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Justin Houston mythbusting: How much help did the Kansas City Chiefs LB have?

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Sometimes narratives can creep up on you. You're walking along minding you're own business, and BOOM! Someone hits you over the head with "Jamaal Charles is great, but he's not a guy who can run between the tackles" Or "the Chiefs always fail at the draft," (no, it's not true). Or even worse "Derrick Johnson isn't a machine sent back in time to destroy run games."

OK, that last one isn't really a narrative. Or something many people say. I just wanted to say something about Derrick Johnson. But narratives ARE a funny thing. Basically, an idea can gain traction simply because enough people are saying it. For example, it became a narrative throughout the 2014 season that Alex Smith was missing multiple open wide receivers down the field every game. 20 hours of film review later, I found that to be very false.

That's not to say Alex Smith doesn't have a weakness when it comes to taking shots (and that could have had an effect on the routes receivers were called to run). He does, and it may have. It's simply to point out that THAT particular narrative wasn't true. But thousands upon thousands of people repeated it as though it were gospel. And once something gets repeated enough times it becomes a narrative and is treated like fact.

Somewhere along the way, Justin Houston has become a part of a narrative. Basically, I've had something like 500 conversations like this over the course of the last two weeks:

Me: Justin Houstin is a life-altering force of nature

Someone Else: He's pretty good, yeah. But what would he be without Tamba Hali and Dontari Poe?

Me: Come again now?

Someone Else: A lot of his sacks are because someone else is getting double teamed.

Me: I'm... not sure that's true.

Someone Else: Also, how many sacks would he have without Hali chasing people toward him? A lot fewer.

Me: I... Again, I'm not sure that's true.

Someone Else: It is.

Me: (head explodes)

No disrespect to anyone I've had a conversation like that with (it's exaggerated a BIT for humor's sake), but statements like "he had sacks chased into him" or "it's only because someone else was doubled" just don't make sense to me if no one has taken the time to quantify it. I can't get on board with this kind of thinking...

... if there aren't numbers to back it up.

So here I am. Today we're going to look at every one of Justin Houston's sacks, and track several things with each one.

1) Whether he beat an individual blocker ("Blocker beat")

2) Whether he beat a second blocker (be it a OL, RB, or TE) ("Two blockers beat")

3) Whether there was a RELEVANT double team taking place elsewhere on the line (side note, a relevant double team means a guy who otherwise MIGHT have double teamed Houston is occupied helping another double team. In other words, if the LG and C are double teaming Poe, that doesn't really effect Houston since neither of those players would ever be blocking Houston). ("Double Elsewhere")

4) Whether pressure from another defensive player "chased" the quarterback into Houston's waiting arms ("Assisted")

While tracking these things doesn't give us every bit of information we need to adequately figure out just how much Houston benefits from having exceptional teammates (he absolutely does), it will at least allow us to determine whether the narratives currently floating around are at all accurate. Is Houston a product of his environment or a great player all on his own?

Here's what I found.

Sack No. Blocker Beat 2 Blockers Beat Double Elsewhere Assisted
1 Y N N N
2 N N N Y (whole DL)
3 Y N N N
4 Y N N Y (Bailey)
5 Y Y N N
6 Y N N N
7 Y Y Y (Poe) N
8 Y N N N
9 Y N N N
10 Y N N N
11 N N N N
12 Y N Y (Poe) N
13 Y N N N
14 Y N N N
15 Y N Y (Walker) N
16 N N N Y (Howard)
17 Y N N N
18 Y N N Y (Howard)
19 Y N N N
20 Y N N N
21 Y N N N
22 Y N N N
TOTAL 19 2 3 4

So the long and short of it is pretty simple; on 19 of Houston's 22 sacks he directly beat the offensive lineman who was attempting to block him (not once was it a RB or TE with him one-on-one).

On only two of the snaps where Houston failed to beat his man individually was the QB essentially "chased into him." It's worth noting that neither time was Hali the player who got the "assist." Additionally, there was one play where Houston didn't beat his man AND no one chased the QB to him (a Mike Vick attempted scramble where Houston caught him before he could get to the line of scrimmage.

So how do the narratives hold up? Not well, I'm afraid. Houston only had four assisted sacks all season (out of 22, mind you), and on two of those he still needed to beat his blocker in order to take advantage. And the "Poe is constantly double teamed, causing Houston to run free" issue doesn't ring true either. Only three times did I see a play where I thought there was a POSSIBILITY Houston could have been doubled had another player not been.

Any pass rusher who plays the vast majority of the snaps is going to have a few situations where a sack is chased his way, or where a double team COULD have been directed at him. There's absolutely no evidence that Houston had some kind of disproportionate benefit from his teammates that resulted in his obscenely high sack number.

There's absolutely no evidence that Houston had some kind of disproportionate benefit from his teammates that resulted in his obscenely high sack number.

One fun fact; there were actually sacks Houston LOST because of the talent level of his teammates. On a couple of occasions Houston, having beaten his man, arrives a heartbeat after one of the other pass rushers gets there first. That's the other side of having good pass rushers line up next to you; they're just as likely to take a sack from you as gift one into your lap. More likely, in Houston's case (considering only twice was he "gifted" a sack with an assist).

Re-watching all those pass rushing plays it's very clear the Chiefs are a nightmare for any quarterback. Houston, Hali, and Poe are all extremely difficult to block. Additionally, both Allen Bailey and Jaye Howard flashed more than I expected (Bailey with power, Howard with speed). Throw in the blitzing talent available with Husain Abdullah, Dee Ford, and Josh Mauga (who does a decent job blitzing, actually) and you can see why people might think Houston is propped up by teammates.

By the numbers, though, he's not. Houston achieved the vast majority of his sacks by simply beating the guy in front of him, and could have had even more on a team with no pass rushers who could beat him to the QB. There's just no real evidence to support the idea that Houston is benefiting from Hali and company any more than they're benefiting from him.

Houston is, indeed, a life-altering force of nature.