The Cowboys have a strong pass rush. Our sack counts, pressures, and other measurables are top 10. Yet every time a quarterback stays on his feet long enough to complete a pass, we all wonder--was it the pass rush's fault? Is Ratliff regressing? Are Ware's monster numbers somehow meaningless? Is it all on Spencer?
In the midst of this angst (caused, I am convinced, by a poor secondary), we also say things that I've never seen backed up. What kind of stats would you need to tell whether sacks were more (or less) meaningful? And when we complain that all of the sacks are coming from our one pass rush specialist, people talk as though that makes everyone else on the team scrubs.
This is a debate that matters. It matters when we consider whether to keep Spencer. (I'm disregarding salary and cap space here for the moment, because I don't really think we know enough details to know how this will pan out. I'm just focusing on whether pass rush is a comparable need to our secondary play--and I'm arguing that it isn't.)
I am not a stats guru. I'd love to see someone else actually break down meaningful stats. But for now, I want to attack the one easiest stat for me to track down: should the second-best pass rusher on a team be getting more sacks?
To make this question even easier, I'm giving myself a little bit of wiggle room. Spencer has recorded 6 sacks. I'm going to lump him in with people who have 7 sacks. You may consider this unfair, but I think that this is an acceptable margin of error. I also think that if I had the time, I could show that Ryan's creative blitzes spread the sacks around a bit more, so that those in the 3d-4th place might actually be getting a few more sacks for the Cowboys than for other teams. Be that as it may, let's ask the basic question: how many teams have their second-best pass rusher produce more than 7 sacks--i.e., more than a SINGLE sack better than Spencer?
The answer: 6. Six teams (Phil, Denv, NE, Pit, Det, Ind) have a second-place pass rusher with 7.5 or more sacks.
Then comes the part that never made sense to me: "Yeah, but Spencer is playing opposite Ware--he should get more sacks." What's the basis for this assumption? If Ware is so fast at getting to the passer, does that make it easier or harder for the second-fastest guy to get there first? Admittedly, opposing defenses might give extra help to defending against Ware, leaving Spencer a comparatively easier path to the quarterback. But this cuts both ways. It's the defense that gets to shift around its rushers the most, and Ware is always going to line up in the place that the Cowboys think will give him the easiest path to the quarterback. That's his job.
Back to the statistics. There are only 8 teams that have a single pass rusher with 12 or more sacks. In other words, only 8 teams have a rusher who is even CLOSE to being in Ware's league. Of those 8 teams, only ONE has another pass rusher who has recorded more than 7 sacks. The other 7 (including Dallas) have one dominant pass rusher, and then a second pass rusher who is (at best) in the 6-7 sack range.
Would we like to have BOTH a dominant Ware and a guy recording 8-10 (not 6-7) sacks? Sure. But if we were in that position, we would be one of only two teams in that position.
Please, please, please, either bring some actual statistics to bear (this means you, FiTaT, lover of statistics who keeps on picking on the Cowboys' pass rush) or else stop pretending that this is a weakness on our team. There are plenty of teams who only have ONE pass rusher in the 8-10-sack range--they aren't grumbling because they don't have TWO such rushers. Until someone comes up with a reason to think otherwise, let's roll with the assumption that the Cowboys' pass rush is doing just fine--probably top 10. And that Spencer's 6-7 sacks a season is respectable.
Obviously, Ware won't last forever, and if we get a chance at an elite rusher, let's grab him. Otherwise, how about addressing the fact that WITH a top-10 defense we are giving up higher YPA and passer-ratings that most of the league's teams. Don't spend that first round draft pick trying to fix what ain't broken. Let's cover the opponents' receivers! (This might even lead to a few more sacks.)