Are sacks more highly concentrated among a few players now? Look at the 2016 Raiders: Khalil Mack, who won the Defensive Player of the Year award by one vote over Von Miller, had 11 sacks. But Mack and Bruce Irvin (7.0 sacks) were the only Oakland defenders to record more than three sacks last year, and only six Raiders finished the year with a sack. In Atlanta, Vic Beasley led the NFL with 15.5 sacks, but only eight other Falcons had a sack, and no other Falcon had more than five. Meanwhile, the ’86 Oilers had 17 players record at least one sack and no player with more than five sacks!
In 2014, J.J. Watt had 20.5 of Houston’s 38 sacks. And in 2012, Aldon Smith had just over half of the 49ers sacks, too. But are things really getting more concentrated? Memory can play tricks on us: after all, in 1989, Tim Harris had 19.5 sacks for the Packers, which represented 57% of all Green Bay sacks that year.
As it turns out, the Raiders and Falcons weren’t great examples to measure the modern NFL. They were the two most concentrated teams in the NFL last year in terms of sacks. Let’s look at the Raiders sack totals more closely, and use the same methodology we’ve used the last few days (also known as the Herfindahl index):
Oakland has a concentration index of 29.8%, which is the 4th highest since 1982 behind the ’89 Packers (35%), 2014 Texans (33%), and 2012 49ers (31%). The 2016 Falcons are at 26%, and the table below lists every team in the league:
The Steelers last season had 15 players record at least one sack, with 38-year-old James Harrison leading the team with 5 sacks. Pittsburgh was in the top third of the NFL in sacks last year, and that’s despite having a very decentralized way of getting to the quarterback. Meanwhile, the Panthers had the 2nd most sacks in the NFL with 47, and the 2nd least-concentrated pass rush: 18 Carolina defenders had a sack, but none had double digits. In other words, there’s more than one way to sack a quarterback.
Overall, the NFL average concentration index for sacks was 15.6%. Since 1982 (and excluding the strike 1987 season), the NFL average was…15.4%. Other than a relatively concentrated period in the early ’90s, this statistic has been remarkably consistent over time. And there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of a trend:
A result of ‘no result’ is often just as interesting as one showing the opposite: yes, it would be interesting if sacks were becoming more concentrated (teams are scheming around one or two elite talents?) or less concentrated (defensive schemes are becoming more complex and bringing pass rush from all over?), but a no change result brings all sorts of questions, too. Why do you think this is?