Data Points: Sacks becoming more scarce

To say there is a premium on pass rusher in the NFL is quite the understatement.  NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock has projected as many as nine defensive ends going in the first round. Nine! In fact, he has 14 defensive linemen listed on his top 32 draft board.

Of course these kids are talented players. But much of their value stems from the fact that teams learned long ago that next to having a good quarterback, punishing the other guy’s quarterback is arguably the most important part of winning in the NFL. With that in mind, some digging shows us why teams are so hot for defensive linemen that can get to the quarterback.

Since sacks became an officially recorded statistic in 1982, they’ve gradually become more scarce — at least percentage-wise. In fact, sacks per dropback (passing attempts plus sacks) continue to trend downward with the advent of quick passing attacks like the West Coast offense and as quarterbacks are taught to get the ball out quicker. Although dropbacks don’t account for quarterback scrambles, it’s a way to measure how many times the quarterback dropped back with the sole intent of passing.

Notice that quarterbacks were sacked 1.7 percent less in 2010 (6.1 percent) than they were in 1982 (7.8 percent). That translates to a difference of about two sacks per 100 dropbacks. Considering we’ve seen how much one sack can alter a season — think of Troy Polamalu’s strip-sack of Joe Flacco last year — that’s a sizable difference. It’s also a factor in why so many teams are looking at defensive ends in the draft.

* By the way, yesterday’s Data Points compared the numbers of Tony Romo and Jon Kitna from last season, and reflected that their level of play was quite similar.  Considering factors like talent, age, and mobility, it was not suggesting that there should be a controversy in Dallas. Basically, I agree with several of you who voiced your thoughts: Romo is the right choice to start.

— Elliot Harrison

Elliot Harrison is a research analyst for NFL RedZone on NFL Network.

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