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Inside the Numbers: The Ferociousness of DeMarcus Ware


I never play timid, or non-aggressive. If I'm going to be out there I'm going to give 110 percent"
DeMarcus Ware

There is no question that DeMarcus Ware is one of the best, if not the best, pass rusher in the NFL today.

His 20 sacks in 2008 rank sixth on the all time single season record list (the NFL did not recognize sacks as a statistic until 1982).

With his eleven sacks last year, Ware now has an active streak of four consecutive seasons with 10+ sacks, best among all active NFL players. Jared Allen is next with an active streak of three successive seasons above ten sacks, and only four more players (James Harrison, Dwight Freeney, LaMarr Woodley and Julius Peppers) have an active streak of two consecutive season.

So if you're DeMarcus Ware, what kind of targets do you set for yourself? According to Todd Archer, Ware's self declared target is nothing less than to set the NFL record for consecutive seasons with 10 or more sacks. The current record is nine consecutive seasons with 10+ sacks, and is held by Reggie White (13-time Pro Bowler and 8-time first team All Pro) who set the mark between 1985-1993 with the Eagles and the Packers.

The impact of sacks

The ability to generate and prevent sacks is a key factor in determining games in the NFL. In 256 games last year, NFL record keepers recorded 1,101 sacks. I recently looked at sack differential (sacks recorded minus sacks allowed) for all of those 256 games and found that the team that allowed more sacks lost 74% of the time. Knocking the other guy down and keeping your guy standing is highly correlated to success. The table below shows the effect of allowing more sacks than your opponent:

Losing probability by sack differential
1 Sack
2 Sacks 3 Sacks 4 Sacks
Losing %-age 70% 67% 87% 80%
Losing record 55-79 37-55 34-39 23-29

Are all sacks created equal?

"From both [the offensive and defensive] standpoints, the sack is a difference-maker," said Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs, who has averaged 8.2 sacks per season in his seven-year career and has five sacks in the Ravens' past four postseason contests. "For a defense, the sack generates a lot of excitement and momentum, almost like a dunk in basketball. For the offense, it can be deflating on the field, and psychologically, too." - ESPN

In the table below, you have a ranking of the top ten players by sacks recorded last year. Are there sacks in that list that were more 'deflating on the field' than others? Should the fact that three of Julius Peppers' 10.5 sacks resulted in zero loss of yards be held against him, or should Jared Allen's stats be boosted somehow by the fact that five of his sacks produced a fumble?

NFL Sack Leaders 2009
Rank Player Team Sacks
Sacks resulting
in fumbles
Sacks resulting
in Turnovers
1 Elvis Dumerville DEN 17 3 3
2 Jared Allen MIN 14.5 5 3
T3 Dwight Freeney IND 13.5 1 0
T3 LaMarr Woodley PIT 13.5 1 1
5 Will Smith NO 13 4 2
6 Trent Cole PHI 12.5 1 1
T7 DeMarcus Ware DAL 11 5 4
T7 Andre Carter WAS 11 4 3
T7 Brian Orakpo WAS 11 1 0
10 Julius Peppers CAR 10.5 3 2

I've added sacks that resulted in fumbles and sacks that resulted in turnovers to the list in the hopes of providing a better gauge of how much impact those sacks had for the teams. But is there a better way to measure the impact of these sacks? Sure there is.

Today, we turn the all seeing eye of Expected Points Value (EPV) on the NFL's top ten pass rushers to find out.

Expected Points Value and sacks

EPV is the average points a team can expect from any given down and distance situation. If you're unfamiliar with the concept of EPV, read up on it in this post.

EPV can be applied to sacks just as it can be applied to any other part of the game. This is how it works, using Ware's first sack of last season as an example:

2-10-KC 38 (14:14) M.Cassel sacked at KC 28 for -10 yards (D.Ware).

The starting EPV for the Chiefs on second-and-ten on their own 38 yard line is 0.81. The 10 yard sack resulted in a third-and-twenty on the Chiefs 28 yard line with an EPV of -0.57. The play therefore set the Chiefs back by -1.38 EPV. Ware is therefore credited with an EPV of +1.38 for this play.

The table below shows the EPV of the top ten leaders in sacks. To calculate this, I have made the following assumptions: A) Where a sack resulted in a turnover (fumble recovered or turnover on downs) the turnover is fully credited to the player who recorded the sack. B) Where two players are credited with a sack, each player gets half the EPV generated by the play. C) Will Smith and Trent Cole are credited with the full 6.3 EPV for the touchdowns that came as the direct result of a fumble recovery from their sacks.

NFL Sack Leaders by EPV, 2009
Rank Player Team EPV/Sack
Total Sacks Total EPV
1 DeMarcus Ware DAL 2.00 11 22.1
T2 Jared Allen MIN 1.70 14.5 24.7
T2 Andre Carter WAS 1.70 11 18.7
4 Trent Cole PHI 1.62 12.5 21.1
5 Julius Peppers CAR 1.56 10.5 16.4
6 Brian Orakpo WAS 1.49 11 16.4
T7 Dwight Freeney IND 1.39 13.5 18.8
T7 Will Smith NO 1.39 13 18.1
9 Elvis Dumerville DEN 1.39 17 23.6
10 Lamarr Woodley PIT 1.17 13.5 15.8

On a per sack basis, DeMarcus Ware has generated the most value for his team among the 10 elite pass rushers listed in this table. In my book, that gets him the title of most ferocious pass rusher. Four forced fumbles resulting in turnovers, in addition to his other sacks, push him to the top of the heap in terms of EPV/sack.

Now he just needs to keep it up for six more seasons.

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