The NFL has a lot of maxims, numerous sayings about what it takes to win or compete over the long-term. Games are won and lost in the trenches. Good teams don't turn the ball over. Defense wins championships. You're only as good as your quarterback.
Some of these are more true than others, and it seems that the two premium positions in the NFL come down to quarterback and the guy who can sack the quarterback. Teams want to make sure they're solid at QB, but there's almost an equal investment placed at getting after the opponent's signal caller. As much as you want stability at your own quarterback position, you also want to make sure to create as much instability for the other side.
But just how important is it to rack up sacks in the NFL? It's an important question because the Kansas City Chiefs' offseason approach has been to take what was a position of strength last season and solidify it even more. Last year the Kansas City Chiefs finished with 47 sacks, good for No. 7 overall in the NFL. This offseason, the biggest addition to the team was also a pass rusher, with the investment of a first round draft pick in Auburn's Dee Ford.
Is there a correlation between total team sacks and win-loss record? Here's a look at the top eight teams from last year (or top 25 percent of NFL teams) :
|3.||St. Louis Rams||53||7||9||.438|
|4.||New Orleans Saints||49||11||5||.688|
|5.||New England Patriots||48||12||4||.750|
|7.||Kansas City Chiefs||47||11||5||.688|
Save for the anomaly up top in Buffalo, it's pretty clear to establish a link between teams with a strong pass rush and their place in the standings. Even St. Louis at 7-9 had to face the Seahawks, 49ers, and Cardinals in the NFC West. That 7-9 record was the basement of the division!
That said, it's also clear that sacks are not everything. The Bills just were not a good team last year, despite an incredible pass rush anchored by Mario Williams. On the flip side, several successful teams garnered less than the league average amount of sacks (40.5) and fared just fine, including the 49ers and Eagles.
Just to get a better overall look at things, let's look at the previous year's stats:
|2.||St. Louis Rams||52||7||8||.469|
|4.||Green Bay Packers||47||11||5||.688|
Once again, there are a couple of teams that do not follow the mold, with the Rams (again) and Dolphins bucking the winning trend among the NFL's best pass rushing units. However, six of the eight teams finished with double-digit wins and even the other two were near .500.
If you've followed the team closely over the last few years, you'll likely remember just how poor the Chiefs pass rush was during the 2012 NFL season when they generated only 27 sacks on the year, good for 29th overall. Their final record? 2-14.
The reality is that a strong pass rush is often found on the NFL's most successful teams. The lowest ranked playoff team in 2013 was the Philadelphia Eagles at No. 20 overall in sacks. In 2012, the Colts and Redskins were ranked No. 23 and 24 respectively in total team sacks, but still made the playoffs. Yet in each of those instances, you had an incredible rookie quarterback taking their new team to the postseason (Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III). For a team without an elite quarterback, a very strong pass rush seems like the best hope of punching a postseason ticket.
What about a longer look at the local level? Here's a look at the Chiefs' final record in correlation with their total team sacks.
Chiefs 10-Year Record
|Year||Team Sacks||NFL Rank||Wins||Losses||Win Pct.|
This chart reveals a lot less correlation than what I anticipated. While there seem to be some direct ties between the team's poor pass rush and a poor record (a la the miserable 2008 season), there are also outliers that undermine this entire exercise. Th Chiefs had a top 10 pass rush in 2007 but finished 4-12. Then again, perhaps that shows how good they could have been without Brodie Croyle and Damon Huard starting all 16 games.
The opposite could be said of the 2005 season, when the Chiefs ranked among the NFL's worst pass rushing units yet had a winning record at 10-6. Then again, they had Trent Green at quarterback and Larry Johnson broke out after Priest Holmes went down. Oh yeah, Tony Gonzalez was also around, so the Chiefs could move the chains and keep up with opposing offenses.
A top notch pass rush will not catapult a team to the postseason all by itself. You can have a feared defensive line like the Detroit Lions of the last few seasons and still fail to get over .500. Just ask the St. Louis Rams in recent years. However, a fearsome pass rush on a team with few glaring issues can absolutely take a team over the top. The correlation to a winning record is too strong, despite outliers here and there.
The Chiefs apparently believe that maintaining a dynamic pass rushing attack is going to be key to their success moving forward. With two of the very best in the NFL in Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, the addition of Senior Bowl MVP Dee Ford, and the continuity of the same coaching staff from the previous season, there's reason to believe the Chiefs' pass rush will be even stronger in 2014.