It’s time for the fifth and final installment in this little series on how the Titans sacked the passer in 2011, in which I take the granular details in parts one, two, three, and four of the series and try to build them into a coherent whole or at least some tentative conclusions.
1. The Titans didn’t have very many sacks.
I wrote about the sacks the Titans had, not the sacks the Titans didn’t have. There simply weren’t very many of them. I should have been writing about eight more plays, maybe more. That would put the Titans at roughly league-average. Eight plays may not sound like very many, just one every two games, but sacks disproportionately occur on third down (Adjusted Sack Rate accounts for this, which is why part of why I like it). That means the difference between an extra sack and a sack that didn’t happen is often a drive that goes one and one that does not.
2. The Titans’ sacks were rarely the result of a Titans player beating his man.
J.J. Cooper’s sack charting project has 11 of the Titans’ 28 sacks listed as being the fault of the QB or play call. That’s 39%, basically indistinguishable from the league average of 36%. That’s a bit misleading, though, as assigning blame to an offensive lineman doesn’t necessarily mean the Titans player did anything particularly good. Take, for instance, Karl Klug’s second sack of Drew Brees, detailed in part four. Nicks is credited for a blown block, and it certainly looks like his fault, but he seemingly intentionally did not even try to block Klug. Now, Klug’s a nice player, and is better than I thought he’d be, but unless I’m missing a good bit (possible, but I think unlikely), his personal skills contributed only modestly to this sack.
3. Stunts and twists are good ways to get pressure.
I noted this in my recap of how the Titans were sacked, and it’s about as true in how the Titans brought pressure in 2011. It’s also a good thing to do if your players have trouble winning one on one. That said, I didn’t chart just how frequently the Titans used stunts and twists overall, so I don’t know how effective it was.
4. The zone blitz is alive in Tennessee.
The Titans traditionally have not been a heavy zone-blitz team. Chuck Cecil did it a bit more, but not too many. Jerry Gray did it more, and the Titans had some success with it. Once again, though, I didn’t chart how frequently the Titans used zone blitzes overall, so I don’t know how effective it was as an overall strategy, merely a minor trend I noticed here.
5. Interior players were the biggest sackers.
Sack distribution by position: defensive end 10, defensive tackle 12, linebacker 4, and defensive back 2. An idea I’ve been toying around with in my head is that interior pressure is more important than exterior pressure. Sacks by position is a mediocre proxy for this sort of thing, compared to charting rush lanes, but the Titans did get the most pass-rushing production from the defensive tackles. Of course, a fair bit of that had to do with the (lack of) quality of the ends. That’s why they signed Kamerion Wimbley.
6. Which non-DL will become pass rushers?
Perhaps the top NFL practitioner of Jerry Gray’s preferred 4-3 Under defensive scheme is the Seahawks’ Pete Carroll, under whom Gray worked before coming to Tennessee. 9 of the Seahawks’ 33 sacks came from linebackers. Jerry Gray also worked for Gregg Williams multiple times. The Saints under Williams last year had 10.5 of their 33 sacks by defensive backs. Granting I’m estimating these by listed position, not by where they actually lined up on the play (as I did for the Titans’ positional breakdown), if Gray stays at all true to the philosophies of the people he’s worked for, as seems likely, then somebody not a defensive linemen will get more sacks. Who will it be? Akeem Ayers is clearly the most obvious candidate, but will it indeed be him?
Before I close this series, one personnel note. Of a mostly unimpressive lot of performances, the guy who stood out the most was Dave Ball. He’s not a great player, by any means, and he’s always been more of a complementary guy, but he won as many battles to get a sack for himself as anybody else and helped create more pressure. I thought he had a pretty good shot at making the team already, but my mental estimate of his chance of sticking improved in doing this segment. Of course, I’m not Jerry Gray, or Tracy Rocker, or Keith Millard, or Mike Munchak, or Ruston Webster, or anybody else whose opinion actually matters to the Titans.
That’s it for this little series. Let me know if there’s anything about how the Titans sacked the passer last year I didn’t cover, and I’ll try to answer it. Otherwise, it’s on to the next topic, whatever that will be.