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Coach Joe Kim: The Grandmaster of the Quarterback Sack

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New strength and conditioning assistant coach Joe Kim was brought in to improve a slumping Redskins' pass rush, but does his history in the NFL suggest that he will have success in Washington?

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Big Trouble in Little Washington

This isn't the first time you've heard me say this, but the Redskins pass defense was historically terrible last season.  Much of the blame for this lies with the secondary, but when a team struggles so mightily in a major area like "pass defense" there typically is more than one party or position group at fault.  Things were no different here, as an underwhelming pass rush was also a major part of the problem.

In 2014, the Redskins ranked 21st in sacks, 19th in sack percentage and 23rd in Pro Football Focus' team pass rushing grades.  Granted, those aren't bottom of the barrel numbers, but we also have to remember that 10 of the team's 36 total sacks came in a 42-10 blowout against a lowly Jacksonville Jaguars team that allowed the sixth most sacks in the history of the league.  No team accumulated a greater percentage of their sacks in one game last season than the Redskins did against the Jaguars (27.8%).  The next highest percentage was 22.7%.  Washington only recorded more than one sack in half of their games last season.

This is part of the reason that the Redskins hired defensive coordinator Joe Barry to install a more aggressive 1-gap defense.  That hope is that Barry's new defensive philosophy will help to change the way that the defense approaches attacking opposing offenses as a whole; but the team wanted to address how the defense approached each play on an individual level as well.  They wanted someone that could help each player in the front seven to hone their skills as a pass rusher.  Enter the Dragon grandmaster Joe Kim.

The Foot Fist Way

Joe Kim was the last of many additions made to the Redskins coaching staff this offseason.  His hiring was not officially announced and members of the media actually had to go out of their way to ask Jay Gruden who he was when they saw him working with linebackers during OTAs.

Kim was brought in to be the team's assistant strength and conditioning/ skill development coach.  The second part of his title is key, because the primary skill that he helps players to develop is pass rushing.  Kim is a Taekwondo grandmaster and a seventh degree black belt; and he uses the knowledge he gained from his martial arts background to teach players how to become more effective at getting to the quarterback.  He specifically focuses on showing players how the placement, timing and speed of their' hands, feet and hips can help them to move and position their bodies in order to get their opponents off-balance and to win their individual matchups.

Joe Kim's story is an unusual and an interesting one, and so naturally beat writers lined up to tell it (exhibits one, two, three and four), but what they didn't bother to do was to tell us how good Kim actually was at his job.  To be fair, several of them did point out how Kim helped former Bear and new Redskin Stephen Paea to hone his skills and to have a breakout year as a pass rusher in 2014.  Under the guidance of Kim, Paea doubled his career sack total last year (6 sacks in 2014 and 12 in his career).  That's a nice example, but we can't judge a coach based solely on the success of just one player in one season. This is especially so when the coach in question has worked as a pass rushing consultant or specialist for 11 teams over the course of 22 years.

We typically don't have the benefit of being able to measure a player or a coach with a sample size that large because of the inherent nature of football and the limitations that it puts on the numbers of games that can be played; so when we do get that opportunity, we need to take it.  That is exactly what I've done.  I went back and looked at the sack and sack percentage values and rankings for all 11 of Joe Kim's jobs and all 22 of his team seasons.  I also looked at how much or little his teams improved in these areas after he was hired by each team.

The Kim Dynasty

In the table below you will see the number of sacks and the sack percentages (sacks divided by total dropbacks) for every team that Joe Kim has coached or consulted for.  The corresponding rankings for those categories have been included as well.  The table also shows these same statistics for the teams the year prior to Kim's arrival at each destination.  You can identify those years by looking at the "Year N-1" designation under the year type column.

