The Jacksonville Jaguars had a good amount of sacks last year. In fact, they ranked sixth in the NFL with 45 total... and according to Pro Football Focus, 36 of them came when rushing four or fewer defenders.
That sounds like a great statistic, and you'd be forgiven for thinking that the Jaguars don't need Dante Fowler to generate a good pass rush and get to the quarterback. But sacks don't tell the whole story, nor are they even the best indicator of a great pass rush a lot of the time.
Alfie Crow compiled the following table of the pass rush grades Pro Football Focus gave to every Jaguars defensive lineman in 2014. The line accounted for 41 of the team's total 45 sacks, which is a little bit too high of a percentage, but that's another article.
Look instead at the far-right column labeled "PRP". What is "PRP"? The "PRP" stat from Pro Football Focus measures pressure created on a per snap basis with sacks being weighted. This is important because overall pressure on the quarterback is a much better judge of pass rushing ability than a pure sack total.
|Player||Sacks*||Hits||Hurries||Pass Rush Snaps||PRP|
|*PFF does not use half sacks, so their sack totals are generally different than standard stat keepers.|
As you can see, it's rotational guys like Ryan Davis and Chris Smith who are doing the most damage and getting the most pressure, while Chris Clemons and Sen'Derrick Marks are in the middle of the pack. And Davis, who has the most pass rushing efficiency according to Pro Football Focus, isn't grading out that highly. Fellow pass rushers J.J. Watt (15.0) and Justin Houston (15.7) have nearly twice the grade Davis does.
In fact, the Jaguars were dead last in quarterback pressures and hurries last season.
So, with all that said, how can the Jaguars do well with four or fewer defenders and how can they compile the sixth-most sacks?
In my opinion, the answer to both of those questions is in how well Gus Bradley and Bob Babich have married their scheme to the players they have. It's a scheme built on opportunity and rotation. They may not have superstar pass rushers, but they have a deep bench.
When you don't blitz very often, as the Jaguars did in 2014, and the majority of your defensive linemen have the versatility to play multiple positions on the defensive line, you have a lot of chances to match fresh-legged pass rushers against opposing offensive lineman in the third and fourth quarters.
The coverage was also incredibly underrated, from cornerbacks Demetrius McCray and Aaron Colvin to linebacker Telvin Smith covering downfield options or receivers and running backs in the flat. That provided the time necessary for a sack to occur not through elite edge-rushing ability, but by hustle and technique.
In short, the coaches maximized the amount of sacks this defense could get. That's not to downplay what they did. 45 sacks is 45 sacks. But technique, schemes, and opportunistic line play have a ceiling, and that ceiling looks like a high percentage of pressures converting to sacks.
Hopefully, in 2016, these sorts of statistical anomalies won't occur and the Jaguars can sack the quarterback not because they're being opportunistic, but because they're converting a typical percentage of pressures. And hopefully Fowler is the premier pass rusher the Jaguars drafted him for this year so that the team can combine a solid scheme, versatile linemen, and a star edge rusher.