Friday, January 11, 2008

Season in Review: Sacks Allowed

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin appeared on Sirius radio's Movin' the Chains The Red Zone show Thursday morning, and when asked about pass protection for Ben Roethlisberger the coach had this to say: "We've got to get better in that area . . . it's a glaring issue . . . it's about getting the ball out of [the quarterback's] hand . . . and receivers recognizing hot [reads]."

We appreciate the coach pointing out that it isn't always about the offensive line, though that certainly is a big part of the equation. So we've decided to take a look at this issue a couple of different ways -- the number of sacks per season from 2000-2007, the number of pass attempts in each of those seasons, and the ratio of sacks to pass attempts.

The number of sacks each season, compared to the NFL average per season looks like this:

20002001200220032004200520062007
Sacks - NFL Avg.39.8738.6136.7234.1337.3836.9436.3434.44
Sacks - Steelers43.0031.0034.0042.0036.0032.0049.0047.00

The Steelers have given up fewer sacks than the average NFL team in four of the seasons, and more in four seasons. What's interesting about that is that the 2007 season was the only one in which the Steelers gave up more than the average number of sacks and still managed to make the playoffs.

Of course the number of sacks can be -- almost certainly is -- effected by the number of times a quarterback drops back to throw. Here are the number of pass attempts -- both the NFL average and the Steelers' -- for the same period:

20002001200220032004200520062007
Pass Attempts
- NFL Avg.
526.58521.97540.38515.41511.06514.50512.16532.66
Pass Attempts -
Steelers
440.00454.00551.00532.00358.00379.00523.00442.00

What stands out of course is that despite the fact that the Steelers threw the football less in 2007 than in 2006 the number of sacks remained essentially the same. Here is what the ratio of sacks to pass attempts looks like graphically:


To say that the Steelers are, and have been, moving in the wrong direction is an understatement; and it appears that 2007 represented an acceleration of a bad trend.

In his interview on Sirius radio, Coach Tomlin described himself as being "more energized than I've ever been" about the work that needs to be done during the offseason. That's a good thing -- because there's obviously a great deal of work to do.

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