Team Year Year Type Sacks Sacks Rank Sack % Sack % Rank
Browns 1991 Year N-1 35 13th 6.3% 16th
Browns 1992 Year N 48 8th 9.0% 10th
Browns 1993 Year N+1 48 3rd 8.1% 6th
Browns 1994 Year N+2 38 7th 6.1% 11th
Browns 1995 Year N+3 29 24th 4.8% 26th
Cowboys 1997 Year N-1 38 18th 7.4% 16th
Cowboys 1998 Year N 34 25th 5.8% 27th
Browns 1999 Year N 25 31st 4.6% 30th
Browns 2000 Year N+1 42 12th 8.0% 11th
Dolphins 2000 Year N-1 48 7th 8.3% 8th
Dolphins 2001 Year N 37 19th 7.3% 11th
Dolphins 2002 Year N+1 47 4th 8.3% 4th
Dolphins 2003 Year N+2 44 3rd 7.7% 3rd
Dolphins 2004 Year N+3 36 21st 7.7% 8th
Dolphins 2005 Year N+4 49 2nd 8.2% 3rd
Dolphins 2006 Year N+5 47 3rd 8.6% 3rd
Packers 2004 Year N-1 40 9th 7.2% 14th
Packers 2005 Year N 35 20th 7.5% 8th
Broncos 2006 Year N-1 36 15th 6.3% 18th
Broncos 2007 Year N 33 16th 6.7% 9th
Penn State 2008 Year N-1 33 23rd 7.6% N/A
Penn State 2009 Year N 37 8th 8.4% N/A
Bills 2008 Year N-1 24 28th 4.7% 26th
Bills 2009 Year N 32 18th 5.8% 19th
Giants 2009 Year N-1 32 18th 6.0% 15th
Giants 2010 Year N 46 5th 7.9% 4th
Chiefs 2009 Year N-1 22 31st 4.1% 31st
Chiefs 2010 Year N 39 10th 6.3% 11th
Chiefs 2011 Year N+1 29 27th 6.0% 21st
Chiefs 2012 Year N+2 27 29th 5.5% 26th
Bears 2013 Year N-1 31 31st 5.8% 26th
Bears 2014 Year N 39 16th 6.6% 17th
Average 38.2 14th 7.0% 13th

The first thing that needs to be pointed out is that an average ranking of 14th in sacks and 13th in sack percentage is very impressive.  Those numbers don't quite have the same ring to them as an average ranking inside of the top ten would, but remember that these numbers encompass over 20 total team seasons.  Averaging just outside of the top 12 in these all-important categories over that long a period of time is the type of consistent output that most coaches can only dream of.

But perhaps you count yourself as someone who would be more comfortable equating excellence to performances in the top five, top ten or at least in the top twelve.  After all, Joe Kim is practically laser focused on the development of this one particular skill relative to the myriad of skills and assignments that most other coaches are responsible for drilling into their players' heads.  Maybe that means that he should be held to a higher standard, so let's see how often his defenses ranked among the "elite" in sack production.

Joe Kim Sack Rankings Top 5 Top 10 Top 12
Sacks 6 (27%) 10 (45%) 11 (50%)
Sack % 5 (24%) 10 (48%) 12 (57%)

The defenses that Kim worked with ranked in the top five in 25 percent of his seasons and in the top ten an amazing near 50 percent of the time.  The aforementioned averages clearly aren't attributable to a few outlier years.  Outstanding pass rushing seasons for Joe Kim's teams weren't the exception, they were the rule.

If you still aren't convinced then consider this fact: coach Kim was not just waltzing onto teams with extraordinary pass rushing track records.  He was joining teams that were typically mediocre at best in this department (not too unlike a certain team hailing from the nation's capitol).  In fact, the average sack rankings of his former teams prior to his arrival are almost identical to the rankings earned by the 2014 Redskins.  So, Joe Kim hasn't just made exceptional pass rushes better, he's made lackluster pass rushes good again.

The year that Kim arrives, the sack totals and sack percentages for his teams have increased by an average of 4.1 sacks and 0.8 percent respectively.  That may not seem like a lot, but those increases have caused his teams to jump by an average of five spots in the league's sack rankings and six spots in the sack percentage category.

Not only did his defenses excel as a whole when it came to getting to the quarterback, but many individual players also thrived under the expert guidance and tutelage of the grandmaster.  At least one player totaled ten or more sacks on 15 of Kim's 22 teams.  That's a rate of nearly 70 percent.

The Front Seven Samurai

You might argue that sacks aren't everything, and you would be right to do so.  I am strongly of the opinion that quarterback hits and hurries are often almost as good as a sack.  As draft analyst Josh Norris says "Disruption is production."  Luckily for us, Pro Football Focus tracks quarterback hurries and hits and they grade each player on every play.  Let's see how Joe Kim's pass rushers fared per the game charters at PFF.

