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It doesn’t just mean edge pressure

NFL: SEP 16 Dolphins at Jets Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Jets were not the most proficient team when it comes to getting pressure on the quarterback the past few years. Pressure can be counted in many ways by defensive coaches. Sacks are preferred of course but other types of pressure are also advantageous to a defense. QB hits, QB pressures, QB knock downs and tackles for loss are also meaningful stats to keep when assessing pressure.

Edge players are often graded by fans by the number of sacks they attain. That is a mistake. Consider there are an average of approximately 70 defensive plays a game. If you made a single sack in every game you would have (if you played every game) 16 sacks for the year. Last year only two players had more than 16 sacks. Shaq Barrett had 19.5 and Chandler Jones had 19.0 sacks. The 16 sack number would have put you in third place among the sack leaders, but devoid of other stats it would be a meager contribution to a defense if you played in all 1120 snaps during the year.

Pressure means continual pressure on the offense.

Sacks are simply a vastly overrated stat. Here is why

The way football is played is always changing in the NFL. It is not a vastly different game, but the subtle changes year after year continually change the game over time. In the last four decades the rushing game has been deemphasized dramatically from where it once was; rushing once carried most teams’ hopes, but now not nearly as much.

In 1979 there were 20 teams that rushed the ball at least 500 times that year. A decade later in 1989 that number had slipped to 11 teams. By 1999 that number dropped to 4. In 2009 the Jets were driven by a ground and pound mindset, they led the league in rushing by carrying the ball nearly 38 times a game, the next closest team was Carolina who carried the ball less than 33 times a game. Still the league only had 4 teams carry the ball as many as 500 times that year.

In 2019 the Baltimore Raven were the only team to carry the ball more than 500 times. They did so with their QB (Lamar Jackson) carrying the ball over ten times a game which spiked the numbers. It wasn’t a traditional rushing attack.

On the other hand passing or more specifically passing efficiency has risen dramatically, especially during the past decade. In 1979 only 3 teams threw the ball more than 550 times. The highest completion percentage in the league was 62.5%, the lowest in the league was 42.2%. That 42.2% by the Buccaneers was dreadful, but it was a different game back in 1979. The Bucs were 23rd in the league with an average yard per attempt of 6.22 yards but an amazing 14.8 yards per reception. It was a vertical passing attack that succeeded on big plays while allowing only 12 sacks. The Bucs that year went 10-6, then lost in the NFC championship game to the L.A. Rams (the original L.A. Rams) 9-0.

Today a team with a 42.2% completion rate making it to a conference championship game would be unheard of. That is how much the game has changed over the years. Interestingly that year the game was about to change in a hurry as Bill Walsh took over as the 49ers head coach in 1979. Walsh and the 49ers went 2-14 in his initial season with a rookie QB named Joe Montana getting into a single game that year.

In 1989 a total of 8 teams threw the ball at least 550 times, with the highest completion percentage of 70.2% (San Francisco) as an outlier. The 2nd highest completion percentage was 61.6% (New Orleans) and the lowest was Oakland at 48.6%. San Francisco was at the peak of its success in 1989. George Seifert had just taken over from Bill Walsh, they went 14-2 then won the Super Bowl 55-10 vs Denver.

In 1999 there were 11 teams that threw the ball more than 550 times with the St. Louis Rams leading the completion percentage at 64.7% and the lowest being the Ravens at 49.5%.

In 2009 there were 13 teams that threw the ball at least 550 times with the New Orleans Saints leading in completion percentage at 69.5% and the lowest being the Browns at 49.4%. It should be noted the Browns were an outlier here. The 31st ranked team (Oakland) had a completion percentage of 52.6% which is over 3% higher than the lowly Browns.

In 2019 there were 18 teams that threw the ball at least 550 times with New Orleans leading the way with a completion percentage of 71.9% and the Bengals bringing up the rear with a 57.8% completion percentage. You can see that in a single decade the lowest completion percentage increased by over 8%, which is a remarkable jump.

What you cannot see with these numbers is how the game changed to evolve to this point. In 1981 Lawrence Taylor was a rookie linebacker who made the Pro-Bowl despite the fact he didn’t have a single sack that year. The following year he began to develop into the NFL’s first rush linebacker with power and strength but also with a new found ability to bend the corner on tackles. He was soon followed by another 1981 rookie linebacker from Pittsburgh in Rickey Jackson who played 15 seasons, in nine of which he had at least 9 sacks.

Just about every edge player in college began to try to emulate these two playing legends. They were trying to develop the ability to cut the corner with a 45 degree angle in order to get around tackles to make a sack. Scouts began to look specifically for players with that skill set to combat the increased passing attack.

