Under Pressure: Sacking the Pro Bowl

Under Pressure: Sacking the Pro Bowl

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
Player Team Quick Sacks
Jason Babin PHI 8
DeMarcus Ware DAL 8
Von Miller DEN 7.5
Jared Allen MIN 7
Cliff Avril DET 6
Tamba Hali KC 5
Chris Long STL 5
LaMarr Woodley PIT 4.5
Ahmad Brooks SF 4
Desmond Bryant OAK 4
Chris Clemons SEA 4
Trent Cole PHI 4
Antonio Smith HOU 4
Terrell Suggs BAL 4

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
Player Team Sacks Allowed Sackers
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!


16 comments, Last at 28 Dec 2012, 8:17am

1 Re: Under Pressure: Sacking the Pro Bowl

Can you compare the list of players Babin got his sacks against to the two names that come up most often as snubs who should have gone in place of Babin? Julius Peppers and Chris Long.

3 Re: Under Pressure: Sacking the Pro Bowl

Are there many people saying that those guys should have gone in place of Babin, Allen or Pierre-Paul? I've not seen that. I've seen a fair bit saying they've had Pro Bowl calibre seasons, but most of those basically say "its hard to argue against Allen, Babin and Pierre-Paul though. I think its more a case of the NFC pass rushers having very good years this year, while the AFC pass rushers haven't really.

I was going to say "it doesn't really make any sense to randomly split players by conference for voting" until I realised that this could make the game extremely difficult to play!

13 Re: Under Pressure: Sacking the Pro Bowl

Yes, but Babin's total inability to play the run is plain as day. In fact, it's pretty clear he only has the amount of sacks he has because he ignores the run and plays all out for the QB on every play. Watch the Eagles/Seahawks game if you want to see how a DE can single-handedly ruin a defensive effort by pursuing sacks and ignoring the run.

2 Re: Under Pressure: Sacking the Pro Bowl

Its interesting that Peters has only given up 1 sack this season, especially given that he has to go up against Ware, Umenyiora/Tuck/Pierre-Paul and Orakpo/Kerrigan twice a year, while playing in front of Vick, who can easily run himself into sacks. His rep is as a very good tackle, but a bit below the Joe Thomas/Chris Long tier - is this wildly inaccurate? In the one game I watched him closely in (against the Cowboys) he handled Ware pretty easily it seemed (although I think Ware had 4 sacks, obviously none against Peters though!).

Its actually pretty interesting that the two Pro Bowl tackles that I feel are generally less well regarded (Bushrod and Peters) have allowed fewer sacks than the guys who are more regarded as some of the best in football (Thomas and Long in particular). Bushrod might be at least in part due to Drew Brees getting rid of the ball so quickly.

4 Re: Under Pressure: Sacking the Pro Bowl

First it's JAKE Long, Chris Long plays DE for the Rams.

Actually I think that the reason for the "top" OTs having allowed more sacks is that they are far more often left alone on an island against the league's best pass-rushers. Those guys like Bushrod, Evans and - to an extent - Peters seem to be more protected by having guys chipping on their sides.

I think it would be interesting to analyse the players to see who has the most help and who is just left alone on an island.

8 Re: Under Pressure: Sacking the Pro Bowl

This is the first year where Jason Peters put it all together, which is why in the past he has been seen as second tier. If I remember correctly, two years ago, he actually led the league in blown blocks (at least by FO's count). This was mostly because he had a new offensive line coach in Juan Castillo who was teaching him a kick slide technique that was different than his technique in Buffalo. Last year, he became kind of stuck between the 1st tier and the 2nd tier as he started out poorly, but became a force after mid-season surgery.

This year, with the help of Howard Mudd and a zone system that emphasizes athleticism, Peters has capitalized on his potential. He has turned into one of the top 5 pass blockers, but it is his run blocking and his blocking in the screen game that has turned him from a good player with potential, into a great player. Above all, he's just a blast to watch as very few men his size can move as well as he does.

7 Re: Under Pressure: Sacking the Pro Bowl

Babin reminds me of KGB. A terror as a pass rush specialist, but a liability playing the run.

Don't get me wrong, KGB is the all-time sack leader for GB. But he was never a complete player, and neither is Babin. Babin is not even the best player on the Eagles' DL. That would be Trent Cole, and I'd argue Cullen Jenkins is a better player than Babin.

9 Re: Under Pressure: Sacking the Pro Bowl

Jason Babin's sudden emergence has been odd indeed. It is true that not all eyoung dge rushers grasp the feel for rushing the passer right away, but very few take as long as Babin did to "get it." The best analogues I can think of are Kyle VandenBosch and Patrick Kearney, but neither was as mediocre as Babin for so long, nor quite as dominant upon emergence. I wonder what was going on with Babin (or alternatively, the Texans', Eagles', Chiefs', and Seahawks' coaching staffs) that kept a cap on all of his pass rushing goodness.

One stat that really stood out about Babin in college was his tackles (299!). Sure, he had a lot of sacks, but he was posting middle linebacker-type tackle numbers.

Sorry JPP!

10 Re: Under Pressure: Sacking the Pro Bowl

Assigning the Dumervil sack against the Patriots where he abused Brady to Waters is silly. It is plain from watching the replay that rookie Nate Solder completely missed his assignment and Waters was just trying to jump in Dumervil's general direction to try and save his QB. Watch also the body language on both players after the play. I still can't understand why the Chiefs let Waters go but as a Pats fan I'm grateful, he's had a tremendous year.

12 Re: Under Pressure: Sacking the Pro Bowl

A quick, non-definitive answer: while timing all the sacks, J.J. also notes who got and gave up the sack. As duh's post above suggests, these aren't necessarily the authoritative numbers (although, as others have pointed out, you probably need to be in O-line meeting rooms to actually know who's responsible for some plays), but they're a good start.