Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
30 Dec 2011
by J.J. Cooper
If you're making a list of the best pass rushers in football, Jared Allen is likely to be among the first names you'll hear mentioned. If DeMarcus Ware isn't mentioned before Allen, he's sure to be mentioned soon after. Anyone who has watched Tamba Hali dismantle blocking scheme after blocking scheme knows he can be nearly unblockable.
And among the youngsters, Denver's Von Miller has already demonstrated that he's got the ability to pile up double-digit sack stats for years to come.
Jason Babin may rank second in the league with 18 sacks, but he's not generally thought of as one of the league's elite. A lot of that can be blamed on Babin himself. He was labeled a bust when he produced 17.5 sacks over his first seven seasons. Heading into 2010, he was a journeyman who was getting ready to play for his fourth team in four years.
Two years later, it's time to give Babin his due. He not only ranks second in the league in sacks, he's also tied with Ware for the league lead in "short sacks," sacks recorded in 2.5 seconds or less. That comes after he ranked among the league leaders in short sacks last year with Tennessee, when he earned his first Pro Bowl appearance. In the past two years, Babin now has 30.5 sacks, second in the league to only Ware's 33.5.
Short sacks can come from a simple screwup of a protection scheme, but more often they come when a pass rusher uses a great first step to simply beat a blocker off the ball. That's been the case on six of Babin's eight short sacks. As for the other two, one came when Rams' tackle Jason Smith forgot the snap count and another came when Anthony Davis blocked inward, letting an unblocked Babin to get to Alex Smith easily. If you look at the list of this year's short sack leaders, it's safe to say that there aren't any pretenders on the list -- to record four or more short sacks, you have to possess an excellent first step.
With two Pro Bowl appearances and 30.5 sacks in the past two years, Babin is starting to force even casual fans to pay attention to him, but Lions' defensive end Cliff Avril hasn't reached that level of notoriety yet.
Avril hasn't sniffed a Pro Bowl, but he is a defensive end who has consistently shown that he can cause all kinds of problems for offensive tackles. Vikings tackle Phil Loadholt would surely agree -- Avril's beaten him three times for sacks this year.
More than half of Avril's 11 sacks have been of the quick variety, and none have been cheap. Avril has beaten a blocker on each and every one of his six quick sacks, and he knows what to do when he gets there as well -- on six of his 11 sacks he's forced a fumble. If the NFC needs an injury replacement for the Pro Bowl, they could do a whole lot worse than Avril.
|Quick Sack Leaders, through Week 15, 2011|
When mentioning the Pro Bowl, it's also worth looking at how the Pro Bowl offensive linemen have fared in pass protection this year. Obviously, sacks allowed isn't the only metric to determine whether a player should to go to the Pro Bowl, so I'll leave the judgement of who deserves to be there and who doesn't to the reader. It is also useful to see which defenders actually beat the Pro Bowlers for sacks. If you beat the best, it's often a sign that you yourself are one of the best.
|Sacks allowed by Pro Bowlers, through Week 15, 2011|
|Joe Staley||SF||6||Jason Hatcher, Brian Orakpo, Frostee Rucker, Osi Umenyiora, Kyle Vanden Bosch, DeMarcus Ware|
|D'Brickashaw Ferguson||NYJ||6||Mark Anderson, Andre Carter (2), Tamba Hali, Haloti Ngata, Richard Seymour|
|Jake Long||MIA||4||Connor Barwin, Larry English, Chris Gocong (0.5), Jayme Mitchell (0.5), Osi Umenyiora|
|Logan Mankins||NE||2.5||Michael Boley, Amon Gordon (0.5), Marcus Spears|
|Joe Thomas||CLE||2.5||Connor Barwin (0.5), Dwight Freeney, Terrell Suggs|
|Jermon Bushrod||NO||2||Robert Quinn, Eric Walden|
|Ryan Kalil||CAR||2||Jonathan Babineaux, Ray Edwards|
|Carl Nicks||NO||2||Karl Klug, Antonio Smith|
|Maurkice Pouncey||PIT||2||Shaun Cody (0.5), Antonio Smith, Terrell Suggs|
|Scott Wells||GB||2||Antonio Garay, Brian Price|
|Jahri Evans||NO||1.5||Greg Hardy (0.5), Daryl Smith|
|Brian Waters||NE||1.5||Donald Butler (0.5), Elvis Dumervil|
|Davin Joseph||TB||1||Brian Cushing|
|Nick Mangold||NYJ||1||DeMarcus Ware|
|Jason Peters||PHI||1||Jason Taylor|
|Marshal Yanda||BAL||1||Tim Jamison|
The names that pop up more than once are some of the best pass rushers in the game -- Ware, Osi Umenyiora, Terrell Suggs -- and also some players who may deserve a little more notice like Connor Barwin and Antonio Smith.
Sorry, but thanks to the Christmas Holiday and a trip to Disneyland for the kids, the weekly sack report of fast and slow sacks will have to return next week. The quick sack and Pro Bowl sacks allowed stats above also do not include last weekend's games. Happy new year!
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