Just like Isaac Newton’s third law of motion states “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” this holds true in the NFL. When the defense changes the offense must change with it to stay competitive. Teams began to look for and develop offensive tackles with quicker feet who have the agility to keep pace with the quicker outside rushers while also maintaining the anchor to stop powerful bull rushers.

Defenses countered with edge rushers who worked with martial artists to develop hand usage. They worked on half man techniques, using rip and swim moves along with powerful hands that chopped quickly like a sushi chef. Soon even the most skilled pass protectors could maintain their blocks for only so long.

Offense countered with the quick passing game, along with finding passers with mobility. Gone are the days of the quintessential drop back passer who looked down the rush to faithfully unload a pass to a breaking receiver. The seven step drop that was the basis of all passing games is now rarely used. The bubble around the QB had to be reduced to limit the area these new pass rushers had to operate.

Speed was the number one need of a receiver but that has shifted to quickness, especially in and out of breaks to get a receiver open. Many deep pass patterns are now used to open up zones underneath with the emphasis on YAC (yards after catch) rather than IAY/PA which is intended air yards per pass attempt.

Last year Jameis Winston led the league (by a wide margin) in IAY/PA (10.4) but had 30 INTs while also being sacked 47 times. Conversely Drew Brees had a IAY/PA of 6.4, he was intercepted only 4 times in 11 games, he was sacked a mere 12 times all year. Interestingly Winston is now a member of the New Orleans Saints.

Tom Brady had a IAY/PA of 7.6 in 2019, he was intercepted only 8 times while being sacked 27 times. Some of those sacks can be attributed to Julian Edelman not being at 100% most of the year and a lack of other prime targets.

Even the gunslinger himself Patrick Mahomes had a IAY/PA of 8.8 while being sacked only 17 times in 15 games. Mahomes had a number of deep throws but nearly half his passing yardage (4031) came as YAC (1955), with over 6 yards of YAC per completion.

So how does this relate to sacks?

It’s simple as sacks are more difficult to make with shorter/quick passing. The sacks that are made are no longer the drive halting plays they used to be. With a seven step drop a sack used to mean an average 10 yard loss. In 2019 Kyle Allen had by far the most lost yardage due to sacks when he lost 397 on 46 sacks. That is still only 8.6 yards per sack, Tom Brady lost only 6.8 yards a sack. Sam Darnold was sacked 33 times in 2019 with an average loss of 6.4 yards a sack. So sacks aren’t what they used to be.

Let’s look at some defensive players from 2019 to see their defensive output.

Von Miller is considered the paragon of edge players in the NFL, with an average salary of over $19,000,000 a year he had better be.

In 2019 Miller played as an OLB in 15 games with a total of 858 snaps.

Miller made 46 total tackles for the year with 11 tackles for loss with 20 QB hits

He had 8 sacks for 32 yards or 4 yards loss per sack. He forced zero fumbles.

That is not a lot for $19 million

Clay Matthews is fairly long in the tooth (he’s old for a player) but he was once considered a premium edge player while with Green Bay.

In 2019 Matthews played in only 13 games at OLB with a total of 623 snaps.

Matthews had 37 total tackles with 11 tackles for loss with 11 QB hits

He made 8 sacks for 41 yards or 5.125 yards per sack. He forced 2 fumbles

Matthews made a scant $4.625 million in 2019.

Khalil Mack is another superior edge player

In 2019 Mack played in all 16 games as an OLB with a total of 943 snaps

Mack had 47 total tackles with 12 tackles for loss and 14 QB hits

He made 8.5 sacks for 80 yards or 9.4 yards a sack with 5 forced fumbles.

While Mack was double teamed often in Chicago his $17,200,000 salary dwarfs his stats

Yannick Ngakoue is considered a young stud as an edge rusher

In 2019 Ngakoue played in 15 games as an OLB with a total of 803 snaps

Ngakoue had 41 total tackles with 15 tackles for loss with 13 QB hits

He made 8 sacks for 56 yards or 7 yards per sack with 4 forced fumbles.

Ngakoue wants to be paid in excess of $20 million a year for this production.

Jordan Jenkins was the top sack master on the Jets in 2019.

In 2019 Jenkins played in 14 games as an OLB with a total of 579 snaps

Jenkins had a total of 32 tackles with 12 tackles for loss with 13 QB hits

He made 8 sacks for 42 yards or 5.25 yards per sack with 2 forced fumbles.

Jenkins is not a traditional sack master as he doesn’t possess great speed or bend. His salary for 2019 was $5 million, his reward for having stats comparable to the others was to sign a 2020 contract for $3,937,500 or more than a $1,000,000 pay cut.

