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NFL sacks have value, no matter how minor

It’s easy to say sacks are important for a defense, but there is some staggering tangible data for just how important they are.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Jacksonville Jaguars Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Jacksonville Jaguars are expected to have, at the very least, an above average defense for the 2017 NFL season. The front seven of the Jaguars overall appears to look fairly strong, backed up by Jalen Ramsey and new signees A.J. Bouye and Barry Church. One of the question marks headed to the season is the Jaguars pass rush, at least the consistency of it.

The Jaguars added Calais Campbell, who is about as consistent as the come as a defensive lineman, he’s still not really that “guy” a team focuses on and needs to know where they’re at on third down. Even Yannick Ngakoue isn’t there yet and there are loads of question marks about Dante Fowler, Jr.

While I wouldn’t classify the Jaguars pass rush as “bad”, it was in the bottom half of the league last season netting 33 sacks as a team. There are many arguments that can be had that consistent pressure is better than sporadic sacks that end up in big numbers in the end and that sacks largely are an overrated statistic, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important. Stepping away from the “pass rush” as a term, Derrik Klassen of Setting the Edge wrote a nice piece about the tangible value of sacks in the NFL.

To put it bluntly: Sacks kill drives.

939 out of 1,118 sacks (83.99%) last year resulted in a drive being killed. Conversely, just 179 out of 1,118 sacks (16.01%) resulted in the offense being able to bounce back and sustain their drive, even if just for one more set of downs. The difference is staggering. Defenses are almost 70% more likely to kill a drive after getting a sack than they are to surrender another set of downs. At first glance, the old adage that sacks kill drives holds true.

Of course, not every sack is the same. Giving up a sack on first down is salvageable, while surrendering a sack on third down is almost certain death. Likewise, losing ten yards on a sack is different than losing just two.

Klassen delves deeper into the topic, including the impact of how deep the sacks are and what downs they occur. Obviously a sack on third down ends a drive, but it was interesting seeing the difference in value of a sack on first down for like three yards versus a sack on first down for six yards.

The rate at which a set of downs conversion plummets with a sack is pretty staggering. Everyone kind of understood it to be true, but having some actual data behind it makes it kind of surreal. A lot of football consists of misnomers that are either half-right or things that used to be true and aren’t any more, but the term “sacks kill drives” is undeniably true and the data backs that up.

I’m still of the belief that consistent pressure is more beneficial than a handful of sacks in a game, typically because consistent pressure leads to consistent sacks, which in turn leads to more consistently killing drives.