Friday, January 18, 2008

Season in Review: Sacks by the Defense

For years the Steelers have been known for their aggressive, pressuring defenses. In fact, one word captures the essence of the franchise for both Steelers fans, and those that root against them.

Blitzburgh.

So, as we did with the Pittsburgh offense, we decided to look at how many sacks the Steelers defense has forced -- both as a raw number, and as a percentage of the total number of pass attempts by opponent's offenses. After all, it would stand to reason that the more that a team plays with the lead the more often their opponents would be forced to throw, and -- possibly -- the higher the number of sacks.

Let's see what happens when that kind of logic meets reality -- here's the sack totals for the Steelers for the seasons 2000-2007, and the average for all NFL teams during those same seasons:

20002001200220032004200520062007
Steelers3955503541474936
NFL Avg.39.8738.6136.7234.1337.3836.9436.6634.33

Well, for the Steelers 2007 represented the second worst season for sacks by the defense in the last eight, and a significant decline after three consecutive seasons of improving numbers. However, before becoming too alarmed let's look at the number of pass attempts by Steelers opponents during the same period:

20002001200220032004200520062007
520525573484484549529536

The first thing that jumps out here are the 2003 and 2004 seasons. In 2003 the Steelers were 6-10 (i.e. they didn't play with the lead too often) but faced the exact same number of pass attempts as the 15-1 Steelers did in 2004! So much for what passes for "logic" at Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic.

What also stands out, in a negative kind of way, is the fact that the opponent's pass attempts have remained essentially the same over the past three seasons (i.e. 2005-2007), but the number of sacks plummeted this past season. The final part of this equation is how it compares to what is occurring throughout the league -- i.e. has the percentage of sacks, relative to pass attempts, also declined league-wide? Here's a look (click on the image for a closer look):

We're Steelers fans, we don't like to think of our team as "average." However it seems that that is precisely what the Steelers pass rush -- at least as reflected in the number of sacks -- was this past season; and that does represent a precipitous drop compared to the recent past.

However, it also seems that the number of sacks by the Steelers, in relation to the number of pass attempts by their opponents, is moving in the same general direction as the league average (though the Steelers have been decidedly above average for most of the past eight seasons), so there may be something larger at work.

What could that something be? Well, we wonder if teams are throwing shorter, quicker passes in an effort to negate pass rushes?

We'll save that for tomorrow!

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