Jamal Adams is not an edge player but he was the only safety in the top 85 sack leaders as he was tied for 52nd place in the NFL.

In 2019 Adams played in 14 games as a box safety with a total of 978 snaps.

He blitzed 90 times (many times as a run stuffing blitzer)

Adams had a total of 75 tackles with 14 tackles for loss and 13 QB hits

He made 6.5 sacks for 45 yards or 6.9 yards a sack with 2 forced fumbles

Adams is a multifaceted player with skills as a rusher, in coverage and an all around menace on defense to give opposing offenses headaches. He has innate football skills, he learns from play to play and he is still an ascending player.

The top edge players in 2019 were all worth their salaries because they had a great combination of sacks, tackles and tackles for loss that make a defense much better. The top 8 players in sack production averaged 15 sacks, 56 total tackles and 20 tackles for loss. They also accounted for almost 4 forced fumbles each.

As for team defense the sack total does not always make your defense top notch. In 2019 the Pittsburgh Steelers had the most team sacks with 54; followed by Carolina (53), New Orleans (51) L.A. Rams (50), Minnesota Vikings (48) the N.Y. Jets had 35 sacks ranked #23.

The Steelers ranked #5 in total defense by yards and 6th in scoring defense

Carolina ranked #23 in total defense by yards and 31st in scoring defense

New Orleans ranked #11 in total defense by Yards and 13th in scoring defense.

The L.A. Rams ranked #13 in total defense by yards and 17th in scoring defense.

Minnesota ranked #14 in total defense by yards and 5th in scoring defense.

The Jets ranked #7 in total defense by yards and 16th in scoring defense.

The point of all of this is that sacks are a very overrated stat that fans seem to think is key to winning in the NFL. Don’t get me wrong sacks are nice but I don’t see the need to spend $20 million a year for a player who gets 10 sacks a year. Jadeveon Clowney wanted over $20 million a year and he has never had as many as 10 sacks in a single year. He is an all-round good player but is he worth 10% of your salary cap?

Many people think that certain positions are more valuable than others with edge rushers being at the top of the list excluding QBs. I think that is correct in some ways but edge rusher is way overrated in my opinion. Take for example the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the tandem of Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre Paul. These are two great edge rushers (Barrett led the league in sacks) who combined had 85 tackles, 28 tackles for loss, 53 QB hits, 28 sacks, 75 QB pressures, 8 forced fumbles, they even had 4 passes defended. Yet the Buccaneers gave up over 28 points a game in 2019. They ranked #15 in total defense by yards and 29th in scoring defense.

You can make a point in an edge rusher being a valued member of a team but he can be taken out of the game with team blocking assignments. There is no doubt that Khalil Mack is a terror on the field but the Bears traded away a king’s ransom to acquire him then had to pay him an exorbitant amount of money after that. Teams have all week to work on blocking assignments and Mack would be the first thing an OC would think about. Last year the Jets gave up less yards on the year than the Bears despite Mack’s presence.

Khalil Mack is a player on a Hall of Fame trajectory, he is a phenomenal talent who is usually unblockable in one on one situations. Yet I believe that Jamal Adams is more important to the Jets defense than Mack is to the Bears defense.

There has been animosity over the contract demands of Jamal Adams during the summer. I can understand the bitterness because Adams is under contract for another two years since he was a 1st round draft pick. Yet I hear fans say that spending a large amount of money on a safety is foolish. A safety is not a premium position next to an edge rusher. I even read that some people would like to trade Adams to Jacksonville for Yannick Ngakoue then pay him his $20 million a year contract demand.

I scouted Ngakoue, I was super high on Ngakoue coming out of Maryland, I had him as a late 1st early 2nd round pick back in 2016. He was a little undersized as a defensive end and he was tight hipped which means he can’t play in space, but he had super quickness, used his hands well and could bend the edge. I only worried about his ability to hold the edge in rushing situations, which is still a concern.

I also scouted Adams while he was at LSU, he was my #4 prospect in the 2017 draft and I should have had him as #2 looking back. Really if I knew what I know now he would have been my #1 player in the 2017 draft. Myles Garrett I thought was a once in a decade physical talent but his character has come into question. He was suspended but worse is the talk that some of his teammates find him a malcontent. Adams is a phenomenal player who is also a leader on the defense, his peers have come out to say as much.

