Thursday, February 05, 2009

Season in Review: Sacks Allowed (2008)

When does a team give up 49 sacks of their quarterbacks and call it an improvement? When they are the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Proving that the old saw that there are "lies, damned lies, and then there are statistics" is more true than nearly anyone realizes, the Steelers saw their raw number of sacks return to a high-water mark while the ratio between sacks and pass attempts improved.

Here is a look at the raw number of sacks over the last nine seasons (inclusive) versus the league average:

200020012002200320042005200620072008
Pittsburgh433134423632494749
League Avg.39.8738.6136.7234.1337.3836.9436.3434.4432.38

Prior to the 2006 season the Steelers had surrendered 40 or more sacks in two seasons, both of which were utterly forgettable (in 2000 the Steelers had a record of 9-7, missing the playoffs, and in 2003 they were 6-10). Now they have done so in three consecutive seasons, have made the playoffs in the two most recent seasons, and have won a Super Bowl ~ clearly the team is evolving.

It is worth noting that the 49 sacks surrendered by the Steelers this season is the most given up in a season by the team that eventually won the Super Bowl. In fact only three Super Bowl champions have given up 40 or more sacks in their championship season (43 by Baltimore in 2000, 46 by New England in 2001, and 41 by Tampa Bay in 2002). During the 2005 season the Steelers gave up just 32 sacks.

So, you must be wondering, where is the good news? That comes when examining the total number of pass attempts this season by the Steelers versus the league average. Here is a look at the past nine seasons (2000-2008, inclusive):

200020012002200320042005200620072008
PIT440454551532358379523442506
League526.58521.97540.38515.41511.06514.50512.16532.66516.44

After a big drop in the 2007 season pass attempts returned to a level reminiscent of Ken Whisenhunt's final season in Pittsburgh, with this season's pass attempts increasing by 12.65% over the previous season.

With all of that in mind, here is how it all looks graphically:


In this representation it is easy to see that the general trend league-wide over this period has been downward (i.e. the ratio of sacks to pass attempts has been falling). Meanwhile in Pittsburgh 2008 was the fifth season out of the last nine in which Steelers quarterbacks were sacked 9.00%, or more, of the time they dropped back to pass.

We suppose there is some comfort in knowing that the problem is not a new one; and that there was some slight improvement this past season. However, everyone involved (i.e. the quarterbacks, the wide receivers, the offensive line, the offensive line coach, and the offensive coordinator) all need to develop a plan for improving in this area.

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