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

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Dec 14, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) throws a pass and is pressured by Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston (50) during the second half at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs won 31-13. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

If I’m being honest, I actually expected an even more drastic difference when it comes to the ratio of sacks to wins. Basically the top sack teams average nine wins, the middle tier teams average eight wins, and the teams with the worst sack totals average seven. Clearly you would rather win nine games than seven, but I was expecting more of a ten to six split.

That having been said, the goal of every team in the NFL is to make the playoffs and the percentage of teams making the playoffs from each tier is definitely more diverse. Over half the teams that finished in the top ten for team sacks have made the playoffs in the past four seasons. That’s pretty good.

Next, I decided to try and take some of the favoritism towards winning teams out of the equation. To do this I decided to look at Pro Football Focus and see if there was much difference when I looked at their top graded pass rush teams as opposed to going off straight sack totals. In theory, this should take away some of the bias towards winning teams that get to attack opposing quarterbacks late in games.

Since the grade is not based on stats accumulated, but how well the individual players grade out on the snaps that they do get. It’s not a perfect reflection, but I thought it might shed a little more light on how quality pass rushers effect a team’s ability to win games.

This time around I divided my three tiers by the teams’ overall PFF pass rush grade. Teams that had an overall grade of +25.0 or greater were put in tier one. Teams that had a grade between 0.0 and +24.9 were put in tier two and teams with a negative overall pass rush grade were put in tier three. Then I totaled up the wins and number of playoff teams again. Here are the results:

PFF Team Pass Rush Grades (2011-2014)

Tier One: 54.0 winning percentage, average of 8.6 wins/season, 39% of teams made the playoffs

Tier Two: 50.8 winning percentage, average of 8.1 wins/season, 43.5% of teams made the playoffs

Tier Three: 45.1 winning percentage, average of 7.2 wins/seasons, 29.3% of teams made the playoffs

As expected, the PFF grades filtered out a little of the winning team bias of pure sack totals. What I noticed is that some playoff teams that were in the top ten in sack totals dropped into the second tier of the PFF grades, meaning that while their pass rush was productive it was aided by increased opportunities as opposed to sheer ability of the players.

That’s why you see a drop in the percentage of teams making the playoffs in tier one and an increase in tier two. Also, you can see the already small differential in wins between the tiers on the sack total list is even smaller on this PFF pass rush grade list. There was only a difference of 1.4 wins per season between being in the top graded pass rush teams and the worst.

Next: What we have learned...