Any way I look at this Adams in my book is a far superior player than Ngakoue. Whereas Ngakoue is a skilled pass rusher he is also a one dimensional player, he has a limited skill set. Adams on the other hand is a multidimensional player who can affect the game from a variety of areas. Watch these two plays from the Giants game to see how fast Adams learns and how explosive he is coming off the edge.

This is the genius of Adams in how he plays this snap. First he is in a box safety position like he is covering the TE but moves up quickly then anticipates the snap count. He runs around the TE then obliterates Saquon Barkley as a blocker then swipes at the ball in Daniel Jones’ hands. If the ball hadn’t fallen into Barkley’s hands it most likely would have been a turnover with the Jets in scoring position.

Adams has an innate ability to play football. He sees things, learns quickly, then uses those things to make big plays for his team. He is a playmaker who is a student of the game who also loves the game; you can see it in his play. He is a completely unique player but a true superstar who has the brilliance of Ed Reed but also the toughness and tenacity of Ronnie Lott. He will read you then he will hit you, he has Hall of Fame talent and he needs to stay as a N.Y. Jet for life. Here he is later in the same game; did he learn something?

This is now 3rd and 1 to begin the 2nd half of the game. This could be a run or pass but Adams reads the play from the start. Adams is obviously spying Saquon Barkley on a 3rd and 1 situation, as he should be. Adams is like a sprinter off the starting gun at the snap and when he sees the play fake he attacks.

You have to remember that Barkley is over 20 lbs heavier than Adams but Adams has learned that while Barkley is a great runner he is a poor blocker. Barkley is in a weak position with his hands spread wide, Adams gets low in great leverage position, then literally throws Barkley aside like a rag doll. The time before he slapped the ball away from the QB but this time he just overpowers Danny Dimes then takes the ball away for a score.

This is just one of a parade of spectacular plays that Adams will have in his career. The question is whether it happens for the Jets or someone else. Adams is a leader with every defensive player of consequence believing in him. The highest paid player on the defense C.J. Mosley said “First of all, he’s one of the leaders on the team,” Mosley said. “That’s first and foremost. He brings that extra energy whether guys want it or not. Sometimes you might be tired or not feeling good, but as soon as he steps on the field, you’re going to hear that voice and he’ll be flying around. To have that presence in the secondary, a guy that can make plays in the passing game and also plays in the backfield — in the box — that’s always exciting.”

When you pay Mosley the money you pay him, shouldn’t you listen to what he has to say about other players on his defense?

This article is about pressure, the pressure you apply to an offense. You currently have a bevy of young talented players ready to explode on the scene in Quinnen Williams, Kyle Phillips, Foley Fatukasi (who I recommended as a late round pick) John Franklin Myers, Nathan Shepard, Tarell Basham, and Jordan Willis. These are players who are young and need to develop.

In my humble opinion I think the Jets need to send a message to their fans, to the NFL or anyone who will listen that the Jets want and will accumulate talent no matter the cost. Jamal Adams is a superior talent they cannot lose, a leader and a playmaker. He needs to be made a Jet for life. It shows the rest of the team that the Jets value excellence and will pay to keep it. When players get paid other players notice; in today’s game the money is considered respect to a player.

Since he is under contract for the next two years, if you offer Adams a new 5 year contract for $90 million with 70% guaranteed he would be happy to sign the contract after the usual complaining and moaning. You notice other teams looking to trade for Adams, they know they would have to pay him as well.

Why don’t the Jets take care of their own, an All-Pro, a home grown player? There are 17 players/coaches/front office people who were part of the Jets organization in the Hall of Fame. Of those none of those people spent their entire career with the Jets. Winston Hill is closest having played 3 games for the Rams in 1977.

Adams isn’t close to a Hall of Fame player yet, there is a long way to go. Yet he is on a Hall of Fame track so let’s keep that going, his best years are still to come.

I realize the ramifications of the current pandemic have yet to be determined as far as the salary cap goes. There may be and probably will be some serious reductions in player salaries in the near future. Still Joe Douglas can sit down with Adams to discuss the situation, to assure Adams he is in the Jets future plans and an extension will be coming but not right away because of the COVID-19 situation.

Adams puts serious pressure on an offense, he can be moved around like a chess piece so there it is difficult to work out a blocking assignment against him. This is the value Adams brings to the Jets and I believe this is the reason Joe Douglas drafted Ashtyn Davis in the third round this year. Davis will be the single high safety net that can cover the entire field which will allow Jamal Adams more freedom on the defense.

Pressure doesn’t have to be coming from the edge. Pressure can be put on a QB from various spots, the stealthier the better. The end result is what matters so if you get the job done while not overpaying for an edge presence you will have more resources to fill other glaring holes on your team.

That’s what I think.

What do you think?