FanPost

The Pass Rush: What you should and shouldn’t expect

There was a statistical study done (that Football Outsiders picked up) that looked at which metrics forecast success as edge rushers in the NFL. The conclusion was that there are 4 key factors: vertical jump, short shuttle, adjusted sack rate, and games missed (for any reason).

My personal observation is that the athletic markers jibe with what I see from successful pass rushers. Pass rushers can be explosive where they rock OL back on their heels (vertical jump) or they can have a lot of movement (short shuttle), juking OL as well as any RB. The very best can do both.

Anyway, here are the athletic markers for some of the better pass rushers in the NFL. See if you can guess who is who before looking. NOTE: You can click on the player for links to their draft profile.

 

Weight

Short Shuttle

Vertical

Player A

236

4.13

45.5

Player B

263

4.45

39.5

Player C

240 

4.17

35.5

Player D

338 

4.69

31.5 

Player E

307

4.44

35.5

Player F

273

4.59

39

Player G

295

4.37

40.5

Player H

269

Not Available

33

Player I

275

4.31

30

Player J

272

4.21

34

 

Note the following: for the most part these players are either around 4.2 in the short shuttle or have the combination of a 4.4+ short shuttle and 40ish inch vertical (except for the 310-340 lbs guys … those guys are slower and don’t jump as high). Some of these players have both. Please note that although the study was for ‘edge rushers’ I’ve included defensive tackles as well (i.e. the results aren’t directly applicable to DT … it’s fun to include them though). 

Now here are the athletic markers for Dallas’s DL and OLB. Again, no fair looking. See if you can guess who’s who? See if you can guess who the best pass rushers are.

 

Weight

Short Shuttle

Vertical

Player A

251

4.07

38.5

Player B

292

4.23

33.5

Player C

261 

4.43

32.5

Player D

315 

4.41

33.5

Player E

307 

4.44

31

Player F

284 

4.50

35.5

Player G

272

Not Available

Not Available

Player H

320 

4.74

29

Player I

248 

4.40

33

Player J

261 

4.49

33

Player K

298 

4.52

30

Player L

299

4.72

36

 

You see the combination you want here? 4.2 short shuttle or 4.4 short shuttle and 40 inch vertical? Or even better a 4.2 and 40ish vertical jump? Well you see it with 2 players right: A & B.

My take: I’m not surprised that Dallas’s pass rush is inconsistent. I look at the players on Dallas and there are 2 guys who have the right profile, and they happen to be the best pass rushers as well. The unfortunate reality is it’s not surprising that Dallas has an inconsistent rush: on any given down out of the 5 guys that are rushing the passer only 2 are good at it.

I’m not optimistic that any of the current players (excluding Ware and Ratliff) will become good pass rushers.

Of the current roster I’m most intrigued by Geathers. His vertical suggests he’s got good explosion so maybe he’ll be a good situational/effort guy. Come in for a few snaps to give maximum effort bull rushing guys. I wouldn’t expect him to become a complete player ... guys who only have one move tend to be limited ... but he could be productive as a situational guy.  

Now I think Dallas would be much better off if they fielded 5 players who could rush the passer. That’s not as obvious as it sounds as there might be a trade-off. It’s probable that a bunch of pass rush specialists would play the run worse.

How did Dallas get here?

The first objection I expect to hear is 'you can't build a defense with a bunch of pass rushers ... it would be too light and couldn't stop the run’. My hunch is that's exactly what Dallas’s front office is thinking.

 

I suspect that Dallas is focused on success rate at the expense of expected points. Here’s a rough definition of success rate.

 

SR is a very simple concept in principle and has been around for decades. Each play is graded as either a success or not based on its outcome. For example, if a play gains 3 yards on 3rd and 2, that would be a success. But those same 3 yards would be a failure if the situation were 3rd and 4. In the seminal book from the 1980s Hidden Game of Football, the authors devised a simple rule of thumb based on their intuitive sense of football success. A success would be: On 1st down--a gain of 4 or more yards; on 2nd down--a gain that at least halved the distance to go; and on 3rd down--a conversion for a new set of downs.

