Pressure Points: Watt Down Season?
Looking at J.J. Watt’s statistics, you’d think the 2012 NFL Defensive Player of the Year was suffering some sort of down season, or that offensive lines had finally figured him out.
After all, his 5.5 sacks are tied for 12th in the league, trailing such interior linemen as Muhammad Wilkerson (Jets), Jason Hatcher (Cowboys), Geno Atkins (Bengals) and Jurrell Casey (Titans). Last year, Watt led everyone with 20.5 sacks. He also led defensive linemen with 81 combined tackles in ’12. This season he’s sixth, with 38.
But your everyday NFL statistics can be misleading. Looking at the Pressure Points stat developed and tracked by The MMQB, it’s clear that Watt is having another award-winning season.
Last Sunday against the Colts, he had one solo sack, caused an eventual Antonio Smith sack and added seven combined hits and hurries. It’s that type of comprehensive pressure—instead of just measuring sacks—that produced 5.25 points pressure points, making Watt the top interior pass rusher of Week 9.
“I’m hitting the quarterback at a pretty high rate—not getting as many sacks,” Watt said this week. “I’m having to fight through some more things, a couple of more things being thrown at me. Finding different ways to get to the same destination.”
Despite a paucity of sacks, Watt has dominated our interior pass rush rate virtually the entire season. His four “sack assists” are double the closest competitors, and 16 quarterback hits lead all pass rushers regardless of position. Hatcher is close to Watt in total pressure points (26.13 to 26), but Watt has rushed the passer 55 fewer times.
Against the Colts, Watt’s sack came when he rushed from a “wide five” technique outside right tackle Gosder Cherilus. Watt started outside, but quickly ducked inside and gained leverage by swatting Cherilus’ inside arm away.
Watt was unblocked later in the game—Cherilus apparently missed the call for the line to slide to the left—but just missed the sack when Andrew Luck was able to step up in the pocket. Antonio Smith got to clean it up for the sack.
“Part of me was surprised I was unblocked so I was kind of thinking it was screen or something, and the other part of me, when I realized I was just free, was kind of going in for the big hit and he just stepped up a little bit,” Watt said. “Just the slightest little move can throw you off. Yeah, I served one up for Antonio and he appreciated it.”
Watt is a threat to line up all over the place throughout a game. He said a lot of planning goes into those decisions.
“It really depends on the week, the offensive line and the type of blocking scheme they’re using,” Watt said. “I think that’s why we move me around so much. But if I had to pick (a favorite technique), over the last year and a half or so, I’ve probably gotten the best at left three technique [outside shoulder of the right guard]. But I’m getting more and more comfortable at each spot as I go.
“I definitely, for the most part, have to stay with my responsibilities. I definitely get a little bit of freedom but I can’t just do anything I want. I’m in a great situation. My coaches trust me and I trust them to put me in good positions.”
In addition to his pass rushing, Watt’s 13 tackles for loss against the run are tied with Robert Quinn of the Rams for first place among defensive linemen, according to teamrankings.com.
“If I had say which area I’ve improved the most since last season, it would definitely be against the run,” Watt said.
Unsung Interior Rusher of Week 9
Kyle Williams, Bills
Williams didn’t have a sack against the undefeated Chiefs on Sunday, but he had his usual understated impact with two drawn holds, four hurries and one hit to place fourth for the week.
“I think it’s a hard thing to really point out stats all the time because they don’t tell the full story,” Williams said this week. “There’s different ways to impact games. You can have sacks and tackles, which everybody likes to get, but sometimes, whether it’s for scheme or how the game goes, you don’t get those. But are you helping create opportunities for your team or for your teammates and doing good things in that area? That’s just as important as those other things.”
Williams has continued to do that all season, despite making the switch to Mike Pettine’s 3-4 hybrid scheme. Williams, who mostly plays three technique, is sixth in our pressure rate for the season.
“What I’m asked to do is really no different than what I’ve done my whole career,” Williams said. “As a unit, I think we are hitting our stride, playing better, getting more comfortable where we are. I think we’ve gotten healthy, gotten guys backs that were going to be a big part of our defense and that’s been huge for us.”
Interior Pressure Points Rankings
Top Edge Rushers of Week 9
Brian Robison, Vikings
Trent Cole, Eagles
Unsung Edge Rusher of Week 9
Jared Allen, Vikings
If Vikings fans were wondering where the pressure was between bookend tackles Jared Allen and Brian Robison, they got their fill on Sunday against the Cowboys. Robison, who had one sack entering the game, whipped Dallas standout right tackle Doug Free for two sacks and seven hurries to tie the Eagles’ Trent Cole for top edge rusher of Week 9.
Allen didn’t have a sack, but he created 1.5 for teammates (including Robison) and added eight hurries of his own to tie Cameron Wake for third among edge rushers in pressure points and to be named our unsung edge rusher of Week 9.
A game run by Allen and tackle Letroy Guion helped cause Robison’s sack at 7:56 in the second quarter. Both split a sack assist after they pushed the pocket and left Tony Romo nowhere to go.
