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Dallas Cowboys Pass Rush Pt. II: Which Linebackers are Bringing The Pressure?

There's a widely held belief that DeMarcus Ware is the Cowboys' one-man pass rush. And that line of thinking is not without merit. This year, Ware has 14 of the Cowboys' 30 sacks and he is easily the most dominant player on the Cowboys defense, and perhaps even in the league. 

But as good as Ware is, he can't do it alone.

In part I of this post, we tried to look beyond sacks as the sole measure of pass rush efficiency, and introduced QB Disruption Points as a way to aggregate sacks, QB hits and QB pressures into one number that can be used as an indicator of how much pressure a defense exerts on the opposing quarterback.

Through ten games, the Cowboys tallied 134.8 QB Disruption Points, the 10th best value in the league. Over those ten games, Ware recorded 14 sacks, 5 QB hits and 29 pressures for 39.5 QB Disruption points, a little under a third of the Cowboys' total. 

After the break, find out who else is bringing the pressure for the Cowboys' defense.

DeMarcus Ware Appreciation Moment

But before we look at the other players, let's have ourselves a little DeMarcus Ware moment. Ware's 39.5 QB Disruption points (QBDP) are the third highest value in the league for any player, behind only Miami's Cameron Wake (40.5) and the Rams' Chris Long (45.8). Some perspective on just how extraordinary these numbers are: there are only ten player in the league with QBDPs over 30.

Before we look at the top ten players in a little more detail, one more stat for your pass rushing consideration. QBDP, while doing a nice job of aggregating three pass rushing stats into one number, is a volume stat much like many of the standard stats being used in the NFL such as yards or receptions. To make any volume stat more meaningful, you need to turn it into an efficiency stat, e.g. yards per attempt or reception rate.

For the pass rushing equivalent, we once again turn to who have proposed a stat called Pass-Rushing Productivity, or PRP, which is simply the QB Disruptions Points divided by the number of snaps in which the player rushed the passer.

DeMarcus Ware has 39.5 QB Disruptions on 327 pass rushing snaps. 39.5 / 327 = 0.121 or 12.1%.

Below's a list of how DeMarcus compares to the top pass rushers in the league, each of whom has more than 30 QBDPs. The table is based on the data through week 11 and is sorted by Pass Rushing Productivity:

Player Team Snaps Pass Rush QB Sk QB Ht QB Pr QBDP PRP '11 PRP '10
Cameron Wake MIA 542 300 6 12 34 40.5 13.5% 12.2%
Chris Long SL 595 339 9 7 42 45.8 13.5% 10.5%
Trent Cole PHI 382 227 5 7 27 30.5 13.4% 11.8%
Jason Babin PHI 462 271 10 7 24 33.3 12.3% 11.9%
DeMarcus Ware DAL 605 327 14 5 29 39.5 12.1% 12.4%
Clay Matthews GB 646 348 5 15 29 38.0 10.9% 11.4%
Chris Clemons SEA 580 354 9 6 33 38.3 10.8% 11.7%
Andre Carter NE 559 334 10 13 20 34.8 10.4% 5.2%
Ahmad Brooks SF 628 337 6 6 27 30.8 9.1% 10.2%
Jared Allen MIN 665 383 15 5 21 34.5 9.0% 9.6%

Cameron Wake and Chris Long are the two most efficient pass rushers in the league so far this season, followed by Philly's tandem of Cole and Babin ahead of Ware. Philly's tandem in particular showcases the value of having a bookend rusher with the same type of potential, but it also shows you that good pass rushers alone will not win you games.

The other noticeable thing here is that apart from Andre Carter, the Pass Rushing Productivity for all these players has remained remarkably similar compared to last year. And Carter benefited immensely from leaving the Redskins and joing the Patriots.

Cowboys Linebackers

We've already established where the elite rushers sit in terms of PRP. So anything approaching 10% is a pretty good performance. Remember, PRP is only calculated against pass rushing snaps, so an argument that a given player plays more snaps against the run or vice versa, while true, is irrelevant. We'll start our look at the Cowboys' defense with the linebackers and how they stack up. Note that the numbers below contain the data from the Miami game, which the league table at the top does not.

Player Snaps Pass Rush QB Sk QB Ht QB Pr QBDP PRP '11
DeMarcus Ware 668 356 14 5 30 40.3 11.3%
Victor Butler 142 79 3 3 3 7.5 9.5%
Sean Lee 571 69 0 2 6 6.0 8.7%
Anthony Spencer 641 283 4 5 21 23.5 8.3%
Keith Brooking 296 22 0 1 1 1.5 6.8%
Alex Albright 24 12 0 0 1 0.8 6.3%
Bradie James 282 22 0 1 0 0.8 3.4%

You may or may not be surprised by the numbers, I know I certainly was. Victor Butler, despite some limitations against the run, has the second best pass rushing productivity among the Cowboys linebackers. Yes, he is used largely on passing downs, so that may impact his numbers a little, but having him in the line-up is an obvious boost for the Cowboys' pass rush. I was quite surprised to see Sean Lee so high on the list, one of the knocks on him was that he wasn't a particularly good pass rusher. Well, well, well.

Butler and Lee both had a good game yesterday as pass rushers, so the PFF numbers see a slight boost versus where they were last week.

Spencer at 8.3 is slightly below where he was in 2009 (9.2%) but above where he was last year (7.0%). Clearly, Spencer is no DeMarcus Ware. But he's far from being a scrub either. The average 3-4 OLB had a QBDP of 18.2 after ten games, Spencer had a QBDP of 20.5 after ten weeks so he's a slightly above average pass rusher. That may not be what you expect from a first round draft pick, but for what it's worth, PFF rate Spencer as the third best 3-4 OLB against the run, and he's a big part of why the Cowboys' run defense has been above average for the last couple of years.

Alex Albright is clearly still learning his job, and we shouldn't read too much into his numbers, particularly since they are off such a small base. If Albright had one more pressure, he'd be at the top of this list with 12.8%, so watch out for low base numbers in these comparisons. The same holds true for Bradie James and Keith Brooking who both don't have enough pass rushes to make any conclusive statements.

Including the Miami game, the Cowboys in total have accumulated 145.3 Quarterback Disruption points. DeMarcus Ware accounts for 40.3 of those, the remaining linebackers combined have accumulated 40.0 QBDPs. Together, the linebackers are responsible for 55% of the Cowboys' QBDPs. The remainder is split between the defensive line and the defensive backs. And that will be the subject of the third and final part of this look at the Cowboys' pass rush.

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