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Putting Sack Totals into Context: Stopping First Downs


Mario’s foot is hurt. We’ve heard enough about it, and I don’t really want to get into it (but you can read about it here and here. I do, however, want to put his sack totals last season into context so we can stop arguing about whether 10.5 sacks is enough for $100 million.

I’ve already looked into the sack totals Williams should get if he’s healthy for a whole season (he should get at least one sack in eight to eleven games per sixteen game season). Because not all sacks are equal, let’s examine the impact of those sacks in terms of drives stopped.

Based on the 2012 season, I calculated the probability of an offense getting a first down based on their current down and distance. From there, I applied the probabilities of getting a first down (the drive continues) for each play of the 2012 season so I could determine the impact each play had on an offense getting a first down and keeping their drive alive (probability of getting a first down before the play minus the probability of getting a first down after the play- punts and field goals have a zero percent chance of getting a first down in this study).

I then filtered out the defenders that had more sacks than Williams did in 2012 to compare the average impact each player’s sacks had on their opponents’ first down probabilities and the total drives stopped by each player (the sum of the change in first down probabilities on all sack plays). That gives us context for each player’s sacks.

The table below ranks the players with eleven or more sacks (and Mario Williams) by the number of drives stopped. Von Miller and Cameron Wake lead the field by a large margin, because of the timing and number of their sacks. Thirteen of Miller’s twenty sack plays (solo and shared) occurred on third down. JJ Watt, the sacks leader in 2012, ranks seventh because twelve of his 23 sack plays happened on first down.

Player

Sacks

Sack Plays

Drives Stopped

Drives Stopped Per Sack

V.Miller

18.5

20

5.073

0.274

C.Wake

15

17

4.239

0.283

J.Peppers

11.5

16

3.957

0.344

A.Smith

19.5

22

3.376

0.173

C.Long

11.5

13

2.901

0.252

G.Atkins

12.5

15

2.834

0.227

J.Watt

20.5

23

2.760

0.135

C.Clemons

11.5

12

2.600

0.226

M.Williams

10.5

12

2.471

0.235

D.Ware

11.5

14

2.398

0.209

C.Johnson

12.5

15

2.232

0.179

C.Matthews

13

14

2.101

0.162

A.Spencer

11

12

2.034

0.185

M.Johnson

11.5

13

2.031

0.177

G.Hardy

11

14

1.859

0.169

E.Dumervil

11

14

1.855

0.169

J.Allen

12

14

1.655

0.138

Williams’ 10.5 sacks were almost as productive as JJ Watt’s 20.5 in terms of stopping offensive drives.

Just for fun, I wanted to take a quick look into the games where Williams had the greatest impact. The graph below shows the total number of drives stopped for each game Williams had a sack.

Mario Impact

Clearly Williams had the greatest impact in the Colts game, where his total drives stopped and drives stopped per sack were the greatest. His sacks in the Kansas City and Jacksonville games had no impact.

Context is important. Stats gathering is fun, but it doesn’t necessarily help teams win games.

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