It is no secret we have struggled mightily this year in our pass rush. To say our pass rush has been anemic is an understatement. At only 5 sacks in 5 games, our pass rush belongs on a milk carton. We have the third least sacks in the entire NFL. It is a bit puzzling, as we expected Coples to add something, and we expected Wilk to improve in Year 2, and maybe we even expected Ellis to begin to create some havoc inside, but none of that has happened. We really didn't lose any pass rushers of any consequence, and yet somehow we are currently being led by the pedestrian Garrett McIntyre in sacks with 2. The disappearance of Maybin has been one glaring problem, but hardly the only one. So what has gone wrong?
Well, no doubt several of our linemen, most glaringly Wilkerson, have underperformed as pass rushers. It is also true that the Jets have inexplicably buried Coples on the bench. With all his rookie rawness and questions regarding his attitude and effort, to my eyes he is still our most disruptive Defensive Lineman when in the game. The idea that Rex doesn't like to trust rookies doesn't really hold water, as Wilk came in and started from Day 1 last year, as did Stephen Hill this year. So why is Coples languishing on the bench? My guess, and it is only a wild guess, is that Rex is taking the long view with this guy and wants to give him a proper attitude adjustment. He showed some serious attitude concerns in college, and again during the preseason when he sulked after being left in when the other starters took a seat. I think Rex wants to send a message loud and clear that this isn't college, there are no scholarships, and you have to earn your snaps in the NFL. I think he sees Coples as that brilliant but less than motivated student who the teacher is harder on than anyone else, precisely because the teacher sees just how brilliant the student can be if he only learns the value of discipline and hard work. I have no evidence to back this theory up, just a hunch of mine.
In addition to our underperforming linemen, our LBs haven't exactly lit it up in the pass rush. Still, they have provided 4 of our 5 sacks, and given their age and lack of speed, that is probably the level of production we can expect going forward.
Another factor that has contributed to our ineffective pass rush is the absence of Revis. With Revis and Cro both capable of being left on an island on any particular pass play, we had the luxury to bring the house at will. Now we are much more likely to go max protect to give help to Wilson and whoever is manning the CB3 spot.
The hidden silver lining here is this: we have so far faced some very, very good teams as far as protecting the passer is concerned. Our opponents so far have given up an average of only 7.8 sacks on the year. Houston ranks #1 in the league in protecting the passer, having given up only 3 sacks all year, Buffalo comes in at 3rd in the league with 5 sacks surrendered, and Miami is #8 with 9. The good news is that it should get easier from here. Going forward we face ARI, STL, and JAX, the #32, 30 (Tied) and 30 (Tied) teams in the NFL at protecting the passer. We also face SD, #27, and we face NE twice, #21. So there is some reason for hope that our pass rush may soon be looking considerably better.
On the other side of the ball, our pass protection has been surprisingly stout. While our Offensive Line has been mainly offensive in opening up holes for our running backs, they really have not done a bad job at all in pass protection. Gone are the jailhouse breaks from last year. The worst we've done is 3 sacks in a game this year, and Sanchez has only gone down 9 times the entire year so far, good for 7th in the NFL at protecting the passer. Those numbers are particularly impressive given the quality of the defenses we have played. Those of you who scour through some of the advanced stats for offensive lines may have a different view, and I hope you'll share what those stats say in the comments here, but from just the raw stat numbers, as well as the eye test, the Offensive Line has been a pleasant surprise this year in terms of pass protection. In general we have had adequate time to throw the ball, and at least in the Houston game we even had time to continually take shots down the field. That has been nice to see this year.
Going forward the sledding gets pretty tough. We face ARI, SEA, MIA and STL, the #4, #5, #6(Tie) and #6(Tie) teams in the NFL so far at sacking the QB. That will not be easy. On the bright side, we also face JAX, TEN, and NE twice, the #32, 30 and 20 teams in the NFL in sacks.
All in all, it has thus far been a surprising year on both sides of the ball in terms of rushing the passer. Our biggest concern coming in was probably keeping Mark upright in the face of the giant yawning hole Hunter presented at RT, and so far Howard and the rest of the line has done a commendable job in giving Mark time to pass. On the defensive side of the ball, most of us here justifiably expected some improvement in the pass rush. Some even thought we would be elite in that area this year. So far the pass rush has been a severe disappointment. Hopefully the substantially weaker pass protection we face the rest of the way, along with the possible emergence of Coples from Rex's doghouse, will help us raise that performance to at least a modicum of respectability. It would be nice to take our D Line's image off that milk carton.