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Weekend Trivia: Sack Differential

White and Ryan helped lead a dominant Eagles pass rush

White and Ryan helped lead a dominant Eagles pass rush.

Last year, the Denver Broncos led the NFL in sack differential — that is, sacks recorded by the defense minus sacks allowed by the offense. Having Peyton Manning really helps, as the Broncos had essentially an average number of defensive sacks (41) but ranked first in offensive sacks (20). So Denver ranked 1st in 2013 at +21, with the Panthers and Rams tying for second at +17 each. The worst team was the Jaguars at -19, with the Dolphins (-16) and Bucs/Falcons (-12) not too far behind.

A few years ago, Mike Tanier wrote a great column on the 1986 Eagles, the team that obliterated the record for sacks allowed with 104. But since Philadelphia had 53 sacks of their own (having Reggie White tends to help), Philadelphia was able to pull into a tie for worst sack differential of all time. That honor of -51 is shared with the 1961 Minnesota Vikings, an expansion team led by our good pal Fran Tarkenton. Minnesota’s defense recorded an absurdly low 16 sacks that season (the 14-team league average, including Minnesota, was 38), and led the league by a substantial margin with 67 sacks, most of them attributed to Tarkenton. Back then, expansion teams were not very good, although the team would turn things around soon.

What about the teams with the best sack differential? Four teams have recorded 40 or more sacks than they’ve allowed.

  • In 1991, Washington fielded one of the all-time great NFL teams. Mark Rypien was sacked just seven times, with Jeff Rutledge taking two more sacks. Those are ridiculous numbers, but the team also tied for third with 50 sacks. That +41 differential is the fourth best ever.
  • The 2006 Ravens aren’t as famous as their six years older brother, even though by one method, Baltimore’s defense that year was the third best scoring defense ever. The ’06 team ranked second in both defensive sacks (60) and offensive sacks (17); this was Steve McNair’s first year in Baltimore, and the team finished 13-3. And hey, those Ravens had a pretty good set of linebackers, too, ranking as the top set of 4-3 linebackers (Adalius Thomas, Ray Lewis, and Bart Scott, all in their primes) in that linked study. Terrell Suggs had 9.5 sacks, Haloti Ngata was a rookie, and Trevor Pryce led the way with 13.0 sacks.

But one team sacked opposing quarterbacks forty-four more times than they allowed their own quarterback to be taken down. The ’84, ’85, and ’86 Bears were at +36, +21, and +38, respectively. And the 1992 Eagles were at -9, so you’re going to have to put on your thinking hats for this one.

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Trivia hint 2 Show

Trivia hint 3 Show

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Alright, fess up: did you get it? After which hint?

  • Is it sad Dan Marino lead the league in lowest sack percentage 10 times but couldn’t muster a defense to be #1? I mean he was sacked less than 1% of his dropbacks in 1988, six times. That’s just crazy, if only his defense could more muster 24 sacks.

    Fun trivia though Chase, thanks!

  • I did not get it. I was just trying to think of Hall of Fame corners from the ’70s forever. While I did think of the guy in the answer, I honestly didn’t even remember (if I ever knew) that he played for them.

    • Richie

      I kind of got stuck on the Cardinals. I was thinking the CB, OL and TE were Larry Wilson, Dan Dierdorf and Jackie Smith. But I guess those guys never all played together.

  • JWL

    I got it after hint 2.

  • Ryan

    Hint 3…got all the players…thanks for making this a weekly thing, I don’t always get them, but certainly a fun exercise!

  • james

    This is flawed because of good teams pass less (less sacks) and face more pass attempts (more sacks). Can you run these numbers by only using sack% differential instead?

    • Chase Stuart

      I think we have different definitions of the word flawed.

    • Chase Stuart

      The ’77 Patriots also rank #1 in sack percentage differential (14.0% sack rate on defense, 4.4% on offense, 9.6% differential). The second best differential belongs to the 1950 Steelers (3.8%/13.3%/9.5%). The ’57 Bears were third (7.1%/16.4%/9.3%), and the ’74 Steelers were fourth (4.5%/13.3%/8.8%).

  • Richie

    Are the 91 Redskins the biggest outlier team of all time? That single season was one of the better teams ever. But the years surrounding that team were just average. It seems like most other great teams have at least one other really good/great season surrounding it.

    For instance, the 85 Bears were great. The 86 Bears may have been even better on defense, and the 84 Bears went to the NFC Championship game.