196 613 32.0%
13 17 CHI 194 607 32.0%
14 7 PHI 211 668 31.6%
15 14 NYG 176 593 29.7%
16 8 CLV 190 645 29.5%
17 13 SD 170 578 29.4%
18 27 MIN 171 597 28.6%
19 2 OAK 164 578 28.4%
20 20 KC 171 616 27.8%
21 16 BLT 213 771 27.6%
22 31 DET 171 688 24.9%
23 24 CAR 161 681 23.6%
24 28 SEA 161 691 23.3%
25 19 DEN 169 755 22.4%
26 30 SF 133 605 22.0%
27 26 CIN 146 695 21.0%
28 4 BUF 134 640 20.9%
29 25 NE 155 746 20.8%
30 22 TB 124 613 20.2%
31 29 DAL 129 684 18.9%
32 32 JAX 90 602 15.0%

 

Pass Rushing Productivity While Blitzing

Next are the teams that are best at blitzing as judged by our Pass Rushing Productivity Signature Stat. Like last year, we find a lot of the top teams are ones that don’t necessarily blitz often, but they just have a strong pass rush so occasionally adding another player only helps. A team like the Ravens move up to the Top 10 not so much because they have an inside linebacker or defensive back who is an impressive rusher, but more the front four they have are good, and adding a fifth helps.

A trio of teams who were in the Top 10 moved into the Bottom 10 in part due to decreased linebacker blitzing. For example, in 2013 the Buccaneers sent Lavonte David 105 times which led to eight sacks. In 2014 he only rushed the passer 56 times which led to one.

Rank 2013 Rank Team Dropbacks Sacks Hits Hurries PRP
1 6 MIA 193 22 20 55 40.5
2 1 SEA 161 15 24 43 40.5
3 5 SF 133 7 12 50 40.2
4 9 DEN 169 15 27 41 39.1
5 2 CAR 161 14 18 47 39.0
6 22 BLT 213 19 45 39 38.5
7 12 ARZ 288 14 32 90 36.6
8 14 BUF 134 13 17 31 36.6
9 26 NYG 176 19 29 31 36.4
10 27 PHI 211 17 29 50 36.1
11 13 NE 155 14 19 37 36.1
12 21 JAX 90 9 12 18 35.0
13 10 CIN 146 6 20 40 34.9
14 17 NO 194 12 20 53 34.4
15 30 PIT 238 16 37 50 34.1
16 7 DET 171 14 20 39 34.1
17 19 DAL 129 9 15 31 33.7
18 32 CLV 190 13 16 52 33.7
19 25 GB 259 20 30 59 33.5
20 23 SL 274 27 27 59 33.4
21 16 MIN 171 12 22 38 33.3
22 24 CHI 194 14 25 41 32.7
23 29 NYJ 198 19 20 41 32.7
24 3 WAS 195 17 27 35 32.6
25 15 IND 302 25 38 57 31.9
26 18 HST 253 6 42 55 31.1
27 4 TB 124 10 10 27 30.4
28 31 SD 170 9 15 42 30.4
29 11 TEN 244 21 22 46 29.5
30 8 KC 171 12 19 29 28.1
31 20 OAK 164 9 17 29 26.5
32 28 ATL 196 9 22 34 26.0

 

Pass Rushing Productivity Without the Blitz

Finally, we look at how good teams are when they don’t blitz. In general, teams are a lot better at getting pressure when blitzing. However, if a quarterback can recognize the blitz and get a pass off, in general their numbers are better than when they aren’t blitzed. At the top of the list of a normal rush is the Houston Texans thanks to J.J. Watt. Next year if Jadeveon Clowney can live up anywhere close to the hype, they might produce an even bigger lead on the rest of the league.

The Packers and Giants were able to move up from the Bottom 10 to the Top 10 in part due to strong free agent additions of Julius Peppers and Robert Ayers. On the flip side, the Bills fell from first to 14th. All four of their starting pass rushers played well in 2014, but none of them played as well as they did in 2013. In St. Louis, Robert Quinn nearly single-handedly moved the team to the second spot, but his play came down to Earth in 2014 which brought the team’s performance down as well.

