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Breaking down the Jets’ sack total in the 2018 season

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New York Jets v Buffalo Bills Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Most people would agree that the Jets’ pass rush was not very good last year. Personnel-wise, while a few people had better than expected production, expectations were never high for this group and head coach Todd Bowles had to rely on blitzing a lot to generate pressure.

Nevertheless, the Jets managed to rack up 39 sacks on the season, so we rewatched all of them to see if there were any interesting patterns.

What are the 39 sacks?

39 sacks actually puts the Jets pretty much in the middle of the pack compared with the rest of the NFL. However, as noted, they blitzed more than most teams, which was perhaps a major factor in that. With a few weeks left to go in the season, numbers from ESPN indicated they had the seventh-highest blitz rate in the league, sending five or more on 30 percent of passing downs.

There were also a lot of teams closely bunched together too. Only seven teams had fewer than 37 sacks, so just a few less would have had the Jets down near the bottom of the league. Notably, the only one of those seven teams with a winning record was New England.

On the other hand, the Jets had six sacks negated by defensive penalties. Had all six counted, that would have given them 45 sacks on the year and elevated them into eighth place in the NFL.

While 39 is a decent total, it’s actually three times as many as the Raiders managed. Incredibly, they ended the year with just 13 sacks, while every other NFL team had at least 30. 11 individual players matched or beat that total, although a certain Khalil Mack fell just short with 12.5.

”Decent total” or not, we can learn from the make-up of these sacks. Maybe a high percentage of these were coverage sacks rather than being down to good pass rushing abilities being displayed by the defensive front. Let’s investigate further...

In search of a two-second sack

Attempting to time how long it takes to record a sack is notoriously difficult. All we can do is clearly set out our methodology and stick to it to remain consistent.

If Tom Brady isn’t pressured until four seconds after the snap but immediately turtles up and eats the football, that doesn’t represent a better pass rushing job than Cam Newton being immediately pressured within two seconds, but then having a five-star wrestling match with the pass rusher who takes several seconds to bring him down or Russell Wilson being pressured immediately but eluding a few tackle attempts before finally being chased down.

Ideally, you don’t want to measure how long it takes to complete the sack, you want to measure how long it takes to generate the pressure that leads to the sack - even if the player who makes the sack is a different guy.

Since this is such an inexact science, we’re only going to attempt to measure to within the nearest one second, which leads to the immediate observation that most sacks take between 2.5 and 3.5 seconds.

Anything longer than this, we’ll call a four-second sack. These will all be coverage sacks, although it’s still absolutely possible to have a coverage sack that’s closer to three seconds. Perhaps surprisingly, the Jets only had five four-second sacks, although there were three others that we’d still classify as a coverage sack.

Anything less than 2.5 seconds, we’ll call a two-second sack. Remember, that doesn’t mean the quarterback was sacked within two seconds (although in some cases he was). It just means that the pressure got to him after two seconds and ultimately led to a sack.

The Jets had 14 such sacks, which is basically a low enough number that we can list them out individually:

  1. Week 2 (Miami) - Jordan Jenkins is unblocked off the edge as the quarterback rolls out;
  2. Week 3 (Cleveland) - Avery Williamson is unblocked on a blitz;
  3. Week 5 (Denver) - Jenkins and Leonard Williams share a sack as both get to the quarterback quickly with Jenkins going outside and Williams up the middle;
  4. Week 8 (Chicago) - Brandon Copeland gets the sack cleaning up after clean pressure around the edge by Tarell Basham;
  5. Week 9 (Miami) - Williamson beats the running back and gets to the quarterback directly on an A-gap blitz;
  6. Week 9 (Miami) - Jenkins beats the back-up right tackle cleanly around the edge for a sack;
  7. Week 9 (Miami) - Jeremiah Attaochu beats the same guy around the edge for a sack;
  8. Week 10 (Buffalo) - Jenkins and Jamal Adams share a sack as Jenkins stunts and Adams blitzes;
  9. Week 13 (Tennessee) - Frankie Luvu stunts outside and gets to the quarterback unblocked;
  10. Week 13 (Tennessee) - Jenkins beats his man cleanly around the edge;
  11. Week 15 (Houston) - Adams comes in unblocked on a blitz;
  12. Week 16 (Green Bay) - Henry Anderson cleanly beats the guard with an outside move;
  13. Week 16 (Green Bay) - Luvu cleans up after a Neville Hewitt blitz creates immediate pressure; and
  14. Week 16 (Green Bay) - This time Hewitt’s blitz gets home and he makes the sack himself.

Here’s an example (number 3 from the above list). You can see that it’s Williams who easily beats the right guard at the point of attack and essentially flushes the quarterback into Jenkins. The pair share the sack:

The nature of the sack

Many people have justifiably been down on Jenkins in spite of his career-high seven sacks. He didn’t create a lot of pressure this year and was inconsistent against the run. However, moreso than any other player, Jenkins was able to create sacks with clean pressure off the edge. He recorded a sack or a half-sack on six different plays where he beat his man around the edge.

Here’s an example of him doing exactly that:

By contrast, Anderson - who tied with Jenkins for the team lead with seven sacks of his own - did most of his damage cleaning up after pressure was created by someone else. As noted in the list above, he had one sack where he beat his man cleanly. Otherwise, the rest of his total all came on clean-ups.

As for Williams, he ended the year with five sacks officially, but three of those came from winning his match-up cleanly - two on the interior and one off the edge. One of the other sacks came via a stunt.

Copeland, who also had five sacks, was the only other player to record multiple sacks by beating his blocker directly, as he did the damage on two bull rushes. Copeland also had the most sacks negated by penalties (two, just ahead of Anderson with 1.5).

One other interesting sack-based statistic: The Jets didn’t register a fourth quarter sack until just before the two-minute warning in the eighth game of the year. No doubt that factored heavily into the team’s struggles in terms of finishing games.

Racking up the assists

With so many (13 altogether) of the sacks coming from cleaning up, it’s interesting to note which players created the pressure that led to someone else recording a sack.

It turns out that Williams was the leader with three, while Anderson and Jenkins had two each.

Conclusions

At the moment, while this study has produced some interesting data, it’s sorely lacking context.

While to some degree it tells us who did what and which players did more of certain things than others, it doesn’t create a full picture of how the compilation and make-up of these numbers stacks up against other teams.

This article began with a statement that “most people would agree that the Jets’ pass rush was not very good last year”. That goes hand-in-hand with the fact that most people would agree that the Jets’ pass protection wasn’t very good either.

Therefore, we need to see how similar in nature the sacks the Jets’ offense gave up tended to be. If we’re correct that the pass rush and the offensive line are both bad, then we’d expect fewer coverage sacks and more sacks where someone was beaten cleanly. This can be best achieved by reviewing each sack that was surrendered last year.

So, that’s what we’ll be doing next week...