After months of producing great pressure numbers with bad sack totals the Titans finally got some of the regression to the mean on Sunday in Indianapolis. The Titans once again had great pressure numbers, but this time they got home for a total of 8 sacks. That number is a Titans Era record for the team and was just one short of the franchise record for sacks in a game.
However, the dominance of the Titans front went even deeper than that. If you’re a regular MCM visitor you probably know that I’m a big fan of PFF’s Pass Rush Productivity (PRP) metric which combines pressures, hits, and sacks normalized per pass rush attempt. PRP is weighted towards sacks — as it should be — and I think it does a better job of measuring the impact of a pass rusher than pure sack totals.
There are two primary problems with sack totals as a standalone measure of pass rushers. First, binary statistics in a small sample size — like sacks — often fail to measure nuance and can be heavily skewed by anamolies. For example, take a look at Falcons pass rusher Vic Beasley. Last season he led the NFL with 15.5 sacks, but that number was propped up by an unusually high number of sacks per pressure he was generating. This year he has just 4 sacks and appears to be headed towards a much more pedestrian sack total. Did he get worse from last year to this year? Did offenses decide they had to double him more? Both of those could be true to some extent, but I tend to think this is more likely a result of simple regression to the mean. After all, converting pressures to sacks has not proven to be a reproducible skill over the years. At the end of the day, the greatest predictor of sacks for a pass rusher is pressure rate, not previous sack totals.
The second problem with using just sacks is that it ignores the inherent value of the pressures themselves. PFF has done a good job of illustrating what pressures mean for a defense and why they’re important here. Obviously sacks are more important, but pressures still have real value for a defense.
PFF’s metrics actually indicate the Titans pass rush may have been even more dominant than the 8 sacks would even suggest. Jacoby Brissett was under pressure on an unbelievable 63.2% of his dropbacks. That is the highest pressure rate for any starting QB in a game in 2017 by a significant margin. The next highest was the Eagles pressuring Brock Osweiler on 58.5% of his dropbacks in Week 9.
If you look at the individual players you can see it was a team effort too. DaQuan Jones and Jurrell Casey finished 1st and 3rd in PRP among all interior defenders in Week 12. PFF had Jones with 1 sack, 1 hit, and 4 hurries and Casey with 1 sack, 1 hit, and 5 hurries (PFF’s sack totals don’t always match the box score since they judge plays on their own with regards to that metric).
Jones is a guy who is a better player than most think so it was good to see him get the spotlight for a game. He’s not likely to repeat that performance — he is more of a run stuffer than a dynamic pass rusher — but he is welcome to try.
On the outside Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo finished 5th and 10th among edge rushers for the week. PFF had Morgan with 2 sacks and 4 hurries while Orakpo finished with 2 sacks and 2 hurries. Even Wesley Woodyard ranked in the top 10 at his inside linebacker spot with a sack and 2 hurries.
Part of this is just that the Colts offensive line is bad. That’s true. There are only three quarterbacks in the NFL that have been under pressure more often than Brissett over the first 12 weeks of the NFL season. The good news for the Titans is that they get to face the most frequently pressured QB in the NFL in Week 13: Tom Savage.
I don’t think this game means the pass rush is fixed. Lots of the sacks came on blitzes which is also why you often saw Jack Doyle running wide open through the middle of the field. The Titans getting home quickly more often on those blitzes is encouraging though and could help lead to more turnovers if they can keep it up.