Rank 2013 Rank Team Dropbacks Sacks Hits Hurries PRP
1 5 HST 425 31 48 79 29.7
2 7 DET 517 35 54 101 29.3
3 18 PHI 457 32 30 94 27.4
4 17 NYJ 400 24 35 76 26.8
5 25 GB 437 30 32 81 26.3
6 14 MIN 426 28 32 77 25.8
7 26 NYG 417 27 33 74 25.7
8 15 BLT 558 36 45 97 25.5
9 3 SEA 530 24 39 109 25.5
10 22 WAS 390 21 21 83 25.4
11 11 KC 445 34 18 87 25.3
12 23 NE 591 29 45 115 25.2
13 27 PIT 393 18 31 77 25.2
14 1 BUF 506 41 31 83 25.0
15 8 NO 411 22 20 86 24.7
16 6 SF 472 27 32 87 24.6
17 29 OAK 414 13 25 93 24.5
18 32 ATL 417 13 22 93 23.8
19 4 CAR 520 30 37 86 23.5
20 30 CHI 413 24 36 59 23.1
21 10 MIA 408 17 26 76 22.9
22 9 DEN 586 25 36 109 22.8
23 31 SD 408 17 27 74 22.7
24 28 DAL 555 22 42 96 22.6
25 13 ARZ 390 21 21 67 22.3
26 12 TEN 360 18 21 60 21.9
27 21 TB 489 25 37 72 21.8
28 2 SL 328 14 14 60 21.2
29 16 CIN 549 15 42 91 20.9
30 24 JAX 512 35 23 73 20.9
31 19 IND 428 20 22 59 18.9
32 20 CLV 455 18 19 70 18.6

* All data includes playoffs

* For Pass Rushing Productivity, if on a play one player had a pressure and another player had a sack, it was just treated as a sack. Therefore the data might not add up to what you see elsewhere on the site by individual totals. This was done so we could see — if you add up the sacks, hits and hurries — the number of plays on which a team created pressure.

 

Follow Nathan on Twitter: @PFF_NateJahnke

| Director of Analytics

Nathan has been with Pro Football Focus since 2010. He is the Director of Analytics, an NFL analyst, and a fantasy writer.

  • Zev

    Miami tied for most efficient blitzing team?

    • PackersHome.com

      Not really a surprise. Dolphins had a solid defense and were in the top 10 in points scored against them.

      • Jaguars28

        Wrong. Miami gave up 373 points, 20th in the league.

        • PackersHome.com

          Wrong!!! Somehow I confused the columns of points and 1st downs a game. Anyone know what I was smoking yesterday? Musta been some good stuff!

    • Jason

      As a Miami fan, this was the most startling thing I’ve seen in a while. We did not look like the best blitzing team in football last year.

  • PackerFan

    So I probably shouldn’t be mad when Dom doesn’t blitz the house every down?
    (I’ll still be mad at 3 man rushes on 3rd and 20 situations thou).

  • Chris

    Some interesting trends here, starting with the 2nd chart. The top 10 is like a who’s who convention for the best DLs in the league. Miami? Seattle? Carolina? Baltimore? Buffalo? Denver? All 6 in the top 8. The only great DLs that aren’t in the top ten for efficiency are Detroit, St Louis, the Jest, and Houston. And that speaks to the trend mentioned in the article – teams that can generate consistent pressure with just a 4 man rush become even better when they do decide to blitz.

    So focusing on those 4 that don’t appear in the top 10 – do they have anything in common? They do – they all blitz way too much. St Louis, Houston, and the Jest all appear in the top 10 of blitz %. So even though they have great DLs, it’s like they forget that and they consistently send extra rushers anyway, which just opens up holes to exploit in coverage.

    To further expound on that, why would teams that get great pressure from their DL blitz so much? Houston and the Jest both rank top 4 for DL pressure (3rd chart), yet they both also rank top 10 in blitzing? Why? Maybe your secondaries wouldn’t be so bad if you had more guys in coverage?

    This could worry Bills fans. Rex is a great defensive coach, he had one of the best DLs with the Jest, and his team still blitzed enough to rank 10 top. Now he heads to Buffalo where he’ll still have an influence on how the defense is run, and he inherits another great DL. Is he going to continue to blitz his eyes out like he’s done for years, leaving his secondary on an island? We all know the Jest’s secondary was terrible this year, but it’s not like the Bills’ lit anything on fire either. And the Bills ranked bottom 5 in blitzing, so they had 7 guys in coverage on almost every play. How will they fair when Rex wants to blitz all the time?

    The anomaly on this chart is the Lions. They have one of the best DLs in football (2nd in DL pressure), and they don’t blitz a lot (bottom 10), so logic says they should be pretty lethal when they do decide to blitz. That’s the trend we’ve seen. Yet they barely crack the top half in blitzing efficiency?

    • Chris

      This article serves to hammer home the point of how delicate an art blitzing is. You can’t blitz too much regardless of the quality of your DL, because if the offense knows it’s coming they can exploit the resulting holes in coverage and get the ball out quickly. If you keep your blitzes random and infrequent, even teams with poor DL pressure (CIN, JAX) can successfully turn up the heat occasionally.

      More proof?

      – Only 2 of the top 10 blitzing teams rank better than 15th in efficiency (MIA, ARZ). STL, IND, TEN, PIT, HOU, GB, WAS, and NYJ all fail.

      – 9 of the 12 least blitzing teams rank better than 15th in efficiency. Only TB, DAL, and DET fail while BLT, CAR, SEA, DEN, SF, CIN, BUF, NE, and JAX succeed.

      The absolute best proof of why too much blitzing is bad for a defense is St Louis. Namely, the Gregg Williams Effect. Not only are his defenses known for targeting opponents (ahem ODB), but he notoriously blitzes all the damn time. Last year they hardly blitzed (23rd), instead dropping 7 into coverage most of the time and letting Quinn and Long go to work. More guys in coverage meant it took QBs longer to find a target, giving the pass rushers more time to get home. And it worked – they ranked 2nd in DL efficiency.

      Enter Gregg Williams. Suddenly the Rams, despite having one of the best DLs in the league with 2 great edge rushers and one of the best young DTs in the game, lead the league in blitzing. What happens? They drop to 28th in DL efficiency despite having a better DL than last year. Too many extra rushers means too many holes in coverage, which QBs can exploit quickly, which doesn’t give the edge rushers time to get home. Everybody loses.

      • Jaguars28

        Also important to take into account the O-Line you’re gonna face as a D-Coordinator. You’re gonna want to blitz more against a terrible O-Line, and blitz less and put more people in coverage vs a great O-Line (say, Dallas)

        • Tyler Ferree

          That depends on how you are blitzing. If you are doing so to try and isolate a potentially weak point in the O-line the overall quality isn’t as big a factor. Using the Dallas example while Free was out i’d have had no reservations about trying to force isolated matchups against his replacement Parnell. The most devisating example though would be the Jets vs. Ravens game in 2011 where Mangold was out, the Ravens just flooded the A-gaps the whole game and there was nothing the Jets could do to stop them.

          • Chris

            Yes, I agree, but doing a full season is supposed to be a large enough sample to sort of smooth out any 1 game outliers like that. It’s not like the Ravens blitzed A gaps enough that game to really affect their season averages.

          • Tyler Ferree

            That was, as i said an example of the effect at its most extreme.

      • LightsOut85

        Damn, Chris. Back to back kick-ass posts!

        I think the quality of the blitzer probably plays a part too. Some guys just rush head on into a blocker, while others give that perfect little hesitation that fakes them out. My team, falls into the former >_> (ILB at least, Eric Weddle is a decent blitzer).

