Justin Houston: How much does a pass rush affect winning?

1 of 4

This past week the Kansas City Chiefs locked up star linebacker Justin Houston with a new six year contract. The deal (which has a total value of $101 million) makes him the highest paid linebacker in the history of the NFL and one of the highest paid defensive players as well. The details of the contract have been discussed in other posts here at Arrowhead Addict as well as how the deal could impact the Chiefs salary cap situation both this season and in the future. I particularly recommend Ben Almquist’s piece on Why you should love Justin Houston’s contract. Put me down as 100% on board with GM John Dorsey paying Houston for a lot of the reasons that others have already laid out in previous posts.

That having been said, Justin Houston’s monster deal did get me thinking about just how valuable he is to KC’s success. I obviously know that the Chiefs are better with Houston than without. There isn’t a KC fan alive that could make an intelligent argument otherwise. The question I had was if the elite pass rush skill set that he brings to the table is valuable enough to warrant committing a big piece of the salary cap to. In other words, is there a direct correlation between a good pass rush and winning games. So I went over the data from the past four NFL seasons (2011-2014) to see just how the two related to one another.

Live Feed

Buffalo Bills Rumors: Bills tabbed as landing spot for Justin Houston
Buffalo Bills Rumors: Bills tabbed as landing spot for Justin Houston /


  • 3 affordable pass rushers the Vikings can sign to replace Za'Darius Smith The Viking Age
  • 3 Za’Darius Smith replacements for the Vikings revamped defense FanSided
  • 10 Veteran free agents the Atlanta Falcons should consider signing after draft week Blogging Dirty
  • Will Any More Unsigned Baltimore Ravens Free Agents Re-sign? Ebony Bird
  • 10 best Georgia alumni in NFL history FanSided
  • Before I get to the results, let me share this thought. There is a natural advantage for winning teams when it comes to sack totals. When a team has a lead it forces the other team to throw the ball to try and get back in the game. Not only does that give the defense more opportunities to get sacks, but the defense can attack aggressively because they don’t have to worry as much about the run. Losing teams, on the other hand, don’t get that advantage. In fact, in the fourth quarter their defense is often forced into trying to stop the run while the winning team attempts to use up the remaining clock. Because of this I expected to see a massive advantage when I looked at the teams with the most sacks compared to the teams with the least.

    The first thing I did was go through the past four seasons and break teams up into three tiers. The top tier is made up of the teams that finished in the top ten for team sacks. The middle tier is the teams that finished in the 11-22 range and the bottom tier consists of the teams that finished in the bottom ten in team sacks. Then I went through and added up the wins and loses of all the teams in these tiers. This is what I found:

    Team Sack Totals (2011-2014)

    Tier One: 56.7 winning percentage, average of 9.1 wins/season, 53.3% of teams made the playoffs

    Tier Two: 49.2 winning percentage, average of 7.9 wins/season, 34.1% of teams made the playoffs

    Tier Three: 43.2 winning percentage, average of 6.9 wins/season, 23.1% of teams made the playoffs

    Next: What does it mean?