“I think if you ask me and Jared, we’re a little frustrated with the numbers this year, but bottom line is we both feel like we’re still rushing very well,” Robison said this week. “That’s kind of the deal with us. We’ve played with each other for so long that we kind of know how each other rushes on the opposite side. Even though we’re three spots away from each other, we’re still kind of tuned in to what’s going on on the other side. That’s why we’ve been such great pass rushers over the past couple of years—we know what each other is doing and we’re able to play off of that and base our moves on what the other person is doing.”
With Sunday’s performance, Robison is starting to deliver on the contract extension he signed last month.
“I obviously feel very ecstatic about it,” Robison said. “Being able to stay here for four more years and finish my career out here in the place that I started. As far as changing things, it doesn’t really change much for me. I’m still going to work as hard as I have, I’m still going to do the same things that I’ve always done. If anything, it just allows me to relax and just play hard every week.”
Trent Cole is finally on the board. After posting 11 sacks just two seasons ago, Cole notched his first sack of the season against the Raiders, a sign that he’s becoming more comfortable with the transition to outside linebacker. Cole added a drawn hold and eight hurries to tie Robison with 5.50 pressure points.
“Trent had one sack, but a lot of pressures,” said defensive coordinator Bill Davis. “Trent really had a nice game. We kept flushing that quarterback out and he kept running around making plays.
“The first part of that is get him off his spot, so he can’t throw down field on you, and from there it’s just everybody run as fast as you can, try to cut him off and tackle him. Everybody else stay plastered in your coverage and get attached to a man, so he can’t do the backyard football that you see when these guys break the pocket and scramble. But the first part of that is the pressure we put on them. And Trent was a big part of the pressure.”
Edge Pressure Points Rankings
Team Pressure Points Rankings
Offensive Line Pressure Points Rankings
One of biggest indicators of success for NFL defensive coaches is the ability to affect the quarterback.
Sure, that means sacks, which are an official NFL statistic. And quarterback hits, which are also tallied in press boxes. But affecting the quarterback, making him feel pressure, has several other factors, most of which aren’t officially tallied (though NFL teams do them internally).
We at The MMQB thought long and hard about finding a better way to evaluate quarterback pressure, both from individual and team standpoints. We’ve developed our own formula, which we think will highlight players who aren’t getting the glory stats (sacks) but are still affecting the quarterback just as much.
The two statistics that we’ll be tabulating are sack assists and drawn holds. The latter is self-explanatory. Pass rushers are sometimes held by offensive lineman before they can sack the quarterback. Those plays aren’t official plays for the NFL. But they can be nearly as damaging. It’s a 10-yard foul, although there is no loss of down.
A sack assist is given to a player who allows a teammate to get a sack. You see it all the time. One player comes flying at a quarterback, causing him to bolt, and the QB winds up in the arms of a different defender. Sometimes the sacker didn’t do very much, yet he still gets credit for the sack. The player who actually caused the sack gets nothing. We’re going to change that.
Here’s how the formula works.
Because not all sacks are created equally, we have divided up sacks into three categories: solo, assisted and easy.
Solo sack (1.25 points): For the player who beats a blocker and gets the sack on his own. These are the real sack masters; they should be rewarded for their standout individual effort.
Assisted sack (.75 points): Given to the player who officially receives a sack but had help from a teammate in taking the quarterback down.
Easy sack (.75 points): An official sack that falls into one of the following categories: coverage sack (quarterback held the ball longer than 3.3 seconds because the coverage was so good); unblocked, usually because of a schemed blitz; offensive miscue, such as the quarterback tripping after getting stepped on by an offensive lineman; or garbage-time sack, which we have defined as a sack when the offense is trailing by more than two scores with four minutes or less remaining in the game.
Sack assist (.5 points): As described above, this is when a player aids in the sacking of a quarterback. The official sacker will get an “assisted” or “easy” sack (.75 points), and the disrupter gets a “sack assist.”
These three categories—drawn holds, hurries and hits—are not official statistics, but they’re extremely important. A team can have zero sacks, but if they accumulate hurries or hits, they’re making life extremely uncomfortable for a quarterback. The hurries and hits are shared with us by our friends at ProFootballFocus.com. Our hits and hurries include plays wiped out by penalty.
Drawn hold (.75 points): The player who draws a holding penalty on a pass play. Only tabulated if the penalty results in a “no play.” If there is holding on a sack and the sack counts, there is no drawn hold—although that player could get a sack assist.
Hurry (.5 points): When the actions of a defender causes the quarterback to alter his throw or footwork. This is what defenses call “moving a quarterback off his spot.”
Hit (.5 points): Recorded just after or as the quarterback releases a pass and goes to the ground as a result of contact with a defender.
Once the film is graded, we come up with Pressure Points. We feel this is a much better way to evaluate what kind of quarterback pressure a player or team is generating. We will divide the performances by edge rushers (ends and outside linebackers), interior rushers (tackles and inside linebackers) and by team. Individually, we will handout two awards for both edge rushers and interior rushers.