      • Jefferson

        I think you make several mistakes in your analysis above, in your ‘case studies’ and general conclusions. You focus too much on the data above measuring comparative blitz performance BETWEEN TEAMS rather than measuring blitz performance over normal rush WITHIN TEAM defense. This stat of ‘PRP-added’ by the blitz over normal rush for each team is unfortunately missing above and would be a valuable addition. The reality is, some teams need the blitz more than others to enhance a lackluster rush, despite the risk of predictability (something you exaggerate). While others simply do the blitz really well and it forms an intrinsic part of a systematic and sometimes effective gameplan.

        First, for individual team analysis, you claim that STL and NYJ blitz “too much” because they don’t need to. This proposition may hold for NYJ but it is far less clear for STL. You are making assumptions about the quality and consistency of the STL defensive line based on 2013 performance when there is ample data above from 2014 that challenges these assumptions. In 2014, STL ranked #28 in normal rush performance and by my calculation their ‘performance added’ by the blitz (PRP-added by blitzing) was #12 in the league. Greg Williams is a cretin, but the data above is not sufficient to support the idea that ‘just letting the DL do their thing’ would have restored the STL rush to 2013 levels. Many commentators saw a significant regression in Quinn, for example, early in the season based on film study. Quantitative stats are never enough. To settle the STL case you would need to look at changes in blitz rate over the season in relation to non-blitzing effectiveness, among other things.

        There are many other examples that don’t fit your narrative. IND is a frequent and arguably ‘effective’ blitzer, at least relative to their #25 ranking for normal rush, since the pressure rate added by the blitz was 11th best in the league despite a frequency of blitzing that is higher than all but 2 teams. CLV blitzed quite often and its PRP-added by the blitz was #5 in the league. Conversely, did JAX not blitz enough? Lowest blitz frequency but #8 in PRP-added by the blitz. These are difficult judgements to make on the basis of crude numbers.

        With a PRP-added metric it may, superficially at least, appear that a couple teams ‘over-blitz’ (e.g. NYJ, GB, HOU, WAS). But again the problem is such a simple quantitative analysis of artificially isolated variables misses so much, obvious to anyone who watched the Redskins beat the Cowboys this year thanks in part to an overpowering but hardly surprising or random blitz (or NYJ’s over-performances vs NE?).

        Your analysis implies that in general blitzing too much is a bad thing. But there is no single formula that works for all teams. Arizona demonstrates the power of the blitz to terrorize opponents. Quantitatively their blitz frequency and blitz effectiveness (in terms of both PRP-added and comparative PRP while blitzing) shows that, for that Arizona at least, blitzing ‘never gets old’. Qualitatively, this blitz-krieg approach is a comprehensive strategy not a surprise tactic. It utterly transforms the gameplan of the opponent. Arizona knows they will blitz often, their opponents know they will blitz often, Arizona knows their opponents are aware the blitz is coming, and yet they still do it and it works so often. Obviously this is not a simple blueprint to be copied: good cornerbacks are needed among other things.

  • Jaguars28

    Amazing that JJ Watt and Ryan Davis accounted for half of their team’s PRP

  • Tyler Ferree

    And this shows why Rex got fired, Blitz a third of the time with only a 6% increase in PRP. with the coverage issues the team had and his failure to adapt to his personel, generally when the defense was playing well especially early in the season it was 3 or 4 man rushes with zome defense behind it, then Rex would inexplicably call a bunch of cover-0 blitzes and get burned.

    • Chris

      Chances on the same thing happening in Buffalo next year?

      • Tyler Ferree

        Amusingly the issue may be the opposite, hughes likely leaving and Kyle Williams turning 32 (the age at which most D-Tackles start to decline), and Mario Williams being one of the least consistent “star” pass rushers, i wouldn’t be shocked to see significant regression on that end.

  • Jefferson

    This is just the stat and analysis I was looking for, thanks.

    Is this team-level metric buried somewhere in the Premium Statistics and I have just missed it? It certainly should be a regular feature if it isn’t already.