Wyman: Why do sacks matter? Look at the 26 drives when Seahawks had one
About halfway through the Seahawks’ 2019 season, the defense was struggling in the sack department.
From the arrival of Pete Carroll in Seattle to the beginning of 2019, the Seahawks’ defense has averaged around 40 sacks per year. Nine games into the season, the defense had just 15 sacks – less than two per game. But in the Seahawks’ eighth win of the year, coming against San Francisco on Monday Night Football, the importance of sacks was brought to light.
In that overtime win over the 49ers – the team that I believe will be Super Bowl champions – Seattle’s five sacks resulted in the following:
• 33 yards for loss
• The 49ers twice having to settle for a field goal
• One turnover on downs
• One defensive touchdown (Jadeveon Clowney on a Jarran Reed strip sack)
• One forced fumble/fumble recovery that led to a Chris Carson TD
With all of the talk these days about quarterback “hits” and “hurries” and “pressures,” which are subjective statistics tallied by God knows who, the importance of good old-fashioned sacks has been devalued, in my opinion. So at the end of the season, I launched into what I like to call “Sackstravaganza,” with the hypothesis that sacks are huge plays, especially for this version of Carroll’s defense. To prove it, I went through every drive in which the Seahawks recorded a sack and found the result of each of those drives/possessions.
The Week 10 win over San Francisco hammered home the importance of sacks, and when I looked at the rest of the year, it became clear:
The Seahawks’ 28 sacks tied for second-to-last in the NFL – only the lowly Miami Dolphins (23) had less – but they made them count. When you look at how each opponent’s drive or possession ended when Seattle’s defense recorded a sack, it was clear that the Seahawks could have used some more pass rushers.
This is how the 26 drives that included one or more Seahawks sacks ended:
• One defensive TD (the aforementioned Clowney return)
• Six fumble recoveries
• One interception (Bradley McDougald)
• One end of game (27-10 win over Arizona, Week 4)
• One turnover on downs
• Two missed field goals
• Seven punts
• Seven field goals
What stands out to me?
Then there’s the eight sacks the defense recorded in the playoffs, which resulted in:
• Three punts
• One field goal
• Four ends of a half or turnovers on downs
• One TD
The one touchdown they gave up on a drive with a sack was in Green Bay, and it was recorded as a no-yard loss sack split between K.J. Wright and Clowney.
Now this may sound obvious, but the value of the sack is in the yards lost. When a second-and-5 turns into a third-and-12 after a 7-yard sack, you’re probably going to get off the field. That helps explain why the Wright/Clowney zero-yard sack ended with the only touchdown given up on a sack drive this season. The sack occurred on first-and-10 and left the Packers with second-and-10, and they converted a first down two plays later. This will be supported further down the road when “Sackstravaganza II” is revealed. It’s an analysis on the other side of the ball and how sacks affected the Seahawk offense, but I digress.
Say it with me again: Sacks Matter.
Part of the problem for the Seahawks this year was that they played a less aggressive style of pass coverage. For opposing quarterbacks, there was time to get the ball out of their hands, leaving not much time for the rush to get to the quarterback. I believe that there was a lack of trust with the safeties and nickel corner this year because of youth and inexperience, and that caused Carroll and defensive coordinator Ken Norton to play more conservative defenses. But never fear, Pete is an old safety himself and I’d bet on an improved, more aggressive style of pass coverage next season.
The bigger problem was that the Seahawks’ best pass rusher, Rasheem Green, had just four sacks during the regular season. Make no mistake, I think that Green can be a solid defender and pass rusher. He reminds me of one of my old teammates, Jeff “Boogie” Bryant. Boogie played 12 years, all for the Seahawks, and missed just eight games his entire career. He retired a Seahawk and is No. 3 on the Seahawks’ all-time sack list with 63. He had a breakout year in 1984 with 12 ½ sacks (the fact he didn’t get voted into the Pro Bowl is a crime), but averaged about 5 or 6 per year and was one of the best, most steady players in Seahawks history.
General manager John Schneider will tell you two things:
• 1) You can’t have enough pass rushers.
• 2) You don’t build your team through free-agency, you build it through the draft.
Re-signing Clowney would go a long way to getting that pass rush and a lot of disruption on the defensive line. But if they can get a player like 24-year-old Yannick Ngakoue (yah-NEEK in-GAH-kway) in free agency, it will go a long way to getting more drive-killing sacks. In just four years in the league, he has 37 ½ sacks, two interceptions, 14 forced fumbles and 42 tackles for loss. I’m sure he’ll cost a pretty penny, but with someone like him, a healthy Clowney, and an improved Green and Quinton Jefferson, the Seahawks’ pass rush could be back in business in 2020.
It will be key to their success because as we now all know, Sacks Matter.
710 ESPN Seattle’s Dave Wyman is not on Twitter.