After examining in some detail how the Titans sacked opposing quarterbacks, it is now time for me to attempt to draw some conclusion-type things about precisely how the Titans got to the quarterback in 2012, how that changed from 2011, and what that might mean for 2013.
1. The Titans were much better at sacking the quarterback in 2012. This is clear and pretty inarguable. The Titans had 28 sacks in 2011. They had 39 in 2012. Teams had fewer passing attempts against them, so, no, that kind of jump was not just a product of more opportunity. Football Outsiders' Adjusted Sack Rate backs this up, as the Titans went from a 31st-ranking 5.0% to 6.5%, league average. Yes, taking down Chad Henne 14 times in two games helped a lot. I noted in yesterday's post, though, that it's not particularly unusual for teams to have a lot of their sacks in a small number of games.
2. The Titans got a lot more sacks because they beat offensive linemen more frequently. Maybe the biggest revelation from last year's breakdown was just how many sacks the Titans got because of scheme and play design. FO colleague J.J. Cooper marked 11 of those 28 sacks as not having an offensive lineman at fault. In 2012 he marked 13 sacks without o-lineman fault. That's a jump from 17 sacks by beating a lineman to 26, a 53% increase. That's very good.
3. Timing matters, and the Titans had a goodly number of quick sacks. On 23 of the 39 sacks, the initial hit was within 2.5 seconds of the snap. That is 10 more than last year.
Time is a complicated thing. I noted in yesterday's Henne breakdown one particular sack where Morgan took him down only after he had time to check his first read and checkdown options. Cooper timed that at 2.5 seconds, which is not a long period of time. In a prototypical West Coast offense, the ball is supposed to come out on a 3-step drop at 1.5 sacks, on a 5-step drop at 2.1 seconds, and on a 7-step drop at 2.5 seconds. Unless the player is fast and completely unblocked, it's near impossible to get a sack on a properly-executed 3-step drop. It's pretty hard to get a sack on a properly-executed 5-step drop. The defense deserves plaudits if they can disrupt a properly-executed 7-step drop. Obviously other offenses don't necessarily demand quite the same level and regularity of timing, and the "properly-executed" caveat is a whole other thing,
4. While the Titans got sacks by beating offensive linemen, they were rarely good offensive linemen. I cracked jokes in the posts about the Titans beating Cameron Bradfield and Guy Whimper, Jonathan Martin, Winston Justice, and players of similar ilk for a reason-these players were bad. They gave up plenty of sacks, not just to the Titans but to many of the teams they faced. Yes, J.J. Watt probably had more to do with the Colts paying Gosder Cherilus $7 million APY and the Jaguars drafting Luke Joeckel second overall than what the Titans did, but either way the Colts and Jaguars knew they needed to upgrade on what they had because what they had was not clearly better than Byron Stingily. Looking at the list of linemen the Titans beat for sacks, I'd say the only good pass-blockers are Nate Solder and Eugene Monroe, both of whom Kamerion Wimbley beat.
In the abstract, you would expect the majority of a team's sacks to come from beating bad offensive linemen. Over the course of the season, we may record a bad offensive tackle with maybe three times as many sacks allowed as a good offensive tackle. From a normal distribution, though, I would have guessed the Titans ended up with maybe a couple more sacks by beating good offensive linemen than they actually got.
5. Zone blitz? What zone blitz? I noted in reviewing last year's sacks the zone blitz helped the Titans get sacks. Not this year. I don't have offhand just how often they did zone blitz (dropping a defensive lineman into coverage and rushing a non-DL), but I don't think it was very often and it had nothing to do with how they got any of their sacks in 2012.
6. Nice things from Derrick Morgan, but the Titans may be looking for more. Breaking: Derrick Morgan was a lot better in 2012 than he had been in previous seasons. I know, not exactly a revelation, and as a cautionary note he may be the poster boy for the point I just made. More sacks on his own, about all of them by actually beating his man, and a bigger contributory role on sacks he did not get. He also had a boatload of hurries, more than you would expect from a man who only had 6.5 sacks.
7. Akeem Ayers got better. In last year's conclusions post, I asked which non-DL would become pass rushers. When I watched Ayers later last offseason, I noted his "pass rush technique stinks." My untrained eyes cannot properly evaluate how good he is now, but it's clear he's gotten a lot better. Yes, some of his sacks were the result of Morgan's work as much as his own, but he's better. Jerry Gray, in 2013, let him keep rushing the passer and don't put him in coverage as much. Thanks.
8. Will there be interior pressure? In another change from last year, the Titans went from defensive tackle being the group with the most sacks to, well, here's a breakdown of sacks by position group in 2012: defensive ends 14.5, linebackers 12.5, defensive tackles 11, and defensive backs 1. More sacks from defensive ends, a lot more from linebackers, and fewer from defensive tackles. I wrote in the series about how interior pressure works with outside pressure, and the Titans frankly need better inside push. That doesn't absolutely have to result in more sacks from defensive tackles, but I'd like to see them be a factor in more sacks than they were.
9. Gregg Williams defenses tend to get sacks from defensive backs. Will the 2013 Titans? It's not true every year (see the 2008 Jaguars), but most Williams defenses in recent years have ranked in the top ten in the percentage of sacks they got from defensive backs, with the 2011 Saints ranking first in the league in that category. As I just noted, the Titans only had 1 sack from a defensive back last year, Michael Griffin of Chad Henne on an overload. If Williams has the role in conceptualizing the D I think he will, there will probably be more slot and safety blitzes in 2013. Which players will be rushing? Will those rushes result in sacks? I don't know, and I'm not confident they will.
Let me know if you have any questions about this series or how the Titans rushed the passer in 2012.