In 2014, there were 17,879 pass attempts in the NFL, and another 1,212 dropbacks that ended up as quarterback sacks. Therefore, the 2014 NFL sack rate was 6.35%, as quarterbacks were sacked 1,212 times on 19,091 dropbacks.
The Buffalo Bills defense was fantastic in general last year, and even moreso with regards to sacks. Buffalo faced 613 opponent dropbacks last season; given the league average, we would “expect” the Bills to have recorded 38.9 sacks.1 In reality, Buffalo sacked opposing quarterbacks 54 times, or 15.1 more than “expected” last season. Only one other team, the Giants at +10.9, reached double digits in sacks over expectation.
The worst team, by a good measure, was Cincinnati. The Bengals faced 628 opponent dropbacks but recorded only 20 sacks! Using the league average as our guide, we would have expected Cincinnati to take down opposing passers about 39.9 times, which means the Bengals fell 19.9 sacks shy of expectation. Only Atlanta at -15.3 and Oakland at -13.6 were within shouting distance of the Bengals when it came to anemic pass rushing.
The table below shows how each defense fared in this metric in 2014:
|Rk||Tm||Opp Att||Sacks||Sk Rt||Exp Sk||Diff|
I thought it would be fun to calculate this statistic for each of the last ten seasons, and present it in the form of a heat map. Here, blue means “good”, indicating that a defense got to the quarterback at an above-average rate, while red is a sign that a defense was below average. You probably want to click on each image to enlarge, but you can see that Atlanta has been struggling in this department for years. The Falcons have red scores and have been at least 5 sacks below expectation for each of the last six years. Meanwhile, Miami is the only team to be in the blue in every season. How many of you would have guessed that? In fact, the Dolphins defense has posted an above-average sack rate in an incredible seventeen straight years, dating back to Jason Taylor’s rookie season.2
What about which defenses have been the worst at getting to the quarterback over the last two years? Or three years? That’s right, we’re talking cumulative sacks over average ratings! For example, the Bengals were at -20 in 2014, -1 in 2013, and +13 in 2012; that means since 2014 Cincinnati is at -20, since 2013 the team is at -21, and since 2012 the defense is at -7 (difference due to rounding). That’s what the next heat map shows:
And if you prefer your cumulative sack ratings in rank form, I’ve got one more table for you. Some teams (Atlanta, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas in recent years, Jacksonville prior to Gus Bradley, and Tampa Bay really stand out for the amount of red space. Meanwhile, the Ravens, Bills, Panthers, Packers, Dolphins, Giants, Eagles, and Rams have a whole lot of blue in their columns.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments.