Nathan Jahnke breaks down PFF blitz data to show the most frequent and most effective blitzing teams in 2013.
There are many different ways to get pressure on a quarterback. Some teams can consistently send the same four players and frequently rattle the quarterback. Sometimes that isn’t enough, which is why teams will blitz. At Pro Football Focus we chart who rushes the passer on every play as well as how successful they are at doing so, so we’re pulling some of that data out and taking this opportunity to look at which teams blitz the most and how successful they’ve been.
There are many ways to define a blitz, but here we’re defining it as someone pass rushing that the offense wouldn’t expect to. 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 pass rushes instead of an OLB, it is a blitz even though it is still potentially just a four-man rush.
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.
We find three teams that blitzed a bit more than the rest in 2013. Leading the pack was the Arizona Cardinals who saw a number of their edge rushers get hurt. They also had one of the better pass-rushing inside linebackers in Karlos Dansby as well as one of the better pass-rushing defensive backs in Tyrann Mathieu. The Raiders had the inside linebacker that led the league in pressures in Nick Roach and last year the Houston Texans had two of the least effective edge rushers in the league, so it was worth it for them to try sending other players.
Pass Rushing Productivity While Blitzing
Next are the teams that are best at blitzing as judged by our Pass Rushing Productivity Signature Stat. Here we find a number of NFC teams who don’t blitz often, but when they do the often get pressure. Most of these top teams have two common factors. First, they have pass rushers who play well with or without the blitz. Second, they have linebackers who are perform well in coverage which limits how often the team wants to use them as pass rushers. This includes (but is certainly not limited to) K.J. Wright, Thomas Davis, Lavonte David, NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis and Stephen Tulloch.
On the flip side are teams that generally lacked a successful pass rush. When a team struggles to get a pass rush, they might normally try to blitz more often to get pressure. Most teams that are below average at getting pressure without the blitz are also below average in getting pressure with one. In 2013 there was a negative correlation between how often a team blitzed and how successful they were. This is likely due to teams who lack a strong pass rush attempting to blitz more to make up for it.
Pass Rushing Productivity Without the Blitz
Of course, it’s good to compare the above numbers to how successful teams are when they weren’t blitzing. A lot of the teams that have elite pass rushers like Robert Quinn, Michael Bennett, Greg Hardy, J.J. Watt and Aldon Smith are at the top. What is surprising is the team that tops the list are the Buffalo Bills. On a typical passing play they had Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and Jerry Hughes rushing the passer. All four players had more than 40 pressures on the year.
You’ll notice that teams were generally more successful at getting pressure when they blitzed than when they didn’t. While there are other factors than just how often teams get pressure when they do and don’t blitz, this suggests that most teams would be better off blitzing a little more frequently than they currently do.
* 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 a team created pressure.
Follow Nathan on Twitter: @PFF_NateJahnke