34 OLB pass rush snap counts (and A. Spencer)

Background. I think that passing / defending the pass is key to winning NFL games. Therefore, I haven't been a big fan of Spencer because my sense is that he's not an outstanding pass rusher.

A frequent criticism of my position is that Spencer's role didn't call for him to rush the passer.

I was curious, so I bit the bullet and signed up for a PFF account to look at the data and see how often Spencer did rush the passer.

PFF conviently segments data by player group. Here are the pass rush snap counts for 34 OLB from 2009-2012.

All data is from PFF Signature stats / 3-4 Outside Linebackers Pass Rushing Productivity (note, the snap counts don't exactly match what is in the player cards. There are small differences. Not sure why.)

Pass rush snaps is defined as: The total number of plays a 3-4 OLB rushes the passer

[Edit: this initially had tables with pass rush snap counts for all 34 OLB the years 2009-2012. However, after reviewing the PFF terms of use, republication is prohibited so replaced it with summary data.]



Pass rush snaps: Rank among all 34 OLB


2nd out of 20


8th out of 22


8th out of 20


16th out of 20


1. According to PFF, Spencer did have pass rush snaps. In 2009 under Wade, had the 2nd most pass rush snaps (only behind Ware). In 2010 & 2011 Spencer had the 8th most pass rush snaps. The only players who were getting more pass rush snaps were guys who were the primary pass rushers (and he was getting more attempts than many primary rushers e.g. Orakpo 2011, Harrison, Shaun Philips 2010).

2. Spencer had the 4th most pass rush snaps from 2009-2012. There are only seven players who show up in all four years. Among those seven, Spencer had the 4th most pass rush attempts.


Total pass rush snaps 2009-2012

DeMarcus Ware


Tamba Hali


Clay Matthews


Anthony Spencer


Shaun Phillips


James Harrison


Lamarr Woodley


3. In a surprise, in 2012 when Spencer had the most sacks in his career, his pass rush snaps were down.



Pass rush snaps









As a parting note, be skeptical of unsupported claims (mine included!), especially claims about knowledge of snap counts and responsibilties. Snap counts are difficult. Basically you need the information that PFF has compiled. That requires watching all the games and keeping game logs which requires a dedicated team of people.

Just consider how impossible it would be to discern something like pass rush counts by eye. For example, say you wanted to know who rushed the passer more in 2010... Lamar Woodley or Anthony Spencer? In 2010 they were separated by 15 pass rush attempts. That's a difference of 1 rush attempt per game over the course of a 16 game season. I think most people would agree that'd even if you watched all 16 games for both teams, it'd be impossible to keep track of how many times each player had rushed the passer.

Regarding a claim about responsibilities, that's seems even harder since that's confidential information. I don't even know how that would be knowable since none of us are inside team meetings.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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