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Paper or Plastic?

This post is about sacks. Get it?

Jason La Canfora stumbled across an interesting/depressing/revealing Redskin anomaly: sacks allowed correlates with success in the NFL unless... you're the Washington Redskins.

I looked at lowest sacks allowed overall this season, and how it related to overall standing. Again, the Skins were the outcasts.

Fewest Sacks Allowed in NFL in 2006:
Indy - 15 - Won division
Ravens - 17 - Won division
Skins - 19 - Last in NFC East
Saints - 23 - Won division
Pack - 23 - improved by 4 wins; 8-8
G-men - 25 - Wild Card
Da Bears - 25 - Won Division
SD - 28 - Won Division
Eagles - 28 - Won Division

Am I the only one a bit taken aback by this? Six of the eight division winners are spoken for here (New England allowed 29 sacks and Seattle was the exception with 49) and all of those teams had what for them had to be considered successful seasons (okay, maybe not the Giants but they still got in), while the Redskins had what may have been their most disappointing campaign in franchise history.

Actually the differential is more pronounced than Jason recognizes. Mark Brunell's strategy for avoiding sacks was simply to dump it to a RB well short of the first down. But even with his itchy trigger finger (gross) Brunell was getting sacked at a much higher rate (about once every 21 attempts) than his replacement. Jason Campbell was sacked about once ever 30 attempts. We can attribute it mostly to JC's mobility, or whatever, really.

A note on one of the many advantages to having a stable offensive line, a good pass rush is key not only in disrupting the opposing team's QB but also in generating turnovers. Sacks cause fumbles and rushed throws (which can then be picked off, by anyone besides the Redskins). It's difficult to maintain a high TD:Int ratio when your QB is getting murdered. The Redskins, for all their failures, had a nearly 2:1 ratio which puts us in the top 10 teams in the league in that respect. The importance of limiting turnovers cannot be understated -- especially by a Joe Gibbs team -- and we should applaud our offensive line for doing such a great job protecting the QB.

But why didn't this lead to wins?

To me, it points yet again to just how sorry the defense was.

Because the scary thing is, despite giving up just 19 sacks, the Redskins only broke even. They only produced 19...

No doubt, the Redskins wasted a studly season from their O-Line, especially over the final 12 games.

Relating to the above point about sacks generating turnovers, we can trace pretty clearly here the loose correlation between interceptions and sacks. Teams that give up a lot of sacks have a difficult time scoring as many or more touchdowns than interceptions. Of the 10 teams that allowed the fewest sacks, half of them had 2:1 (or very near it) TD:Int ratios. Of the 10 teams that allowed the most sacks, only the Rams managed 2:1.

Protecting the QB, in general, is a good way to limit costly turnovers. With a 2nd year QB in his 6th newest offense in as many years we still managed a very respectable 10:6 ratio. Enormous credit should go to JC. Comparable praise should go to our offensive line.

But as successful as we were protecting our own QB, we were equally or more inept in attacking the opposing one. No one sacked the QB less than we did -- 19 total sacks on 486 attempts. That's over once every 25 attempts. Really bad pass rushes, like Tennessee and Minnesota, hover around 1 sack every 20 attempts. Truly awful pass rush was defined by the Redskins in 2006.

Why do I mention all this? Because one of the most repeated Football Platitudes is about how everything starts "in the trenches". It's so often repeated that sometimes we take it for granted. As bad as our secondary was this year (and we'll address them in coming soon 2006 Positional Reviews), a large amount of their incompetence can be blamed on our front four: 30 passing touchdowns : 6 interceptions. We were one of two teams in the league that gave up more passing touchdowns (we're number 1 in the league in that, as well) than sacked the opposing quarterback. The result? Opposing QBs had a passer rating of 97, tops in the league. We hung our injury-depleted secondary out to dry with our virtually non-existant pass rush. We set ourselves up to fail.

I've flip-flopped back and forth on our draft needs. Do we take a defensive back in the first round to "fix" our severly broken secondary? Or do we focus on the pass rush? I'm leaning (though by no means sold yet) towards pass rush.