I think that Dallas would rather have a DL who can hold the offense to 3 yard runs on 1st and 2nd down but can't pressure the QB on 3rd down than a DL who gets blown off the ball giving up 5 yds on 1st down, 3.5 yards on 2nd down, and pressures the QB on 3rd down. The first scenario would be graded as a 66% success rate while the later scenario would be graded as a 33% success rate.

 

However, from an expected points (i.e. the expected points for any combinations of down, distance, & field position) perspective this example looks much different. Assume the defense is facing a 1st & 10 from the 50 (EPV of 2.04). On 1st down they allow a 5 yard run costing 0.15 expected points. On 2nd down they allow a 3.5 yard run. That’s actually worth 0.16 expected points. On 3rd down the defense pressures the QB and forces an incompletion adding 1.82 expected points (the 3rd down result makes up for 1st down and then some). A net positive of 1.83.

 

Down

To Go

Yds from EZ

EPV

EPA by Offense = End EPV – Start EPV

1

10

50

2.04

0.15

2

5

45

2.19

-0.16

3

1.5

41.5

2.03

-1.82

4

1.5

41.5

0.21

 

Total

 

 

 

-1.83

 

The numbers for the first scenario (3 yard run, 3 yard run, 4 yard pass) are +0.15, +0.15, -1.03. A net negative of 0.62.  

 

Down

To Go

Yds from EZ

EPV

EPA by Offense = End EPV – Start EPV

1

10

50

2.04

-0.15

2

7

47

1.89

-0.26

3

4

44

1.63

1.03

1

10

40

2.66

 

Total

 

 

 

0.62

 

Now this is obviously a trivial example. Everyone knows it’s better to have a defense that doesn’t allow a 3rd down conversion than a defense that does. But I think illustrates the key issue.

 

I had another thought while I was trying to identify where the benefit of the pass rush comes from. Specifically, I compared the benefit of a sack (which OCC helpfully calculated in this post) with the benefit of stopping a run. The result was very surprising. The EPA of a sack ranges from 1-2 points. We know from the above example the EPA difference between stopping a 1st down run for 3 yards instead of allowing a 5 yard gain is 0.30. That means that from an EPV perspective a sack is only 3 times greater than holding a team to a 3 yards run instead of a 5 yard run? That didn’t make sense at all. If the value isn't in sacks then where is it?

 

My hunch is that you never see the biggest benefit of a good pass rush. The biggest benefit is what doesn’t happen: pass plays. The average running play produces an EPA of zero. The average pass play produces and EPA in the range of 0.20. Ergo, every time an offenses chooses to rush instead of pass that’s a benefit of 0.20. I wonder if teams wouldn’t benefit from inviting teams to run more. Allow then to rack up successful (but low value) runs at the expense of more valuable passes.  

 

*****

 

 

Weight

Short Shuttle

Vertical

Wake

236

4.13

45.5

Orakpo

263

4.45

39.5

Matthews

240

4.17

35.5

Ngata

338

4.69

31.5

Suh

307

4.44

35.5

Edwards

273

4.59

39

Williams

295

4.37

40.5

Pace

269

Not Available

33

Hali

275

4.31

30

Long

272

4.21

34

 

 

 

Weight

Short Shuttle

Vertical

Ware

251

4.07

38.5

Ratliff

292

4.23

33.5

Spencer

261

4.43

32.5

Olshansky

315

4.41

33.5

Spears

307

4.44

31

Hatcher

284

4.50

35.5

Bowen

272 

Not Available

Not Available

Brent

320

4.74

29

Butler

248

4.40

33

Williams

261

4.49

33

Lissemore

298

4.52

30

Geathers

299

4.72

36

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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