Team Year Year Type Total Press PFF Pass Rush PFF Pass Rush Rank
Broncos 2007 N 203 26.2 22nd
Bills 2008 N-1 174 -7.6 28th
Bills 2009 N 177 -5.8 28th
Giants 2009 N-1 221 38.8 11th
Giants 2010 N 269 96.9 4th
Chiefs 2009 N-1 193 33.5 17th
Chiefs 2010 N 273 94.4 5th
Chiefs 2011 N+1 172 38.2 18th
Chiefs 2012 N+2 143 10.1 30th
Bears 2013 N-1 212 10.2 30tt
Bears 2014 N 273 63.9 12th
Average All Non N-1 215.7 46.3 17.0

*Note: Total pressures were calculated by adding QB Hurries and QB Hits recorded by PFF to official NFL Sack statistics.*

The average ranking is not quite as high here.  However, we need to remember that PFF data only goes back to 2007, so that means that we only have the opportunity to look at about a third of Kim's career from this perspective.

The important thing to note here is how much he helped his teams to improve.  In all four instances his teams tallied more total pressures and ended the season with a higher pass rushing grade than they had in the year prior to his hiring.  In those years, Kim's new teams have seen their total pressures, pass rushing grade and pass rushing ranking increase by an average of 48 pressures, plus 43.6 and 9.3 spots in the rankings respectively.  This is the basis the Joe Kim should be judged on.  If the pass rushing production of one of his teams increases after he arrives, then his work with the club in question should be considered a success.

The Legend of the Pass Rush Master

So that begs the question: Just how often has coach Joe Kim been successful in improving the pass rush of his teams relative to how well they fared in that department before he came onto the scene?

Team Season # of Years Year 1 Success? Overall Success
Browns 1992-1995 4 Yes Yes
Cowboys 1998 1 No No
Browns 1999-2000 2 N/A
Yes
Dolphins 2001-2006 6 No Yes
Packers 2005 1 Yes Yes
Broncos 2007 1 No No
PSU 2009 1 Yes Yes
Bills 2009 1 Yes Yes
Giants 2010 1 Yes Yes
Chiefs 2010-2012 3 Yes No
Bears 2014 1 Yes Yes

Joe Kim was successful in improving his teams sack production and ranking in seven out of the ten opportunities that he had to do so (the Browns were not an active NFL team from 1996-1998).  That includes five of the seven 1-year stints that he had with teams.

He was with four teams for longer than a year.  Those teams must be judged in a slightly different and more subjective manner.  His first Browns teams and the early 2000s Dolphins both averaged top-12 finishes in sacks and sack percentages while he was there, so he definitely gets passing marks in both instances.  '

The Browns front seven struggled to generate pressure in the first year of his second stint with the team.  However, in year two they were able to turn things around with finishes in the top-12 in sacks and sack percentage.  I personally have to cut him some slack here, because the Browns came back as an expansion team in 1999 and that really didn't give him much to work with.  That makes it all the more impressive that he was able to turn that group around into a top-12 unit in 2000.

He helped the Chiefs to improve their rush in his first year in Kansas City, but things didn't work out quite as well in years two and three.  The Chiefs finished in the bottom 12 of sacks and sack percentage in 2011 and 2012.

That comes out to three successful stints in four long term stays.  Add that to hits in five out of seven one-year stops and you've got eight successful tours with NFL teams in eleven opportunities.  That is an incredible hit rate of 73 percent.

I know that he's just a lowly assistant coach, but when a guy has this kind of an impact on a consistent basis over the course of a long period of time then I start to take notice.  Joe Kim has certainly made a believer out of me.

That's all in the past though.  What is he going to do in the future?  What kind of impact is the grandmaster of the quarterback sack going to make in Washington?

The Way of the Redskin

Here is how Joe Kim's presence with the Redskins is projected to affect the team's sack production based on the average increases that his previous teams saw in each category.  The projected 2015 rankings are based on 2014 team numbers.

Redskins & Joe Kim Sacks Sack % Pressures PFF Pass Rush
2014 Redskins Values (Ranks) 36 (21st) 6.5% (19th) 264 (19th) 37.2 (23rd)
Joe Kim Avg. Added Production 4.1 0.8% 48 43.6
2015 Redskins Projections 40.1 7.3% 312 80.8
Projected Redskins Ranking 13th 8th 4th 6th

I don't believe that the Redskins will rank this highly in these pass rushing categories, but I definitely expect to see significant improvements across the board.  And the bump that the team should get from Kim's presence isn't the only cause for optimism.

There are a number of other reasons to be excited about Washington's pass rush this year: Ryan Kerrigan is in the prime of his career, the team added talented rookie Preston Smith in the draft, Trent Murphy is entering his second season, Jason Hatcher is healthy, Jackson Jeffcoat looked excellent in the preseason and new addition Stephen Paea is coming off his best year.

The Redskins' roster is loaded with talented pass rushers.  With Joe Kim in the fold, they have someone that will get the most out of that talent and help to translate it into tangible production on the field.